Ron Onesti: What I miss most, and what I won't miss at all
This pandemic thing has been tough on so many fronts. Besides the health concerns, I believe it has been the "not knowing" that is so difficult on all of us. So many unanswerable questions, only to be realized when we actually come out of this.
Any typical day with my dad was never short of a reference or an entire story about his days in World War II. He was a sergeant in the U.S. Army infantry, fighting on the ground in Italy and France. Many times he talked about being away from home for so long, with his only contact to his family back on Taylor Street in Chicago's Little Italy neighborhood being a letter or two every few weeks.
"We would be in foxholes for a month at a time," he would say. He had to be hospitalized for a condition known as "trench foot" because the soldiers would stand in water for days. And getting rations of food during the battles was difficult, too. There were some weeks when all his company had was orange marmalade and stale bread, for days and days.
So any time we were at a restaurant and the term "orange marmalade" would come up, he would shake his head and wave the person off. I was glad that was ALL he would do!
I would ask him, "With bullets whizzing past your ear, standing in mud for weeks, not knowing if you would survive from one minute to the next, surrounded by human loss, how did you manage to get through it?"
He told me he never lost sight of the end goal, and that he had a job to do. He couldn't worry about dying because it kept him down. It was the beautiful memories of back home and the promise of getting back to "normalcy" that kept him going.
"But weren't you guys afraid, all the time?"
"Of course!" he said. "But I would think of the Sunday dinners at home. The simple things like getting dressed up on Saturday nights to go dancing at the Paradise Ballroom, having a pizza or a piece of pie with my friends after the dance. Just getting my shoes shined or a simple haircut! It gave me the strength to look past the fear and by the time I knew it, it was New Year's Eve, the war was over and I was on a ship back home!"
His story is a lesson that has helped me through all of this.
I miss it all.
I think about arriving at the theater early in the morning one day in the near future. I see tour busses parked outside our dressing room door, ready to unload and start the day. The dock door is open and our production team is buzzing all around the stage setting up drum risers, backline instruments and dropping cable. The show is happening! THIS will become almost more exciting than the show itself!
Our management and administrative teams will arrive to get reception, marketing, ticketing, finance, group sales and VIP Program coordination up and running for the day. I will be in my office listening to the phones ring off the hook. It is great to hear, and to see our people doing their jobs (well) with bodies flying around our office filled with purpose and vigor. What a warm and energizing dynamic THAT will be!
That now-wonderful sound check, complete with a loud, "Check, 1, 2 … Check, 1, 2 … Hey, Hey -- Hey, Hey" makes its way down the hall into my office. Ahh, feedback, sweet, sweet feedback! Can't wait for the delightful, screeching feedback!
I look forward to going down to the theater to welcome the band. Most of the acts have been here before, so it is usually excited hellos and hugs I am met with. This time may look like lovers running toward each other in slow motion and jumping into each other's arms. OK, a bit dramatic. But I can tell you, it won't be far from that!
The hospitality team is working the dressing rooms, putting out deli trays and all the other things the bands usually ask for. I bet the sliced deli meats and cheeses will be treated as if they were flown in that morning from Italy! The green M & M's have never tasted so good!
The day goes on and its time to make my way to the Speakeasy on the third floor. The staff is already dressed in their Flapper-Girl/Newsboy attire, adding so much to the colorful atmosphere of the Roaring Twenties-themed experience.
Customers begin to arrive! So many people to see! I miss this the most! May 15 will officially be our 15th year at The Arcada. Over that time we have created relationships with so many really great people. Their loyalty and appreciation for what we at The Arcada have attempted to create is truly immeasurable! I love them all!
HOW AM I GOING TO DO THIS? The big question is how will I say hello to everyone, and NOT HUG THEM? I hugged everybody before this, but now, I miss them so much, it will kill me! Fit me for an Arcada-branded straight jacket!
But I know, safety is safety.
One of my favorite things to do is to walk through the crowd before a show, saying hello to as many guests as I can personally. I ask about the operation they had a couple weeks before, notice a different hair color, or make a big deal about the kids or the grandparents they brought that evening. I will also listen to what is always the most popular statement that SOUNDS like a question. "Hey Ron, ya know who you should get here?" They always proceed to answer their own "question."
I put the act on stage and the crowd goes wild! Can you imagine just how wonderful that first note will sound?
After the show begins, I LOVE going back up to the speakeasy to see it full … people eating, drinking and dancing. An entire building filled with happy people. Nothing like it.
What I won't miss, besides the obvious, will be either CNN or Fox News Channel being on every day. I won't miss numbers on the upper right corner of my TV screen, ZOOM-style split-screen interviews and I definitely won't miss lawyers' commercials, the My Pillow guy and Arby's "We Have The Meats" proclamation.
"You never know what ya got until you lose it." Ain't that the case! It's coming back soon; MUSIC is coming back soon … I can feel it!
Stay positive. It really could be worse. At least I have more than orange marmalade every day!
• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email email@example.com.