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Losing $750,000 Baltimore Country Fair, Middle River Maryland circa 1976

I remember my time when I made the transition from Memphis to Baltimore. I was a little buoyed by some unemployment compensation so I could make the switch with some income rather than trying to do it on the fly. One of the things you had to do was register for work with the unemployment office. When I did that, we were all there were waiting to see a counselor and people were coming and going and about 6 of us were sitting there. We were told when we asked, that they did not wait because it was veterans preference. Anyone knows that veteran preference is a numerical enhancement of your qualifications when they assess your tests and experience together to provide a numerical value there is usually 10 point veteran’s preference. But not waiting in line? I complained and was referred to the Baltimore County Executive’s office for a job.

New guy got the job...result of Spiro Agnew resigning. Why he resigned VP was for what he did in Baltimore County. The current County Executive Dale Anderson had to resign and I was on my way to joining a reform government. It was kind of cool. I went in to meet the guy and he was a big fat guy who said fuck and he then identified someone as being gay...had him come in and look at me to decide... and the gay guy said to hire me so he guy did. I did not know if I was sure of what was going on, but I went with the flow and there was not really any kind of sexual harassment or anything. Steve, the gay guy was just peripheral to what was going on and did not see much of him. 

My job as it was explained to me was to put on a county fair. I had been to many fairs and thought it was pigs and cattle but I found that this was to be an urban fair. We went to the Baltimore City Fair and found it crowded and thought about that when first told it would be an urban fair.

We worked out of the county executive’s office and found his name was Ted and he seemed like a nice guy...kinda pretty in a way.  He was Greek and his wife was from the old country or something.  She was pretty traditional. I found that the guy who hired me came from a long line of political folks in Essex Maryland...where the fair was to be held.

About 4 of us were hired and they included the bosses friend, me, a political connection from Essex and a crazy lady from Brooklyn. All these folks were there to get into the system of county government. The lady from Brooklyn and the political connection did end up to be county employees later. 

We did not work well together. the bosses friend said he was in charge and I did not care for him too much. I don't think I talked to him much during the time I was there. We had our moments but pretty much we did not get along. He was an asshole boss and I sort of waited for him to direct the action. The others soon picked up on it and nothing was being accomplished because he had a limited clue and was adamant about his authority. It went on like that for a couple of weeks and it was decided we would all have roles and each be in charge of something. I had production...making the physical reality of the fair happen. bathrooms, staging and the like. The guy who was the bosses friend, John, he took sales. the political connection took transit and parking and the woman from Brooklyn, Mary, was a freelance I guess.

Mary was downright annoying and did not have an on off switch. She would say stuff about  you and be inappropriate. Like trying to alert people to her understanding of your healt...she had a New York City understanding of life...her husband was some sort of bank executive who had been laid off and she was forced into duty. She was always talking about finer things in life which I did not know existed like karastan carpets. She though they were great but I really never heard of them. 

The political connect, Derek, was a nice guy but spoke in an effeminate manner. we are still friends today. had a lot of whacko adventures with him. It was his mom that called police and said I murdered her son and placed a death threat on Jimmy Carter...all false of course. Her other issue with me was she always accused me of stealing their Christmas tree stand. Doris was her name. later she decided to get a divorce and she opened "dancing with Doris" disco lessons. remember this was 75/76

The county council remained republican and some councilman by the name of Eugene Kibbe made a crusade to damn us. He made a big issue over our title of community liaison. They found we were CETA employees so we became a political hot potato. I think Derek handing him a card or something made us become public enemy # 1 to this guy. I ignored him. who really cared what the guy said. He did say some bad things about us but really man...some bald guy with goofy glasses held no sway with me.

I had many substance abuse problems in that era and I would say being with the fair was pretty much the height of my craziness. Everyone knew, but cocaine was in vogue and everyone kind of turned their head. That really did not come up much. it was as long as you produce you could do what you like.

So, it is not long after the community liaison incident that we moved to a different locale. We were a nonprofit and we would be located at Glenn L Martin Airport and the four of us moved over to the basement of one of Martin's Buildings. I had a pole in the middle of my office because I did not go there right away and for a while I was on a table outside one of the three offices.

It became pretty real, pretty quickly when we moved. It was kind of like a little circus there. They wanted to get us off CETA so they tried to make us self-sufficient as we were selling spaces at the fair for income that would pay us. It became pretty obvious about that time that we could not handle a staff of 4 unless someone else paid for it. So Derek and Mary went by way of the county.

Derek went to 911, Mary to the print shop and so did the secretary Linda. John and I remained. When it peeled down to the two of us things got a little tense between John and I. The first time we talked was when I took over his job because we were not going to get paid. He could not deliver the goods.

As time went on I started to realize that an urban fair was a lot of fun. We expected 1 million people and we were charging 3 dollars per person and 2 dollars for kids. Seemed like an endless stream of cash. If only we can sell enough booths to cover deposits and operating we were rolling...

The first thing we did was choose the Cyprus Garden's Ski Show over the local ski team. Came about that we could not even charge for it cause it was outside our boundary. But it was nice cache and where first met Kathy the skier there...dropped my walkie talkie when she smiled at me...guess I was stung.

