CAMP Talk: Who's the Boss? Bruce or Floyd
|by Bill Sievert|
Getting there can be half the funbut not always. Not when a hurricane is barreling up the Delmarva Peninsula toward one's intended destination of downtown Philadelphia.
It was supposed to be one of those special occasions when old friends and family members come together from far and wide for a memorable event. In this case it was to be for Bruce Springsteen's reunion concert with his original E Street Band at Philly's Spectrum. Tickets had been tough (and expensive) to acquire, but we all were certain the experience would be worth the price. My sister, Barbara, and her partner, Morgan, would fly in from Louisville; our old pal Susie would take the train from Washington, and John and I would drive up from Rehoboth. We would all meet at a motel for pre-concert cocktails and then share a night of classic rock 'n roll from the artist affectionately known as "The Boss."
Unfortunately, a creature called Floyd showed us who was boss that particular September day.
For weeks, my sister and Iboth plagued by the same family value of incessant worryinghad fretted that a hurricane would show up the day of the concert. As things turned out, we now plan to start our own psychic friends' hotline. If only the concert promoters had shared our vision. Throughout the morning of the storm, a recording at the Spectrum assured us that the show would go on. Our far-flung group agreed to go on, too. Susie would take the noon train; Barbara and Morgan had already arrived in DC and would travel by rental car from there. I would make the drive, as planned.
Only John seemed certain the concert would be cancelled, and he decided to stay home to wait out the deteriorating weather. It wasn't until mid-afternoon that the rest of us began to realize the folly of our decision to proceed. With the wind howling and rain pouring, I jumped into the car and headed north about 1:30 p.m.after one final call assured me the concert was still on. Ninety minutes later, I could barely see the highway as I sloshed through lakes where the Dover bypass was supposed to be. I pulled into the usually bustling rest stop north of Smyrna to calm my nerves. I was the only person there, except for a custodian who looked at me like I was out of my mind for being out in the eye of the storm.
I don't think I can go on, I was telling myself when the announcement came on the radio. Tonight's Springsteen concert has been cancelled due to the hurricanepostponed for eight days. Depressed, I slowly turned back toward home, concerned about the well being of my fellow travelers.
Another hour-and-a-half later, John greeted me at the door with the news that Barbara and Morgan had checked into our motel in South Philly moments before the cancellation was announced. They had traveled all the way from Kentucky to be stuck in what Barbara described as a "flea bag" in a rough neighborhood. At least they were safe, I told her on the phone.
"I'm not so sure," she said. "The parking lot is flooding. Gotta run. We have to move the car to higher ground."
As soon as I hung up, Susie called. She was still aboard her train. She had been trapped on it for nearly five hours, since a mudslide toppled a tree and some power lines onto the tracks near Baltimore. "I'm claustrophobic and they won't let us off," she cried. "They won't tell us anything except that trains are stacked up behind us and we can't move in any direction. People are starting to freak! There's nothing left to eat or drink, and a priest keeps running up and down the aisle begging us to stay calm."
"Wait, there's another call," I said. It was Barbara again. "Now there's water coming into our room. They're moving us to the second floor. We can't even get a drink. The ice machine is broken."
"Hold on Susie? Try to stay calm. Hang on Barbara, just stay calm."
Suddenly, the sun broke through the late afternoon clouds in Rehoboth, and the predicaments of the others seemed oddly remote, almost surreal. But the frantic conversations continued as daylight dimmed. Susie reported that small groups of passengers were "breaking out of the train. Everyone's cell phones are failing and we're losing communication with the outside world." After nearly seven hours, Amtrak still had nothing to say.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Fire Department showed up at Morgan and Barbara's second-story motel roomin a rowboat. "We're evacuating everyone. We'll put you on a bus to a shelter."
"We don't want to go to a shelter," my sister protested. "We just want to see Bruce Springsteen."
As they were being boarded on the bus with a group of confused visitors from Morocco, Morgan spotted their rental car and noticed water seeping into the passenger compartment. The fire fighters reluctantly agreed to let him try to rescue the vehicle. With wet suitcases, Barbara and Morgan waded to the car and managed to back it out of a rising river. They turned around and never looked back, heading south to Delaware.
Then Susie reported in again. With five men, she had forced open a door to the train, leapt five feet to the ground, scaled a high chain-link fence and run down a muddy bank to freedom. "Actually, the guys hoisted me over the fence. I'm in no physical shape for that kind of thing." Susie and the men eventually flagged down a cab and paid the confused Pakistani driver handsomely to take them back to Washington.
"At least we're all safe," I kept telling everyone, but it's funny how shallow those words can sound to people who have spent a small fortune to travel directly into a disaster. It was only later as we watched the hurricane coverage on televisionthe terrible flooding and deaths from Pennsylvania to North Carolinathat we were able to put our Floyd experiences into perspective.
"It's like riding the proverbial horse," I suggested to Barbara and Morgan the next morning. "If you fall off, you have to get back on." None of us ride horses, of course, but we all decided to return to Philadelphia the following Friday for the make-up date. A gloriously sunny autumn afternoon made all of our travels a breeze (a light breeze). And the performance was as memorable as the preceding weekend's mess.
For three hours, Bruce (who turned 50 the day before) and the band played their hearts out, never taking a break. The throng of "home-town" New Jersey and Philly fans, mostly baby-boomers who helped launch Springsteen to stardom a quarter century ago, sang along with every syllable. At times, it was like a giant hootenanny, offering the catharsis we needed to remember why we had made such a huge effort to get there in the first place.
After the show, we all acknowledged thatwith escalating ticket costs and the other difficulties we had encounteredthis might have been our last major concert adventure. That is, until the next morning when we learned that Bette Midler will be playing Atlantic City on October 30. Within hours, tickets were acquired, rooms were booked and we're already glued to the Weather Channel watching for the first signs of the late-season tropical storm destined to hurtle up the Atlantic seaboard Halloween weekend.
Whatever the weather, we know we'll find a way to be there. As Bruce would sing, "Baby, we were born to run."
Bill Sievert is co-owner of Splash, a clothing and accessories store on Baltimore Avenue, and the Program Director of CAMPsafe, CAMP Rehoboths AIDS education and prevention program.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 9, No. 14, Oct. 15, 1999