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The Story of the 1999 SSQQ Swing Extravaganza
Written by Rick Archer, 2004

"Okay, all you fat cats, after all that piggin' out you been doin' for the past three weeks, maybe you could use a little Reet Poteet get outta your seat!  Whaddya think? Suppose you could use a little exercise and maybe have a little fun?  Would that be too too terrible ? Get your ole butt in gear and join us for one Super-Duper hoodoo voodoo Swing Saturday!  Let's Go, Daddyo!"

This was the advertisement to promote the 1999 Swing Extravaganza. Does anyone have a clue what that nonsense above means?   I sure don't which is sad because I was the guy who wrote it!!   Now it is years later, but for the life of me I still have no idea what "Reet Poteet" means. It was a pretty strange sales pitch, but it was effective.  

How The Extravaganza Got Started...

The 1999 SSQQ Swing Extravaganza was held just one week after New Year's Day. It was an enormous success by all measures save one.

Would you rather hear the Happy Story first or the Sad Story first? 

I suggest a little background information on the Big Event before we make a decision of this magnitude...

Towards the end of 1998, Houston was absolutely smoking with Swing Fever!  As always, the music started it.  Big Band Swing music had pretty much faded after the end of World War II.  However in the mid-1990s bands like the Cherry Poppin' Daddies, the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Royal Crown Revue, and the Brian Setzer Orchestra had begun re-recording old Swing music plus adding new tracks of their own.

A lot of their music included remakes of 1930s and 40s Big Band classics with a modern beat added. The updated versions the original tunes sounded great!  Plus the new Swing sound was popular with all ages. A lot of people in the 40+ generation didn't care much for Rap or Grunge, but they really liked this reincarnated Swing music!

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Then there were remakes of 50s and 60s Lounge music as well.  It was fun hearing Royal Crown Revue do covers of Bobby Darin's "Mack the Knife" and "Beyond the Sea".  Not did the older crowd enjoy hearing these favorites again, but the younger generation liked it too.  In fact, they liked this Swing music a lot!

The famous Gap Jeans TV Commercial featuring Louis Prima singing "Jump, Jive, and Wail" came out in April 1998. This was the spark that lit the fire. The commercial featured some good-looking kids dressed in hip clothes dancing flashy Swing patterns to catchy music. Then suddenly a guy throws a girl in the air while another guy leaps over a girl's head and another girl flips over a guy's back. Bam Bam Bam - one aerial after another!  Wow!!  This stuff is hot!  Overnight America had its newest craze.

By coincidence, Brian Setzer had just released a remake of Prima's "Jump, Jive, and Wail".  In fact, ask most people today and they will say he was the one singing in the commercial.  The simultaneous debut of Setzer's "JJW" cover and the commercial was merely coincidental. However people were naturally curious to know what Brian Setzer thought about the commercial. Here is what he said in a Billboard Publications interview.

"People don't like to admit the commercial started the whole thing because they think it's corny for some reason or another. But how do you think people in Iowa found out about us? They don't have their own scene; they don't have clubs to go to. They found out because they saw the Gap commercial and they liked it a lot!!"

As a result of the frenzy created by the Gap Commercial, SSQQ was filled to the brim all summer long with high school and college students getting their dance skills ready for the school year. There were lots of the over 40 crowd learning right along with them.  Age meant nothing. The apprentice neo-swing kids learned to dance right along with all the old people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s!  

Everyone liked the music and now they wanted to learn how to dance to it. Suddenly some of our Monday Night Swing Dance classes had over 100 people!

Never before...I mean Never... had we seen so many people lining up to take Swing classes.

1997 BC (Before the Commercial), SSQQ Swing classes were offered twice a week.

Then in 1998 AC thanks to the Gap Commercial, more people signed up for Swing Dance in the three months of summer than in all of 1997 combined.  1998 was easily the the most successful year of Swing classes the studio had ever seen.

Now as we approached the start of 1999, SSQQ was was now offering Swing classes FOUR DIFFERENT NIGHTS a week!  

Was Swing Popular in Houston?   Oh, yes, indeed it was!!

As the New Year approached, 1999 promised to be the biggest year in the SSQQ history. The Swing Extravaganza seemed like a fun way to start off the New Year. SSQQ had never had a party with a live band before, but with so much interest in Swing dancing it seemed like a can't-miss idea.

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The Stage is Set

We decided to offer an entire day of post-New Year "Get Back in the Swing of Things" dance workshops combined with an exciting party afterwards. Throughout the day we offered classes in Beginning and Advanced Swing, Lindy Hop, 20s Charleston, Swing Acrobatics, Lounge Dancing, and Foxtrot to Sinatra music.

We were not sure what was to come of our experiment. Even though we were confident that we had a good idea, there was still a lot of risk involved because the band was pretty expensive and so was the stage we had built especially for the event.

As I drove to the studio that morning after playing basketball, I remember being pretty nervous. Advance Registration had been good, but I still had a lot of things to think about. I definitely had premonitions of problems to come. I could not shake the nagging feeling that there was "Something" I had missed or overlooked.

