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Saturday, July 14, 2012

All this and McCartney, too

Mid-May 1990. The scholastic sports season was winding down. It was usually about this time every year I checked out the schedule for upcoming concerts. I admit I was more of a concert junkie in my mid-20s. If it was anywhere in the New York-New Jersey-Philadelphia area and I had an interest in it, I wanted to go.
And two concerts caught my eye. The first was Heart. I always loved Heart and they were playing at my beloved Garden State (now PNC Bank) Arts Center on Monday, July 16, 1990.

The other ... well, it was "must-see" stuff. There it was -- two days earlier at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium. I'd seen a number of Phillies games there. Never a concert. Now I was about to purchase tickets for one. And it wasn't just any ol' act who toured every summer. This one was pretty big.

It was Paul McCartney ... ex-Beatle Paul McCartney. The leader of Wings Paul McCartney. The greatest songwriter and part of the greatest songwriting duo in the history of music Paul McCartney.

And on the road for the first time touring since his "Wings Over The World" tour in 1976 Paul McCartney.

I was definitely absolutely unequivocally no-freakin'-way missing Macca as he made his triumphant return to the States. The legal troubles with the other Beatles were now behind him. And for the first time in a long time, he was going to do more Beatles songs in his show that featured three people I knew of in his band -- obviously, his wife Linda, but also bassist Hamish Stuart (who was in Average White Band of "Pick Up The Pieces" and "Cut The Cake" fame) and guitarist Robbie MacIntosh (who played alongside Chrissie Hynde in the Pretenders).

Yeah, I was going to be there anyway possible! I still remember getting off the phone with the Ticketron people. I had paid $90 a seat -- 90 freakin' dollars per seat!! But I didn't care -- I had two tickets and I knew someone who lived in the same house with me who would've died to have gone to this show with me.

The concert was two months away and I gave the people at work a heads-up that I was going no matter what. I had two concerts in a three-day period, so guess who wasn't working those days?

Somehow, though, a few weeks later, I find out that the annual Ray Catena Offshore Grand Prix is being held on that second Saturday of July -- July 14. Greaaaaaaaaat! Thankfully from dealing with other powerboat events, either in the ocean or Barnegat Bay, they start early enough in which you can watch the race, get the necessary interviews you need, grab or jot down the results and get the heck out of there. So being the soldier that I was, I figured this shouldn't be too bad.

Apparently, I was about to suffer from Friday the 13th hangover. At about 7 a.m. on July 14, I awake to the mirkiest, ugliest, grey sky imaginable. So much for a beautiful day. Now I'm worried that the race might be canceled. And believe me -- I wouldn't have been sad at all.

But it was long before the Internet. No way to check out if the event had been canceled. And the one number I had for the Brielle Yacht Club, which was hosting the event, wasn't having anyone picking up. Thankfully, it wasn't raining.

I started on my way to Brielle and started seeing raindrops lightly hit the windshield. I was waiting for the downpour, but it never came, so I was fairly safe. Once inside the yacht club, I got my packet for the day's event. All seemed OK despite the dark clouds.

Then it is announced to the media who are there that the race is going to be delayed. Not because of the rain ... because of the 6-to-8 foot chops in the water. If you know anything about the ocean, you can have one of the most uncomfortable experiences of your life in swells that deep and high. So the 11 a.m. start of the race was going to have to be delayed for an hour ... maybe more.

Talk about cuttin' it close -- if the race starts at noon, it's going to take a good 2 1/2 hours to contest this thing, then we have to be brought back to the shore, get off the boat, wait for the official results to come to us, then get interviews, get back home to write the story on the handy-dandy Tandy machine I was using on the day, send the story, get in a car, head west to Philadelphia and be at the Vet before McCartney and band break into their opening song.

So we waited about 90 minutes, then finally, the man in charge of this event announces that the waves have died down a bit and we can go onto the boat. I had waited in the interim by eating a couple of doughnuts and having some coffee. I didn't have anything else before leaving, so this was it.

