The University of Virginia Magazine titles its Retrospect article "The Rise and Fall of Easters."
I guess that is one way to look at it, because after the 12-alarm warning that was the 1975 Mad Bowl party, the Easters Weekend was clamped down and ultimately choked out, in spite of considerable student protest.
Was the party bad? No, it was great! But considering that "the party school's ultimate party" had drawn 15,000 in its inaugural year, it was a certainty that exponential math would subsequently apply. Welcome to Spring Break Charlottesville! The University was verklempt.
There were issues of course. Dean of Students Bob Canevari called me into his office a few days later to say that the University had been contacted by the Attorney General's office because it was discovered that huge quantities of beer had been sold to minors and sold without an ABC license. Then he laughed, and said that University attorneys pointed out that if the ABC Board sued the University, it would be essentially the state suing itself. So the matter was dropped. This is why Canevari was Dean of Students for something like 25 years.
And yes, students washing off mud in the dormitory showers caused back-ups that flooded whole dorm floors. And there were several dozen cases of "grain blindness" seen in the University emergency room during the afternoon. Kids being kids...
However Associate Dean Chester Titus wrote to me, "I know you received accolades for the job you did before and during Easters, but I want to give you one more. Your efforts to inform the community and to organize in preparation for the weekend were, as far as I was concerned, highly unusual. You did a good job, and I believe it is borne out by the relatively few incidents during a weekend that had all the potential for a disaster. You certainly deserve a commendation."
Still, University President Hereford formed a Commission to examine the future direction of the weekend, stating,"I have been either a witness or participant of Easter Week for 35 years and I believe that the event this year went beyond the bounds of reasonable behavior." I guess it is our bad luck that the President's home overlooks Madison Bowl.
My term as President of the IFC carried me into 1976.....and I did what all good leaders do when faced with diminishing returns. I cut bait and ran.
I am looking at a Cavalier Daily article where I am quoted as saying the IFC would be taking a de-emphasized role in Easters, and instead concentrate on IFC Weekend, three weeks later. I congratulated the Black Student Alliance, Student Council, Student Union and Office of Student Affairs for their new role in organizing Easters. Suckers.
And then the frats took "our" 1976 party off-grounds....beyond the view of the President's mansion.
"Their" 1976 Easters was held in the "Cage"..... a windowless basketball practice facility. I was not there, but I expect it was like a 2011 high school prom. You know what I mean...
That didn't solve the Easters problem....which was the out-of-control drinking, combined now with driving. Granted, 1976 was still early when it came to clamping down on drinking and driving....but potential for disaster of a different kind was there. Stopping the parties in the countryside was important..and it did happen. No one was killed, that I heard of, but essentially Easters was cancelled.
And then by 1982, the other major party weekends on UVa's historic social calendar, Openings and Mid-Winters, also went the way of Easters.
A very funny thing happened in the 1990s. I was invited back to UVa to participate in a Career Day panel. I decided to take Susan into the old IFC office to show her what it was like. We walked in, and lo, there was a full meeting going of all of the frat presidents. I tried to excuse myself, just explaining that I was an old IFC president showing my wife around. The President welcomed me to stay, and asked my name. I told him, and felt the air go out of the room.
Shocked that my name would mean anything to these guys, I found out that the legend that was Easters had grown with its banishment. They actually thought that the Mad Bowl Easters had been a university tradition since Jefferson - rudely yanked by the administration. The fact that there was ONE, and only ONE Mad Bowl Easters party has been lost in revisionism. (...disclosure: in several prior years, abutting fraternities had run hoses to Mad Bowl, creating giant mud slides down its banks...but these were extensions of the individual fraternity parties that spilled mayhem up and down the streets, and not a Mad Bowl party)
There were some nice things that came from it for me. Katie Couric, a "cub reporter" (as she put it) for the Cavalier Daily interviewed me. She remains a friend. It turns out one of the observers at the neighborhood association meetings was Dean Snook, head of the Darden Graduate Business School. He offered me admission....right there after one of the meetings I chaired. I took the business school boards, just in case, and scored well. I didn't go. That's a whiff.
But now, I get to wax poetically about the "good old days." Not coincidently, this whole episode sent me on a path of concert and event promotion, which landed me a job with Dick Clark. That took me to Lenox and now we have the inn. It started with a beer party.
TO READ PART 1
Party photos: Scott Barrow, Lenox MA
It is quite satisfying when something you did 35 years ago is remembered. Not that many people associate my name with it any more.... but Playboy magazine called it "the best party in America." You don't know who built the Chrysler Building...but it still stands. I am sure the architect will take that. So will I.
I was 20 years old. And handed a responsibility larger than any kid should ever have. But that is the way the University of Virginia works. Students are given 100% authority to run all aspects of student life, including the Honor System. That forces leadership skills at a critical age....and in spite of the academic reputation that UVa carries....I have always said that I learned more as a student leader than I did in the classroom.
The party pictured above is the "Easters" celebration in Madison Bowl....across the street from the famous Jefferson Rotunda. It appears as an article on the last page of this month's University of Virginia Magazine, entitled "The Rise and Fall of Easters."
THE RISE: UVa used to be a men's school. Since the late 1800s, the week after Easter was set aside for a series of formal dances, hosting the various prestigious womens' colleges in Virginia. In those early days, students pledged that they would not attend that evening's dance if they had had a drink of alcohol after noon that day.
Predictably, by the early 1970s, the parties had degenerated into grain-alcohol driven mayhem. Every one of the dozens of fraternities in the Rugby Road area would hose their yard down into mud pits, and you'd find oil drums full of alcohol concoctions: sometimes smoking from dry ice and with a bra floating on top. People would stagger from frat to frat, swigging juice cans full of it. Great stuff. One of the reasons I went to Virginia....(just kidding...well not really).
