Garrett Harris 4 p.m., Jan. 16
Backstage Moocher - Living Off Rock Stars, plus YouTube Gems: Weird San Diego
Offbeat views 'round town
BACKSTAGE RAIDER – HE MOOCHES MEALS FROM ROCK STARS
“When Axl Rose found out I ate his sub sandwich, he was ready to kill someone,” says “Tweeter Donruss” (not his real name, ‘natch). He’s recalling for me one backstage party among the hundred or so he claims to have crashed.
“I snuck out of there before anyone told him it was me! But that was a royal chow line, man - shrimp, crab legs, this sweet juice they served in metal cups, damn.”
He says Gn’R’s after-show buffet was spread in an open tent where everyone mingled, including friends of the band, roadies, select young ladies plucked from the audience and at least one local jazz fan who hates rock and roll but who loves to mooch free food.
“I walk up all cocky like a hotshot roadie,” explains Donruss. “I wait until the show was over to sneak [backstage], so the guards would be busy dealing with groupies and DJs and stuff. My coat has a lot of flaps and [guards] get this illusion of a pass flapping around. If I act official enough, they don’t even blink and I can go wherever.”
Where he usually wants to go is wherever the food is.
Donruss says he used to live on the streets, where he hated getting into lines for free meals at local churches and shelters. “If you’re not there right on time, they tell you to get lost, and the food’s not worth standing around. Except Thanksgiving and Christmas...they pick up guys off the street and drive us to a movie theater or a church and totally stuff us.”
Donruss can’t stand rock music (“Give me Miles Davis any day”) and he doesn’t always know anything by or about some of the rockers he’s rubbed shoulders with…
“My last actual job was L.A., doing phone collections. I lost it for being late so much and then I lost my place. But the streets were okay. There’s a lot more safe places to sleep up there but finding enough [food] to ‘nack on was tough.”
He says one time he just happened to be by Universal Amphitheatre, as a show was letting out. “I just walked in ‘cause the doors were open. I found so much good sh-t on the floor and under the seats, I was in heaven! Not just snackbar food, but stuff people snuck in...wine flasks, weed, pipes!”
Outdoor events are particularly lax about manning the gates during the closing hour or so. “They let you bring in picnic baskets and bottles! It’s incredible what people leave. Untouched sub sandwiches, barrels - not buckets - of fast food chicken, and a sh-tload of diet sodas and water.”
Donruss chose San Diego as his new home turf in 1992, after using the free bus ticket given by a family member who wanted him to visit his La Mesa home.
For awhile, he earned money by collecting aluminum cans and recyclable bottles. “I turned [them] in for cash at a place near Imperial [Avenue]. My hideout was right up the street, in some thick bushes on private property, along a fence behind a house, so I didn’t have to worry about the city coming to cut sh-t down and chase me out or trash my sh-t. That’s what they do when they find out someone is living there.” He doesn’t say whether the private property owner knew or approved of his residency.
Donruss says he found easy trespass at most local venues, but few lunchable leftovers. “Getting in is easy near the end of the night. But there’s not much in the seats. I used to find lots of food at Humphreys, but [patrons] have to buy it there and it’s always the same old, same old. All the medium size places suck.”
Bathrooms, he says, are a treasure trove of illicit drugs, dropped wallets (“I keep the cash but I’ll put the wallet in a mail box”), lighters, liquor flasks and loose money. “Guys sit on the pot and get high , maybe ‘cause they don’t wanna share, or they’re with someone who’s not into it. And stuff drops out of their pants, especially if they’re f-cked up.”
Scouring the seats after a concert nowadays, tho, is a competitive effort.
“There’s a bunch of kids doing the same thing, a lot of the same ones at each show. It gets so we’re all running through the rows looking down between the seats trying to be the first one to score something good. The smart ones start at the top seats, so security can’t see you and herd you out the door. Up where it’s dark is where people do their drugs anyway, that’s where stuff’s more likely gonna drop.”
