I wanted to share some of the experiences I've had as a game show host for the show "Fast Lane" at Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi.
Working "Fast Lane" at Ferrari World was both wonderful and challenging.
As a game show, "Fast Lane" is a pretty cool concept.
People get to sit in a very upscale, impressive “TV studio-ish” setting, with black walls & soundproofing, banks of overhead lights, and a cool, up-tempo drumbeat loop going. There are three buttons(red, yellow and green) on the armrest of the comfy, red, leather seats. It resembles a traffic light. Those buttons will be the buttons used to answer questions posed BY ME, your host, of FAST LANE!
There are 4 rounds, plus a Championship Round. I would show a 60-second video per round that talks about certain aspects of Ferrari (Racecar pilots, Scuderia Ferrari pit crews, Enzo Ferrari, Cavallino Rampante). I would then ask a question pertaining to the video and provide the audience three possible answers (Red answer, Yellow answer, Green answer). The audience then answers the question by pressing one of the color-coded buttons on their armrest. The first person to answer the question correctly and fastest won a drink voucher and advanced to the final round, where, if they won, they'd get a lanyard that said "Fast Lane Winner" on it.
That's it. It was a very simple game. No crazy special effects, no 3D-glasses, no hold-bars to wrap around you, no seat belts, no demon drops, no movement whatsoever. The coolest part about Fast Lane is the fact that you'd learn something, which I am always in favor of. It didn’t spin. It didn’t jump around. It didn’t even shake....Not even a little... Fast Lane was just a fun, very easy to use, educational trivia game show about Ferrari...
Now, here were the wonderful parts of this job:
- I got to work in an acoustically AMAZING studio, which was lit like a real deal Hollywood game show and was a fun sensory experience. The studio at Fast Lane remains the most impressive 'under 100 seat' theaters I have ever been part.
- I got paid very decent money as a performer, as opposed to driving people around, or ushering, or teaching, or operating heavy machinery.
- I could pay all my bills and provide child support and have fun.
- I got a nice amount of time off per week. Three days on and four days off. I appreciated that a lot.
- I got to live in a Westernized, progressive, safe, Middle Eastern country.
- I was slowly losing weight by walking everywhere. Abu Dhabi is a dreamy city. It was like waking up to Christmas every day while I was there.
- I had incredible health insurance, for the first time ever.
- I lived in a breathtakingly opulent beachfront community.
ALL POSITIVES, MAN!
Now for the negative part of the job:
I performed the same goddamned show about 5000 times.
Doing the same show hundreds of times is tough! It is DOUBLE TOUGH, truthfully, and it can be hard on the spirit.
It's not like I was stranger to repeat performances... When I worked at Cedar Point Amusement Park, in Sandusky, Ohio, the Hobo Band that I was in performed the same 15-minute show 550 times, over 12 weeks. That's a LOT of 15-minute shows, Shipmates. However, there was something about that show that was pretty magical
- The Hobo Band provided a FANTASTIC PHYSICAL WORKOUT!
- We played challenging, entertaining and fun arrangements by Jim Barron, who was the Music Director and arranger at Cedar Point.
- We had a very fine ensemble of musicians that played in tune and with great energy. In all honesty, The Band at Cedar Point is in the Top 10 best musical groups I have ever played with.
- As a band, we got along very well with each other.
I could have done the Hobo Band show another 8,550 times... EASY! And to be honest, I probably would have enjoyed most of the 11,400 shows. There is something about being in a great group, making people laugh and letting our instruments do the talking. I'm sure I'd be interested in doing something different at the end of a 11,400 show run, but with regular crowds of 200-500 people, applauding heartily for putting a smile on their faces and impressing the hell out of them, I'd be happy with the fact I did something good and worthwhile. Plus, it made great sense to have a mobile musical unit making great music at an amusement park. Music can be universal. It can translate language barriers. It can entertain and inspire. It can amuse. It can impress, without a word being said.
Here's a clip of us playing in the Hobo Bands: https://vimeo.com/51667136
But I digress...
Although Fast Lane was and is truly a great idea and I was pumped when we began doing shows, I've come to realize that a game show at an amusement park is a tough sell. Plain and simple.
Now, the disclaimer... I hope this entry will not be seen as biting the hand that fed me, but just observations from someone who was in the middle of the Arabian Gulf.
The show was in English, in an Arab country. And granted, the language of business in this country is English. BUT... The culture is Arab. Moreover, there are at least 10 other cultures that attend Ferrari World regularly.
India , Russia & the former Eastern Bloc Countries , China/Japan , Philippines , Italy/France/Germany , and other countries.