The second choice was to book the Acapulco high divers...Pat Sucher and company jumping off a 100 foot tower into 10 feet or water every hour on the hour. While we were hanging around we booked our circus acts through Ringling Brothers. 10 acts and we had Kenneth Feld on site during the event. that was exciting he showed up in a Jensen Intercept and pointed out where he wanted the lights and I told him..."hey man we are putting up telephone poles and they need to be placed right." he agreed and made the choice...of which later he asked me to move the poles about an hour before the event...which could not be done.

We booked some big bands...we had 11 days so we needed acts. booked the Shirelles as well as less and Larry Elgart. I never figured out who those guys were...also Duke Ellington..we had a solid lineup throw in jack Kotchman hell drivers and 6 live stages and you got something I thought.

So costs escalated pretty quickly after the cypress gardens decision...we were in show business...people from amusement business coming to see us...we were in show business. The thing was that the Baltimore Sun had already declared us the “ill fated Baltimore County Fair’ some guy from the Baltimore News American named Dave Postal said that it was his responsibility to cut off the county executives neck if he puts it out far enough. We had to be separated. I told him that was not his job his job was to report the news. So it was not only a thing of my pride but I had some yo-yo trying to mess with me…well us. I was just a small cog.

Things got exponentially more difficult when the sanitation guy told me I could not do the event with porta pots. He demanded a facility be built. Hey I am on an airport runway. Then finding out that the electric had to be run overhead. Break down 17 kva. It was like a crash course in electrical engineering.

So there I am learning plumbing and electric design and contracting…had no idea. 86 toilets, 68 sinks 10 two- compartment sinks and 10 showers. We had a small city…think we overstated what we were going do.

So somewhere along the line we drew away from the daily discourse of the county council. They kind of forgot about us because we were in a basement somewhere in Middle River. It was nice down there. We had people coming in to buy booths and some of the big names in Baltimore. Harry Atman corned beef from the infamous corned beef row. Bo Brooks, Al's Seafood and the like came in we were letting them sell beer somehow and everyone wanted the beer concessions. 

The Baltimore sun stepped up the attacks. released John's FBI rap sheet where he was identified as a attacks on me even though I was a very visible person with a runny nose. Baltimore News American guy was killing us every chance... rumors, innuendo, name it they tried it. Dave was made out to be a buffoon, john a crook and me...I was just some guy who was gaining authority cause I did the work...pretty much did what I wanted. We had an entertainment guy...Don Wehner that went by "ace" which was actually the name of his corporation (associated ...something ACE). he was busy booking the acts and I monitored loosely.

I was in charge of the construction end which was pretty significant. Breaking down 17 KVA running it overhead and then breaking it down for the vendors. But the only flaw was getting people to give me the number of amps they need, which was next to impossible.

We had a lot of gypsies and they liked me cause I treated them like everyone else...and they gave me a panama hat as a token of their esteem. John and Ruby Stevens had a nice daughter that they would not let me date. She was very beautiful in an old world way. We had all these one-time shot, make big moneyguys come in and go over and over the was tiring. I was meeting a lot of people but none of them knew about amps. The day of set up the George family (gypsies) had underestimated all of their electric needs and it was a pain in the ass. You paid extra for amps but it was a flat fee there was no reason to lie but they were so used to not telling the truth to save money they messed themselves up.

The politics of this position was starting to dawn on me. My friend Duffy came down to visit and asked "how did you get so involved in local politics like this?" answer was...I was there.

As the days moved forward I worked so many hours that I was going home and my whole body was drained like I had no energy. It was not the best strategy for my girlfriend sought others to keep her I had that relationship go south because of that...lots of hours, lots of beer at Hooligans in Townson. Bobby Boyd owned the bar and Johnny Unitas used to come in...Unitas was my hero from the days when I could not cut it as a quarterback. Somehow, I was the only one to be able to go into there with jeans because rumor was I was a doctor. People started calling me least the doorman did.

Dave put all of the ball players on the advisory board and I remember art Donavan coming to a meeting breaking out a couple of sandwiches eating and getting up and leaving. It was a cool meeting. On the other side we had the actual board members Jack Sturgill and Callie Young. Callie was Dave's friend and was on his side. Jack did some legal work for Dave, and one day during the meeting we were chatting and Jack said something about Dave's mortgage and Callie seconded a motion to pay his mortgage....we were like..."okay...." but then Dave came in the room for the vote and just shook his head...we were being bad.

Things were moving fast down on the fair grounds and it looked like we were going to actually have the fair despite all of the bad publicity. We had a guy named Blaine Taylor running the PR and he was kind of a novice and was not really getting it done. We went to the regional papers and asked why they were not printing our press releases and they showed me that it was all single spaced stuff that came 2 or three pages at a time. Now in the days of computers one must realize that these were being prepared by Blaine's mom (who was a nice woman) on a manual typewriter and they were almost unreadable...and it was my stuff. The Editor told me to have her send stuff double spaced and he would see what he could do...showed me like 4 other people's press releases and they were all a lot different than what we were producing.

