I'm a month into the new-old routine: waking up too late, drinking too much coffee, playing too many casual games (goddamn your collective hide, PopCap), and occasionally responding to the least degrading of Craigslist's daily job offerings. One such afternoon, my then-girlfriend half-jokingly forwarded a posting announcing the need for a "Brand Ambassador," one day only. The job? Push push push the hell out of a video game, "Midnight Club: Los Angeles," on behalf of Rockstar Games, purveyors of everyone's favorite murder simulator, "Grand Theft Auto." The ad's instructions: respond with a resume, a brief description of your familiarity with current trends in gaming, and a picture. The job promises $200.
I think of all the gussied-up, corporate, doublespeak titles I've held over the years: package clerk, data integrity specialist, gallery assistant. Brand Ambassador is new, a fine addition to the list. I shoot off a reply. Within an hour I'm told to report to the Phoenix Convention Center on Saturday sporting clean jeans, sneakers, and a plain black t-shirt. The event hosting Rockstar's "demographic outreach" is the 2009 Dub Auto Show, a traveling cavalcade of car culture: mods, custom paint jobs, expensive upgrades. A more alien environment I cannot imagine. I can't bring myself to vacuum my car, much less spend money on it. This is as comfortable a fit as wearing pants made of scorpions.
After introducing myself to my co-workers for the day and receiving a well-rehearsed litany of dos-and-don'ts from our wiry, lizard-like minder, I take a quick walk around the convention floor to get the lay of the land. The sea of sparkling hoods, polished rims, and trunks crammed with subwoofers is interrupted by booths representing the Army, the Air Force, Monster energy drinks, and NASCAR, each one there to colonize the impressionable gray matter of the show's mostly young attendees. For me, this is everything terrible about our culture crowded into one room and given a drum-and-bass soundtrack.
Did I mention that Ice-motherfuckin'-Cube was scheduled to perform that afternoon?
Before long the show got underway and any conversation that might have taken place was curtailed by a wall of sound that would make Phil Spector blush. I established myself as the "swag guy," shoveling out great armfuls of license plate frames, keychains, stickers, posters, and t-shirts, the better to avoid talking to people. I manned my station for nine hours without cease, excepting the occasional bathroom break. Later, when the show began to run down, my cohorts and I numbly staggered about the work of breaking down the booth. We were nearing our anticipated payout and the expectation was a shiver of excitement passing from one of us to the next. When our employer jokingly suggested that his checks would bounce, the excitement turned to black thoughts of zip-tying the jester's wrists to his ankles and leaving him to the mutants at the NASCAR kiosk.
But the money was legit, much to the relief of my colleagues, each of whom demanded that his check be made out to cash so he could get drunk that very night.
The auto show equivalent of the wolf shirt.