ENTER ME: In 1975 I was elected President of the Inter-Fraternity Council, and in the prior year I was Social Chairman, which meant for a 2-year-period I was unofficially in charge of this beast-of-36-heads (the number of fraternities). The Rugby Road neighborhood association (Venerable) decided that year to put an end to the hijacking of their prestigious neighborhood and they approached the school about ending it all. Dean of Students Robert Canevari called me in and shared the news.
Never one to turn down an impossibility, I volunteered to fix the problem. The first thing I did was to declare that we would have one central party that could be controlled. Then I got every fraternity to sign a commitment to that party, in lieu of their own. To sweeten that deal, I signed the Tams, The Platters and Junior Walker & The Allstars for $10,000. I did not have a dime.
I solved that problem in a way that is incomprehensible in 2011. I was friends with a Charlottesville beer distributor. Twice per year he was offered a promotional discount from the brewery, which he passed on to the local A&P store. He sold me 500 cases of beer at that price, and I sold the cans for $1 apiece at the party. The hitch was that I had to take the cases three weeks in advance of the party, which raised the issue of storing them and making them cold.
I went to see the head Nun at St. Anne's Catholic Girls School, one block from the University. I asked if I could store my beer in her walk-in fridge and pick it up on the morning of the party. She said yes. I probably startled her so profoundly with the request that she blanked out momentarily. At any rate, we made $10,000 in the first hour of the show and paid the bands in dollar bills and change.
Then I solicited "t-shirt security volunteers" and created shocking pink tees with "Easters 1975" printed on them. I wanted the security to be obvious. I still have my shirt, which is now worn regularly by my son-in-law, Brad. I don't know how he got it, but it is better to be used than eaten by moths. Brad was born in Australia a year after this party, so its current use is completely out of context.
Using fire hydrants, we hosed water into the Bowl as promised. We allowed people to set up their grain alcohol, and we told the neighbors to close their shutters. 15,000 people came from all over the East Coast. No further descriptions are needed....
Virginius Dabney (is that a stereotypical UVa name?), the university historian wrote, "It was becoming obvious that a halt would have to be called on these stupefying college gambols."
CLICK TO PART 2: THE FALL
color photograph by Ed Roseberry
Yes, the snow is mostly gone, and hiking can result in a near-quicksand experience. Some Berkshire attractions are closed and will not open until late Spring. And there are no leaves on the trees. Why are all of these things good?
Because there are AT LEAST three things you can do NOW which you cannot do any other time of year:
- Hike the Mount Greylock Scenic By-Way: Mount Greylock is the highest point in Massachusetts and offers one of the best views in New England. There are many trails to the top, but we run into the mud-to-your-knees objection. HOWEVER, the paved road to the top is accessible to hikers, and is closed to vehicular traffic until May. ....a chance for a civilized walk to the top of the mountain on a paved road WITHOUT the risk of having to dive off the mountain to avoid a car careening around the curves. Top objection solved...as well as the last one about leaves on the trees. The views on the way up are SO MUCH BETTER without the foliage. David Ackerson put this on my radar this week, so CLICK HERE for his article outlining suggested routes to the top. He says the walk is about 4.4 miles and 2,000 feet, but there are shorter alternates.
- Actually Get Into the Best Restaurants and Attractions: Disneyworld works, so I guess some people are okay with 100,000 people in one place...90,000 of them standing in line at any given moment...but imagine if you could do Disneyworld with 5,000 people. Same with the Berkshires. Come in March, April and May, and walk right into the Rockwell Museum, MassMoCa, or The Clark (free during the off-season)... Have a docent to yourself. Sit right down at the Old Mill, Nudel, Prime, Bizan, Jae's Spice or Baba Louie's. Actually get a seat at the bar in Allium, Firefly or Mission. Wow. Why wouldn't you?
- Save 30% on your Room: Call it Economics 101. We charge 30% less for a room during the off-season at Hampton Terrace. ....And we include a $30 gift card to the wine shop in town for a weekend stay. Call me crazy - because after stating my case in the two points above - shouldn't I charge MORE? Lock in your room before I come to my senses.
Rockwell Museum photo by Sarah Edwards
The Boston Globe has proclaimed the Berkshires "an aggregation of performing arts unmatched anywhere in the country."
So I would be irresponsible if I did not spend considerable energy letting you know the details.
Yesterday I covered the summer plans for Shakespeare and Company. But in doing my research, I ran into a website called "Berkshire on Stage" which essentially does much of my work for me. In that particular post, blogger Larry Murray was touting the line-up at Barrington Stage Company this summer.
But I noticed his blog several days ago which presents an overview of the summer. Since "going viral" is the dream of every blog, I am sure Larry will not mind if I lift directly from his post and share his research and opinions:
A Berkshire First-Timer Primer
You don’t need a theatre ticket to soak up the food, natural beauty, history, night life and fabulousness of the Berkshires during the summer. The Berkshires have plenty to offer, and are not only family friendly, but also nature friendly, gay friendly, pet friendly, vegan friendly and meditation friendly. In fact, the rural diversity of the area is surprisingly welcoming to all – both urbane and down to earth at the same time, a winning combination. There is no app for it. You have to come here to experience it.
Many who visit remark on the less frantic change of pace, one which lends itself for the one thing that distinguishes the area above all others, its wealth of arts offerings. Mention the Berkshires and most people automatically think of Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, when they think of this area. Or Jacob’s Pillow, the magnet for dance in America. And lately the Solid Sound Festival and Chicago’s Wilco at the mammoth Mass MoCA museum.
But quietly the Berkshires has become a buzz word among a new crowd, the serious theatre-goer. Not that theatre is new to the Berkshires, all of our companies have distinguished histories. But lately they have been creeping into the national news as the companies have been flourishing, expanding, and drawing ever-bigger crowds.
Once the theaters were thought to be for the summer crowd, but then , the locals discovered them too. These days you’ll find more residents than ever in the lines to get tickets for the really hot shows.
And local audiences can be tough audiences to please. They set the bar pretty high. Perhaps that is because the year-rounders, who endure the bitter cold winters, are hardy old souls, but once engaged by a play or musical, their hearts can melt like snowflakes under the spring sun. It happens a lot, and it is wonderful to see their smiles and hear their laughter. Makes living here year round even more enjoyable.
