One of my many gigs…
Inflatable Dinosaurs on a Road Trip the End World Hunger
After I graduated from college, I cast about for jobs in my field and out of it. While I waited for calls, I sweated at a warehouse, which is the subject of another piece, tentatively titled “Why I Probably Hate Your College’s Logo.” As I slowly went mad unloading containers of spiritwear from China, I went through the interview process for a two-month traveling gig, where I’d educate people about food security and agriculture.
Lo and behold, I got the job, left the warehouse without looking back, and hopped on a plane to St. Louis.
Basically, the gig was this: as part of a travel expo, I would bounce around the country, stopping mostly on college campuses. We would engage with students, donate to a local charity, and generally make a nuisance of ourselves as people tried to get to class.
The team consisted of four people: me, Kaitlyn (an actual gem), a 30-something ex-marine I’ll called Chaotic Neutral, and the human embodiment of Satan on earth, sent here to make the rest of us miserable for six weeks as punishment for the crimes of humanity.
Our mascot was a dinosaur, (we were making hunger extinct) and most of our merch was dino-themed. One of the jobs on exhibit was to dress in an inflatable t-rex suit and attract people to our tables. This was generally done by Chaotic Neutral, though I took a few turns in the suit.
We started in St. Louis, for training. A day or two in, Satan discovered a problem: namely, that in the job description, we’d been told we needed close-toed shoes, and she had nothing aside from her birkenstocks. She began asking our boss to pay for a new pair for her. Naively, I thought this was a little high maintenance.
A few days after she’d finished protesting the shoe issue, Lucifer’s Earthly Icon and I decided to go get Chinese food. She began quizzing me on my bisexuality, a subject I’m no stranger to being interrogated on. Her mind was blown when I said I had mostly, but not exclusively, dated women.
Then she got the part that everyone seems obsessed with: Had I Ever Had Penetrative Intercourse? Which was the beginning of a lot of people’s favorite debate: How To Decide If a Bi Person Is a Virgin. As usual, I deflected, because really, one must preserve at least some mystery.
“So, like, when you masturbate, do you do penetration?” asked Beelzebub, who had at that point known me for less than a week.
“Uh,” I said.
“Do you have orgasms?” she asked.
“Well,” I said.
The Devil began to discuss how difficult it was for her to achieve orgasm, how often she masturbated, and how she was bi too.
“Would you go out with a woman who wouldn’t go down on you?” she asked.
“Er,” I said.
“I think vaginas are gross,” she continued.
“Wontons,” I told myself, “soon you’re getting wontons.”
We got wontons. And Satan got her new shoes. And then we flew to Washington D.C.
Here are a few basics about how the exhibit worked.
We would call people over, get them to take a quiz, and then let them spin a prize wheel. It was pretty straightforward fun, but as anyone who’s ever worked with the general public knows, there were plenty of ways it could be fucked up. One this we miscalculated was the average knowledge of geography that any American has.
When the wheel landed on “t-shirt,” players had to answer a question correctly before we gave them a shirt.
We had a list of questions, including “Which state in the US is the most food insecure.” Answers varied from “Canada” to “Chicago.” The answer was, in fact, Mississippi, though no one believed me when I told them this. I even had a few people react angrily.
I wanted to point out that I, a food security roadie, couldn’t help the fact that Mississippi was the most food insecure state. I mean, in a round-about-way, my job was to make it not be, but I was equipped with only rubber dinosaurs and patience that was wearing thin, so I wasn’t making much headway.
People did even worse with the “Which continent has the highest number of food insecure people?” The answer was Asia, so when they guessed “China,” as they often did, I would encourage them by saying “Okay, yeah, the continent China is in!” At this point, ninety percent of people blue-screened.
I always gave them a t-shirt for being a good sport.
One of our prizes were little seed sticks with basil on them. They also caused a problem. A woman, upon receiving hers, asked if they were from Monsanto or were genetically modified. I told her that in the US, there are only ten GMO crops, and basil is not one of them, but the accusations continued. I held out the seedstick dumbly until she left.
One of my specific jobs was to see how many prizes we gave away, as a metric of how many people we interacted with. This meant that every morning, I needed to count out pens, seedsticks, and rubber dinosaurs onto a table. If anyone tried to disturb my routine, I just counted even louder until they went away. It was almost certainly not the best job for the most neurotic person on tour, but life works in mysterious ways.
Kaitlyn often helped me. Satan did something that was not helping (and was in fact closer to the opposite) wherein she micromanaged how many t-shirts we put on the table and yelled at Kaitlyn to put boxes under the trailer before they were even finished being emptied, because they were apparently an eyesore. After all this hard work, Satan took a spot under the tent and stayed on her phone for the rest of the day.
Chaotic Neutral and I bounced around in everything from Pennsylvania rain to Texas oven-like heat, trying to lasso people, and Kaitlyn handled them as they made their way through the quiz and prize wheel. I don’t drink coffee, but occasionally I’d load up on a latte, which affects me roughly as much as three redbulls affect a normal person, and then the rest of the day would be a blur.
The first disaster happened because we left Satan in a Whole Foods on the campus at George Washington University. We were running late, and the square we were set up in was close by, so we didn’t think walking over after we checked out would be a big deal.
We were wrong. Satan and chaotic neutral bickered about this the entire way to the park. According to the Devil, it was her right as tour manager to always know where we were.