I was almost certain something was going to go wrong. And guess what?  Something definitely went wrong.

Let's Tackle the Sad Story First.

Is it possible to have the greatest success of your life at the same time as your greatest fiasco?  If you were to ask me that question, the answer would be an unequivocal "yes".  On Saturday, January 9, 1999, SSQQ reached an all-time high and an all-time low on the very same day.

The first workshop was to start at 10:00 am that Saturday morning. When I arrived close to 10 am myself, I was stunned to find the entire parking lot was already full!  Like a freshly fallen snow blanketing the landscape, everywhere you looked there were cars and more cars.

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There was an ocean of cars. The parking lot was full.  There were more cars on First Street.  There were more cars across the street. There were cars on top of cars. And there was no end in sight. As I walked to the studio, I noticed even more cars slowly streaming through the parking lot in search of an open space.  A big smile crossed my face.

Ohmygoodness!!  The Extravaganza was a big success!  We had hit a home run for sure.

Now I rolled up my sleeves and got down to work. I had deliberately avoided scheduling myself to teach classes so I could be available to handle anything unexpected. That was one of the few smart moves I made all day. Sure enough, I was needed almost immediately.

I had just begun helping direct people with late registration when Eric, the owner of the hair salon next door to us, came in and asked to speak to me. He was upset that his first customer had nowhere to park!  Uh oh. Something told me this was trouble.

I got up and walked outside with Eric. His first customer was sitting in a running automobile in the middle of the throughway. Now it hit me. From end to end every parking place in front of every store was filled. In fact there was no open parking space anywhere in sight.

Just like he said, where was his customer supposed to park?

Unfortunately I had been so focused on the great results that I did not even begin to see the looming iceberg. I was stunned. How could I have missed this?  I was completely taken off guard.

I realized that the parking lot situation was about to throttle the other six businesses in the shopping center. I also had a feeling I was in for a lot of trouble.

Welcome to the story of one of the longest days of my life, the infamous SSQQ All-Day Saturday Parking Lot Strangle.

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good was that the workshops were wonderful fun and so was the big dance. We will get to that later.

The Bad was that the other businesses were going to be cut off from their customers on a busy Saturday.

The Ugly was how I was about to be treated.

Just Shoot Me

You know that sinking feeling you get when you realize something bad has just happened?  I had that "uh oh" feeling big time.

While SSQQ celebrated its record attendance, I realized that Eric was simply the first of the six owners of other businesses in the Bissonnet Shopping Center who were soon to arrive only to discover that their customers had ZERO ACCESS to their shops on the busiest day of the week !!  

Snapping out of my dark visions of things to come, I suggested that the man double-park behind the other cars. I promised I would stay outside in case someone came along and needed to get out.  So I found a column on the sidewalk to lean on and began to baby-sit this man's car.

I wondered what was next. I would find out soon. There was a
storm headed my way.

The Nightmare Begins

At exactly 10 am, the S began to hit the fan. As I stood in the parking lot watching the double-parked car, Lexie from Magpies Gift Shop came down to confront me.  An easy target as I stood there in the walkway, Lexie wasted no time getting right in my face.

"What have you done!?!  My customers have NOWHERE TO PARK!!"

immediately demanded I remove the cars parked in front of her gift shop or she would call a tow truck and remove them herself.

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I cannot even begin to explain just how angry she made me feel.

For starters, our students had done nothing wrong. As customers of our business, they had a legal right to park anywhere in the parking lot. By comparison, customers of Magpies had been parking in front of SSQQ for years whenever it was convenient for them.

Plus I hate people who threaten to tow cars with a purple passion. I hate tow trucks and I hate people who drag off cars behind people's backs. And right now I thoroughly disliked this woman who was threatening me and my business.

On the other hand, Lexie was correct about the parking problem.  I apologized as best I could, but I could see my words falling on empty ears.  So I reminded her our customers had a legal right to park in front of her store whether she liked it or not. I added she did not have the legal right to tow cars.

She replied, "Then get into your studio and find out whose cars are parked there and tell them to move them pronto!"

Somehow I held onto my temper. I replied that there were 200 people inside the studio and that I was not about to disrupt all of these people just to find the two or three people who had done nothing wrong by parking in front of her business.  I said that at the 11:30 am Lunch Break, I would have every instructor make an announcement to clear any cars on the front row. I added that until then her customers should simply double-park like the man getting the hair cut.

Lexie turned on her heels and stomped back down to Magpies. Immediately on cue, Dick stormed out of the Radio Shack. He had obviously been waiting his turn to take a crack at me. 

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An ex-marine complete with a scowl and a crew cut, Dick was a man I did not like.  And I am sure his feeling for me was mutual. So I braced myself.  Dick and I had once had an vicious argument that I had never forgiven him for.

One night
he walked right into the middle of my dance class to complain about a car parked in front of his store.  The man had a lot of nerve!   There were 25 shocked students who witnessed a very ugly confrontation. I told him there was a right way to handle this and a wrong way and that he had chosen the wrong way.

