I’m pretty sure we were in high school, probably 1970, 1971, when one of our friends comped us some tickets to see Frank Zappa at the old Fillmore East in the Village, at 105 2nd Avenue. We lived on Long Island, not far from the City, but Manhattan was about as foreign as France to us at that age.
So I looked at the tickets and said, we want to go to 105th Street and 2nd Avenue, instead of 105 2nd Avenue. Yes, I was the navigator and I was no Magellan. I was looking for a theater in Greenwich Village, and I was about 100 blocks off the mark.
It was dark as the old, red Ford station wagon pulled up to the curb on 3rd Avenue, just around the block from the Fillmore. The street was deserted, no problem getting a parking space. The four of us got out of the car, Bill being careful to make sure it was locked. We walked to 105th Street to cut across to 2nd Avenue. There were a bunch of drunks lying in the street, breaking bottles. Not on the sidewalk mind you, but in the street. So we figured we’d head over to a safer block, 104th Street. We got to 2nd Avenue, wondering why it was so empty, but expecting to see crowds of Zappa fans at any minute… Of course, there were none. There was no one. And it was dark, very dark. And very rundown. We headed back to the car. What else could we do?
Walking west on 104th, we spotted a police car and flagged him over. Two cops in the car.
“Which way to the Fillmore?” (This might be why men hate asking directions.)
The cop in the passenger seat looks at us like we are Martians. After a pause he says, (and I remember this like it was yesterday) “You guys know where you are. You better get out a here. You’re gonna get mugged.” And they took off! They left us. They wanted no part of what might happen next. To them, it was Darwin’s survival of the fittest, and we were at the bottom of the food chain. Best if we didn’t live to reproduce.
That’s when the light bulb went off in our collective brains.
“We’re in Harlem.” Oh my God, we’re in Harlem!”
Bill breaks out laughing, and we make a mad dash for the car. (It’s hard to mug someone who is running 90 miles an hour.)
We get to the car, Bill still laughing hysterically. By now, we’re all laughing hysterically. We get in, and as we drive away, I ask Bill, “What is so funny?”
“I locked the car doors.”
“As if the car was going to be here when we got back. And I was worried about locking the doors.”
We sped down the FDR drive and just made it to the Fillmore, alive to tell the tell. Damn, if my parent ever knew this stuff.