In 8th or 9th grade, I had a thing for Nancy Wilson of Heart. My best pal, Rich, had a thing for Ann Wilson (who was still skinny at the time). As best I recall, it was the only time there was a pair of women, and I chose the blonde and my best mate chose the brunette… to this day, it’s almost always the other way ’round.
Heart was coming to Atlanta to play a show at The Omni. Even at that young age, I’d already developed the habit of looking at the “event tickets” section of the Atlanta Journal’s classifieds. There I spotted an ad for a pair of 10th row seats for only $5-$10 above face value! I wasn’t a huge fan of Heart’s music, but I really wanted to see an arena concert up close; Rich didn’t care for Heart’s then-current music (“What About Love”, “Never”, “These Dreams”), but he did like their earlier stuff, like “Barracuda”. I called the ticket seller, and he seemed legit. So I begged my mom to drive me to a hotel parking lot at Buford Highway and 285. Money and tickets were exchanged, and we were good to go.
I moved away from Atlanta almost 15 years ago, so things might have changed. But back in the 80s, suburban white folks only used the MARTA train to go to things like concerts or sporting events. On any given night, MARTA trains would run nearly empty… but let there be a concert or game, and the cars would be full of metalheads or football fans. So it was pretty safe, which is why Rich’s parents picked me up and drove us to the Doraville MARTA station. We took the train in and had a bangin’ time at the show.
My dad worked close to The Omni, and usually kept late hours. So the plan was for me to call him from a payphone once the concert was over. And that’s exactly what happened: I found a payphone on the concourse and called him, and he said he’d be there as soon as he could.
Rich and I were standing outside the arena, waiting for my dad to show. But then a guy walked up to us. He was a big fella, with long blond hair, broad shoulders and a beer belly. He was probably in his mid 20s.
“Uhhhhh… hey guys!” he said, his body teetering back and forth, the smell of alcohol obvious from five feet away.
“Could you guys help me? I’m from Greenville, South Carolina, and I drove down for the show… and I am drunker than hell. I can’t… I can’t… I don’t… I don’t, uh, remember where I parked my… my… where I parked my car. I have, like, $327 in my wallet, and I’d, like, give you guys some, like, money, if you’d like, help me find… [hiccup] it.”
Rich and I didn’t say a word. But we did exchange a series of glances.
The first glance said “this guy is fucked up, and we could totally lead him to that parking deck over there, push him down the stairs and take his wallet”. Keep in mind that $327 in 1986 is worth $700 in 2014 dollars. $350 each for rolling a drunk guy wasn’t a bad idea. Also, there were only, like, 3-4 steps at the parking deck, so it wasn’t like we were gonna push him down 30 feet of concrete.
The second glance said “we could do that, but my\your dad’s not here. What if the dude fights back? What if the cops see us? We can’t just stand here and wait for my\your dad to be unofficial getaway driver! And just how would we get away, anyway? Traffic is crawling. A one-legged cop could catch us!”
The third glance said “Ya know, this seems awfully suspicious. He seems really nice… too nice. And wasn’t the ‘I have $327 in my wallet’ oddly specific? Dude, this has to be some kind of scam. Either the APD is doing some kind of sting operation, or NBC News is doing some kind of hidden camera show. Or worse, he could be totally sober and just splashed himself with whiskey. He could be trying to lead us to his sketchy van in the parking deck, and we’d end up chained to the wall of his basement!”
Rich and I, at exact the same moment, said something like “nah, man. Wish we could help, but my dad\his old man will be here any second.”
As soon as the guy stumbled off, we chattered excitedly:
“Dude, we totally could have…”
“But wasn’t it weird that…”
“But even if we did…”
To this day, I sometimes wonder what was up with all that. Was he legit, just a harmless drunk guy from South Carolina? Or was he an undercover Atlanta cop itching to bust some 8th graders from the suburbs? Or was he some John Wayne Gacy type, waiting to bury us in his crawlspace? Did he ever find his car, or did someone else roll him that night? Did he pass out in his car, or did he actually try to drive to Greenville that night? If so, did he make it home OK?
Life’s little mysteries!