Happy ComFest


Most of Saturday was spent sitting at the FreeGeek Columbus booth, spreading the word about what we do. We didn’t have quite as much interest this year as last, but there was still a sufficient flow of traffic to make having the booth worthwhile.

I was scheduled to start my shift at the Jazz Bar at 8 PM, but I decided to get to show up at 7:30. I was put to work refilling tokens for the cashiers. The basic workflow was this: customers exchange cash for tokens at one end of the tent, then get back in line to buy beer. Customers give their tokens to the bartenders who in turn place them in big buckets. It was my task to empty these buckets, sort them by color, and redistribute them back to the cashiers, to ultimately go to new customers (and back to the bartenders; repeat ad infinitum). After several hectic iterations of this, I was put on one of the taps and started serving. I served beer almost non-stop for the next three hours.

As with last year, the line nearly evaporated around 11 PM, and then surged again right before we closed up at 11:30. Unlike last year, I didn’t have any trouble with any of the customers. Everyone was in good spirits, patient, and very understanding of our need to double-check IDs. Last year I got a lot of grief for checking people’s IDs just after they’d been checked when they purchased tokens. No one really complained, or was unpleasant in any way, and everyone smiled broadly when I exclaimed “Happy ComFest!” as I handed them their drinks.

There were four taps on each block: one specialty beer (Columbus Pale Ale, where I was), one tap for Labatt’s Blue Light, and two taps for Labatt’s Blue. During the busiest times, all four would be in use. We often ended up playing Twister, reaching over, under, and around one another to reach a vacant tap to keep the beer flowing. The most interesting pour of the night for me was when a young woman presented me with four mugs at once. I was able to grasp, and then fill, all four using only one hand, which surprised several of my coworkers.

My coworkers on Saturday night were a mixed bunch. One fellow and I got into a very comfortable rhythm, communicating effectively about what we were doing so that we could either get out of one another’s way, or help expedite their pour by leaving a tap on, for example. There were two women working in my section, too, and they had trouble all night long getting a decent pour. At first, they seemed terrified to spill any beer, despite the constant slopping of foam and beer going on all around them. Then they couldn’t grasp the concept of tipping the cup or mug as they poured, despite repeated reminders. Then they complained frequently about the CO2 mix. The first time it was a valid complaint, as the beer was pouring very, very slowly. After that, though, they complained that it was too high, and causing too much foam. At several points I offered to pour for them, just to get them out of my way.

The only real ruckus that occurred happened early in the evening: while pouring a beer, I heard indistinct but raised voices behind me. I turned around to see a lot of people speaking toward one fellow at the front of the line. He claimed to have dropped his tokens while his friends were ordering, and wanted to scoot to the head of the line in order to get his beer right after them. The folks nearby all yelled that he was jumping the line. The police officer on duty next to me told me the story, but was unable to say whether this guy did, in fact, ditch. Thankfully, one of the cashiers was able to confirm that the guy did ditch, so I politely refused his beer and sent him to the back of the line. The crowd erupted in cheers, and several customers offered me high-fives.

Late in the evening one of the shift supervisors approached me and said “See me, after that pour.” I was immediately overcome with fear. Had I served a minor? Was there a problem? What did I do? As it turned out, the supervisor wanted me to stand at the end of the line of people buying tokens to close it off. I was charged with turning away folks who wanted to buy tokens, so that the cashiers could close up. Again, to my surprise, no one was particularly agitated about being denied. They weren’t happy, but no one caused any trouble.

It’s a lot of fun to work the late shift. It might be fun serving an afternoon shift at a beer tent, but I think I’ll stick with the late shift: the cool evening breeze helps a lot, most of the people aren’t miserable from having stood in line in direct sunlight for ten minutes, and many of the people have reached that comfortable buzz that keeps them in good spirits. I barely heard the bands, playing not more than 100 feet away, but I still had a great time.

Sunday afternoon Carina and I went back down to enjoy a last ComFest beer for the weekend. We found Lisa and Jeff, and spent several hours milling around, chatting comfortably. I saw several of the shift supervisors I’d worked with the previous days, and they all invited (or nearly begged, in one case) me to volunteer again next year. There’s no question about it: as long as I’m in town, I’ll be volunteering at ComFest 2008!

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