It was the fall---October, I think--- of 1970. I had been out of the army about a year and was working for Johnson and Johnson in Greenville, South Carolina as a sales rep. The company's home office was in Raritan, New Jersey, and I was invited to go to the home office for some advanced training with other of their sales reps from across the country.
I was excited! We would be in New Jersey for about a week, and would spend a weekend there.
At the company headquarters, I met about 15 other sales personnel. We had classes and learned about our products in more detail. On Friday afternoon, our training director gave us all $50 towards paying our expenses if we wanted to spend the weekend in New York City. This was really special!
Now we all know that $50 doesn't go very far in New York. But still, 41 years ago, a dollar went a helluva lot further than it does today. So, those of us who wanted to go to the city knew we would have to spend some of our own money to visit for the weekend. I didn't have much personal spending money in those early days, but I had never been to New York before, and just could not pass up the opportunity.
But---where would we stay? There was a well-seasoned rep in our group who recommended a hotel. He said it was cheap and located in Greenwich Village. That sounded pretty good to me. I had a friend named Tom who wanted to go with me. So, at 5:00 on Friday afternoon, the company provided us a free cab ride to the city.
The hotel that was recommended to us was the Van Rensselaer, located at 15 East 11th St in the Village. We arrived around 7:00 and checked in. Let me tell you---this hotel was both a fleabag and a firetrap. But, at $15 a night, it was all I could afford. Besides, Tom and I reasoned that we would be out sightseeing anyway, and would only be in our room a few hours a day to sleep.
The dust on the floors and window sills and furniture was of biblical proportions. On every hallway and door was stenciled in LARGE LETTERS---FIRE DANGER! KEEP DOORS CLOSED! I was more than a little concerned for my personal safety. But, I was young and looking forward to seeing the storied Greenwich Village and New York City. (NOTE: in doing some research for this posting, I discovered that Frank Zappa, the famous American guitarist, had stayed at the Van Rensselaer Hotel for a while in 1967. He wrote that it was as filthy a place as he had ever seen)
Tom and I threw our overnight bags into our room and headed outside to see the wonders of the Village. There were many coffeehouses, with folk music emanating into the night. I loved folk music!
We ended up in a particular coffeehouse where the drinks were flowing and the music was sweet. I met a number of really cool people. There was a smell in the air that resembled burning rope. I thought that strange. It was unlike any cigarette smoke I had ever smelled before.
My friend, Tom, was on his way to a really bad hangover. I helped him get back to the hotel, and then I headed back out. By this time it was about 10:30 or so, I stumbled onto a pretty neat looking club with rock music blaring. There was a sign out front that said CREDENCE CLEARWATER TONIGHT.
I never listened to anything but country and folk music, so Credence Clearwater didn't mean much to me. Still, the place seemed inviting, so I walked in. I had to pay a $5 cover charge, which I thought was highway robbery.
Inside the club, there was a huge ballroom. Thick smoke hung in the air, and strobe lights throbbed and pierced the heavy atmosphere. The room was teeming with humanity. As my eyes adjusted, I began to see that there were a whole lot of people curled up in little nooks---cubbyholes built into the walls. They all appeared to be sleeping---sleeping amid the blare of heavy rock music and dense smoke and strobes. This seemed odd.
And, then there was that same odor of burning rope that I had detected back in the coffeehouses. My, they certainly smoke some strange tobacco in New York, I thought.
As I was standing in the middle of the huge ballroom, trying to make sense of all of this, I saw an attractive young woman approach me....her eyes locked onto me. She looked friendly. She walked up to me, her face not two inches from mine, and blew smoke directly into my face---a lot of smoke. Startled, I blurted out, "Why did you do that?"
"We don't like cops in here", she snapped as she melted back into the mob scene. Then, it finally hit me (I'm a very slow learner). This was a drug den. The people who were in little cubbyholes sleeping were drugged out. The burning rope smell must be marijuana. People thought I was a cop because I was dressed nicely.
It was only a few years later that I discovered that Credence Clearwater Revival was the biggest southern rock group in the world in the years 1968---1972. Man---what a first night in New York!
Tomorrow---Day II in New York City.