Dick could not have cared less. He wanted those cars moved and intended to remain in the studio till he got his way.  I thought otherwise. I told him to leave or explain the problem to the Bellaire police.

So Dick left in an angry huff. We had never mended fences.

Ever since that fight Dick had made it a habit to stand next to his Radio Shack door every evening at 7 pm. He would bark orders at anyone who parked in front of his store to move their car. Believe me, after hearing the tone of his voice, I would have moved my car too.

But today everyone had parked in front of his store before Dick even got there. Now he was in another fighting mood. "Get those G-D cars moved or I am going to have them moved myself!!"

Was there an echo out here?  Hadn't I just heard the same thing from Lexie?  

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Now I began telling Dick the same thing I had told Lexie.

Dick didn't like what he heard any more than Lexie did.
Cursing profusely, he returned to Radio Shack.

I suspect he must have aimed his new Radio Shack electron ray gun at my brain in retaliation because my head immediately began to throb. I had a terrible headache!   And it wasn't even 10:15 am. The event was scheduled to go past midnight. This was shaping up as the longest day of my life.

Next it was Frank who had decided to leave his dance workshop early. By a dark coincidence, Frank's car was one of the cars parked in front of Radio Shack.  You would think this was good news, but it wasn't. Frank's car was blocked by a double-parked car at Radio Shack and he couldn't get out.


I gambled and asked Frank to wait a moment until the double-parked customer left Radio Shack and cleared the spot.

The parking lot was starting to resemble one of those downtown parking lots where they double-park everywhere to make an extra buck. There were now five double-parked vehicles. It was getting increasingly difficult for any car to drive through the parking lot without hitting another car.

Fortunately the wait only lasted four minutes.  The customer left Radio Shack and Frank's car was free. He pulled out from Radio Shack without me having to go in there and face Dick again.  Thank goodness. I didn't know if I could take another mano a mano with Mr. Leatherneck.

Let's Get Ready to Rumble!

Next came Joel Loshack, the owner of Door Warehouse. His store was located at the far corner of the building.  I had never met this man before. It seems in the spirit of the day Loshack had been about to call a towing company when someone told him who I was. Now he came down the sidewalk. He immediately began to chew me out.

Loshack said he had spent $1,000 in placing ads to announce a sale that day and he wasn't going to put up with this!!  Then he stepped closer and got right in my face. He said, "How about let's move those cars, buddy?  I need the area in front of my store cleared for my customers."

I have not been in a serious fight since childhood, but the way he approached me, I felt my muscles tense up for battle. I felt very threatened, but decided to try diplomacy first. I told him the same thing I had said to Lexie and Dick... use double-parking for now and when the classes let out at 11:30 (an hour from now), I would have the cars moved.

I also warned him he had no legal right to tow cars.  He stared at me for a moment. I stood my ground. Then without a word he turned and walked away.

(Side Note: Ironically, two years later Loshack would get his revenge on me. Sometime around 2001 Loshack moved his store about three hundred yards to a separate building near the studio on the corner of Bissonnet and First Street.  Not long after that Loshack became legendary for towing SSQQ cars parked in front of his store at night even though his business was closed. Believe me, I was not at all sad to see his business go bankrupt in 2003. But he continued to have cars towed even after his business closed! 

Now with Loshack gone, was it safe to breathe again?

I had run the gauntlet of store owners and was at least semi-intact.  I was able to comfort myself with the knowledge that no matter how miserable I was personally, the Extravaganza was going great.

I also smiled a little at the thought that at least one storeowner liked me a little. Charlie's Barbeque was doing great business all day long with hungry SSQQ students. I wondered what the owners of the Nail Shop thought because they never said a word one way or the other. Maybe no news was good news on a day like this.

But the other four hated me and didn't mind letting me know it. Surrounded by so much hostility, I felt so tense I wanted to scream.  Was this a nightmare?  If so, then pinch me. I want to wake up!

Dirty Business

Nor was I given the chance to fulfill my 11:30 am promise. One of my enemies decided to fight dirty. As I stood on the sidewalk policing the double-parked cars and defending the few open spots from incoming dance students, a Bellaire Fire Department car pulled up. Someone had called the Fire Department to say we had too many people in the building.

Now I had to re-enter the studio and escort the Fire Marshall from room to room. I had no idea where we stood. Needless to say, I was very frightened the entire day was about to be ruined.

Fortunately the Fire Marshall was well acquainted with the studio.  I had met with him on many previous occasions during his yearly inspections and had always made it a practice to make whatever changes he asked me to do. Consequently over the years we had developed a rapport.  He had a good feel for how many people the studio could hold since he had calculated it in the past. After a brief walk through every room, he said not to worry because we were well within the code. I started to breathe again. I was becoming a nervous wreck.

As I watched the Fire Marshall leave, I experienced a very dark moment. First these people had threatened to tow my student's cars. Then I saw them openly berate several latecomers whose only crime was to look for an empty spot.

