Being a volunteer usher is usually a good gig. It’s not difficult. There is a lot of standing but most of the time is spent smiling and directing people to the bar or the bathroom. Aside from the occasional cranky patron, there isn’t much stress. The City gets ushers for the events without having to pay them and, in exchange for a few hours of my time, I get to see whatever is being performed without buying a ticket. Win/win.
Normally the procedure for signing up to usher is straight forward. I log into the volunteer website where there is a list of all the upcoming events for which volunteers are needed. A couple of mouse clicks later I’m on the roster. When enough people have volunteered to meet the staffing needs of the event, it disappears from the list and no more sign-ups are accepted. If someone who is already signed up removes their name from the roster, the event shows up again on the list for volunteers until it is fully staffed again.
Enter Super Bowl XLIX.
Last November the volunteers were notified that ushers would be needed for a number of events Super Bowl weekend, including the nationally televised NFL Honors Ceremony. Because it was expected these events would be very desirable usher assignments, the coordinator notified us there would be a lottery. Anyone interested in working should sign up in the usual manner but signing up would only be an expression of willingness to work. After sign ups were closed there would be a lottery to determine who would actually get to work. That seemed fair to me. It would have been equally fair to do it by seniority but, since I have only been volunteering a couple of years I liked the lottery idea just fine. This all had to be done last November because working at an NFL event requires a background check and credentialing by the League and that had to be completed by early December. My name was drawn.
When the event was originally planned the ushers were scheduled to work from 4:00 – 9:00 PM. Last week. more than 60 days after we signed up, the lucky few received an email with a couple of updates. Instead of reporting at 4:00 PM we are asked to arrive between 1:00 and 1:30 to pick up our credentials at the Convention Center and be at Symphony Hall by 2:00. No big deal. It is a Saturday. The time change didn’t present a conflict.
The second update informed us that, after the patrons were seated for the 6:00 PM start time, the ushers would be released and asked to leave the building. Apparently the network did not want the cameras to pick up people standing at the back or sides of the hall. That is usually where the ushers stand ….because that’s where the doors are. Very Big Deal! That win/win I mentioned above is now a Win/lose. The city still gets free ushers but the ushers have to get dressed up, commit their Saturday, fight the downtown Super Bowl traffic, and work for 5 hours in exchange for…… a souvenir credentials badge? Grumbling could be heard.
I never considered removing my name from the roster. The change was not the coordinators fault. It was too late to get credentials for any replacements, even if replacements could be found under these circumstances. Cancelling would serve only to make the job harder for ushers who showed up. I was not happy but I’d made a commitment. As Beckett’s Estragon says; “Nothing can be done”. Apparently some of my colleagues, however, had other thoughts. It appears a number of ushers who were lucky lottery winners last November suddenly discovered conflicting commitments.
At 10:30 last night an email went out to all the ushers saying more volunteers were needed. Anyone willing to work was asked to reply with their full name and date of birth to obtain credentials. “Further details will be provided”.
Truth to tell, I care very little about the NFL Honors Ceremony. I am not a football fan. I won’t know most of the players. It will be fun to see the celebrities who will turn out for the event. I am sure the eye-candy quotient will be pretty high. Seth Myers is scheduled to be the Master of Ceremonies. That would be worth the time invested, if I get to see him.
Late last night we received an email reminding us of all bells & whistles associated with the event, alternative entrances, screening procedures, etc. Also included was the phrase “…there is a strong chance we will need you to stay for the duration of the ceremony.” For me that is good news, though it does make it an 8 hour shift. I hope it is true and not a tease added to stem the tide of defecting volunteers.
Even if we end up working short-staffed and get booted out before the event starts, I can take pride in knowing I kept my commitment. I upheld my part of the social contract even if the organizers did not. And I guiltily admit a sly smile creeps across my face when I picture the 2300+ well-dressed guests…. and no one in sight who can tell them where a bathroom is.