The Four Major Theatres and their Ten Stages
Located on the hilly and mountainous Western edge of Massachusetts, Berkshire County has a modest population of 130,000 hardy souls who benefit from being just a few hours from the bright lights of Broadway. In fact, many New Yorkers consider the Berkshires their summer hideaway, including dozens of performers, directors and playwrights. Even Bostonians, with their nearby siren call of Cape Cod are heading West to revisit the sometimes forgotten treasures of their own home state. I would gladly sign a petition to change the nickname from the Bay State to the Cultural State.
The four resident professional theatre companies contribute ten of the Berkshires’s two dozen stages to the culture count, with the balance at Tanglewood, the Pillow and three “presenting” organizations talked about below. And just behind this lineup are many more organizations who keep the Berkshires hopping from January to December.
Berkshire Theatre Festival (BTF) of Stockbridge and Pittsfield
The BTF is the granddaddy of the theatre companies, having been founded in 1928 and operating continuously since then, with the exception of 1942-45 which were the years when America fought WWII. Their main stage is a repurposed old casino which was dragged by oxen from Main Street Stockbridge, MA and has seen America’s greatest actors on its stage. It holds about 400 people. It is just a short drive from the famed Norman Rockwell Museum.
This summer the Fitzpatrick Main Stage will host Sylvia by A.R. Gurney, Period of Adjustment by Tennessee Williams, and the world premiere of In the Mood by Kathleen Clark.
The smaller Unicorn theatre only holds about 120, so every seat is close to the stage and because of its stadium seating angles, has excellent sight lines. Moonchildren will open the season there, followed by Dutch Masters and Finian’s Rainbow. Two plays will get world premieres at the Unicorn – the aforementioned Dutch Masters by Greg Keller and Birthday Boy by Chris Newbound.
The BTF recently merged with the Colonial Theatre and will share programming back and forth with it for the first time this summer. Thus three stages will be lit by this company.
The Colonial Theatre has its own extensive calendar of events and provides state of the art technical and production support for musicals and large dramas, like A Christmas Carol, while the Unicorn is being viewed as an ideal location for cabaret and jazz offerings, as well as solo performers.
Shakespeare & Company in Lenox
Also with three theaters, ShakesCo offers its usual mix of classics and contemporary plays in its 33rd Season. When not bringing Shakespeare back to life, they offer hilarious comedy and farce. So the Founder’s Theatre is where you will find the doomed lovers Romeo and Juliet and As You Like It, but their main house will also welcome the return of The Hound of the Baskervilles, a hilarious sendup of all things Conan Doyle with breakneck costume changes and cross-dressing spoofery.
The Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre is a smaller “flex space” where crowds will flock to see Red Hot Patriot: the Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivans alternating with two other shows. The outdoor Rose Footprint Theatre is a destination for families, and this year the commedia dell’arte includes The Venetian Twins and the brand new Everyman/EveryActor.
Also on their bill of fare are The 39 Steps, The Learned Ladies and Women of Will with Tina Packer.
Barrington Stage Company (BSC)
The ingenue in our cast of great theaters is the Barrington Stage Company, founded just fifteen years ago by Julianne Boyd, and attracting nationwide attention for its excellent work. It has already sent several shows to Broadway, including William Finn’s 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The Whipping Man and Freud’s Last Session. With a special knack for musicals, this summer includes the evergreen Guys and Dolls and The Game on the Main Stage. Also on the main stage is the premiere of Mark St. Germain’s The Best of Enemies. Stage 2 will host the premiere of the musical Mormons, Mothers and Monsters as well as Going to St. Ives, My Name is Asher Lev and Zero Hour, a one man show about Zero Mostel.
Their youth company also attracts numerous fans, this year presenting All Shook Up, a celebration of Elvis Presley at St. Joseph High School plus another location TBA.
At several points during the summer they will have three stages lit at the same time. And in October they will present a staged version of Lord of the Flies.
Williamstown Theatre Festival (WTF)
While the first three companies are year-round residents and offer programming in the September-May slot, the WTF is only able to perform during the summer when it avails itself of two new theaters at Williams College. In essence it was a company begun 56 years ago by the college, and its friends, and it has grown and prospered as a visionary company with impeccable quality.
Two classic plays will light the Main Stage at the 62 Center this year: George S. Kaufman’s You Can’t Take it With You and Oliver Goldsmith’s rowdy comedy, She Stoops to Conquer. Closing the main stage season will be the Revue-sical Ten Cents A Dance, celebrating the music of Rodgers and Hart.
The recently announced Nikos Theatre season is one in which two classics, A Streetcar Named Desire and A Doll’s House can be seen in the intimate confines of this smaller theatre, as well as several new works, Lewis Black’s One Slight Hitch, the East Coast Premiere of Bess Wohl’s Touch(ed), and The Civilians’ production of You Better Sit Down: tales from my parents’ divorce.
Other Berkshire Venues
You will find a trio of “presenting” theaters in the Berkshires as well. Down south, in Great Barrington is another glorious restored theatre, The Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, whose marquee will feature names like Joan Rivers, Paul Taylor Dance Company, The Wailers, Peter Yarrow and soprano Deborah Voigt.
At Pittsfield’s Colonial Theatre there is not only The Who’s Tommy, but Tommy Tune and Tom Paxton plus far too many others to detail here.
In North Adams the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts has more than visual appeal, it has the Hunter Center performing space and Club B-10 for cabaret sized offerings. During the summer it also schedules things outdoors, from their walk-in open-air cinema to the multiple stages and excitement of the Solid Sound Festival featuring Chicago rockers Wilco. They also play host to the Bang on a Can week long contemporary music festival.
With three stages, Jacob’s Pillow is the place to be if you love dance. The array of dance offerings is breathtaking. The Ted Shawn Theatre is their main stage, where dance companies from around the world show off their latest works. In the Doris Duke Studio Theatre, emerging companies, and those who are working on complicated new pieces allow audiences a preview of what will soon be hot, and what might not.