It sometimes made for challenging communications. Not always... but certainly on occasion.
The toughest challenge of Fast Lane is that the show asks an amusement park audience to THINK... Thinking is antithetical to the amusement park experience, which is intellectually passive. It is a glorious opportunity for the guest to come in, turn off the brain and be catered to. You go to an amusement park to have things happen to you and you go WOW and Ooooh and Ahhhhhhh! But to ask an audience to "think" in an amusement park is like asking me to hike up Everest, right now. I might be able to go up 35 feet, but for the next 29,000 feet, I might as well be attached to a winch at the top of the mountain, as it dragged my heart attack-addled carcass up the rest of that noble molehill.
Thinking is an active event. People at a park really don't want to do that.
As for the performing aspect, the toughest thing about Fast Lane is that I got to live a recurring nightmare over and over again...
I admit to you, dear shipmates, that I sometimes have prophetic dreams. This can be considered delusional, but it doesn't matter to me. I know I do. One evening, before I left for Abu Dhabi, I had a dream where I was performing in front of an audience and the audience decided to get up and walk out, as I was performing. For no reason, people just started getting up and walking out. It was a big auditorium, about 2000 people. No one wanted to stay and they just began to split, leaving me defeated, embarrassed, demoralized. It was one of my worst nightmares ever. I woke up from that dream in a nasty, stinky sweat. I was really freaked out.
“Thank You, GOD, that has never happened to me!” I said to myself, as I wiped the nasty, sweaty stench of fear off of me with a towel.
WELLLLLLLL, fast forward to Abu Dhabi, UAE. As a performer, my greatest nightmare scenario got to be repeated... over and over... and over... again... like I'm in one of Dante's Circles of Hell that he forgot to mention called "The Circle of YOU SUCK!" as people at every single show get up and walk out of the theater.
As soon as I started my show, some of the people in the theater give me "The Look.”
"The Look" started with the stare of bewilderment, or confusion, or even disgust. Then they would start “The Look” around the theater for an exit.
It was exactly the same experience, hundreds of times.
I start every single show with enthusiasm and my patented Kabin Thomas, "Gameshow Mojo Magic" on HIGH BEAM... "Hello, Ladies and Gentlemen of Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi, WELCOME TO FAST LANE... blah blah blah."
Then, The Look of confusion began...
Then, The Look for an exit...
Then, people left.
Arabs (Bedouins, to be more specific) vote with their feet. And sometimes they do it loudly! As I explained the rules and regulations of Fast Lane, a man in a dishdasha will sometimes get up and say LOUDLY to his group, in Arabic:
هذا القرف تمتص. دعونا نذهب إلى السفينة الدوارة السريعة.
Translated, it's something like:
"This show doesn’t move. Let's go to the fast roller coaster."
But my brain often heard:
"This guy sucks. Let’s walk out and embarrass him and let him live his worst nightmare. "
Then, while you were still talking and smiling that Game Show Host smile, a group of people would get up and head toward the exits. And since the exits are not clearly marked, I would have people walking behind me as I was talking, or walk backstage, or the worst, most shattering experience, walk down the wrong stairwell, walk around aimlessly for a minute or two, looking for an exit, then go back up the stairwell (giving you the false hope that maybe they have changed their mind and that your crackling wit and game show panache has won them over), then go around the theater to the other stairwell where they'd proceed to walk down the stairwell and exit the show. All this is happening within the clear view of the audience, which has long since stopped listening to what I have to say and has fixated on the drama of the people trying to escape. Oftentimes this sort of movement created a "Lemming Effect" and a large portion of the theater would walk out of the show, as you try to enthusiastically convince those intrepid souls remaining seated, that this show "is the most fun gosh darn game show they'll will ever be part of!" Then I'd smile that Game Show Host smile again, while the tear of defeat rolled down the side of my face.
Still, there were many interesting moments that made up "Fast Lane."
Here are the Top 5 "most interesting" moments of my Fast Lane game show hosting career:
#5) Parents just loved to answer a question on Fast Lane and send their kids down to the winner's circle to play the game instead of them. It makes for great pictures and can be really a lot of fun....
IF. the. kid. WANTS! to. be. part. of. the. show!
Sometimes little kids just DID NOT WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW, though the parents, in their infinite wisdom, think it’s cute to see their little booger eater under the hot lights of pressure. One time, a young Arab boy, maybe 5, was told to go down to the stage, even though dad had answered the question. Like I said, that happens all the time on Fast Lane. Someone answers the question fastest and has a proxy go to the stage. Well, this kid did not want to have anything to do with Fast Lane. He was passionately arguing against going to the stage. The theater was full, so everyone was getting a show within a show, seeing these two argue. The dad then grabs the kid under the armpits and carries him down to the stage and stands him right next to me, where the kid promptly throws up, like the demon in the movie The Exorcist.
