Top 40 Rules of the Road

by Bob Higgins
in Features

Forget something? (See Rule 01). Illustration by Tony Gleeson (WWW.TONYGLEESON.COM)It’s been 10 years since PLSN and FRONT of HOUSE first published Bob Higgins’ “Top 40 Rules of the Road.” For those who didn’t frame (or at least laminate) the original Top 40 Rules (July 2003), here’s a second chance. —ed.

Industry veteran Bob Higgins has more than 30 years of experience in the touring industry as a video producer, director, editor, dancer, troublemaker, and problem solver. With the help of contributing minders K. Lipschutz, G. Jones, V. Jarvis, A. Kramer, R. Alvarez, W. Willoughby, and B. Riedling, he’s pieced together the following rules, gleaned from his own early mistakes, mistakes he’s seen along the way (with the shipping records as proof), eyewitness accounts, and road stories too numerous to mention. Please read carefully, you will be tested daily...

A Roadie is something between being a Marine and an Alcoholic. Once you’ve been one, you’re one for the rest of your life. You can say you’re retired, or recovering, maybe the president of a company, the mayor of a town, or simply disguised as a skilled technician, but if you’re reading this, chances are you are and always will be a Roadie. You’re the glorious present day incarnation of a roustabout, who without thinking twice knows to jump aside if you hear the word “Chain!” It’s the only club I’ve ever wanted to be a part of, which is a good thing, because it’s the only one that would have me as a member. Hell, most of us just feel lucky to have been released on our own recognizance.

I’m not sure why all the rest of you do this for a living—the electronic circus which demands a daily pattern of up with the big top, on with the grease paint, and down with the show’s vibe—but for me, I just plain love it. It’s undeniable: brutal, relentless, and thankless, but it is still somehow rewarding. We’re specialists when we load in, and generalists when we load out. We live the freest of lives with the strictest of rules. It’s a T-shirt subculture, with a blue-collar work ethic, hiding in the midst of a white-collar world.

So, here are the tenets we all actually live by while rockin’ down the road, and rollin’ into town. Even if you don’t like them, you live by them, and when you find yourself amongst a bunch of spellbound 9 to 5’ers, you’ll quote one of them just to get a good story started.

Rules of the Road

01. Think about what the system needs while you’re in rehearsal–not the day of the first show. We really find no pleasure in shipping tons of cable a thousand miles overnight, unless you’re going to ship your butt back in the same case.

02. If you have personal issues, please leave them at home, or have the subscriptions canceled; most significantly, substance abuses of any kind. There’s no room for them on the bus unless it’s the one we send you home on.

03. If you know you’re going to have a problem getting into Canada, then you’ve done this before and you should tell us now. It’s bad enough that people have to go to Canada at all—don’t make it worse by forcing them to hear your story during a four A.M. border crossing. If you know you’re hiding this, then make sure you have a couple of hundred dollars in your pocket or the airfare for your replacement.

04. If you experience any problems on the road, personal or technical, please call the home office first, immediately—regardless of the day or time. It’s better to wake us up in the middle of the night so we can help you solve it than to have us wake up in the morning to find out we’ve lost a member of the crew, a show, or heaven help you, the tour.

05. The Production Office is the production’s office, not yours. Your office is the million-dollar system you load in and out every day—hang out there instead, and see if there’s a way to either take better care of it, or make better use of it.

06. Do not use the production telephones for personal use. If you need something for yourself or the system, use your own phone. And if whatever it is doesn’t keep the show from going on, don’t be on the phone while the show is ongoing.

07. The tour manager takes care of the band and the accountants, and doesn’t need to know what you think or need. The production manager takes care of the production and only needs to know what the production needs. The production assistant is your best friend, but that’s supposed to be a well-kept secret, so don’t act like it.

08. Do not ask the runners to do anything personal for you. If it’s that important, either take care of it on your days off, or ask the production assistant if you can put it on the runner’s list. If you have to think about whether you want everyone to know about it, don’t bother—simply re-read the first sentence of this rule.

09. There is to be no sex, real or imagined, with the production assistant—male or female.

10. In every situation, please try and remember these two somewhat metaphorical tenets for a successful operation; they also work for relationships and other emergencies:

a. Clearly establish and respect your chain of command, lines of communication and plan of attack before you embark on your mission.

b. Secure your base, establish your coordinates and guarantee an escape route. (In other words, figure out the best location for your equipment placement, find the safest and cleanest route for all signal paths, and lay it all down for the most efficient load-out.)

11. Take care of the equipment as if it’s your responsibility—it is. Saving 30 seconds on a load-out is not worth two hours the next day to fix a piece of gear, or $500 in Fed Ex charges to send you a replacement.

12. If you are assigned a walkie-talkie by production, be aware that a replacement will cost as much as you likely net in a week, and will immediately be worth more than you.

13. Bring your own specialized tools. Only you know what it is you do. God knows we still can’t figure it out.

14. Work as a collective team. If one person is working and you’re not, help him. If you’re too stupid to add anything, go to the bus—but let someone know where you will be. Sitting around telling the same boring road tales while everyone else is working will not make you the envy of anyone, but if you have that much spare time it might make us wonder if we really need you out there.