“Think of me as your mom,” said Lucifer.
I tried and failed to imagine my mother in Satan’s position. I’m pretty sure that if you total up all the times my mom has been petty in her entire life, it would equal the amount of times my demonic crewmate was petty in the first hour after she woke up on any given day. I’m also pretty sure that my mother on zero sleep is more intelligent than Satan firing on all cylinders.
“You are not Suzan,” I said, and went back to counting dinosaurs.
I think she gave up, because the rest of the exhibit was peaceful. Disaster did not strike until we reached to Philadelphia and a very small, very quaint Ag school with its own apiary and around a thousand students. Most of the day was pretty chill, though we did get rained on. But when Chaotic Neutral tried to put the large TV (which wasn’t working anyway) into the trailer, since no one was around and we’d need to start tearing down too, Satan had other ideas.
She told him this was a terrible thing to do, as we still had Half An Hour ‘til we were technically done.
Chaotic Neutral asked her why exactly moving a single TV was a bad idea, and she replied that as the manager she got to say what happened. Chaotic Neutral pointed out that she did zero actual work, and therefore wasn’t exactly management material.
Kaitlyn and I exchanged glances and began counting dinosaurs.
After they finished shouting at each other, Chaotic Neutral left us to tear down by ourselves, clearly thinking that three girls couldn’t do it without his help. We finished teardown and drove back in icy silence, Satan playing a radio station with 1920s hits that got deeply under my skin.
Then we piled into the air BnB, the Devil made us talk the whole thing out and got very upset with me for having the opinion that “This whole situation is bullshit; please leave me out of it” rather than “Chaotic Neutral is abusive.”
Our boss called us and set everything straight. Later on, our driver asked me, privately, what had happened.
“Lucifer is incompetent and Chaotic Neutral handled it poorly,” I said.
Then we went to Florida.
Florida was fine (I saw an armadillo), and so was Texas. But what was really a slice of Americana was the Texas-to-Indiana drive.
This was middle America, with “HELL IS REAL” billboards and cornfields and miles and miles of road. Chaotic Neutral dipped out, probably because he needed to prepare for the wedding. Yes, by the way, his wedding day was the day after the tour ended. He mentioned it absently when we first met him.
So Kaitlyn, Satan, and I split up the drive. The Devil would stop exactly when her three hours were up and jangle the keys at one of us.
At some point during the drive, it was revealed that Satan had met someone in St. Louis. Her long phone calls hadn’t been to her boyfriend at home, but to a mysterious new guy she’d met on Tinder during our first week on tour. Tinder guy was in love with her and planned to move back to her home city, where she lived with her mother and boyfriend, who had no idea about any of this.
This is why, when we reached Joplin, Missouri, and Satan did not bother us to drive her somewhere or to take the car, I began to have a suspicion of what was going on.
I looked at Kaitlyn. “You know,” I said, “we’re in Missouri again.”
Kaitlyn’s eyes got wide.
“If she’s in a good mood tomorrow, we know she got some,” I said, hoping she had.
Then, Kaitlyn and I went to see a waterfall. The next day, Lucifer was about as chirpy as she got. I thanked my stars, and poured one out for the poor guy who didn’t know what he was getting himself into.
The last exhibit was the Future Farmers of America convention in Indianapolis. If you haven’t been to FFA, it is something of an otherworldly space.
Imagine a giant conference hall, with thousands of exhibits. Imagine there are animals, lassos, a giant store filled with camo merchandise, and tens of thousands of earnest children in blue corduroy jackets.
These kids came from everywhere. Puerto Rico, Alaska, Hawaii, California, Oklahoma. They and their chaperones swarmed our exhibit, spinning the wheel and answering the questions. They were all incredibly polite and well-behaved. And they were going to be growing our food in the years to come, so I was happy to give them tshirts and rubber dinosaurs.
Then Donald Trump showed up.
Let me backtrack. I had begun to develop a fear that the Cheeto-in-Chief was following me. He had turned up in Minnesota right after I’d left for the tour, he’d been in Erie when I’d gone home for a funeral, and now, here he was, making a surprise visit to talk to America’s future agriculturalists.
It was announced about a day before he intended to show up. I had many thoughts about what I’d do if he came up to the exhibit. Would I punch him and let secret service tackle me to the ground? Would I make a scathing comment that he probably didn’t have the IQ to understand? Would I simply address him as “Commander Baby Hands?”
However, we never crossed paths, which is probably for the best.
And then, the tour was over.
We flew out, Donald Trump flew in, and I never saw Satan’s Avatar on Planet Earth again (so far. Fingers crossed). A few days later, I somewhat spontaneously ended up in Berlin for ten days, played DnD above a brothel, and, was questioned by German children about whether or not I smoked weed, went to a Christmas market.
Then when I went home, I started working at an organic cleaning company, which is the subject of an entirely different piece, tentatively titled: “All People are the Same, and All People are Disgusting: Why We Should Make Racists Clean Toliets.”
Kaitlyn and I still got coffee, while I was living in Minnesota, and never did we tired of talking about that time we spent six weeks traveling with Lucifer Morningstar, Satan’s Incarnation on Earth. I have no idea what she is doing now, but I hope it is as minimally damaging to everyone around her as possible. I often dream of a Jurassic Park scenario where she is eaten by a t-rex. (Fingers crossed.)