Atlantic City Pop Festival
It was one o’clock when I turned into the Esso station, and Tommy was waiting on a bench with his gym bag and jumped in when I stopped. "Well, how’s "New York City?” he asked.
“Did you get me a falafel?”
“Do you want to walk to Atlantic City?”
We both laughed.
“In an hour, we’ll know if everything John told me this morning is true.”
“John of John and Ellen?”
“Yes.” We drove south on Route 9 with Iron Butterfly blaring on the radio as we closed in on Atlantic City. I followed the signs to the Atlantic
City Racetrack and drove through a gauntlet of New Jersey State Police cruisers before we finally crossed the threshold of the racetrack
grounds. The parking lot was a zoo, full of long-haired hippies in tie-dyed t-shirts and girls wearing shorts and bikini tops.
“Tommy, look for John’s white van with a Grateful Dead Flag, near Gate #6. John told me he staked out a spot bordered by at least ten bright orange highway cones."
Tommy spotted the van, and as we approached he jumped out to move two of the cones so I could park alongside it. Tommy was replacing the cones as John suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
“So boss, how’s New York City?”
“Is this the theme of the day?” I responded. “New York City is New York City!”
“Are we good?”
"Yes, we are good.”
“So what’s happening here?” I asked.
“Are you blind?”
“No, I’m screwing with you…how stoned are you?"
“I received a call last week from a friend who told me the information had been broadcast on every station in Southern California,” John continued. Ellen and I had to find out for ourselves. We arrived yesterday and spent the first hour in line buying tickets. After setting up camp and scoping out the whole place two hours later, we decided to call you. Yesterday there was 1,000 people camped out in the parking lot, and today more than 20,000. The word is spreading damn fast. If you keep your promise to take care of Ellen and me, the tickets are yours.”
“No problem, consider yourself taken care of,” I said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Everything is on me!”
"Yes, within reason….”
“That’s cool, very cool! Ellen and I brought enough food, a Bar-B-Q, cooking utensils, etc. Ellen is at the racetrack holding a space in front the stage. She has three sleeping bags and a blanket stretched out on the ground, along with our cooler. Check it out for yourself; you will never believe your eyes…”
“Okay, let’s go!” I removed ten little tie tack boxes from the car and was ready to go. While walking twenty-five yards to the entrance of Gate #6, I noticed that everyone in the parking lot reminded me of a Furry Freak Brother comic book. There were people everywhere throughout the concourse; hippies huddled on the porcelain floors, sleeping on the staircases, and others sitting in the ticket widows where during normal race track operating hours, thousands of dollars were bet. Others congregated, danced, drank, and smoked pot while preparing to enjoy the beginning of an exceptionally wild weekend. We followed John through the concourse and headed toward the race track. The bright sunlight cascaded through the large glass windows, and if not for my sunglasses, it may have temporarily blinded me. The sudden sound of screaming guitars and pulsating rhythms penetrated the air, and I turned 360degrees to get the full experience of what was happening here. Everywhere I looked, thousands of hippies, college kids, and regular music fanatics were smoking weed and drinking out in the open. “Let’s go, boys", John instructed, and we followed him as he traversed the swirling dervishes and headed toward center stage. I suddenly became aware of the many vendors hawking merchandise as we walked up to a short chain-link fence and through a gate on our way toward the stage, as Booker T was finishing their encore. A “Master of Ceremonies” from a local Philadelphia bubble gum AM radio station stepped up to the microphone, wearing a suit and tie, and began speaking to the crowd.
“Good afternoon". He tried to get the crowd’s attention and to let them know that the New Jersey State Police agreed not to enter the grounds. The concert-goers needed to behave; he continued by stating that the rules must be followed. He reminded everyone that the afternoon temperature was going to exceed 95 degrees. “Drink lots of water and use sunscreen. Do not jump the fence. The lake is off limits. It’s off limits."
He repeated it three times, and then finished up by letting everyone know the FBI was watching from the elevated observation deck. Based on the concert-goers’ behavior, they would be the ones to decide whether “Woodstock,” a huge outdoor festival scheduled two weeks out on a farm in upstate New York, would be held or cancelled. It tuned him out as he began to announce the next act going on stage, and turned my attention elsewhere. What are the merchandisers and venders selling? I asked myself. It took me a few moments to survey my immediate surroundings and to decide on a location to setup shop. I was on my way to stake out a suitable location, when from behind a sweet-smelling gal named Ellen, John’s wife, stopped me. I turned around, and she jumped into my arms and kissed me full on the lips and squealed.
“James, you’re here! Can you believe what’s happening?”