Last night’s shift as roving safety was an informative, and enjoyable, experience.
I was partnered with Richard, a Vietnam veteran who had attended all but one ComFest. He signed us up for the Gazebo shift, because he wanted to hear Willie Phoenix play at 8 PM. The territory we had to cover spanned from the Park St. Street Fair west to the Live Arts stage, and from Buttles Ave. south to the main park walkway. It was a pretty broad space, and it was divided almost cleanly into two types of people: those who were there for ComFest, and those who were there because of ComFest.
The former group were what I started calling “the professionals”. They brought blankets and chairs and coolers, and took care to be respectful and mellow. Most of them had their own plastic mugs (almost always a ComFest mug from a previous year), and if they had brought their own booze into the park they all poured it into their plastic mugs. The bulk of these people were clustered around the gazebo stage, and were clearly there for the music and events of the evening. These folks were friendly, and almost everyone smiled at Richard and I as we walked past them.
The latter group, who I quickly dubbed “the amateurs,” sat on the sloping lawn to the west of the pond. There were several small clutches of trees there, and people would sit in small circles. These were mostly teenagers, and they almost all sat rigidly upright when Richard and I strolled through their midst. They tried – lamely, I thought – to hide their pipes and bongs. Several groups had gigantic hookahs out. It was in this group that we found the most people drinking from bottles or cans, and to whom we distributed plastic cups. The conversations I had with these people was repeated so frequently that you might think it was scripted: I would approach a group of people drinking out of bottles or cans. Some of them would try to hide it; I don’t know whether it was because they might be underage or because they didn’t want to get caught with BYOB. I would say, quietly and politely, “Hey guys. The park rules don’t let us have bottles or cans. Could you please pour your drinks into these cups?” I’d hand them a few plastic cups, and they’d say thank you. Richard would say “Please remember to recycle those bottles and cans!” We would start to walk away and then one of the kids would call to us “Hey, can I have some more cups?” This happened the same way almost every single time I approached someone. It got to be the running joke between Richard and I.
One kid I approached resolutely denounced that the can of Bud Light sitting next to him was his. I offered to recycle the can for him, and picked it up. It was nearly full. I can’t be sure, but I think a look of sadness crossed over the young fellow’s face. We walked off toward the nearest recycling station, at which I emptied out the beer. When Richard saw how long it was taking me to pour it out, he observed “That was that kids’ beer!”
Our entire shift was quiet and easy-going. Richard and I engaged in the kind of story-telling that happens when two strangers are passing time together. He was a great partner to have, and I wasn’t bored at all during my shift. We had only one altercation, and one false alarm. While walking around the “amateurs” by the pond, we heard a scuffle behind us. Turning, we saw a couple of guys posturing and yelling at one another. Richard calmly walked up and settled everyone down. One of the fellows decided he just couldn’t make it to a Port-O-Potty, so he urinated on the side of one of the trees. The other fellow decided this was a disgusting thing to do, so he spit upon the first guy. As we got involved, both of them surprised me by quickly saying they weren’t trying to screw up the Festival, and they both loved ComFest so much, and they’d be happy to just walk away from one another. We made a point to pay extra attention to that section over the rest of our shift, but nothing else ever happened. I spied the guy who spit on the other guy several times, and he was always calm and well-behaved, hanging out with his group of friends.
While chatting with one of the roving supervisors, we heard a distress call on the walkie-talkie that Richard was carrying. “Crowd control emergency at the gazebo!” The roving supervisor took off running toward the gazebo. Since it was within our territory, I quickly followed, with Richard right behind me. When we got there, no one could tell us what the emergency was – everything looked completely under control! As we later learned, some of the folks in the front row wanted to dance on the stage, and were encroaching on the band’s space. One of the ComFest volunteers panicked and called in the emergency without coordinating with the stage manager. Everything was well under control, and we ended up wandering off to resume our roving safety duty.
I’m glad I signed up for the early evening shift. The weather was superb, the crowd was pleasant and not yet drunk, and the route was nicely varied in terms of landscape and demographic. I don’t think I’d want to do roving safety at night, when people are more likely to be out of control, and when you can’t see as much of what’s going on. All in all, I think I did a pretty good job of maintaining the mellow!