when I tried to sneak into the Rolling Stones concert at Madison Square Garden
November 10, 2010
… was my waitress uniform, which was actually an old nurse’s outfit I’d found at the Salvation Army, my ugly crepe-soled waitress shoes and, in my arms, a pizza box. There was no pizza in it, just a pair of jeans and a tee shirt.
That summer, ’72, everyone was desperate to go to the Stones’ concert at Madison Square Garden, the last leg of their Exile on Main Street tour. But there was a catch: tickets were by lottery only. You sent in a postcard, and if — big if — your card was plucked out of the pile, you got to stand on line for half a day to buy two tickets. My friend Sheila and I had sent in stacks of cards. Not a single one was picked. I was resigned, but Sheila was determined. She called me after work one day – we were both waiting tables that summer – and said, ‘I have an idea. Let’s go to the Garden in our waitress uniforms and say we’re delivering pizza to the lighting crew.’ Sheila was cool. She was so cool she couldn’t be bothered with Mick Jagger. All the girls we knew (and a surprising number of the boys) were in love with Mick, his lips and his hair, but Sheila dismissed him as preppy. Keith Richards, with his slide guitar and caved-in body and his little raisin eyes, that was her guy. She said, ‘What do you think?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, okay, let’s do it.’
Riding the bus into New York the day of the concert, we read about the tour in Time Magazine. That’s how big it was, how much of an event: stories in all the papers and glossies, semi-hysterical bulletins on the evening news. It was the final concert of the tour, Mick Jagger’s birthday, and they were predicting riots. Half the police force of New York would be out there with guns and batons, patrolling the Garden and 34th Street, pistol-whipping anyone without a ticket.
We stopped at a pizzeria near the Garden. When we told the owner what we were planning to do, he laughed and gave us two clean pizza boxes and a couple of empty coffee cartons. His customers – shift workers from the main post office on Ninth Avenue – gave us advice. Hold the boxes like they’re real hot, girlies. Smile at the cops. They liked us; they had decided we weren’t hippies, that we were working stiffs in uniforms, just like them.
But as we approached the Garden, we started getting scared. Two hours before the concert, and the place was already crawling with cops: cops in cars, cops on foot with their hands resting on black holsters and – most alarming of all – cops on big, shining horses. Sheila and I looked at each other and then we squared our shoulders and marched through them all, past the men and the thin, dancy legs of the horses. We stopped at the front entrance, a wall of dark sliding glass doors. Five cops turned to face us. I said, ‘Delivery for the lighting crew.’ My voice was shaking. I had forgotten to smile. The oldest of the cops, a man around my father’s age, held up his hand. He said, his palm in my face, ‘Not so fast, sister.’
… to be continued.