I was an event planner for 20 years. Here are some of the wildest things I witnessed on the job.

  • Angela Hatem planned events like fireworks shows, A-list concerts, and block parties for 20 years.
  • She’s dealt with everything from missing children and angry celebrities to damaged art in a museum.
  • Despite the challenges, she says the job was a lot of fun and she gained many skills and contacts.

I’ve planned every sort of event — from a citywide fireworks show to a drive-up wedding shower.

I used to work as a project coordinator for Emmis Communications, as a sponsorship and promotions coordinator for Live Nation, and on planning committees for events such as Super Bowl XLVI, the Big Ten Football Championship Game, and the US Olympic Diving Trials. Man, was it a wild 20-year ride.

I know how many boxes of condoms the Black Eyed Peas request on a tour stop, I’ve delivered chicken wings to a legendary soft-rock DJ and watched her devour them like it was her last meal, and I’ve been sent on missions to retrieve a zip tie, a gum wrapper, and a penny.

If an event needed to be organized, I was there. I was probably sweating profusely, smiling overzealously, and silently counting and comparing the difference between available table seats to the number of people yet to be seated — but I was there.

For me, this festive and party-filled time of year brings back a lot of joyful memories, a ton of face-palm moments, and a flurry of vicious flashbacks.

When I began my career in event planning, I thought the job was mostly ordering some crab cakes, picking up a few of the fancy folding chairs, and hitting play on Spotify

woman sitting on a football field

Hatem outside of Super Bowl XLVI.
Courtesy of Angela Hatem

As I quickly learned, the job wasn’t a job at all — it was a mission. It’s the kind of work in which there are truly no limits to the job-description bullet point: “Other duties as assigned.”

On my current résumé, under special skills I have listed: “Experienced balloon-arch designer, accomplished corporate mascot with experience in cow and bunny suits fit for mid-sized 5’6″ women, qualified to lift and move six-foot and eight-foot bike racks for a maximum of four hours, also capable of serving as onsite security if absolutely necessary. All duties can be performed while wearing three-inch heels if preferred.”

To succeed as an event planner, you have to have a gal or guy you can call for everything

A client’s request can happen out of the blue with zero time to spare and can vary from the everyday to the over the top. You’ve got to be prepared for it all.

In a quick scroll through my phone, I’ve got a tent and table guy, an ice-sculpture guy, a caricature guy, a gal who does amazing sidewalk chalk art, a family with a traveling petting zoo, a man who can operate an onsite tattoo parlor at a moment’s notice, and the phone number of the world’s greatest major league eater, should someone want to host an eating contest as entertainment.

The onsite tattoo thing, I’ve learned, is a violation of health code, and the major league eater will not, and should not, take the stage without a certified Heimlich-capable EMT at the ready. Thanks to Google and the vocal members of the event-planning community, these are just some of the things you pick up on the job.

There are a lot of pride-inducing moments that come with events

a group of people in front of a stage

Hatem and her team at the NCAA Men’s Final Four Big Dance on Monument Circle.
Courtesy of Angela Hatem

One time my team pulled off an entire block party complete with an A-list concert series in under two weeks.

The best moments were always the after-party following our major annual fireworks show. Well, it would have been the best moment if we’d had the wherewithal to remember to cool the beer that year. Event planners are notorious for being wonderful planners for others and completely useless for themselves.

There are also a lot of soul-sucking moments, like the time I accidentally ripped an actual hole in an actual painting in an actual museum, in which the actual artist was actually dead. Thank God for insurance.

One time I received a radio call that we had a missing child at an event with about 400,000 people in attendance. Once a one-hit-wonder artist pulled a gun on one of our staff members because he had the audacity to roll down the car window in an attempt to air out the smell of weed fuming from the back seat.

It’s a lot of hours and a lot of craziness, but I would be a liar to say it wasn’t also a lot of fun.

Only in a job like this would you get to sing karaoke with a two-hit-wonder pop band or spend $80,000 of someone else’s money on fireworks. Or PayPal an artist $10,000 while standing in the green room before they would agree to step foot on the stage. Or get the opportunity to drive three hours in an event vehicle with a live turkey riding shotgun, because there was a request to pardon a live turkey for Thanksgiving. Or be lucky enough to be one of only a handful of people left in an iconic sports venue hours after the last team and the last fan had left the building, watching as the last piece of ticker tape is being swept away.

Have I cried at work? Numerous times. Have I laughed so hard that I think my rib is still broken? For certain. Have I worn an Obi-Wan Kenobi robe for work purposes? Yes I have.

A gentle reminder — try to remember there’s a real person stuffed inside that Arby’s oven-mitt costume

woman dressed as a cow sitting down

Hatem dressed as Butterscotch the Dairy Cow at the American Dairy Association Ice Cream Social on Monument Circle in Indianapolis.
Courtesy of Angela Hatem

There’s a human being with feelings and a balloon-tower-induced hand wound shuttling you on that long drive from the venue to your car. There’s a soul that’s shattering because she promises you she requested your vegetarian spring rolls, even if the caterer didn’t bring them.

And we try our best. It’s your job to raise the roof and rock your socks off. Leave the porta-potty that fell into the river during the party to me.