Families love the Inside/Out stage and its free late afternoon performances most summer days. Set in the open air in the woods, the stage is being completely rebuild for 2011 and offers both samples of the companies performing there, and showcases the students at its school. The quality is high, the experience magical.
The BSO’s summer home is the place that began it all in the Berkshires. SInce 1936 the small orchestra encampment has grown, with the famous Shed also playing host to such well known artists as James Taylor, though this year he will be performing in the more intimate Ozawa Hall. There is also a theatre where opera and other staged works can be performed. It took us four articles to detail everything happening there.
Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four
The great lawn, meticulously maintained, offers concert-goers the delightful experience of a picnic with live classical music, overlooking the beautiful Stockbridge Bowl. The only question on some people’s minds is whether the BSO’s Music Director, James Levine, who has been struggling with back problems, will be able to fulfill his scheduled performances. Even so, the BSO has one of the most impressive rosters of alternate conductors I have ever seen, so while missing the maestro might be a disappointment, the joy of discovering a fresh and upcoming conductor makes the gamble irresistible.
Tanglewood remains the Berkshires best known attraction, but the crowds who are arriving for other events are – in aggregate – beginning to outnumber those of the reigning diva for the first time. These new audiences are younger, more adventurous and who knows, they may take a night off from theatre to take in a concert. Now that would be a switch to the conventional thinking, wouldn’t it.
With so much on the calendar, the Berkshires offer as much culture in the summer as you will find in most major cities, and in an idyllic setting that still is pretty tough to top.
Shakespeare & Company, in its 33rd year, and located a block from Hampton Terrace, has announced its 2011 Schedule, and tickets ARE ON SALE. To buy on-line: TICKET CALENDAR
SEE THEIR WEBSITE:
SEE THEIR ON-LINE BROCHURE:
They have three premieres on the boards this summer with Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins, The Hollow Crown, and Everyman/EveryActor, along with two of Shakespeare's best loved tales, As You Like It and The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. Due to popular demand, they're bringing back the side-splittingly funny The Hound of the Baskervilles and Tina Packer's expanded, five-part version of her spectacular Women of Will masterpiece titled Women of Will, The Complete Journey: Parts I-V.
In the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, they're presenting one of our finest casts in The Memory of Water, a beautiful story that's both funny and profound. They're also hosting the New England premiere of Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins by Margaret and Allison Engel. Tina Packer tackles one of America's most outrageous political voices in this hilarious one-woman show. And, of course, the EBT season wouldn't be complete without our highly successful Lunch Box Shakespeare featuring their very talented Performance Intern Company in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Founders' Theatre is set to bustle with sword fights, soaring poetry, and complex characters that have stood the test of time. With Daniela Varon at the helm of Romeo and Juliet, this production will set the standard for many years to come. Taking place in Paris after The Great War, my As You Like It brings music, dance, and song to this delightful comedy of true romance—a perfect complement to any summer's day or eve.
Our outdoor Rose Footprint Theatre includes the hysterical The Venetian Twins (a brilliant example of commedia dell'arte by Goldoni), the world-premiere of Everyman/EveryActor, and a cornucopia of lectures, tours, FREE theatre, cabarets, and special events for you and your family to enjoy.
CLICK TO CHECK HAMPTON TERRACE AVAILABILITY.
The international website ResortsandLodges.com this week is showcasing Hampton Terrace's Romantic Weekend Package on their IncrediDeal Home Page....a very prestigious placement on their website.
ResortsandLodges.com is the worlds' largest travel directory of resort vacations. This will expose our off-season weekend package to many thousands beyond our normal reach. Our main listing with Resorts and Lodges:
Also, they help our marketing with banner placements on sites like BookingBuddy and TravelZoo.
Anyone reading this entry CAN ALSO BOOK THIS SPECIAL DIRECTLY WITH US HERE...or CALL 800-203-0656
We have been notified that Hampton Terrace has won the 2011 Talk of the Town Award for Customer Service in the category of Lenox Bed and Breakfasts. There are about 25 B&Bs eligible.
To quote their announcement:
The Talk of the Town News rating system is based on countless hours of research and almost 1 million online user reviews. Our researchers spend thousands of hours monitoring all online ratings and feedback to calculate a fair and unbiased score. Ratings are calculated based on consumer-review websites and blogs, social networks, business rating services and other award information to determine the top companies across the country.
This award is due to our guests, who have posted 288 Trip Advisor reviews on-line, giving us a 98+% "satisfaction index score." 249 of those reviews gave us a 100 out of 100.
Our guests give scores separately for value, rooms, location, cleanliness, service and sleep quality.
Since this award is based solely on unsolicited guest reviews and feedback, we want to express our sincere appreciation to our loyal guests and hope to see you all back soon!
As Jeff and I were walking into the Border Patrol station to fill out my "Release of Liability" paperwork, I asked why they would allow people like me to ride along. Jeff said that his job is misunderstood by the general public and that the Patrol considers it good public relations to allow responsible people to witness what they do and talk about it.
My first thought was that somebody might allow their 22-year-old girlfriend to ride a shift with them...but knowing what Jeff went through to become an agent, and after meeting a number of them through the night, I came to the conclusion that these guys (and women) are too professional to do that.
Border Patrol is Federal Civil Service, so most agents are military personnel transfering to civil service, or state/local police desiring to move to the federal payroll. The vetting process is beyond thorough...Jeff had to take tests, and survive interviews and background checks. It only takes one compromised agent to let something catastrophic into this country....
Jeff attended Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, New Mexico for three months. His class started at 50 and shrunk to about 30 through attrition...some could not pass the classes and some could not handle the physical training. Like Paris Island, he said. Then he had to learn Spanish in 8 weeks. More attrition there. During his training, Victoria and Emily stayed with us at Hampton Terrace.
