Chicago Public Radio Presents...Alex Blumberg

June 17, 2009

...And Sometimes, The Obstacles Become the Story... For our final CPRPresents... Live Event for the 2008/2009 season, we asked This American Life producer/reporter Alex Blumberg to do a presentation about the economy.‚  The event has been scheduled for months (in fact, it was sold out at least six weeks ago) and was slated to be held at the Victory Gardens BIOGRAPH Theater. Leading up to the day, I diligently did a walk-thru of the facility (even though we have done a number of events there) to check out the set and arrange for the very simple technical requirements of Alex's presentation.‚  We established that we would have a screen, a projector, microphones, and arranged for sound.‚  The only thing that the VG technical director mentioned was the connectors from the sound/projector to Alex's laptop.‚  This had apparently been a problem in the past and he wanted to make sure all of the equipment was up-to-date. I call Alex and get his laptop info; I check the equipment VG has and adapters that we have.‚  I give the Apple Store a call.‚  Guy on the other end assures me I have all the correct stuff.‚  I'm golden.‚  On top of that, David Raphael, Underwriter Supreme, has arranged for the fine folks at Goose Island Beer to host a pre-show beer tasting and a post-show after-party and there are over 300 reservations for the event - all adding up to a fantastic closing event to an already spectacular season of events. Sunday arrives.‚  And the obstacles begin to mount. OBSTACLE #1: The Late Start Victory Gardens had a matinee performance of their latest show.‚  The performance was held for latecomers and was delayed 20 minutes.‚  Which meant that Alex couldn't get into the theater until 5:30 p.m. to set up his equipment. OBSTACLE #2:‚  The Brand New Macbook and the Not Brand New Adapters Alex arrives around 5:00 p.m. with his lovely wife and all seems well.‚  He's a tremendously nice guy, very down to earth, and is looking forward to the evening.‚  Anna from Goose Island arrives with beer; Eva Loseth from our Membership Team pops in and sets up our WBEZ table; my awesome volunteers (Devin, Kit, and Josh) swing in and get ready for the check-in.‚  Josh is on hand because he's a technical guy and I thought it wise to have someone smarter than me there to assist should trouble rears its head.‚  Breeze Richardson (the CPRPresents... Executive Producer) comes in with adapters and gift bags for our High Fidelity members. 3628583278_8190c895ec_mTurns out, at 5:45 p.m., Alex and Josh discover that the adapters are one generation older than Alex's spankin' brand new Macbook and they won't work.‚  We have no video output at all. OBSTACLE #3: What Happened to the Student Tickets? Devin and Kit begin to get patrons who have obviously purchased tickets but are not on the list.‚  It turns out that the ticketing software failed to list anyone who bought tickets with a student discount.‚  At this point, we no longer have any idea how many tickets were sold and if we have enough room in the theater. (Back to) OBSTACLE #2 3627774825_009639d009_m6:30 p.m.‚  The crowd is growing and, thankfully, enjoying the beer a great deal.‚  Inside the theater, Josh and Alex are frantically trying to get the video to work.‚  William (a friend of Alex's who lives in Chicago) bikes over with his later model Macbook.‚  Alex's wife is calling every computer store in town (they're all closed - it's Sunday night...) By 6:45 p.m. Alex and I have a quick one-on-one. ME:‚  So...what can we do.‚  What are our options? ALEX:‚  Can we 'crowdsource' the equipment? ME:‚  You mean, ask the audience if anyone has the adapter on them? ALEX:‚  Yeah. ME:‚  OK.‚  Barring that working, can you do the presentation sans video? ALEX: (pause)‚  I can but I don't want to.‚  It wouldn't be the same. No one in the crowd has what we're looking for but Ian Chillag (producer for WWDTM) tweets the WWDTM Twitter.‚  A guy from Nashville has the cord. 3628591532_59270e9c5a_mI open the house to the 300+ crowd and let them know we're having some technical troubles.‚  True to form for a WBEZ audience, they are polite and understanding (and have had a coupla beers to boot.)‚  Alex and Josh and then William are furiously working with Scott and Tom from Victory Gardens to daisy-chain the two laptops together and thus work a MacGuyver-like miracle. At 7:13 p.m. I look at the three of them and say "You have two minutes and then we have to start this thing.‚  TWO MINUTES." One minute later, an image flickers onto the screen.‚  The crowd starts to react.‚  And then it works.‚  We have the video.‚  It is huge and visible and the crowd bursts into cheers - for Alex, for Josh, for the successful miracle of humanity over technology.‚  We win again (by the skin of our teeth.) 3627787097_99470f98b3_mAlex charmed us all with his dire predictions of gloom and doom regarding our broken economy, explaining complex things in a simple and entertaining way.‚  The audience seemed to enjoy his every word and after the Q&A, Daniel Ash (Vice President of Strategic Communications for WBEZ) offered thanks and invited the audience to the after-party. And thus it was accomplished and so it was done. __________ After entertaining an educating nearly 5,000 people, the CPRPresents... Series first season is complete.‚  We rode bikes in May, hung paintings in January, heard a reading in October, danced in December, displayed the work of 71 activist groups in April and held the First Annual Filmless Festival in March.‚  It was a great year. And starting September, we'll have an even better, more exciting second season.‚  Stay tuned.