3,800 Writers, No Trauma

The following recounting is written by Michael R. Perry, who was a guest on the Writers' Strike Chronicles podcast a few weeks back. I met up with Perry today for the WGA's vote on whether to lift the strike earlier this afternoon. I asked him to share with me what happened on Saturday night when the leadership of the WGA took the proposed contract to the membership and so he sent this to me. It was first featured in Remy Aubuchon's strike blog entitled "Walking the Line".

Last Tuesday I was mentally debating whether to take one last road trip before the strike ended, or go to the big WGA meeting at the Shrine and attend what was certain to be the Woodstock of self-unemployed writers, when Kim Hoffman from the Guild called.

"Michael, are you going to be at the Shrine this weekend?" she asked.
I hedged. "Probably. I think maybe."
"Can you be on-call to do first aid at the meeting Saturday?"
"Sure, of course," I said. In the next nanosecond all my little little reveries about driving up 395 to Lone Pine, or Highway 1 to Big Sur, or taking Old Route 40 out to the Trilobite Wilderness in the Marble Mountains popped like a soap bubble.

During one of my sabbaticals I took about 100 hours of first aid training, and in a moment of indiscretion revealed that to the W.G.A. Since then, they have asked three times if I could be on call for first aid, and I said yes all three times. It's not much for them to ask and I'd always rather be a participant than a spectator.

Saturday, I met Kim from the Guild, who handed me off to Seamus from the Guild, who gave me a headset and ID pass and a facility tour: backstage, where the Guild officers and committee members were gathering; Tunnel 9 where the disgustingly ancient Shrine first aid room is; and upstairs to the Ladies Lounge, where the Guild had set up a child care area. Everyone else at the place was thinking, "I wonder what the deal is going to be?" and I was thinking, "What will we do if someone has a heart attack, head injury or loss of consciousness?"

Seamus took me everywhere. Backstage, none of the Guild officers looked like they were about to succumb -- good! The child care area had more than enough adults to handle the number of children -- good! The child care volunteers were level-headed and sober -- good! The Shrine doesn't have an Automated External Defibrillator -- bad! (They ought to.) I did one last tour before the meeting began, making sure the child care people had working phones and instructions to call 911 before doing anything else if there were an emergency.

The Shrine employs a twentysomething man in a suit to operate the automatic elevator. I saw him four times in ten minutes; as I was riding down the last time I said something like, "looks like the place is going to be full. That's a lot of writers in there, don't you think?"

"What writers?" he asked.
"All those people are writers."
"What kind of stuff do they write?" he asked.
"Pretty much every television show and movie you've seen."
"No way."
"What about Lord of the Rings? Are the guys who wrote that movie here?"
"They might be."
"Wow. That's cool."
I left for the meeting, pondering what a crappy job it is to operate an automatic elevator. Or a great job, I suppose, if you want to be totally oblivious to everything around you.

There were no emergencies of any kind, but the headset gave me an alternate audio channel for the duration of the meeting, and what I was hearing was -- there were a lot of us. More than anyone expected. The Guild staffers kept reporting, long into the meeting, that lines of cars were still streaming in from Jefferson and 32nd street. They unexpectedly had to open the balcony and put a microphone up there for questions; and that filled up, too. The tally was 3800 writers, the biggest Guild gathering, ever.

And, mercifully, it was all business. Verrone and Young and Bowman ticked off the proposals one after another, registering which they were pleased with, and which disappointed them. And we listened. And at the end of the reading, they had a quick round of thank-yous to behind-the-scenesters like Chuck Slocum, and people started to file out, even before the question period. They'd heard what they'd come to hear. We had a deal, not the best deal in the world but the one we could secure in February of 2008 after three months of striking.

I stayed until almost eleven o'clock, when 90% of the auditorium had cleared out, and the questions were growing repetitive. I figured, if there were no more small children in child care, the staff could handle any first aid issues that might arise, and I could go with my friends Rusty and Darrin to House of Pies to debrief.

I went to the Ladies Lounge Child care area, where there were two babysitters and two remaining children. One was a girl of around eleven years old, who was about to leave with her parents. The other was a preternaturally composed twelve-year-old boy, a neat kid in a blazer holding a stack of papers. I wanted to make sure he would be around people, so that if there were any first aid issues (I didn't think there would be) someone else would be there. I asked the adults on call if it would be possible to close down child care and have this last kid sit in the main auditorium for the duration of the meeting. They weren't sure.

"His parents are downstairs at the meeting, right?" I asked.
"His father is, yes."
"Well he's old enough, he could just sit in the auditorium until it's over, right?"
"It's supposed to be Guild members and staff only at the meeting," was the reply.
"Who's his father?"
"Patric Verrone."
"I think we can make an exception."
I walked across the Ladies Lounge and shook the hand of the last boy in child care. "Your father has done a great job."
"Thank you," he said.
"Thanks for letting us have him for so long."
"That's okay."
"This is an historic night. And your dad is a big part of it. You should go down and watch him for a little while."
"Thanks. I think I will."

As I turned in my headset and prepared to leave I tried to imagine how this strike will be remembered when this twelve-year-old is eighteen years old; thirty years old; forty years old. I think we'll come off well. I believe this is a contract for the future, for the transition to the world before us. And from that perspective, I came to realize -- this was an historic night. And I'm glad I was there, even if it meant I didn't get to go collect trilobites in the Marble Mountains. And I was glad that no one, of any age, suffered any traumatic injury.

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