His assigment was El Paso. An agent is assigned...and has the option of passing up on the first one...but must take the second or be discharged. Most agents are in the middle of nowhere, so Jeff decided that it would be better for Victoria and the girls to be in a real city while he worked. He spent his first year on the midnight shift.
So our shift started benignly enough. As the rover, Jeff had no specific place to be. While the sun was up, I got the tour. There is a gravel road, only open to agents, which runs the border. On one side is the Rio Grande ditch (called the "south") and on the other side is the canal and whatever fences happen to be on that stretch (called the "north"). The actual border is the middle of the Rio Grande. And there are a number of people hanging on the south side.....walking their dogs, kicking soccer balls, or "spotting." Jeff pointed out a few. Every night there are waves of crossings and the spotters scope out where the agents are perched.
Every several hundred yards a Border Patrol Cruiser is parked with an agent watching that section. The job is complicated by the fact that a pristine containment is not possible. El Paso is considered desert but there is an annual rain deluge. So there are culverts that run under the border in multiple locations for water drainage. All have metal grates, but Jeff says there is not a grate out there that has not been compromised. Once people get beyond the grates they can surface anywhere...even at the Sun Bowl on the campus of UTEP, several miles north. Some of these culverts are so traveled that agents are assigned around the clock at the north ends.
There are also railroad tressles and bridges. In the dark of night undesirables steal along the bridges, cut the wire fence, and drop on the American side. This is usually accompanied by broken bones, but that is the price some are willing to pay to get in.
We drove the length of the border road. We stopped a couple of times to chat with agents. Jeff pointed out the places most popular for attempts, so when the action started, I could already envision what was happening.
As soon as the dusk began, and the sun was a red line on the horizon, the radio started to chatter. "This is 342. Two bodies north at 19." "Roger 342." "342 here, they are at the fence." "Got that 342." "371 reporting five bodies south at 30."
North means they are north of the Rio, but not necessarily over the fences or the canal. South means they seem to be hovering and should be watched.
Jeff explained to me that the cartels are behind much of the nightly mayhem and they coordinate to try to overwhelm the defenses. The most activity is right after sunset and right at the mid-night shift change. Sometimes they will send a half-dozen people to a certain point as decoys while they try to sneak a single with a backpack of drugs through another seam.
"371, we have two bodies in the canal. I don't see the other three." "Roger 371." "392 here, I see three bodies in the baseball field heading east." "Roger 392, cut them off west."
The dispatcher is a female voice, coordinating the radio traffic. Also, there are a number of automatic sensors, constantly going off. There are usually set off by the agents driving and walking around...so if a sensor goes off, the dispatcher calls the sensor number: "3278point2." 99% of the time an agent will respond, "371 Bravo," which means he acknowledges setting it. If no response, then the closest agent will dispatch.
Jeff got several calls of that nature. In one case, while I sat in the car, he and another agent thoroughly searched a ditch and culvert entrance that had a triggered alarm. They did not find anything.
About an hour after sunset things went crazy, as Agent Siegel told me they would. Sightings about 4 places at once. The expected markers: 19, 30, the pumphouse. Jeff and I put on the lights and went to the section where 5 were spotted "north." A helicopter had swooped down and floodlights were lighting the canal, which was between two fences. Agents were running across the field, flashlights scanning for anyone who might have made it over the northern fence. North of that was another canal and fence. We heard agents on the site asking for ropes to pull the suspects out of the water and for extra cuffs. I was at the fence taking video (but the action was too far off and dark to share).
Meanwhile, we heard report of a sighting in the second canal. The two are connected by a culvert so Jeff assumed that while the five were being caught (possibly being decoys) others were running up the culvert into the northern canal, where they could jump the second fence.
We pulled up to that section and Jeff turned on his seachlight. Right there in front of us was a woman hanging in the barbed wire section of the fence. Another agent had already seen this and was coming down the slope behind her to cuff her. For the next thirty minutes Jeff and I cruised the length of the canal and through the adjoining neighborhoods with the seachlight on. The woman proclaimed she was alone, but it seemed unlikely. If she was one of six, why would five men would be caught in the first canal and the lone woman would make it 100 yards further north, over the second canal and to the final fence? She was literally 2 inches from illegal entry, except for getting her pants caught on the wire. Jeff suspected she was with several more, who likely will never be seen again.
A little later Jeff got a phone call from his supervisor asking him to pick up one of the five detainees and take him to the hospital. One of the detainees had messed up his hand pretty bad on the fence. But this detainee had gored his chest on a fence post.
Civilians are not allowed to be involved when detainees are being transported, so my evening was over. Jeff dropped me off at his apartment and finished out his shift, which went overtime several hours. In these cases, Jeff cannot let the detainee out of his sight, and in fact, has had to stand in the operating room numerous times.
In that shift, they ended up arresting 8 people. Jeff says in his two years, the most he can remember is 28 arrests and 75 turnaways. He says there is action pretty much every night.
Most of these people are fingerprinted and photographed, but sent right back into Mexico. If drugs are found, however, they end up in the American criminal justice system.
Thanks to my daughter, Victoria Vining for editing together my video of the evening.
Last night, I got a break from Hampton Terrace and a chance to see "Border Wars" from the front seat of a Border Patrol cruiser. Like my 24-oz. steak at Cattlemen's Steakhouse...it did not disappoint. As another agent told me before sundown, "It will get crazy."
My son-in-law, Jeff, has been a Border Patrol Agent for almost two years. A former Marine MP, he is not fazed by the job...in fact, he enjoys what he does. So what does he do?
El Paso is a town of almost a million people. It is the home of Fort Bliss, the largest military base in the US and named one of the safest cities in America. Literally across a ditch...as you can see in the photo below is Juarez, Mexico, the most dangerous city in the world, population 2+ million. In the first two months of 2011, 8,000 people have already been murdered. Jeff helps keep one world from spilling into the other.