15. Don’t promise anything to anyone beyond the existing system or crew. It’s not yours to offer. Refer everything to the designated crew chief, and the crew chief will call the office—someone should’ve thought of it in rehearsal anyway (see #1 and #10a).

16. If you are the designated crew chief, it’s an acknowledgement of leadership, responsibility, and respect, not an elevation in job title. There is no extra pay in it. Someone’s gotta do it. Would you rather have some other idiot telling you what to do?

17. Speaking of idiots, be sure you do an “idiot” check at the end of every load out—this is in addition to staring at yourself in the mirror for an hour wondering why you agreed to do this gig. Do not assume the local crew gives a damn about the gear only you know is yours. If you leave something behind, you’ll know it before we do, so get it back immediately or your name will replace the word idiot above (See #4 and #11).

18. Do not offer strangers tickets or passes. They’re not yours to offer. Besides, you’re leaving town on the bus and won’t get laid anyway, and if you already did—why bother?

19. Think twice before offering people you know, including family, tickets or passes. Remember how distracting and time consuming it is to wander around outside a venue before a show, worrying about anything but the show. And you shouldn’t be having sex with relatives anyway.

20. Beware the three-week rule. That’s when everyone has learned the show, takes it for granted, and starts focusing on each other’s behavioral problems. You’ve done this before; so don’t act like you’re surprised at that time of the month. It’s going to happen. Get over it. It is also when spouses and mates get bitchy at home. If you don’t want to come home and find the toilet seat up, either give them the attention and detail they deserve before you leave, or don’t go on tour.

21. NEVER be late for a bus call. You will be oil-spotted at your own expense. The good news is, if you’re late you will provide the entire production an opportunity for a lifetime’s worth of jokes—also at your expense.

Even rock stars do it sitting down. (See rule 22). Illustration by Tony Gleeson (TONYGLEESON.COM)22. If you find you cannot urinate standing up on a moving bus without redecorating the entire head, it doesn’t mean you’re a drunk or a sissy. Even rock stars do it sitting down.

23. Do not even consider going number two on the bus, or someone will rip your head off and do it down your neck.

24. Do not leave your new “special friend” alone on the bus, or in your hotel room-ever. I guarantee you, when they are gone they will have taken a souvenir, which could easily be your wallet, or your job.

25. Do not lose or lend your bus key, or your laminate, to anyone—ever. The cost of replacing either is subject to a market price determined by the most ruthless, twisted, and relentless person available in the production office.

26. If there are long bus drives ahead, get an Ereader, download something from Netflix, or send emails to your loved ones telling them how much you miss them. Do not ask us to pay for a flight to the next destination. Besides, you might miss a great view of the country’s heartland before some deranged extremists destroy it.

27. Always sleep in your bunk with your feet facing the front—everyone else does. There are a lot of bootlickers in this business, and you wouldn’t want them to get confused in the middle of the night. And if you really don’t understand this rule, just take note of what it feels like when the driver slams on his brakes 10 times during the late night ride.

Everyone has a Sharpie. (See rule number 28). Illustration by Tony Gleeson (WWW.TONYGLEESON.COM)28. Avoid falling asleep in either the front or back lounges of the bus—unless you want to wake up with a face that looks like a tattooed princess from New Zealand. Everyone has a Sharpie.

29. If you have days off, do not consider running home. You should’ve taken care of the crisis before you left. Instead, arrange for whatever is so important to come to you, at your own expense, and don’t expect any special considerations.

30. Do not whine; you’re an adult, and hopefully a professional. It’s not becoming, and you might invite a kind of sex you really do not want.

31. When you check out of a hotel, always pay your incidentals or you’ll become incidental.

32. You have agreed to a pay rate. Do not suddenly decide halfway through the tour that you’re working too hard or are too talented for that pay. That’s only an artist’s prerogative. If you were an artist, we would have met in some avant-garde art gallery sipping chardonnay.

33. All recordings of the show belong to the artist—again, you are not the artist. They should be clearly labeled and handed over to one designated person in production. Any material recorded on hard drives should be dubbed onto “safeties.”

34. Do not bother apologizing. Enough time was wasted when you screwed up. Your efforts would be better served drawing a map for yourself so you won’t choose the wrong way again.

35. No matter how you feel about the music or the artist, remember the artist is always right, and is ultimately responsible for all of you. They have put their trust in you while “up there on the stage.” If they weren’t there, you would be home wishing you had a gig. Or worse yet, you might be flipping burgers.

36. Remember, the show’s the thing and it’s a composite medium. It only works if everybody does his or her best together. Keep in mind the audience has possibly spent their only disposable income of the year for one night out. Make it worth it.

37. The stars are not our friends, they’re our jobs. “Close to the fire, first to get burned.” If they know your name, guess who they’re going to freak out on when something goes wrong? Also, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to remember exactly who pays you for what.

38. These rules are numbered for reference—not priority. Whichever one you screw up first automatically becomes #1. Do not see this as a challenge for how many infractions you can accumulate in the length of the tour. You will not last that long.

39. If you learned anything by reading this, either you don’t belong on the road, or you’re new, and should keep your excitement to yourself.

40. Be nice, be great, and have fun.