(a slight tale of embarrassment, official intransigence, and why I feel much older this week)
At the beginning of May, my wife Flo and I traveled to New Mexico to attend the two-day Taos Mother's Day Concert that features several New Mexican musicians and bands. The concert has taken place for thirteen years, is always free to the public, and is a pet project of Darren Cordova, musician, radio entrepreneur, and mayor of Taos.
There's a colorful history to the concert that includes appearances by some of the biggest names in New Mexican music but lately that history also has been about politics and in-fighting. Last year Cordova threatened to cancel the concert because the County Commissioners had reduced funding for the concert. I don't know how the fight was resolved and, whatever the politics, the result seems to be only that the concert was moved from one park to another for 2014. Cordova was still the prime sponsor behind the concert and he performed with his band on Sunday. You can read Darren Cordova's statement here.
But none of the squabbles was of any concern to Flo or me. We wanted only to chill out in the warm New Mexican sun, listen to good music, and take part in an event that promised to be ... well, enchanting.
And for the most part it was. The weather was sunny and bright, although periodically a cool breeze whipped through the tent where we had set up our chairs. The crowd was mellow and not always focused on the music but everyone seemed to be having a good time. The audience reflected a broad cross-section of people: music fans from all over the Southwest (there were numerous Colorado folks applauding the bands); young people who just liked concerts; tourists who wanted to check out the happening in the park; and bikers.The bands were okay - I thought Carlos Medina y Trio Los Gallos and Jerome Grant were the best and the crowd showed its generous approval to these acts; the others did what they could to get the crowd dancing, and they succeeded, for the most part.
But, something happened that spoiled the mood. I realize that it was of little importance to anyone other than me and when it happened I laughed it off. And yet ...
Beer was on sale in the "beer garden," a fenced-off tent area near the stage. To enter the garden I had to show my I.D. and buy two tickets for beer, $5 each. "Two-drink minimum," the security guard told me as he glanced quickly at my driver's license. Okay. I've dealt with "minimums" before, no problem, although I wasn't sure I wanted more than one beer. The guard wrapped a paper "bracelet" around my wrist, signifying that yes, I was old enough to drink beer, in case all the gray hair on my head was not the telltale sign I thought it was.
I picked up my beer by presenting one of my tickets to a young woman behind a counter. No one was allowed to leave the garden area with beer. All the drinkers at the concert were cloistered under the tent, enjoying their two beers and then buying more if the spirit moved them, as it usually did. Maybe it was my imagination but all the bikers seemed to be under that tent canopy. These were men and women who looked like they had played background roles in Breaking Bad or Sons of Anarchy - big, boisterous, and loud. Their leather jackets carried the logos and markings I associate with outlaw groups, but I don't really know for sure. I do know many of the patches I saw on the jackets were crude, lewd, or threatening.
None of this would have mattered to me if I hadn't decided, about an hour later, that I might as well use my second ticket and get another beer. I was pretty sure I wouldn't finish it but I concluded that I should have a couple of drinks from a Bud can, since I had already paid the $5. Some of us remember how we hated to leave beer on the table, no matter how much we had already imbibed. The same kind of reasoning came into play for me with that second ticket.
I walked into the beer garden simply by showing the guard my wrist bracelet.
Here, you need to know a couple of things. I am an old guy who sometimes stumbles when I walk. It's part of the general clumsiness that comes with an arthritic back, a weak, trembling left leg, and a slouch to my posture that apparently has become more noticeable lately. You also should know that the company handling security for the concert had several people inside the tent, keeping an eye on things, although from what I saw, no one was getting hassled about being drunk. Until I showed up.
I approached the counter and I must have stumbled a bit. I handed my ticket to the young woman bartender and asked for a Bud. She grimaced and shook her head. "No, I don't think so," she said. She handed the ticket back to me.
I thought she was joking. I said, "What?" She looked at another woman who was standing nearby.
The second woman was security. She said, "Yeah, you're done, you've had too much."
I couldn't believe it. Nothing like that had ever happened to me, not even when I clearly should have been cut off. I had drunk one beer, about an hour before. Since then I had eaten and walked around the park. I was not drunk. I tried, yes I tried, to explain to the guard. I even joked with her about how I was an old man and that I sometimes tripped. She smiled at that, but she would not change her mind.
I realize now that she couldn't. She had exercised her authority, made a decision, all in front of the bartender, and she couldn't change her decision unless she wanted to get crosswise with the bartender and look weak. At least that's what I concluded after a few days of thinking about the incident.
I agree that in the interest of public safety we most likely want security guards to err on the side of caution. But, come on. Other than the security cops, I was the most sober person in that tent when they turned me down.
Eventually I pointed out that if I couldn't use my ticket I should get a refund.
Are you kidding me? First, I had to buy two tickets, and now that I had been prevented from using one of the tickets, I had to eat the five bucks. The guard suggested that I sell my ticket. "But there are no refunds." When I reasserted that I was not drunk, the guard said both she and the bartender had "seen it." So there.
I thought a dark cloud had moved in from the mountains and covered the park. The good weekend vibe had changed into a queasy uneasiness. I thought that when I was young, nothing like this would have happened. I thought that since I once had been a lawyer, I should have been able to persuade the guard that I was right and she was wrong, but I couldn't accomplish that anymore. I felt insulted, embarrassed, and as though I was the butt of a cruel joke. There was nothing I could do about it.
I told Flo what had happened and then decided to sell the ticket. It was my last-ditch attempt to salvage some dignity.
I walked around the tent for a few minutes looking for a likely prospect. I casually sauntered up to one of the biker groups with the ticket gripped tightly by my fingers.
"You want to buy a beer ticket? I'm not going to use this one."
The worst part of the day kicked in.
The group laughed as though I wore a red nose and floppy shoes. One lug hollered at me, "Yeah, for free!" They all laughed again.
I tried to be serious. I showed them the ticket. "No, really."
The laughter continued. "For free, yeah!"
I said, "Okay, how about four bucks?"
The laughter got louder. I squirmed. I looked around the tent. People were drinking beer, listening to the bands, or carrying on their own conversations. No one appeared to notice that I had fallen into a hole and couldn't lift my head. One of the women in the group glared at me and said something that I couldn't hear - fading hearing being another attribute of my advancing years. I saw the look on her face and the way she said what she said, which I assumed was a nasty comment, and it all told me that I should leave.
They knocked me to the ground and kicked me repeatedly. Bloodied and bruised, I raised the ticket and said, "How about three dollars?"
No, that last part didn't happen but that's where the afternoon was headed. I saw it, I felt it, but it didn't happen.
I walked away from the laughing bikers, exited the tent, and told Flo that I had not been able to sell the ticket. We listened to a few more songs and joked about "the incident." We decided to leave. The next day, rather than return to the concert, we drove to Ojo Caliente and finally relaxed. Then it snowed. We stayed an extra day and tripped over to Santa Fe. But that's another story.
Yes, we still love New Mexico. Yes, we will return. We also love New Mexican music and free concerts in the park and the idea of having a beer on a sunny afternoon while the band plays un riconcito en el cielo. Whether we ever go back to the Taos Mother's Day concert is still up for grabs.