On the face of it, people assume he is supposed to keep Mexicans out of the US. Not true at all. Each and every day, thousands of Mexicans walk or drive each direction across the small overpass over the border to work, visit family or shop. Also, thousands of Mexicans are allowed each year to come in and become US citizens. Many have family already in El Paso.
The people Jeff must stop are "undesirables." People who deal drugs, have criminal records, or have already been deported from the US. Only desperate people would chance a dangerous crossing through an area that seems similar to the beach at Normandy. MUCH of the traffic is orchestrated by the cartels, in organized pushes designed to overwhelm the defenses at any given moment.
Many of the crossers are not Mexicans at all, but are people who would not be able to get into any US customs check-point.
So why El Paso? Well, on each side of El Paso are mountains and long stretches of desert. It is quite possible for someone to cross there, but cameras can easily see the dust created by someone trudging across the expanse, or their infrared heat silhouette at night and agents on ATVs will always get to them.
So that leaves El Paso, where a mad dash means success a certain percentage of the time. The stretch they have to patrol seems about 5 miles or so, and tracks the bed of the Rio Grande...which is not much more than a ditch. Why? It turns out that a dam north of El Paso holds most of its flow for irrigation and for drinking water. When there is a need for water in the city, most of it comes in via controlled canals. One of those canals runs parallel to the actual river bed, and has become part of the defense.
Other than the ditch and the canal, the protection is very inconsistent. Stretches have chain link, which show patch repairs every few feet. The George W. Bush fence is high, and nice, but starts and stops often, like they ran out of money. It also is not impervious to cutting, and shows numerous repairs. None of these fences seem all that daunting and all of them could be quickly crossed by several people running full tilt at them, throwing a ladder up, and hurling themselves over. So that is why there is a Border Patrol.
Jeff and I started out about 5 pm when the sun was still high. Most of his fellow agents are assigned to specific check-points on the line. On this particular evening, it was a best-case scenario for me: Jeff was a "roamer," someone with the freedom to jump from hot spot to hot spot to help out. We would head to the "action."
Check out tomorrow's blog for a description of my night and action video!
Susan and I are spending a couple of days in El Paso, visiting our daughter, Victoria, her husband, Jeff and Emily (4), and Gracie (1).
So far, our trip is memorable for our eating TOO MUCH! Last night we went to Cattleman's Steak House....named in all lists as one of the best places in the country for a steak. Did not disappoint. Today they are taking us for barbecue, tomorrow is Mexican. I will report my net damage at the end of the trip.
Lynn, Susan's sister is running Hampton Terrace. As usual, departing guests are sending us positive feedback. Lynn has lived with us over a year, and substitutes perfectly.
My son-in-law, Jeff, works for the Border Patrol. Last night I spent his shift shot-gun as he roamed the El Paso/Juarez border. Not to give anything away....but be sure to watch for tomorrow's post. I have pictures and stories.... Border Wars!
We wil be back on Friday for a full weekend of guests. But meanwhile, a little break from the snow is what we needed. And a dose of grandkids...
A Celebration of all Things British: June 17-19, 2011
- Considering that we live in New England
- "The Berkshires" derives from a region in the UK (pronounced BARKshers)
- Most local towns are named for various English dukes and earldoms
....I guess it is logical that at some point we would embrace our origins by honoring....
Jaguar XKEs! The Rolling Stones! And Bass Ale!
I will be there.
Seriously...what a great weekend. First there will be a plethora of auto-show activities featuring hundreds of exceptional show cars: Rolls, Bentleys, Austin Healy, Austin Martin, Triumphs, MGs, Lotus...
A Lenox street party featuring a Rolling Stones tribute band, and many local restaurants and pubs will feature British food and libations all weekend! THE OFFICIAL WEBSITE
Judging of show cars will occur Saturday on the Tanglewood grounds.
Contact us here at Hampton Terrace for availability and rates.
Trazzler (www.trazzler.com) covers meaningful travel experiences that tend to slip through the cracks elsewhere. They have a network of 10,000 writers across the US. Their recommendations always fall within reasonable driving distance, fostering investment in local economies and encouraging more frequent, shorter trips.
In addition to their website, they have 1.5MM followers on Twitter on accounts such as @trazzler, @traveldeals, @california, and more. They also syndicate hotel reviews and content in weekly features on Salon.com and The Huffington Post.
So imagine my excitement when I got an e-mail directly from their San Francisco-based CEO, Adam Rugel, stating that after two of his writers crawled literally all over the Berkshires, they chose Hampton Terrace as their favorite.
So watch out for a campaign that showcases us on their Social Media network and media outlets.
Meanwhile, their travel writer, Joanna Eng had opinions about other Berkshire attractions:
I am just looking at my calendar, and my discomfort is your gain!
Here at Hampton Terrace in Lenox we have been virtually sold out every weekend since New Year's. Maybe it is the snow...maybe it is our #1 ranking on TripAdvisor, but (knock on wood) this has been our best year to date.
But the April calendar looks quite sparse. So let's run a SPECIAL!
Book any room in the Main House or Wynnstay Cottage in the month of April for two nights and take $50 off! That is like me buying you dinner for two....or a bottle of Moet and Chandon and a box of chocolates......or paying for your gas here and back. $189/night dropped to $164.
Some reasons to come to Hampton Terrace:
- Rated #1 on Trip Advisor among Lenox inns
- Full, hot, candlelit breakfast buffet included
- Walk to all of Lenox's heralded restaurants and shops
- Most rooms have fireplaces and Jacuzzis.
- We help you plan your visit by e-mailing lists of things to do and restaurant recommendations
- Located 2 hours from Boston and less than 3 hours from NYC
Mention this special when calling. I want reward those following my Facebook and Blog.
CLICK HERE for THEATER OPTIONS in April.
CALL 800-203-0656 for availability or CLICK HERE FOR OUR AVAILABITY CALENDAR
It is your anniversary.... Your birthday.... You want to propose to your girlfriend.... You need to leave the office behind for a long weekend.... Let's go to a Comfort Inn!