Thank You for playing Fast Lane.
#4) I did shows at the bottom of the hour, from 12:30 PM through 7:30 PM. It can be quite a grind, to be honest. Occasionally, the 7:30 PM show would not run, which was always FINE BY ME! The park was emptying out and we are in a recessed corner of the park, so there was often no one in our sector by 7:30. I was so tired of being in studio by 7:30, that by the time the time clock hit that magic number, all you would see of me was some paper spinning and maybe some dust flying around in my wake, as I was warp speeding out of there.
Also, Fast Lane, as a show, does not work with fewer than 12 people in the audience, so the rule was:
12-person minimum, or no show.
So, in truth, the 7:30 show was often canceled.
Well, one evening, at 7:29:50 PM, an Arab family of 14 came walking up to the queue line of Fast Lane.
7 EFFIN 29!!
14 EFFIN people!
1 Patriarch. 6 women in burkas, 1 kid about 10 years old and 6 kids under 5.
I'd like to tell you I was happy to see them, but that would be a big, fat lie. Frankly, I felt myself filling up, like a jug full of hate, as I saw this gaggle heading toward me. The 10 year-old came up to me and asked me if this was a ride. I said no, it's not a ride. He then asked me if the “ride” was fun. I told him it was not a “ride,” but a game show AND it would really NOT be fun if the family did not know English, as it is an English language show and it looked pretty obvious to me the family weren't big English speakers. Then the kid turns around and says something to the family in Arabic that must have been:
“The fat guy says the ride is really fun!”
Then, everybody began talking Arabic and walking into the studio. As they are walking in, a Chinese guy, about 700 years-old, comes in as well. I say "hello" to him and he says:
"No Englishi speak."
So, I started the show:
"Hello, Ladies and Gentlemen of Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi, WELCOME TO FAST LANE... blah blah blah."
I immediately got blank stares, as nobody understood what the hell I was saying.
I then got "The Look" as they are trying to figure the fastest way out of the theater.
I run the 1st video, which is around 30 seconds long, and I returned to the stage, just as the video is ending, to see the last person of the family, one of the burka-clad women, gliding out the exit. The only person in the audience now is the 700-year-old Chinese man. So, I do THE REST OF THE SHOW! He gets every answer wrong, of course. Now, if no one answers the question correctly, the game recycles the question until someone does choose the correct answer. So, to keep the game from turning into a fresh level of Hell, I have to go into the audience and answer the questions myself, as my Chinese friend just sits and smiles. I swear, at one point I thought he was dead. He just sat and smiled a blissful smile, with his eyes closed... I played the final round by myself. Danced around the studio when I won and gave him all 4 drink vouchers, none of them he was able to use, as the park was closed when the game ended at 8 PM.
Thank You for playing Fast Lane.
#3) I was performing a Fast Lane show and I had to fart. I actually had to fart quite badly. So, during the 1st round video portion of the game, I walked backstage and let one rip. Sadly, I sharted. For those not blessed with a shart in their life, GOOD ON YA! Hope it never happens! For those aware of “The Sharting”... you know that it is somewhat disconcerting and the first thing you want to do is deshart yourself. However, I did the sharting at the very beginning of the show. So, I had to do the rest of the show with my panties full of poo. Thank God my shit smells like roses.
Thank You for playing Fast Lane.
#2) I was waiting outside the studio, about 10 minutes before the show was to start, to try to drum up some business, and this Russian couple came up to me and asked me in very broken English when the show is going to start. I told them in about 10 minutes. He said that he has seen the show twice and has been blown away by how much fun and impressive it is. I was kinda stunned! Fun and impressive are not two words I have heard used by the general public to describe Fast Lane before. I was euphoric!
I said: “Well, Thank You, sir! Thank You very much!”
I was FLOATING! I felt so incredibly awesome and validated.
FINALLY! SOMEONE UNDERSTANDS WHAT WE ARE TRYING TO DO HERE!! OMG! HERE IS A FAN! HE BROUGHT HIS WIFE, EVEN!
He wanted to see this FUN and IMPRESSIVE SHOW, called FAST LANE, here at Ferrari World.
FUN AND IMPRESSIVE!
It was like rain on a desert cactus, after a long drought.
He then says: “Are you in the show?”
