Friday, September 4, 2009

Greekfest - 20 Years Later and Still No Gyros

Ask a bar full of locals about Greekfest '89 and you'll hear various stories about what happened. Some will be rather blunt and peppered with language you'd get a ticket for on Atlantic Avenue. Some will sound like something from a movie. Some may even make sense. There isn't one official story that sums up everything and doesn't offend anyone about the confusing mess that erupted at the oceanfront 20 years ago. Even my September 5, 1989 edition of The Ledger-Star is a rambling mess of articles and interviews without a basic timeline of events. Here's a simple summary -

Way too many people showed up for an end of the summer celebration in Virginia Beach during the 1989 Labor Day Weekend. Yes, many were black fraternity members (hence the "Greek" in "Greekfest), but there were lots of non-students as well. People just wanting to drink, flirt, and hang out. I'm convinced there had to be a few Renaissance fair actors in the mix.  And maybe some flamboyant tap dance instructors.

A strong police presence from the start made things tense. Rap music was played. Loudly. People jaywalked. Cops from Norfolk and Portsmouth were called in. Some foul language was probably exchanged. Small crowds assembled. Cops put helmets on. Police dogs and horses were given helmets. The small crowds convened. Things went beserk. Hard object throwing and looting hit the full tilt boogie mode early Sunday morning. National Guard troops showed up. People were rounded up and detained. There were lots of arrests. Cassingles of "Fight the Power" were unspooled and stomped on. Hard. Local screenprinters rushed orders of "I Survived Greekfest '89" t-shirts. Small outbreaks of chanting and mischief continued until Monday night. Vacationers went home without a vacation.

Three busses from New York City with 135 members of the Brownsville Community Baptist Church thought they were going to have a relaxing Labor Day weekend. Nope.

The event received national television and newspaper coverage. It was turned into a "racism" thing by some media outlets when it was really just a "confusion" thing. I wish I could refer you to something other than a skimpy wikipedia entry on the subject, but there isn't anything else about it online. No first hand accounts from cops, business owners, visiting fraternity members, reporters, or photographers. Until now.

Sadly, Mr. Reddick passed away in 1996 at the age of 30. I'd like to think that all of his negatives are safely stored in the archives of the Virginian-Pilot building in Norfolk, but they probably tossed them years ago to make room for boxes of complaint letters addressed to the comic pages.

I bet you'll never play tennis at Owl Creek the same again. Oh yeah, and when the detainees were eventually released, they had to get back to the resort area on their own. A 3 mile hike North on General Booth Boulevard - hungry and exhausted. Fun.

The beach wasn't crowded at all the next summer when Labor Day rolled around. Cops were everywhere. I saw an undercover cop dressed as the Norwegian Lady, standing motionless on a pedestal. Nothing really newsworthy happened. I think someone may have lost their sunglasses in the ocean near 5th Street. That's all. The American Music Festival was inaugurated in 1993 and has proudly hosted such non-riot inducing acts as The Beach Boys (without Brian, of course), K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Hall and Oates, and Public Enemy. Say what?! Naw, I'm just kidding about Public Enemy. Maybe one day. It took a little time, but alas - tourists returned to Virginia Beach. Even the French Canadians came back. Merci.

Striving to become "The Family Friendliest Beach in the Universe", Virginia Beach has implemented a "no cursing" ordinance at the beach. Somebody asks if that's unconstitutional here.  If you want to read more about my challenge to the city concerning the "no cursing' signs go here.

Easy jazz is pumped from loudspeakers starting at 10 in the morning until midnight between 16th and 26th Streets along Atlantic Avenue. Smooth, instrumental versions of "Superstition" or "Time of the Season". I hope someone at BMI or ASCAP just heard a cash register sound...or several thousand of them.

There are cops on horses, bikes, segways, motorcycles, four-wheelers, and their feet making sure no one is saying or doing anything un-family friendly. Unfortunately, they can't tell people not to notice t-shirts displayed in gift shops with sayings like "Whatchoo Lookin' At Bitch Ass?!", "Why Go to High School When You Can Go to School HIGH?", and "I'm Hornier Than You". Those aren't in a secret, adults only browsing area - they're right in the front can't miss 'em...right above the tit mugs and pot leaf belt buckles.

Near midnight, long after the city employed zither players and jugglers have stopped performing along Atlantic Avenue, the jazz turns into classical music (boosted a few volume notches) for the bumbling drunks to waltz around to. At 1:30 A.M. super bright floodlights are switched on. FOOMP. Go home.

Everyone scurries, blurry eyed back to their hotel rooms or, most likely, back to their cars for the long trip back to Norfolk. Ahhhhh, Virginia Beach...who would ever want to riot in you now? Everything's perfect!