While you are heading to your cars in the parking lot after the last angler has left the stage…behind you…behind the stage…the orchestra begins.
A team of several workers begins taking everything down.
I have watched as they dismantle the stage, load all the equipment, and then drive it to the next venue that night, and in the morning, set it all up again.
I have watched them set it up in 100 degree heat.
I have watched them set it up, or take it down in driving rain.
I have watched them physically reach up and hold the tents, using their bodies as counterweights to the high winds buffeting the canvas.
Their names are Eric Nichols from Paris, Tn who has been doing it for 8 years, Mike Wall a local guy from around Oneida here, a new guy to the crew, and John Mason.
John Mason has been doing it for 15 years, he also takes care of all the B.A.S.S vehicles and trailers.
Before that, “I was in the banking business, was the head teller at a bank.”
And then, there is Tony.
Chief Deputy (ret) Tony Quick. “For the past 27 years I was the Undersheriff in Cullman County, Alabama.”
I can’t explain what Tony does, because he does everything.
As does everybody else.
But also know this about Tony, he is also retired from 26 years of serving in the Alabama National Guard, “The last 16 months I was a Platoon Sergeant in Iraq.”
To know Tony is to know he loves doing what he is doing with B.A.S.S.
I knew beforehand about Tony’s law enforcement background, and I always thought that what he does now gives him peace.
I did not know about his military background.
I did not know that he was in action in Iraq.
And I certainly did not know this about the Platoon Sergeant, “don’t really want to talk much about combat…”
No one who has ever been in it, does.
No one who has ever been in it, forgets the horrors.
No one who has ever been in it, is ever the same.
“…saw action yeah….”
And Tony just trails off…I say nothing, ask nothing, write action, I just wait.
“…action…(a long pause)…I lost three men…lost them to an ambush…”
And the smile that is always there, leaves.
I put my notebook in my pocket.
I put my pen in my pocket.
I am moved by the man who brings the red fish bags to the anglers.
I grab his shoulder, rub his back, and move away.
And as I do, silently, so no one will see, I pretend to adjust the brim of my Tilly hat, but if you looked close, what you would have seen was this,
a salute to the Platoon Sergeant who now works Backstage @B.A.S.S
“…haul them trusses down and get'em up them ramps…”
The night comes to me once again on the dock.
I silently thank all those who make this sport, make B.A.S.S go. Dozens and dozens of people of whom you will never know their name.
And to them I apologize for not telling their story…yet.
But please know this, it is not only the Elite Anglers who take to the stage.
There are Elites working backstage as well.
There are Elites working the offices in Birmingham as well.
It is a sport of Elites both on and off the stage.
And as I walk off the dock,
I hear the flap of the Heron wings.
I hear the chorus of the frogs.
And the moon and the stars light my way.
Does the Heron know we are here.
Do the frogs know we are here.
I hope not.
I hope to them, we are the nameless backstage.
Because only then,
will the universe, know our names.
“…cause when it comes to moving me
you guys are the champs.”
The Load Out
See pictures by db of backstage at B.A.S.S. here