That's silly. But as I said yesterday, 97% of the traveling public has never stayed in an inn or a b&b. Does that mean 97% are content that a Microtel is the place for that "special moment?"
It has more to do with common misconceptions and insecurities than reality. Many people are afraid they are going to end up sleeping in someone's guest bedroom and eating breakfast in their kitchen with the homeowners in their pajamas. Before the age of the Internet...that actually happened to us!
In this age of transparency, this can no longer happen.
The folks who are actually insecure now are the hotels and motels. They KNOW that you want a more intimate experience.
That is why they call themselves Hampton "Inn," Holiday "Inn," and Comfort "Inn." That is why they ALL include breakfast as an amenity now....each year inching closer and closer to full, hot, home-style options.
To make themselves sound less like chains, many call themselves "boutique" hotels. More often you are finding the kind of special services formerly offered only at b&bs: afternoon tea and snacks, fireplaces and Jacuzzis, evening wine and hors d'oeuvres, personalized concierge services, choices of comforters and pillows, fluffy towels, multiple bath amenities....
And many, if not most inns, have addressed your misgivings by modernizing: people will not tolerate shared baths, they want free wireless internet, wide-screen tvs with cable, access to refrigerators, tasteful decorating....
So how do you pick the perfect inn or b&b?
- Look at their website: Every serious property knows the value of a good website. Good photography. Adequate descriptions of each room and its amenities. Clear policies. Acceptable breakfast options. Here is your chance to avoid the places that have floral wallpaper, plaid bedspreads, and lace doilies. Or, embrace it, if that is your style. If they are professionally presented on-line, then they are likely professional in person. Websites are expensive, and this shows a commitment to their business...but.
- Eliminate the "likely:" There are other signs that the owners are running a business...not just making extra money by renting out empty bedrooms. Do they belong to a Chamber of Commerce, local Visitors' Bureau, PAII (Professional Association of Innkeepers), state associations.... Do they take on-line reservations? Accept credit cards? You can glean all of this from their website. And if a certain inn pops up in multiple Internet searches, then you are finding further proof of a professional operation. Inn size? Not important. There are great 4-room inns and horrible 20-room inns.
- Read their Reviews: This is the most important! Go to TripAdvisor.com and read! TripAdvisor prints EVERY review, good and bad. They do not edit and they only eliminate reviews that are proven to be fraudulent or planted. And do not let an occasional negative review throw you off.... No property is going to please all of the people all of the time, and a really good indicator of how hard an owner is trying to satisfy his/her guests is the "Management Response." But be wary of reviews on some "directories." There are lot of websites that list inns and b&bs. The properties pay for those listings. Some have reviews...but in order to keep the inns renewing their listings, they allow the inns to "hide" reviews they do not like. TripAdvisor is an open listing and properties cannot hide.... It has singlehandedly exposed many dark properties to the light...a good resource for the consumer and a problem that will not go away for properties with issues.
- Call them: How a property responds to your needs and questions on the phone speaks VOLUMES about how you will be treated upon arrrival. If you get a machine and it takes 24 hours for your call to be returned, you can probably assume you will get the same attention when you are seeking ice or an extra pillow. If your questions about room amenties or location are met with impatience on the phone, then you will likely get more of the same when seeking restaurant recommendations in their front hall. Nice people on the phone are usually nice people in person....but for an extra layer of security...see what guests say on TripAdvisor. The truth always comes out.
One final tip: Be wary of "endorsed" or "inspected" inn associations. All of these are membership marketing groups. The property pays a fee and becomes part of a website, directory or book. They are supported by their income...so make no assumptions that an inclusion guarantees your satisfaction. The good news is that most of these associations require a minimum set of amenities to start, an initial inspection and some do surprise inspections. I would say, without exception, any inn willing to do this clears our requirement of being "professional." But we see a LOT of inns who appear on these lists at the bottom of TripAdvisor. Ultimately, believe what you read from a wide sample of guests....
..and enjoy your romantic getaway!
Having your inn featured in USA Today is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Almost a lightning-strike kind of luck.
Consider that inns/b&bs represent less than 3% of the lodging industry, and there are roughly 17,000 inns in the US alone....wow, I can't do math that small!
How we ended up in USA Today is a story in itself. Several years ago Marti Mayne, the PR person for BedandBreakfast.com, stayed here while touring other Berkshire inns. She and I have stayed in touch (would I be a good marketer if I didn't?), and she reads our newsletters and blogs.
She knew that our 2009 was 25% better than 2008....in an economy that caused the lodging industry as a whole to dip 25%. A 50% swing is noticeable.
The Professional Association of Innkeepers happened to publish a study at the time stating that inns/b&bs as a category were showing a "flat" 2009. It seemed to demonstrate that many people WERE taking vacations, in spite of the Holiday Inns and Deltas of the world saying they were not.
This caught the attention of Laura Bly, a travel editor for USA Today. She called Marti to ask her take on the study.
Marti correctly responded that people WERE traveling, just changing their habits: They were taking long weekends, were driving instead of flying, and were looking for an "experience," - in other words accommodations that offered something a little more special than a bed and a tv.
Laura said she would like to do an article about this, and she wanted to by-line it in a place known as a b&b/inn destination.
Marti suggested that Lenox represented the best concentration of upscale inns in the country, and that she should start with Hampton Terrace as a place that could speak first-person about the state of business during the recession. I got the call.
So Laura stayed here and we spent a lot of time in conversation. She did acknowledge that our "take" on getting through the recession was different than her experience to that point. Most hotels and resorts she had been interviewing had been aggressively discounting in order to attract business.
I told her that as a small business, discounting was not an option. I had bills to pay. I spend my energy hoping to prove that an "experience" at Hampton Terrace is worth more than people pay. My 98% satisfaction score at Trip Advisor confirms that most people agree. Would discounting my rooms get me to 99% or 100%? Likely not.
Laura spent her second day visiting other inns in Lenox, and received similar feedback. She learned of afternoon teas, cordials before bed, personalized service.... all of the things that make an inn experience what it is.
