Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Northern Hippies & Southern Hospitality

When I first found out that the band was going to tour the south I was excited because there would be new people and places to see and experience. My mother, on the other hand, had many reservations about the prospect of my exposure to the discrimination she, herself, had experienced during World War II, when she was following my dad as he was transferred from base to base in the Southern states. Being young, naïve, and somewhat foolish, I reassured her that since there would be at least eight of us, on tour, I would be safe. Boy, was I wrong!

The following, although not necessarily in chronological order, owing to my aging mind and somewhat disjointed memories, are my recollections of some of the Southern Hospitality that we experienced.

The first incident that stands out in my mind was a stop at a gas station somewhere in South Carolina. All the band members were stuffed into Leah’s father’s Mercury sedan. The roadies were in a truck with all of our equipment. As we pulled into the gas station we noticed that there were about three or four guys hanging out in front of the station. After we stopped in front of the gas pump one of the guys came over to the car to see what we wanted. You have to remember that all the guys in the band had very long hair. I think George was driving. He rolled down the window and as he did so the gas station attendant said in a very loud voice, “Yes ma’am, can I hep ya?” In his deepest voice, George asked the guy to fill up the tank. The gas station attendant then yelled over to his buddies that the lady wanted a fill up. The other locals started to move towards our car and that’s when we decided to find gasoline somewhere else.

The next incident occurred at a roadside hamburger stand. We had just checked into a motel and before we had to get ready for that night’s gig it was decided that we all wanted some food. I was sent, along with one of our roadies (I think it was Bob Kolowitz) to obtain the food. Bob and I found a hamburger stand and got in line at the ordering window. After waiting in line for about fifteen minutes it was finally our turn to order. As we approached the window the guy inside the stand slammed the window down in our faces. The other people waiting to pick up their food laughed. Bob and I decided not to make a scene and went to find food somewhere else.

On another occasion, in South Carolina (Greensboro perhaps), we had to make hotel reservations on the run. We called a hotel and made the reservations for four or five rooms. When we entered the hotel and approached the person behind the main desk we were told that there were no reservations for us. After many protests, on our part, that we had just called a few minutes earlier to make the reservations, we realized that there was no hope of getting any rooms at that hotel. Eventually, we did find a hotel on the outskirts of town.

Another standout moment occurred at the Atlanta, Georgia Airport. We were between flights and roaming around trying to keep ourselves amused. Our drummer, Eddie, had recently bought some cowboy boots and they were hurting his feet. He opted to have us push him around in a wheelchair. While doing so, we approached a lunch stand in the airport and waited for a waitress to take our order. We waited and waited, but no one came over. Even after calling out for a waitress, none would come over to take our order. I guess that a bunch of hippies, including one in a wheelchair who looked like a black man with an afro, was too much for the people behind the counter to handle.

Finally, a remembrance of the night we played for the senior formal at the Virginia Military Institute. Being a military school, VMI had strict rules about women on campus and what clothes they should wear. Leah and I did not wear dresses and that was a problem with the cadet assigned to keep an eye on us. Eventually, he realized that our wardrobe was what it was and gave up. The band played the gig and afterwards we wanted to have some dinner. The only place to get food at that time of night was a roadhouse a short distance from the campus. A few of the cadets, who had come to like our music and us, offered to take a couple of us over to the roadhouse to pick up some take-out food. They explained that the guys in the band would not be welcome and could possibly face some physical harm at the roadhouse. Leah and I went with the cadets to pick up the food. All of us were now dressed in regular street clothes; no uniforms or stage attire. While we waited for the food to be brought out to us, some of the local guys started hitting on Leah. Leah sort of laughed it all off and that did not go over well with the locals. The VMI cadets had to physically restrain those yahoos as Leah and I ran out of the roadhouse to the safety of the cadets’ car. Somehow the cadets managed to get our food order and we left in quite a hurry.

These are just a few of the instances of negative Southern Hospitality that we experienced. For the most part, the people at our concerts and appearances were very receptive to our music and to us, as well.