What kind of businessmen were they, anyway?  It was one thing to be ugly to me, but the people they were pushing around were customers of the entire shopping center. Indeed, Dick from Radio Shack had given his store such a bad reputation no one from the studio dared go anywhere near the place. I concluded these people were not exactly seeing the big picture here. I shook my head in disgust.

They had been vicious to me, but that was nothing compared to stooping so low as to call the Fire Marshall. One of them had tried to sabotage the entire day's proceedings. I felt under attack.

I tried to put myself in their shoes.  I understood why they were upset, but I was just too mad to be calm about it. I knew they had a right to be angry, but I was bitter about the continuous lashing I was getting.  Calling the Fire Marshall was the last straw.

Plus I was angry with myself.  To tell the truth, at the same time I was angry at the store owners, I also felt very guilty. I did not feel good about hurting the businesses of my neighbors even if they were behaving in a highly parochial manner.

I felt bad that I had not foreseen this problem, but I also felt that I was correct in defending the right of my customers to take the workshops undisturbed.

I wished at the time that I had a thicker skin.

I am a Character in a Charles Dickens Tale of Woe

Believe it or not, my ordeal still wasn't over by a long shot.  A new character entered the stage.

Maggie, owner of Magpies, had just arrived. I had noticed Maggie and her sister Lexie out of the corner of my eye. They were both standing down by their store glowering at me as the Fire Marshall got back in his car to leave. Judging by their hostile expressions, I had a hard time convincing myself that I had no right to accuse Magpies of calling the Fire Marshall.  Realistically it could have been any of the four businesses.

Now Maggie walked towards me down the sidewalkI tensed for more trouble.  Maggie and I had a long history of butting heads that went back years.

After I took over the studio in 1987, I discovered the hard way that someone from Magpies liked to park their truck in the back alley behind their store. This created a big problem for me because this blocked access to the back of my own business.

Once every few months I would arrive at the back alley with a truck full of soft drinks and beer from Sam's Wholesale Club to find an unattended car or truck in the alley. Magpies had blocked the alley again. 

I would have to park the truck, get out and walk around to the front. Then I would walk into the Magpies store and ask if someone would mind moving their car or truck that was blocking the lane. Then someone would eventually open the back door and drive the car around front. This transaction usually took about fifteen minutes.

The first three times it happened I was polite about asking them to please move their vehicle, but that got old fast. For the past several years I bristled every time I had to confront them. What gave them the right to park there?  It was a fire lane. Didn't they have any sense?   Maybe I should have called the Fire Marshall, but no one deserves to be treated like that, right?

We also argued constantly about ssqq students who tried to park in front of the Magpies store on Saturdays. During the week the store closed at 6 pm and the studio opened at 7 pm so there was no conflict.  But on Saturday, our studio had classes from 4:30 to 6:30 pm.  Since Magpies stayed open till 6 on Saturdays, they didn't appreciate having the spots in front of their store used by our students. They expected me to stop it from happening.

This issue became a huge thorn in my side.
I would patiently explain that I am not at the studio on Saturdays and therefore in no position to personally keep those spots open for her.

I explained it would be easier if she simply placed an orange cone in each of the three spots or put up a sign saying "Reserved Parking for Magpies Only".

But Maggie never agreed with me on this solution. She told me to educate all of my students not to park in front of her business.

I explained that many students were new each month and this would become a never-ending task. I said those spots were her responsibility and not mine. The Soviet-USA Cold War wasn't much frostier than our relationship.

Things came to a head one night in November 1998 over the same issue. Normally Magpies closed at 6 pm weekdays, but now Maggie wanted Magpies to stay open late each Thursday to take advantage of the Christmas Shopping Season.

Maggie instructed me to tell my students not to block her store on Thursdays.  I groaned. Here we go again.

As usual I explained that it was her job to police her own parking spaces. As usual Maggie expected me to stand out on the curb in front of her store all evening long and re-route any ssqq customer from the spot.

I bristled at her self-serving attitude. As usual it was a Mexican stand-off. 

For the record, no business ever had assigned parking spots. Mr. Alan Kwan was the owner of the shopping center. Based on the rules our landlord had established, any customer had the right to park in front of any store they wished whenever they wished. I never understood why Maggie didn't grasp the meaning of this rule.

I even suggested she put out a "reserved for Magpies" sign. Why didn't Maggie follow the lead of
Charlie's Barbeque?  Charlie's is the only business that has ever bothered to put up one of those obnoxious "violators will be towed" signs. Although I would prefer a "Reserved for Customers of Charlie's Barbeque" sign, I have to admit these signs have been effective. Let me add the tow away signs are a bluff - no car has ever been towed from any spot on our parking lot in the 25 years I have been here.

It was now 10:45 am.  As the Fire Marshall drove off, Maggie came down the sidewalk to announce she wanted those cars in front of her business moved STAT.  Here we go again. I explained that at 11:30 am each instructor would make an announcement to clear the front row of cars.  Maggie said she didn't care to wait; her customers were being inconvenienced NOW. I stood my ground and said she would have to wait. I said double-parking would allow her customers the much-needed access and that I was monitoring the situation personally.

