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,
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,
for the life of me I still have no idea what "Reet Poteet" means.
It wasa pretty strange sales pitch,
it was effective.
How The Extravaganza Got Started...
The 1999 SSQQ Swing Extravaganzawas held just one week after New Year's Day. It was an enormous success by all measures
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
Orchestrahad 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!
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
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!
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.
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.
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
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! Likea freshly fallen snow blanketing the landscape, everywhere you looked
there were cars and more cars.
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
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
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 anywherein 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
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
The Ugly was how I was about to be
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 otherbusinesses 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
"What have you done!?! My customers have NOWHERE TO PARK!!"
She immediately demanded I remove the cars parked in front of
her gift shop or she would call a tow truck and remove them herself.
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
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.
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
One night he walked right into the middle of my dance class
to complainabout 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
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 wouldbark
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?
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
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 drivethrough
the parking lot without hitting another car.
Fortunately the wait only lasted fourminutes. 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 manbefore. 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.
Ironically, two years later Loshack would get his revenge on
me. Sometime around 2001Loshack 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!
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
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
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 hadtried 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
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
Believe it or not, my ordeal
still wasn't over by a long shot.
A new character entered the stage.
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 sidewalk.
tensed for more trouble. Maggie and I
had a long history of butting heads that went back
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
"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
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
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
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
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
It still wasn't over!!
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,
Iwatched 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.
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
standing by me in this dark hour. His leadership
brought the nightmare to a halt.
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
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 for 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
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.
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 theycame 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 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?
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
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
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
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
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
Oh. So much for my secret ally.
What a day.
The Eye of the Hurricane
And what about the "Happy Side" of the
Inside the studio, our 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 thebig dance party later
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
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
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
"Boy likes Girl."
"Girl likes to
"If Boy learns to
dance, Boy gets to dance with Girl."
"Boy gets to put
arm around Girl!!"
"Dancing is good
Now you know why men
learn to dance. It really isn't that complicated, now is
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
I was surprised at just how well this class was
attended until I discovered some of the men had ulterior
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
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!
be something delightful about being lifted and carried around.
And you can't can't beat those old-fashioned piggyback
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:
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"
Gayle were married in 2002. In 2005 they became parents!!)
That night at the party the Joint
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.
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 emptyin 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
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
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
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 row.
I 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.
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
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
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
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.