Well, it was just after 9:45 when we got onto the boat for what we thought was still a noon start. I waited patiently to climb aboard since the main deck was above. For some reason after handshakes with the crew of the ship, I had totally zoned out on the fact that the humidity that was in the air was making things damp. I made the mistake of starting up the stairs and assuming things were dry.

Nope. I moved upward two or three steps and my sneaker didn't quite grasp the plastic stair correctly. So what goes up, must come down.

Fell completely on my back. I can still feel the jolt through my body as I describe it. After I was asked if I was OK, my resilient 23-year-old body rose. I knew now to be a little more careful. This time I grasped the railings with both hands and made it safely to the next deck. Once there, I started to relax, looking at the notes I was given for this event. But it was apparent from being on that boat for just about 20 minutes after it finally stopped at its "headquarter" spot in the middle of the race course that this was not going to be the best ride in the world. The waves were as they said they would be -- 6 to 8 feet high with it feeling more like the latter number.

I had done enough ships in my life, covered enough races that the waters were a little rough. So I knew my comfort level. Unfortunately, this was far from comfort. And everything from my throat to my stomach was being affected by it. Didn't take more than about 10 minutes. I scoped out the bathroom on the ship and walked fast to it. Everything I had this morning was back in the toilet bowl.

Why the f*ck did I agree to cover this event!? I should've just told my boss to go screw off and taken the day off so I didn't feel like the hours before the greatest concert I was about to witness was a Chinese fire drill.

Pretty sure at this particular point that I didn't want to see another note. On one of those long, wooden benches, I decided to lie down. Sleep had become the only option left since we were now told the race was going to start closer to 1 p.m. It was the only way I knew to keep my mind off the boat thrashing up and down in the water. I'm not sure if anyone else felt as miserably uncomfortable as I did, but I knew this much -- for the next 2 1/2 hours, I was left alone.

When I next opened my eyes next, I could hear the sound of boats roaring through the water. It was just after 1 p.m. and the race was officially on. The waves had subsided a bit, but it was still pretty darned rough out there. The sun had finally come out. There was racing at last!

The only concern was if the waves were still too rough they may have to stop the race. But race officials were confident that all was going to be fine for the race. If they said so. I'm not so sure the drivers on some of those bigger, expensive boats out there would have agreed with that one. And the owners and drivers on the smaller boats definitely didn't share the same opinion.

But they raced nonetheless. And for the 2 1/2 hours they chased trophies, money and seasonal points in their classifications in long-winded laps.

By 3:30 p.m., it was over at long last. Once the boats were gone from the course, some injured and some in fine shape, we were heading back to Shore. But by now, it was just after 4 p.m. This was the time that, normally, the awards would be handed out on the deck of the yacht club. I got off the boat glad the six hours on that ship were finally, at long last, over.

I had to run through getting the results of the seven divisions, knowing who won some of the key ones. One of the big races that was supposed to take place was in the Sportsman Class B. But the battle between the Northeast leader, Rare Breed, owned by a nice man named Bill Gifford, from Little Egg Harbor, and the Southeast leader, Creative Native of Panama City, Fla., never quite happened. Creative Native broke down and Rare Breed never finished. The eventual winner was a boat called Wild Thing, based, ironically, in my next stomping grounds in my career, Key West. Another boat in that division, Shockwave, owned by the affable Rich Troppoli of Toms River, also had trouble in those rough waters and broke down, too.

It was 4:30 now and I needed at least an interview from one winner, two if I got lucky. Thankfully, I was steered toward the crew of the Hydra-Bandit, winner of a highly competitive Sportsman C class. They had a local (from Brick) on board in throttleman Greg Young. Totally great guy. He then introduced me to the owner of the boat, an older guy from Staten Island named Vince Guarino. Guarino had this boat and another boat in another division that he was the driver of, Sportsman B winner Alliance, in this race.

