Today marks the annual running of the Indianapolis 500. Today it’s on television, but back in 1967 it was not. Here’s a story from my book, THE ME GENERATION…BY ME (perfect for summer reading… so buy it) about the Indy 500 – its spectacle and personal violence.
Of course I didn’t only usher musicals. The Indianapolis 500 auto race was a huge annual event. But back then there was no network television coverage of it. You either listened to “the greatest spectacle of racing” on the radio anchored by Sid Collins, or you went to selected theaters to watch a closed circuit feed.
The Valley Music Theater was offering the telecast and I volunteered to be one of the ushers. Hey, they were paying $2.50 an hour! I believe the race started at 8:00 AM on the west coast. All I know is we started letting people in at 6:30. By 7:00 AM the place was packed. There were numerous full bars going from the moment the doors opened. USC football players were hired as the bartenders, just to make sure things didn’t get too out of hand.
The race started and literally within the first ten seconds there was a fourteen-car pile up. Roadsters were caroming off each other, smashing into the wall, catching fire, tires flying, drivers scurrying, some scaling the fence. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt. But the race was halted for another hour-and-a-half. Needless to say, the natives were getting restless… and hammered.
By the time the drivers rounded the very first turn, 3,000 boisterous rowdies had been drinking for three hours.
The next six hours were insane. There was almost a riot when they ran out of snacks. It was not uncommon to see someone vomiting. Me and three other ushers tried to break up a fight and I got punched. I think it was someone from my temple.
The race finally ended and these lushes staggered out to their cars. God knows how any of them made it home – if they did. We ushers had to comb the building to make sure everyone was out. Yeah, big concern that some were going to hide in the bathrooms for five hours so they could sneak into that night’s performance of The World of Susie Wong starring Connie Chung.