Fan Fare ended at 3. My shift at the Gala began at 3:15 in a different part of town. Tricky.
But I made it. Huffing and puffing and cramming a sandwich into my face. Bits of fruit snack stuck in my teeth, as per always. Hair simultaneously frizzing and sticking flat to my scalp, wrinkles in my tights. Looking crazy professional, like I do.
I was pretty nervous. All my previous duties this weekend were either as media, where I could basically just walk around in restricted areas taking pictures of and talking to important people, or as a social media correspondent with the Juno host committee (GGL), snapping pictures on my iPhone and Tweeting and just in general social media-ing my face off.
This job, however, was different.
There's this little boutique PR agency out of Toronto who was basically set to staff the Juno Week events; they needed more staff for the week, so they decided to hire PR students from the local university. One of those students forwarded the email she'd received from the company on to me, because she knew I'd probably be interested in that sort of thing, so I just casually showed up to the info session mentioned in the email pretending to be a PR student on the brink of graduating university but really not knowing a dang thing about anything.
The whole point was to give these students a taste of what they'd be encountering in the "Real PR World". I wasn't even that interested in entering the "Real PR World", but I thought it would at least be an educational and enlightening experience. Or I'd maybe discover a new field that I'd fall in love with and this whole thing would be the start of a great new career for me. Or I'd get to drive a golf cart backstage at the Junos.
Actually. That was pretty much all I wanted out of it. To drive a golf cart backstage at the Junos. Let's be real.
Anyway. So I went to this info meeting and got hired and they took my picture for my VIP badge and said they'd send me an information packet in the e-mail telling me how to dress and where to go and how not to be late under threat of death and all that. The girl who ran the meeting was super nice and laid back and she told us how some of us would be assigned to drive the golf carts backstage at the Junos. I fist-pumped under the table, but the PR students sitting around me looked unimpressed. They were dressed in black skirts and silk scarves. I was wearing ripped jeans and a toque because I hadn't washed my hair in four days. I am really, really bad at first impressions.
So that's the backstory. Fast forward to 3:15 pm, Saturday, April 20 and I'm standing in a small group of seriously classy women picking bits of lunch out of my teeth. A woman is run-walking over to us, calling out names and handing badges to their corresponding persons. "This way, ladies, we have lots to cover. This way. Please hurry. Have you all eaten?" (No pause) "We're going to be very, very busy. You."
"Yes. You... Uh... What's your name?" She's scanning her list even though I'm wearing a badge around my neck with my name on it, clearly printed in black block letters.
I pause. I'm about to say 'Suzy', because that's who I usually am. But, if you'll remember, my real actual name on my birth certificate and drivers' licence is 'Elena', and so that's what my VIP badge says too.
"Your name?" She raises an eyebrow and leans her head in as though she didn't hear me the first time, even though I know she knows I haven't said anything yet. It only takes, like, two seconds to make a bad impression on a woman like this. Especially when she's in a hurry.
"Emily, yes, that's what I said." She's run-walking again. "Come with me. You'll be our media room host... Here." We've gone through several doors and past a guard who doesn't smile back, and she pauses at the entrance to a large room filled with tables and chairs. "Media should be arriving shortly. Make sure they're seated in their assigned spots --no trading spots around; it needs to be left as assigned, as stated on the seating chart-- and answer any questions they might have. The nominees will be down to answer questions after the gala has begun, with the first one arriving at 6:14. Here." She hands me a list of networks and their seating assignments and taps the top of it. "Some of these are wrong. Make sure the cards are in the right spots. You'll have to rearrange some of them. Do it quick before they get here." She rambles off a paragraph of "important things for me to know". I nod, dumbly. I have a million questions.
"Sorry, what was that you said about how some of these seat assignments are wrong--"
"That's a question for Chelsea."
I don't know who Chelsea is. I open my mouth to ask but she is already run-walking away down the hall. "The rest of you, follow me."
And just like that, I'm alone with my seating chart which is not completely accurate. I begin rearranging the place cards.
A familiar-looking reporter and her cameraman are approaching me. They want to know where to sit. I consult my seating chart. I seat them in row 8, at their place card. They want to know why they don't get to sit in row 1. I tell them that I'm just going by the seating chart. The reporter turns red, scanning the place cards on the tables ahead of her and whispers something to her cameraman. She turns to me. "I'm sure this isn't your fault," she says curtly, "But I don't understand why I have to sit way back here, when my network is much more important than several who are sitting in rows farther up than me."
She is joined by a tall, slender woman in a gold blazer who reaches out and touches my elbow. "Excuse me, there must be some mistake here. My company's name card is in row 7. I'm sure they would've wanted me closer to the front."
I shake my head politely. "I'm sorry--"
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"
This is Chelsea. She is wearing a badge that says so. Chelsea has angry eyebrows.
"WHY DID YOU MOVE CBC TO ROW 5? THEY SHOULD BE IN ROW 1."
I show her the seating chart I've been given. The two news reporters slink off unhappily to their unfavourable seats.
She grabs the paper from me, examines it, groans. "This is all wrong! Who gave you this?"
"Um, I'm not sure. She had blonde hair. She said some of it was wrong but didn't tell me which parts--"
"Well obviously this row needs to stay the same! I told you that! I told you that this row needs to stay the same. Switch it back!"
I've only moved two place cards, and their respective attendees aren't even here yet, so the "damage" is pretty minimal. I scurry to put them back. I don't point out that not only had she not actually told me what she claimed she'd told me, but she'd not told me anything, ever. Because I'd never seen her before in my whole entire life and stuff.
She leaves the room with my seating chart and comes back with a corrected version. Media from all sorts of outlets come flooding in, as though informed that it is now, at least temporarily, safe to do so.
Global and CBC reporters, CTV camera people, Entertainment Tonight and ETalk hosts, Huffington Post bloggers, local music bloggers, some guy I recognize from the Strombo Show; they all enter with their sound equipment, their laptops, their official-looking folders. There are a hundred and two of them, (I count later on during the Gala when they're all seated), and all at once they have a million questions and concerns and seating issues and technological issues and a camera guy wants to be moved to the other side of the room because he doesn't get along with his reporters and two grown men need me to referee a fight over an ideal camera setup location and everyone wants to know why they're not in row 1.
CHILDREN! I want to yell. ALL I WANTED WAS TO DRIVE THE GOLF CART! YOU ARE ALL INSANE AND I DON'T LIKE YOU!
Instead, I smile. I nod. I answer in a little voice so that they won't yell so loud. I shake my head. I shrug my shoulders. I make up rules, because no one told me the real ones. I try to be stern and firm and friendly. I try not to slap the woman in the gold blazer. I succeed. And finally, it's 6:05 pm and Jian Ghomeshi is hosting the Gala and I'm standing against the side wall of the media room, and everyone is quiet, tapping away on laptops and adjusting camera settings and resigned to their spots even if unhappily, and I feel just a modicum of victory.