So....good exposure for us...good exposure for Lenox...and a win for the b&b industry in general.
Back to that 97% who stay in hotels and motels. Why?
Mostly insecurity. Every inn is different. Every Holiday Inn is the same. Most people are afraid of the unpredictable.
But there are ways to know if your inn experience will be good. Next blog.....
"I enjoyed my stay at the Hampton Terrace very much. The beds alone are worth the visit. Perfectly located and warmly suited, I look forward to getting another chance to visit. All the best and regards to Susan."
A couple of you were astute enough to notice Peter Reigert in the party picture we shared in the Ray Abruzzo post. Yes...this is Boon from Animal House, whose girlfriend was Karen Allen (she lives in the Berkshires!).
Although Peters' face became instantly recognizable because of Animal House, he has been in over 75 movies and television series, including M*A*S*H, Crossing Delancey, The Mask, Law & Order, The Sopranos, Damages, Gypsie and One Tree Hill.
Peter was actually back in the area this month for a movie premier in Great Barrington..."White Irish Drinkers." He stars in this movie, along with....Karen Allen!
Peter lives in New York and seemed very familiar with the Berkshires. Like Ray Abruzzo, on the occasion of his stay at Hampton Terrace he was appearing in David Black's "An Impossible Life."
We found Peter to be incredibly approachable, soft-spoken and gracious. He and I shared some brandy in front of the fireplace late one evening, along with Ylva Edlestein.
Peter is among a growing list of wonderful guests who have sent us comments and photos about their stay at Hampton Terrace. To see some of these comments CLICK HERE.
I thought it might be fun to tell you who you are! Ready?
- Even though Berkshire County has only 139,000 residents, it hosts 2,500,000 visitors annually
- The average age is 52
- 80% of you are married....but 65% travel as a couple (no jokes, please)
- Median household income is $100,500
- You will spend $319 million annually in the Berkshires, employing 11,000 people directly, resulting in $86 million in local wages. You spend, on average, $1,190 while here.
- 55% of you are college graduates, and 45% have post-graduate degrees
- 80% visit historic sites, 60% cultural venues and 38% participate in outdoor recreation
- 59% of you are professional and 18% are retired
- 29% are from Metro New York (6% other New York), 22% from Metro Boston (8% other MA), 8% from other New England and 12% from other Mid-Atlantic.
Research also shows that you come back to the area year after year. This is certainly true of our Hampton Terrace guests...well over 50% of our annual summer crowd has stayed here before.
And here at Hampton Terrace, we are very fortunate to fall exactly in step with travel trends caused by recent economic events. People are still taking trips....but they are driving, looking to spend a long weekend a couple of hours away, and are wanting an "experience." "Turn Back the Clock to the Gilded Age," we say at Hampton Terrace.
Shhhh... Yesterday, Barack Obama gave the National Medal of Arts....the nation's highest arts honor...to 10 recipients. Four of them, James Taylor, Meryl Streep, Sonny Rollins and Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival reside within a 25-mile radius of us... 40%!
And they join Yo Yo Ma, John Williams, Pete Seeger and James Levine, who also have Berkshire homes. Frankly, that could be the tip of the iceberg....which is also why I am asking you to keep this between us.
There are LOT of other famous people here. But unlike The Hamptons, Beverly Hills, Aspen.....these "celebrities" live here because they can actually have a life. And a life that is rural and authentic...but also possessing world-class natural surroundings, culture (art, music, theater and dance), museums, Gilded Age historic homes, restaurants (my last blog pointed out that 2 of the 4 James Beard nominations from Massachusetts this year live in the Berkshires), health and wellness (Canyon Ranch, Kripalu and Dr. Mark Hyman.)
I have stood in front of James Taylor in the grocery store line. Sat next to him in an empty coffee shop. He's hanging with his twin boys. Reading a paper. People are leaving him alone.
So here is my pitch to you. Come to the Berkshires to find out WHY people like James Taylor and Yo Yo Ma make this home.
But SHHHH! This stays between you and me. Our SECRET!
...."It was the first of December, all covered in snow..." Those words from James Taylor will forever bring me back to your place and the wonderful, warm time spent there. We arrived in the Fall (Nov. 30), when I awoke the next morning from a very restful sleep and looked out my balcony window, I knew the beauty James sings about. Quiet, white, home...the Berkshires did seem dreamlike on account of that frosting! The entire stay from beginning to end was full of wonderful images enhanced by your family's warmth and hospitality.
The ride back to New York City with Peter Reigert and Ylva Edlestein was dominated with talk about how we all felt we had just experienced a very special, magical few days, thanks in large part to your generosity. That is saying something coming from a bunch of jaded actors.
This thank you note from Ray arrived one day, along with this photo, taken from the front window of the Bonner Room.
Recognize Ray Abruzzo? Of course you do.....one of those faces that seems to be all over television: Well, tonight he is on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.
Probably best known as "Little Carmine" on The Sopranos, he has also had leading roles in House MD, NCIS, Boston Legal, Shark, Bones, Murder 101, CSI NY, Law & Order, The Practice, Touched by an Angel, NYPD Blue, Diagnosis Murder, Murder She Wrote, Doogie Howser, Night Court, Dynasty, L.A. Law, 21 Jump Street, Trapper John MD, Riptide and Falcon Crest.
He also starred in the movie, House of Sand and Fog.
So you think you've seen him?
Ray spent a long weekend here, with several other actors, while appearing at Shakespeare & Company in a reading of David Black's "An Impossible Life." The thing about Ray...and other actors we have hosted here...is that without exception, these people are humble, unassuming, and appreciative. They are workers.....they just work in front of a camera, or on a stage, rather than driving nails or selling insurance.
The highlight of the weekend was the party that S&Co threw at Hampton Terrace after the performance.
Wow. Over a hundred people here from 11 pm on....open bar...desserts, fireplaces going. Locals and famous actors mingling. That is worthy of a blog in itself! Stay tuned!