While she was there, I asked her if she had been the one who called the Fire Marshall. Maggie denied doing it, but added she wished our business would disappear. "I think your business should move. You have outgrown this location. I intend to suggest to the landlord that you have overstayed your welcome and your lease not be renewed."

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I began to seethe. Those were fighting words. I had just as much right to be here as Magpies did!!  I was sick of her attitude.

Until the back alley shenanigans began, I had once been a Magpies customer.  I have always admired the beauty of their store and their wide selection of high-quality gifts.  Furthermore SSQQ students had been patrons of Magpies for twenty years. My studio had brought more business to Magpies than they would care to admit. Plus Maggie's customers and employees parked in front of my business all day long every day of the week, but she had no problem with this. The word that comes to mind is hypocritical.

But since that her customers were going to be inconvenienced for another 45 minutes, she lit into me like a tar baby. My stomach churned with anger at her arrogance.  Abruptly Maggie turned on her heals and stomped off.  This was the fourth "Walk-Off" I had witnessed today. Maggie's was by far the most impressive.

It still wasn't over!!  New players kept showing up with the regularity of actors in a Charles Dickens' "Christmas Carol" rehearsal. First Lexie leaves and Dick shows. Dick leaves and Joel shows. Joel leaves and the Fire Marshall shows. The Marshall goes and Maggie appears.

Just after Maggie left, I watched with dread as my landlord and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Kwan, walked across the parking lot headed towards me. This could be big trouble.  Will this thing ever end?

I braced myself for the next onslaught, but to my surprise Alan Kwan was very civil to me.  So was his wife Rosie.

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Thank goodness.  I was at the breaking point right on the edge between tears and temper. He said he was there because one of the shop owners had phoned him to demand he drive out to the building from his home in Sugarland and solve the problem. He asked me to explain what had happened.

Softened by his calm voice of reason, I told him what had gone wrong, said how sorry I was and added that I had a plan to solve the problem in twenty minutes.

I said I had basically been playing traffic cop for double-parked cars for the past hour and a half plus keeping the few available Front Row spots open in a valiant attempt to make a bad situation tolerable. Always the diplomat, Mr. Kwan said that my 11:30 am solution was probably the best idea for everyone concerned. His reassurance was most welcome.

I told him I was sick and tired of fighting with these people. Mr. Kwan smiled. Unbeknownst to me,
Mr. and Mrs. Kwan had already caught an earful of their own from Lexie, Maggie, Dick, Joel, and Eric that day. It would have been easier for him to side with the majority.  I will always thank him for standing by me in this dark hour. His leadership brought the nightmare to a halt.

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The Reinforcements Save the Day!!

Like an elephant walking through the flower garden, SSQQ had absolutely squashed the other businesses all morning long. Cars would drive by, slow down to take a look at the parking lot, and then keep going. I saw this happen several times.

Finally 11:30 am arrived. Now that it was our lunch break, we were able to free those spaces up again. As promised, I made an announcement to each class to ask that anyone parked in front of a business  move their car. I said this was voluntary and that we would really appreciate the help.  This worked like a charm.  Every one of the spots cleared as people drove to various lunch locations.

Although the toughest part of the day was over, this was still not the end of the ordeal. We still had to guard the Front Row spots from students coming to the afternoon workshops!!  

By now I had completely run out of steam. So f
or the remainder of the day, I asked for volunteers to help patrol the Front Row of the parking lot. Every fifteen minutes someone would go out and relieve a friend from Guard Duty.  These people were lifesavers because this was definitely a boring and thankless task. But with their help we had no further problem protecting the empty front row spaces from new students arriving for the later workshops.

Throughout the day all new incoming people instinctively tried to seize those inviting spots in front of the other businesses. Our volunteers would explain that the businesses needed that spot and the students would cheerfully drive off to find another spot.

But one of our students had the nerve to chew out a volunteer!!  He parked right in front of the Hair Effects salon. The volunteer politely asked him not to park there. He replied, "I'll park here if I damn well please!"  

From what I was told, the guy slammed his door and brushed by the sidewalk volunteer as if he were an immigrant parking valet. My opinion on the decency of humans took a real hit this day.

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It's a good thing I wasn't out there. If someone had talked to me that way after the kind of day I had, we would have a confrontation and that young man would not have taken a class that day. After all, I was just itching for a head to bite off! 

Thank goodness for the volunteers.  There must have been about 20 different people who offered to help. I can honestly say they came to the rescue.

What I Learned That Day

"Experience is a comb that Life throws you after you have lost your hair."

Have truer words ever been said??   As for me, I was practically bald by the end of the day.

The main issue boiled down to control of the disputed parking spots. Just like a bunch of Colorado farmers arguing over water rights during a dry spell, each person had a decidedly different opinion on the correct course of action.

I had two advantages. One, the car owners had a legal right to park wherever they wished. Two, possession is nine-tenths of the law.

But what was the morally correct thing to do?

The way I analyzed it, By the time the Front Row was cleared and everyone got back in class, it would have been almost 11:30 am anyway. What was the point of that?