By this point, I was looking for bodies to interview and was running out of time. Guarino was a very nice man, but my introduction to him was him depositing his nearly finished cigarette to the deck of the club, stomping on it, and him shaking my hand, which I did, but had to go to the bathroom soon after to wash it. I still somewhat shake at remembering that moment. But Guarino was a confident man and he answered whatever questions I had for him with grace and class. He also gave credit to a shop called Kurt's Marine in Mantoloking. Man, did Kurt Burger, the force behind Kurt's Marine, get an endless amount of love from boat owners in the various races I covered. It was a practical lovefest every summer that I did the powerboat races.

However, the biggest winner of the day was a guy named Reggie Fountain of Washington, N.C., aboard his boat called Fountain. It won the Superboat competition and the overall title in what I called a "thrilling race."

But by now, it was 4:50. I couldn't locate Reggie Fountain. I tried. But time was running out. I was bound and determined to get to the concert before the opening song, and not five songs in.

So I left. It was about a 30-minute trip back from Brielle to Toms River on a sunny summer Saturday at the Jersey Shore. That's all you have to know about making my way through traffic on Route 70 and Hooper Avenue in my attempt to get home, sit down at the dinner table and write a story with all the notes I had gathered and eat dinner at the same time. No, I wasn't planning on getting home about 90 minutes later than I planned, but I pretty much rifled my way through typing that story on that Tandy laptop, while my sister waited patiently for me to finish. It was just before 7 p.m. and I had sent the story through the phone couplers and into the Observer's computer system.

The one thing I told my boss that I didn't do was talk to the overall winner. I came to find out a few days later he was angry that I had not done that. But I was doing him a favor. I could have taken the entire day off and then he would have been screwed. He should be happy I got him what I got considering the horrendous conditions I dealt with that morning, which I ignored telling him.

Now that the story was finished and sent and dinner was eaten, it was off west to Philadelphia. It was just after 7 and I was making up for lost time. The only stops I made were for traffic lights ... and I was determined to beat every last one of them. Getting across the Walt Whitman Bridge wasn't as bad as it seemed. And I found a spot to park about four or five blocks from the Vet in an outer parking lot near an industrial area. That 1977 Dodge Aspen was so reliable to me for the 7 1/2 years I drove it.

It was about 8:20 p.m. yet there was no music being played at the moment. Talk about luck. Our seats were pretty awesome, probably 200 feet from the stage on the third-base side of the field facing the stage, set up in right-center field. The price I paid for the tickets was worth it. By 8:45 p.m, sis and I were settled in when the lights dimmed and the first notes of "Figure Of Eight," which was one of the songs from McCartney's most recent cassette/LP "Flowers In The Dirt," was coming over the speakers. That was followed immediately by the loud horns that introed into the powerful 1974 hit "Jet." For nearly the next three hours, we were just blown away. And yes, he did Beatles tunes, too, including a medley of songs John made famous. But the highlight was "Hey Jude." For as long as I live, 55,000 fans singing, "Naaaaaaah naaaah naah, na-na-na-naaaaaah ... na-na-na-naaaaaah. Heeeeey Jude!" will always go with me.

And when he and the band finished up with "Golden Slumber/Carry That Weight/The End," we were all witness to something amazing that night. I remember turning on to WMMR-FM after the show and they were replaying the set list in order, starting with "Figure Of Eight." Listened to it all the way back to Toms River ... or at least until the station began fading out of range. Oh how I looooove my Sirius-XM radio!

The sad thing was that two nights later, sis and I went to see Heart at the Arts Center and it was a great show, too, but it paled greatly in comparison to McCartney on July 14. And, ironically, the second time I saw McCartney in concert, it was wrapped up on a day I had a sporting event to cover as well -- but this was much different.

It was Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville on February 6, 2005.

But the McCartney & Band show on this July night was the perfect ending to what was a very, very, very, very long day, considering the aggrevation I had to put up with at the beginning.

It was definitely "must-see" stuff. 

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