Steve Crane watched Joey Gamache win his world lightweight championship in 1992 and lose it four months later. He saw Cindy Blodgett play her last high school basketball game.
He’s the arena general manager who listened to America’s rock bands and perhaps the country’s funniest comedian. Hearing laughter fill the Cumberland County Civic Center when Bill Cosby told his stories was always different.
Skrillex, the stage name of 26-year-old electronic musician Sonny John Moore, was in Portland for a concert Wednesday night. It was Crane’s final act.
“The last mountain to climb,” said Crane. “No idea what I’ll see when I get to the top. For the past 38 years there was always another mountain.”
After parts of five decades and more than 5,400 events, Crane is done. His last day is Thursday. The arena has a new look, thanks to the year-long renovations completed this winter. It has a new name: Cross Insurance Arena.
Dale Olmstead Jr. will be the interim general manager.
Why should you care? Crane brought soul to a gray, concrete barn that otherwise lacked personality. He didn’t see ticket-buying fans, athletes, entertainers, exhibitors or promoters. Crane saw people. He didn’t see crowds; he saw lots of individuals.
If you had a complaint, Crane was too willing to listen. He knew how to defuse rather than antagonize.
“I’ve got a face dogs love to lick and old ladies love to kiss,” he said. “That always helped.”
Crane grew up in Bangor and graduated from the University of Maine. He played football for Walt Abbott. The revered coach wasn’t big on the trappings of his office, either. Abbott prized fairness and didn’t suffer fools. Crane learned more than the X’s and O’s of football.
He arrived at the Civic Center in 1978 to take the job as assistant GM. “White socks, black shoes and short pants,” Crane said. “I was a hick.”
A hick with common sense, and the ability to read and understand people.
“He told us to treat everyone with dignity even if they were upset,” said Jim Dixon, in his 39th year on the event staff. Crane didn’t so much tell as lead. He hated the title of manager.
“Being a manager means you tell people what to do,” Crane said Tuesday. “I liked to be a leader. That meant I worked alongside everybody.”
He wasn’t a suit-and-tie guy. He preferred polo shirts with STAFF in block letters on the back. His concession would sometimes be an open-collared white dress shirt.
Yet Crane was very visible. You just didn’t expect the man helping with crowd control or picking up trash, or helping replace a cracked sheet of Plexiglas, to be the general manager.
In the winter of 2010, Cheverus and Indiana Faithfull played Edward Little of Auburn for the state basketball championship. The Maine Principals’ Association had ruled Faithfull was ineligible because of a semester of schooling in his native Australia, but Faithfull’s family got a restraining order to permit their son to play.
Emotions were high that night where Edward Little fans sat. Faithfull was playing, their team was losing and it seemed every call was going against them. Crane was with his staff on the arena floor.
“You could sense the anger and frustration. I was thinking people were going to bolt, snap. You could feel the knife’s edge.
“They didn’t snap. They didn’t embarrass their school. I felt a moment of immense respect for them.”
On that floor, Crane would applaud the crowd during tense moments, his arms extended in front of his face. He wanted people to know he understood the drama of the moment. He wanted them to know he appreciated them.
More importantly, he showed appreciation to his event staff.
“I have never left an event where he hasn’t stood by the time clock to thank everyone who worked that night,” said Dan Walker, in his 16th year on the event staff. “Sometimes that’s 60 or 70 people for the big concerts. I don’t know that he gets to everybody but he tries.”
“His predecessor had pictures with the stars on the walls of his office,” said Dixon. “Steve liked to hob-nob with the hockey players, the working stiffs he called them. That’s why a lot of former (Maine) Mariners and (Portland) Pirates stopped in to visit when they came back after they quit playing.”
On Tuesday, Crane sat in a room that might have been a large supply closet in the suite of new administration offices. Yes, there was a desk and chair and computer. Cans and bottles of cleaning supplies were nearby on a table. Opened boxes of other supplies were on the floor.
“I call it my exit office,” Crane said. “I didn’t want (Olmstead) to move twice. He’s had my office.”
Crane told stories. Of the phone call from someone wanting to book a bull auction. Bull semen, actually. It was one of Crane’s more uneventful bookings.
The Civic Center once hosted an alpaca convention. Cleaning up the waste on the sawdust and sod afterward was a challenge. Especially since Disney on Ice was coming in.
He’s marveled at Gamache’s courage and enjoyed the showman’s side to Shawn Walsh, the late University of Maine hockey coach who brought his teams to the Civic Center once a year.
Political and religious conventions. Cat shows. Rodeos. Monster trucks. He’s seen so much and on Wednesday night, he worked his final show.
“I guess it is appropriate that there would be one more trial of character before I retire.”