I played my first paying gig in New York City, back around 1993.
New York was a different place back then.
(Well, the world was a different place)
Most of Manhattan was still pretty rough in those days. SoHo was just beginning to happen. Chelsea was still a few years away; let alone places like Williamsburg, Park Slope, or Astoria.
Alphabet City, The Bowery, and Hell's Kitchen were still known by those names.
I was a bass-player, playing around the midwest and east coast behind my good friend Mary McGuire (from whom I learned so much about being out in front of an audience).
We were playing at the storied Bitter End, in Greenwich Village: a stage which has hosted everyone from Bob Dylan, Bo Diddley, Neil Young, Neil Diamond, Miles Davis, and Taj Mahal, to Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Henny Youngman, and Cheech & Chong.
We played our set, and Mary of course had a full house.
After the show, we drove around Manhattan visiting friends.
In those days, we used to drive around in a forty-foot long, matte-red, 1971 GMC Superior Coach school bus, which we had purchased from a mariachi band.
Now the adventure:
At about 4am, somewhere in 1993 Harlem, we pulled our full-size school bus up behind a blue Crown Victoria, at a red light. The Crown Vic had the look of "your grandma came to New York, rented a car, and got lost in Harlem in the middle of the night".
When the light turned green, the Crown Vic didn't move.
So dumb twenty-three year-old me, I start honking the horn.
I see the shadow of the driver's head turn towards the passenger.
The passenger door opens.
And a gargantuan, orange-haired Italian in a track suit unfolds himself out of the Crown Vic.
He lurches and lumbers through the night up to my bus.
His beefy and deliberate knuckles pound heavy and most slowly on my bus door.
(Of course, I don't open the door)
Like a jerk, I shout: "whadya want?"
So, he reaches the full enormity of his right claw down into the neck of his track suit.
And . . .
. . . He pulls out a New York City Police Shield.
Now, the thing I haven't told you is that I used to spend a lot of time in Colorado. And I knew this guy out there that sold all kinds of curious things. I'm not sure who his customers were or what they were into.
Some of the things I was most interested in, at my friends place, were his counterfeit police badges. I bought all kinds: Texas Ranger, Detroit, DEA, and, of course, New York City Police
I still wear some of these badges on my guitar strap (although I believe I gave one of my New York badges to my friend Alex Radus).
Anyway, on this 4am street, in 1993 Harlem, when the brontosaurian, orange-haired Italian reached down into the neck of his track suit, and pulled out his New York City Police Shield, making a show of it through the door window of my forty-foot long, matte-red, 1971 GMC Superior Coach . . .
So, I see his badge.
So, I show him my New York Police Shield.
(My gosh! I wouldn't do any of this today!)
I yell: "I'm still not openin' the door. Whadya want?"
He shouts: "I want you t' stop f*ckin' honkin' the horn! Dat's what I want!"
And he stomps back to the Crown Vic.
I pulled the bus around passed them.
Totally blew their cover.
I've felt like a jerk ever since.