Donruss’ first trip backstage happened by accident, when he was mistaken for a roadie at Jack Murphy Stadium concert. “I was near the side of the stage and some guy just handed me a piece of equipment and told me to take it back to the break room. I didn’t know what I was holding, and I had no idea what or where the break room was, but I went off like I’ve been doing that all my life.”
Backstage, between the aluminum tentpoles holding up a vinyl tarp and piled onto several rows of cloth covered folding tables, he found what he describes with a laugh as “the pot at the end of the rainbow, or the pot roast anyways!”
Caterers were just finishing the gourmet display of meats, fish and decadent deserts, including many dishes Donruss had never seen or sampled. “Have you ever had truffles? I wasn’t impressed. Didn’t eat the caviar, I know what it is. Mousse, that’s pretty good, and this stuff had like a crust on top and came with a cookie on the side.”
After talking to him, and picking up on his hungry-outlaw vibe, I can just picture him eyeing the buffet and trying to remain inconspicuous, breathing in all the tempting aromas and struggling to hold himself back from that chimerical “pot roast at the end of the rainbow.”
He snuck a few chips into the dip bowl and managed to grab an errant sandwich when he thought nobody was looking (“I chewed quietly”), earning glares from at least one other bystander. What must have been a maddening half-hour passed before the twenty or so people milling around seemed to decide that the band wasn’t coming any time soon, if at all.
On some apparently unspoken cue, everyone converged on the buffet tables all at once, including - especially - Donruss.
“I had three plates and two glasses, like a waiter, and I filled ‘em all up!”
After eating fast and gulping down five or six beers (“I didn’t know until later it was ‘near-beer,’ no alcohol”), Donruss loosened his pants and walked out via the same checkpoint he’d entered, leaving the stadium very happy, and VERY full. “I went whole hog that time, for sure!”
He’s reluctant to talk further about dates, venues and methods, and at this point we’ve already talked on the phone for almost 90 minutes. “What I told you is enough to make it interesting, I don’t wanna shoot myself in the foot.”
He’s still doing “makesh-t jobs” around town, but he says he’s living in a house with family members, paying his own bills, and generally doing well.
All ‘pending one’s definition of “well,” I think to myself, but I don’t say this to “Tweeter” (which, by the way, was the AKA he requested to go by when I said I wanted to write about his many Missions of Mooch).
There’s a pause, as we both probably conclude that last sentence was more than self-evident.
“I hate competing with groupies and all that sh-t. Besides, all the big rockers are going vegetarian, or they don’t f-cking drink or party, so it’s like a church picnic back there.”
“Either that, or they’re too f-cking cheap to lay out a good spread for the rest of us.”
LOCAL YOUTUBE GEMS
Lovely animated video that takes you soaring through the skies all around San Diego, created in a computer program called Softimage 3D:
July 1 2006 – UFOs over Miramar?
Gaslamp fight makes Court TV’s “Most Shocking Videos”:
Mocking costume wearing patrons at Comic-Con:
Turtle love at the zoo – I can’t tell which one is making that weird moaning noise…
And finally, “Weird Guy Dancing In Balboa Park”:
Like this blog? Here are some related links:
OVERHEARD IN SAN DIEGO - Several years' worth of this comic strip, which debuted in the Reader in 1996: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/photos/galleries/overheard-san-diego/
FAMOUS FORMER NEIGHBORS - Over 100 comic strips online, with mini-bios of famous San Diegans: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/photos/galleries/famous-former-neighbors/
SAN DIEGO READER MUSIC MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/sandiegoreadermusic
JAY ALLEN SANFORD MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/jayallensanford
More like this:
- RIP Reader cover artist and underground comix legend Spain Rodriguez — Nov. 28, 2012
- Painting Rock Stars, plus Behind the Scenes: Overheard in San Diego & Famous Former Neighbors — May 8, 2008
- Secrets of Overheard in San Diego & Famous Former Neighbors, Mojo & Zappa Comix, [Paint]Brushes With Fame — April 2, 2008
- "What's Your Favorite Twilight Zone?" 25 Local Musicos Talk Twilight, plus ShatFest — Dec. 18, 2007
- Undercover Chronicles #1 - I Was An Undercover Ticket Scalper — Nov. 19, 2007