Finding the 25 car owners would have meant disrupting the classes quite a bit. I would have to go to six classes one by one. This would have taken fifteen minutes to explain what was going on. Then it would have taken at least twenty minutes for each person move their car, find a new spot and make the long walk back.

Plus it would have been terribly awkward to tell people they were expected to move even though they had done nothing wrong. No one likes to be pushed around.

And what would be the consequences of disrupting the workshops?  Of course this major interruption would have put a big damper on the laughter and fun. There was no way I was going to let that happen.  It is true the other businesses were inconvenienced, but double-parking had been working.

I decided they had little to gain while SSQQ had a lot to lose. Therefore I decided to protect the interests of the studio first.  I decided to let the store owners wait.

However sad to say, like a hurricane in its wake, the damage was done.  Hair Effects next door to us had several of its morning customers cancel for lack of parking spaces. The Door Warehouse had placed an expensive ad for its weekend sale that did them little good. Loshack later complained to Mr. Kwan that they did only 1/3rd of their usual Saturday business. They claimed this cost them several thousand dollars in revenue.

Personally, I don't believe Loshack's claim of losing so much money. I saw cars double-parking all day. Obviously anyone who wanted to visit one of the businesses was able to. Plus the Front Row was basically open from noon on.  His customers were only stymied for the first two hours of an eight hour day.

Each of the five men and women I dealt with took some strong shots at me.

No matter how hard I tried to explain my solution, not one person cut me a bit of slack. I was shocked at the strength of their venom considering the fact that their demands were not supported by law and that I promised them to solve the problem in an hour at most.

The most important lesson I learned that day was that in business you can not be weak. I had to stand my ground against some very determined people. If I had given in to the angry demands of the five people I faced, our day would have been ruined and their gains would have been negligible.

Thank goodness Alan Kwan, my landlord, stood behind me. If he had sided with the other people, I am sure I would have caved in and stopped the classes on the spot upon his orders.

He agreed the situation was very unfortunate, but added that neither I or my students had done anything wrong. He also agreed my 11:30 solution was the most practical thing to do.  All he asked was that I plan better if there was to be "a next time". I gave him my promise I would.

There was one thing I was curious about. I asked Mr. Kwan why the ladies who worked at the Nail Shop had not complained. After all, they had to be affected just like the other stores. I wondered if perhaps I had one ally in the shopping center besides Charlie's Barbeque.

Mr. Kwan smiled.  He said the only woman who spoke English hadn't gotten there yet. He assured me that they had complained to him instead. 

Oh. So much for my secret ally.

What a day.

The Eye of the Hurricane

And what about the "Happy Side" of the Extravaganza?

Inside the studio, o
ur workshop students were blissfully unaware of the storm raging outside. Every workshop was well attended and the teachers got lots of compliments for keeping things active and fun.

Laughter and energy pulsed throughout the studio. There were 200 people at the workshops. Everyone had such a good time that practically everyone returned for the big dance party later that night.

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The odd thing is that absolutely no one had a clue that I was fighting a battle outside. While I was a solitary Greek at Thermopylae fighting off the Persians, our students danced and romanced undisturbed in the Eye of the Hurricane.

And like the little Dutch boy with his thumb in the dike, my contribution to the day was my determination to keep the raging tempest from entering our doors.  My success guaranteed our students were allowed to enjoy their classes. 

When we broke for lunch at 11:30, the students were very cooperative and moved their cars without complaint. In fact, they were pretty much unaware that I had psychic blood splattered all over the sidewalk.

Parking was a Problem, but Not for us!

You might be surprised to discover I received no complaints from the students regarding the parking situation. Yes, the business owners were going crazy about the parking problem, but the students themselves had no parking problems whatsoever. 

Many of them had come early to get a good parking spot, but even those who came later didn't mind a walk along First Street.  After all, the walk to the studio from First Street in reality is shorter than the trek to Reliant Stadium, Astroworld, and to most large shopping malls.

Nor were the rooms all that crowded.  SSQQ has the capacity for 400 people. We have come close to the 300 number at a couple of our best Halloween Parties without a problem.

The Extravaganza attendance of 200 was impressive, but as you can see from the various pictures, everyone had plenty of room to dance and have a good time.

Whole Lotta Flirtin' Goin' On!!

Did I mention how cold it was outside?  You would never have known inside the studio. It may have been a cold January day outside, but with all the people we had the air-conditioners on practically from the start!

But that's not what I am talking about. The studio was definitely "hot" in a lot more ways than the temperature.  The entire day was hog heaven for the singles crowd.

There were so many people to meet and dance with!!  Everywhere you looked, someone was making a move on someone while others casually "cruised" from room to room cataloguing the prospects. Still others were content to lean against the wall smiling as the girls walked by. 

One wag suggested the studio looked like a set for "Love Boat". Well, I know one thing - like a show with a short 30 minute script, no one appeared to stay solo for long. This day clearly belonged to the Birds and the Bees. The whole studio was lined wall to wall with perfume and pheromones aplenty. Libidos were on the move.

