Steven G. Percifield--author

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Steven G. Percifield  Author and consultant
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What's an old guy of 62 'sposed to do when
confronted by a gang of teen biker hoodlums?

The Power of Music

 

Back then, it seemed every restaurant, every bar (I guess...I was too young to enter) and every place people gathered had a juke box. The more "au courant" among these--places like White Castle or Big Boy--even had remote players connected to the central juke.

From the comfort of your table or booth, you could find a song by flipping through the printed menu behind the glass enclosure, deposit a dime (five plays for a quarter), enter the song's code number (B-17) into the playlist, then sit and wait. Hopefully, if there were a lot of customers, your song would play before you left the establishment later that day.

I recall one time when Pat, Jay, Craig and I were at the Big Boy at Fall Creek and Keystone. We were cooling our heels before going out to try to find some illegal "speed contest on a public road" in which to engage. It was the in the summer of 1968. After the lunch hour but well before the dinner trade, the restaurant was pretty deserted when we walked in. Two older couples sat diagonally across the floor, opposite our corner, carrying on an animated conversation, smiles on their faces.

The waitress took our order and we began talking among ourselves. Only half paying attention to the conversation, I was flipping through the menu on the juke's remote unit when I saw it. My eyes lit up as I interrupted whoever was talking at the time. "Have you guys heard this new song by Iron Butterfly?"

As I recall, Pat had but the other two were curious.

I dropped in a dime, hit the appropriate letter and number combination and it started.

bla-bla, bla-bla-bla, bla-bla, ba-bla-bla...ba...bla-bla, bla-bla-bla, bla-bla, ba-bla-bla...ba...

The dulcet tones of In-a-Gadda-Davida (orginally written as "In the Garden of Eden") filtered, like a run-away Sherman tank, through the restaurant.

I felt something, I wasn't sure what, but thought it may have been a high-powered laser focused on my forehead (I'd read about them in Popular Mechanics). I glanced up.

All eight eyes of the two old couples were staring straight at me. They were no longer conversing and were no longer smiling. Obviously displeased at having their peace and quiet shattered, they stood as a group and left, still glaring at me.

To this day, I guess, I always felt guilty about having ruined their summer afternoon meal for them.

I learned two valuable lessons though: 1) just because you appreciate something doesn't mean the someone else will and 2) music carries a lot of power.
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There's an authentic Mexican restaurant near our house. A couple of weekends ago, with winter finally behind us (it hit 83), Sue and I went there for an early dinner (note: we had snow, again, the following Saturday). It was practically deserted when we walked in and we took a table near a window, beside the front door, so we could take in the beauty of the un-folding spring.

Waiting for our food, enjoying tortilla chips and margaritas, we watched as six "rice rockets" pulled up at the curb, the leather-clad riders (guys in their late teens) were talking loudly and punching each other in the shoulders as they walked in through the front door. They took a table on the other side of the front door, only feet from our own.

They were all laughing and talking at once so I couldn't really tell what they were talking about. The only thing discernible from their conversation was the "F" word which seemed to make up approximately 50% of their vocabulary. Inadvertently, my wife and I glanced up, our eyes meeting, and our mutual annoyance was conveyed without words. "I'll get rid of them," I said matter-of-factly.

Her eyes pleaded "no" but I paid them no heed. Using the backs of my knees, I moved my chair back loudly as I stood, turned in the direction of the young rogues, and reached into my coat's inside pocket as I walked in their direction.

They looked at me curiously as I withdrew from my pocket...

 

 

...a one dollar bill.

I walked on past them to the opposite wall where one of the new, high-tech, internet-sourced digital music players awaited.

Inserting my dollar, I pressed the "super search" option and found what I was looking for. I entered my choice, turned and walked back toward my anxiously awaiting wife.

One of the young bikers kind of sneered at me as I walked past.

No problem. I've been sneered at by better.

I took my seat, ignoring him.

"What did you do?" Sue asked.

"They'll be gone in a couple of minutes," I replied.

Not having been "turned down" following the Friday evening dinner and drinks crowd, the volume on the music player was still way too high for a nearly deserted room.

As the words and music of "Hillbilly Heaven" by Tex Ritter poured from the speakers, I knew it was just a matter of time. Before Tex had got to the sixth measure, I heard the first bike start, promptly followed by the others. They whined off into the distance.

Ah, the power of music.