He goes on: "The last time I was here, the host was a skinny white guy. He was sooooo funny. He was INCREDIBLE.”
The guy then gives me “The Look.”
It’s a look of confusion, which INSTANTLY means heartache for me.
He loses his smile and asks: “Do you play accordion while on the giant tire, like he does, or do you do something else? I wanted my wife to see that, as she plays accordion...”
Now, I give "The Look."
Suddenly, I realized he did NOT want to see Fast Lane! He wasn’t even speaking of Fast Lane! He wanted to see the acrobatic/gymnastic show, RED, which was right next door to Fast Lane, in which William da Silva, the truly talented artist/clown, does indeed, play accordion on top of a giant tire. This guy was blown away by how awesome RED was. He could give a rat’s ass about Fast Lane. I think he could see how totally devastated I was by this realization and then he meekly says: “But my wife and I will come see your show.”
Which they did... and left right after the introduction... Maybe I should do the show balanced on top of an EFFIN TIRE...
Thank You for playing Fast Lane.
And #1) An Indian man came up to me, grabbed my arm and stopped me as I was literally walking on stage. He says, “What kind of ride is this?”
I say: "This is not really a ride, sir. This is an interactive, educational game show that teaches you about various aspects of Ferrari via a series of short videos; after which, I ask questions and if you get the answer correct and fastest, you can win a drink voucher you can use in the park.”
He then looks at me and asks: “Does the ride spin? I cannot ride a ride that spins.”
I look at him and say: “Yes sir. It spins. Spins like a fuckin' top.”
He goes in anyway. Then leaves 10 minutes later, disappointed the ride didn’t spin, I’m sure.
Thank You for playing Fast Lane.
The positive of all this mess is that, over my time, I learned to endure many forms of distraction, while being upbeat, enthusiastic and professional. It's been great training, actually. I can now disregard people talking on cell phones, disconcerting looks, people talking and laughing while talking, people choosing to not cooperate during the show, people leaving and even people throwing up. I will hopefully be able to walk on any stage, or any audition space, or any set, at any time, with bombs going off, in an earthquake, caused by a planet killing asteroid, as aliens are invading the Earth with death rays, and be able to hit my mark, look into the camera and give a good show.
And... Working "Fast Lane" had some really inspiring moments doing this show:
It was great when women in burkas came down to play. It was wonderful to see them having a fun time, as the burka can be an intimidating-looking garment and the figures inside the burkas can be unfairly seen as the same.
It was fun when an eager kid was a contestant on Fast Lane, because they normally tug at the hearts of the people in the audience, which creates a great energy. And when the kid wins, audiences usually explode with applaus e.
One day, I had four contestants from: Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Syria. Just 4 good people of planet Earth, wanting to have fun. It was a wonderful moment. We had a picture taken and I wish I could find the person who took it.
Occasionally, I would bring a balloon to the audience before the show starts and play balloon-ball. This was in honor of my children, Olivia and Andrew, who LOVED balloon-ball when they were young. Fun Fact... FerrariWorld could have a "ride" at Ferrari World called Balloon-Ball, and it would rival Formula Rossa! I am stunned at how much fun people have hitting a balloon. It is one of the most fun things I have ever done with an audience. To hit a balloon is as disarming as it is energizing! People let their guards down. And the really funny thing is that, more times than not, the parents want to play balloon-ball more than the kids!! I loved balloon-ball. It was a great ice-breaker for the show.
And here is THE NUMBER ONE REASON I was honored being part of this show: It is beyond awesome when someone wins on the show and their friends and family swamp them with love. I was moved to tears on one occasion when an Indian man, pretty severely disfigured by some catastrophic accident, was on the show and won the championship. He started crying, his family and co-workers were hugging him and crying and taking pictures and crying and for a brief moment, we could all feel the intense love and support and humanity and divinity of those people around him. Then I started crying. I realized that for a brief moment that FastLane became a room full of love and beauty and support, in a world so needing more love, beauty and support to be shared. I was part of that! I lived to see that kind, beautiful gesture. It was so special. It was one of the greatest moments of my life, actually and that experience alone has made the entire experience worthwhile and blessed beyond words. That moment beats the nice beach, the nice clothes, the money, the apartment and every single other thing that was and is material in my life.
Our life is about a connection, isn't it? It's about helping a person feel good about who they are. And for that one event alone, out there in the desert of the Middle East, I was, am and always will be grateful.
Thank You for playing Fast Lane.
Here is a clip of Fast Lane: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0807jYVvoEQ
Shukran (Thank You)
I Love You.