Let's face it - in addition to plenty of Swing dance, there was the proverbial Mating Dance as well!   The legendary SSQQ Slow Dance and Romance Magic was working overtime. 

One of the ladies remarked to me she couldn't believe how many men there were here at the studio who seemed to be really concentrating on learning to dance. She had always thought men could care less about dancing.

Well, it's true women do probably like to Swing dance more than men, but guys have their own angles to play.

Dr. Joanne Houlahan, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore teaches Swing dancing on the side.  Since I am a graduate of Johns Hopkins, I ran across a story about her highly popular classes.  I suspect she does it to help keep the undergraduates sane and probably herself as well.  Dr. Houlahan had this to say:

"Swing is fun, it's aerobic and it's very interactive. You get to meet so many people." 

When asked why her classes have so many men, Dr.
Houlahan added that learning to dance certainly doesn't hurt their chances to land a date.

"Every woman would rather date a dancer than a non-dancer!"

The guys at our studio aren't as naive as they would have you believe. They have a logic all their own that goes something like this,

  1. "Boy likes Girl."
  2. "Girl likes to dance."
  3. "If Boy learns to dance, Boy gets to dance with Girl."
  4. "Boy gets to put arm around Girl!!"
  5. "Dancing is good for Boy."

Now you know why men learn to dance. It really isn't that complicated, now is it? 

Following that logic explains why the Acrobatics Workshop was one of the hottest tickets that day.  The class included Dips, Drops, Aerials, and Lifts taught by Paul Foltyn and Tresia Reasor .

I was surprised at just how well this class was attended until I discovered some of the men had ulterior motives. Apparently the Acrobatics class was a lot sexier than I had previously realized!! 

As one man whispered with a wink and a smile, "I am really getting to know my partner so much better!"  Ha Ha.

Another guy grinned, "It would take four drinks in a bar to get this close!"  Ha ha.

Another corny joke went along the lines of, "I picked up more women today than I have in my entire life!"  Ha ha.

However judging from the smiles I saw on the faces of the ladies in the room, they were having a pretty darn good time themselves!

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There must be something delightful about being lifted and carried around. 

And you can't can't beat those old-fashioned piggyback rides either!

The Extravaganza was quite a hotbed for Romance that day. For at least one couple, the day was a springboard to take things to the next level!  While some people got dates, others got mates!! 

I received this email from Gayle Luber in 2002:

"Hey Rick, Steve Mink and Gayle Luber, the M&M's from Halloween '99, would like to announce our marriage on May 19 of this year.

We first met at one of the Extravaganzas, then got to know each other in Judy's Zoot Suit classes on Monday nights in the summer of '99.  We've been together ever since. Thanks for all the dance and joy that brought us together.

Still Swingin' after all these years! 
Gayle and Steve"

(Steve and Gayle were married in 2002. In 2005 they became parents!!)

That night at the party the Joint was Jumping.

The Blue Monks with lead singer Jay Hickman were a huge favorite with their mixture of Big Band classics plus 90s Swing hits by the Big Bad Voodoo Daddies and others.  There were so many people dancing out on the floor the place resembled a 1930s Dance Marathon around here!!

The highlight of the evening was a sensational dance performance. In the past year, Judy Archer had trained a sensational Swing Dance team known as the "Swinging Skirts and Mugz".  Judy was looking for a way to show them off at the studio. This is where the idea for the Extravaganza came from.

The Swing Team consisted of 6 couples including Judy Archer and Andrew Wupper, Jerry Randall and Yvonne Evrard, Maureen Brunetti and Chris Richie, Kara Smith and John Covey, Steven Harmeyer and Erica Vogtsberger, plus Neal Pellis and Aimee Clark. This was a very talented group of dancers. The crowd absolutely loved them.

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The Skirts & Mugz danced a high-energy performance to the Brian Setzer song "Jump, Jive, and Wail". You may remember this was the music played in the famous Gap commercial.  This song was originally sung by famous Big Band singer Louis Prima, but the Setzer remake was sexy and scintillating. The dancers went crazy and so did their admiring audience!

The team combined eye-catching synchronized Charleston patterns with quick solos by each team couple. One at a time, each couple would take the middle floor while surrounded by their teammates. They would do a flip or a jump to surprise and amaze the crowd.

These dancers were incredibly
impressive with acrobatics like lifts and aerials. To her surprise, Coach Judy was sent airborne a couple times!

The highlight of the dance performance was a Swing Jam performed by several of the men. The men were clearly far superior hams to the ladies. Two men even hooked up for a great high-flying cartwheel. Adding to the fun was a cameraman from Channel 13 who caught this great act on film.

The 200 Swing Dancers who filled the room were pretty good too!  It was 40 degrees outside but you never would have known it. A couple times I played some slow dance music, but the place was getting so HOT (literally, figuratively) I had to do something to cool the cats and kitties down.

Fortunately most Swing dancers are Slow Music phobic (I secretly suspect they don't know how to move slow).

Whenever I needed to cool the place off, all I had to do was play something slow and tender. The
trick worked to perfection - the floor would empty in a flash and let the AC pull the heat out of the room.  

The Blue Monks did a great job of entertaining us throughout the night.  One of students, Carole Nelson, had once been a professional singer.  She got up on stage and belted out "Boogie Woogie Boy From Company C".  The crowd loved her!

Carole could really sing!!   Bette Midler better watch out!

I also got a big kick from watching Heather dance with my 8-year old daughter Samantha. Too cute!!  Heather was an alternate on the dance team and obviously a great inspiration for the Heiress to the throne. 

Personally speaking, I didn't have a very good time at the party. I really liked the band and I really liked the music, but unfortunately I still had my headache. The day had done me in. I barely moved after Noon and I doubt I even danced one song at the party. I had definitely paid the cost to be the boss.  

It may have been the studio's all-time pinnacle of success, but I was too tired to celebrate. At the dance I kept a very low profile.

As worn out as I was, I must have looked pretty old.  This led to yet another humiliation. As I sat on the couch doing my old-timer's trick of tapping my foot to the music, a young college kid sat down next to me. Jay Hickman was singing a Big Band classic known as "In the Mood" by Glen Miller.

The kid was having a great time bobbing his head and snapping his fingers to the infectious beat of the music. I disliked him immediately because he had energy.  After the song ended, the kid turned to me and said, "Gosh, Mr. Archer, were you ever lucky enough to see Glen Miller or Benny Goodman live in concert??  It must have so great growing up with this music!!"  

I grew up with the Beatles and the Stones, but I didn't have the energy to explain that Big Band music was about 30 years ahead of my time. Instead I nodded and told him that I liked Artie Shaw the best of all. He had never heard of Artie Shaw, so as I hoped that killed the conversation. 

Innocent as it was, that was the capper.  This day had been unrelenting.

Here is a picture of the Infamous Swingin' Skirts and Mugz!!

Yes, that's Maureen Brunetti, Neal Pellis, and Judy Archer. As of 2006, only Maureen remains with us from the group.

In a way, it is very sad. Those were the days, my friends. We thought they'd never end...


Did you know we had a second Extravaganza the same year in 1999?  

After the tremendous enthusiasm generated by our first Extravaganza in January, many of our students begged us to do it again. Plus all the people who had missed it had heard through the Grapevine how great it was. Now they were dying to see what all the fuss was about and bugged us for a Sequel.  We decided to try another one in April three months later.

This time I had learned my lesson. I was determined not to repeat my mistake. I not only warned all the shop owners in advance to guard their curbs, but I passed out flyers to our students begging them to pretty-please avoid the front rowI also recruited volunteers to guard the parking spaces ahead of time.

Furthermore I embarked on a curious new project, one that my daughter Sam still teases me about to this day. I began to collect discarded Orange Cones from roadside construction sites.   Sam would roll her eyes every time I rescued an abandoned cone. She began to call me "Cone Man the Barbarian."

Any time I would see a beat up old cone laying off to the side of the road all by itself, I would pull over on the freeway, stop the car, get out and load the dirty, nasty thing into my trunk.  Here in Houston, leader in the Free World of never-ending freeway construction, you would be amazed at the incredible number of homeless cones spread throughout our city.

Then I would go home, clean it up, and bring it over to the studio. By the day of the second Extravaganza, I had a hodgepodge collection of nearly 20 cones. Not one of them matched.  So what?  They may have been derelicts, but they were free.

I personally placed a cone in each Front Row parking spot before the students arrived plus I put the extras on the sidewalk for emergencies.

Yes, experientially-speaking I may have been practically bald, but I wasn't going to let anyone claim I hadn't learned my lesson from the first try.

Guess what? We got a perfect score!

Not one SSQQ person was seen parking in the front row the entire day. I marveled at the high level of cooperation and was immensely relieved by the improvement.

The skeptical shopping center owners said not a word to me.  I was disappointed no one said a thing, but what did I expect anyway?  Hugs?  Thanks?  Compliments?  Guess not.  In their case, I suppose 'no news' in their case was was about the best I could hope for. Or maybe I got my wish - this time everyone spoke only Vietnamese.

Nevertheless, the monkey was finally off my back. I felt free of the consequences of my sins.

was mine.

Guess What Santa Brought Us!!

There is one more footnote to this story. As we expected during the planning stages of the Extravaganza, this party brought was an enormous financial success. In fact, the 90s Swing Era made 1999 became the most profitable year in studio history. In the words of Frank Sinatra, "It was a very good year."

11 months after the Extravaganza at the end of this wonderful year, we decided to treat ourselves and our students to a present - We bought a new dance floor for the studio!!

The floor was shipped by truck all the way from California. By an amazing coincidence (or more likely a devious phone call suggestion from me), the truck arrived right in the middle of our annual Christmas Party. With all those people there, I had a brilliant idea.

Why not ask our guests to help unload the shipment!?! 

Then over the Christmas Break we put the floor together with a lot of help from many volunteers.

Thank you for our beautiful dance floor, Swing Kids!!

You started 1999 off with a bang and things just kept getting better all year long. Yes, it was a very good year indeed.

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