So we are in the middle of being crucified by the Baltimore Blaine Taylor at the helm of publicity and in walks this professor...forget his name but he was kinda famous, at least locally, and he volunteers to have his class from one of the universities to help us. He gave us the low down that he did not like what was happening and he could help us. He was someone's friend and came as like a gift from heaven...Blaine flipped out and we did not use the professor. that was a turning point for me.  I am wondering like what’s up with that?

So as I watched us sink into the abyss I thought that if I could keep the costs down that we would be okay. I figured base it on 250,000 people and that was 1/4 of what they told me, after all a bicentennial event and all. Blaine had us as special sections in Playboy and some of the others...all magazines that were pretty popular. We had ads and TV commercials... we were spending a lot, but almost every day we got hammered in the newspapers. 

I was never really sure why this happened...whole cut is throat comment was kind of superficial. I think they actually thought we were crooks. later there was a "grand jury' inquiry...which I went to, at my request, and pretty much put it straight and made the guy from the DA's office look kind stupid. Always happens when you know all about something and someone asking questions does not know much about it. Right after the fair there was a break in at the fairs offices and the "books" were taken. They did a whole investigation and I had to be fingerprinted and I refused. it became a big deal but finally I did get fingerprinted so I could have my prints ruled out. Soo-oo the whole big thing about this grand jury investigation was that there were no books. I was no fool. After the fair I had the books audited by Arthur Anderson...there was $1.58 unaccounted for out of like 1.5 million...So this guy asks me about the books and makes it kind of a statement that we burned them or put them in the landfill or something. So I told him of the audit, told him I spoke with Arthur Anderson and they have a copy of the books as well as the audit....grand jury wrapped up the end of that week and no findings.

Working there was bringing me notoriety with my friends. People wanted to know me. I was being courted by politicos it was kinda wild. My friends liked that what I was doing was always in the newspaper and they like the fact that it seemed like I was the only one that knew anything and was calling the shots on things.

Things got a little complicated when Dave undertook a supervisory role in the Jerry Brown for president campaign which the County Executive was backing. Winning in Maryland made the whole organization look like rock stars and made the county executive an early favorite for Governor.

I was working along arranging to build things through credit. it was pretty easy. I would meet with the contractors and bring em up to the county execs office to meet with Dave....took them into the inner was cool to watch them get wide was pretty easy...

But as I was bring Mr. AVM into the room to build the large bathroom I was always thinking about the guy in the county that was forcing us to build this. Dave said he wanted a bribe to not require it and the exec said we had to follow the rules. I ruled out bribing him but thought a couple of times about killing him. Did not like the way he talked to day out in field at the airport he got that condescending attitude going and I turned on him...scared him pretty good got real close and stood on his foot. He did not act like that again but really any chance of giving him a bribe ended at that point...he went back to the office all nervous and told Dave he wanted to deal with someone else, of course that request cemented that he had to deal with me. 

One of the plumbing things that we had to do was do a waste removal port for the winnebago rally we were staging. This yo yo that lived in Essex that came over and dumped into the pipe after a stuck and broke the pipe as he was sliding around. What a jerkoff that guy was.

I remember that he and his wife was at a Winnebago rally where I had Don Driver breaking out of a straight jacket and he kept losing her. He was walking around asking if anyone seen her as she was moving from Winnebago to Winnebago and I remember she was with the guy from Winnebago corporate who had a pencil thin mustache and looked like William Conrad. I was asked in to his Winnebago where 3 other guys watched as she was ...

Building the "world's largest portable bathroom" was cool. I was dealing with having to put in the 3 compartment sinks and had to have showers to let people shower when they were done. It was so stupid but I had to do it. I had a lot of time to learn about plumbing. We were building on a existing bathroom connection that was there. we found that bathroom dumped in the Back River and there had to be a connection created. We were floored when the dye showed up in the Back River...we were sworn to silence. Telling it now. I can keep a secret. Truth was that the old bathroom was last used during world war II so there was no use adding to the plethora of bad publicity we were getting.

The bathroom construction was like a little masters degree in plumbing. So much stuff to learn...when the welding happened some woman called me and said she lived across the street and it did not look portable to her cause of the welding and I is still there. But it was a work of art and I did it. I always like the way the vent turbines went round and round. Though it was cool. and I will tell you I used it many of times and it was great.

Being that we were involved in a bicentennial celebration kind of helped us a little bit. People were aware that these kinds of celebrations were going to happen so people were willing to extend us credit and we were good with the electric and the bathrooms. The cash flow was going pretty good and we were moving toward the date of June 17th for the fair opening. Once we got out on the fair grounds it was a whole new world. We had the stage guys the lighting guys... remember there was an incident between the one lighting company and Don Turner (the one we used) about was he supplying a super trooper spot or a Gernarco spot. Funny how thing meant something then but now are memories of some obscure product. 

Once they started arriving we had to hire security and we hired Federal Armor Express or something and they were doing security. We had a lady who had a class at Towson state and she was doing the accounting and money management. Betty was her first name and she had some interns and they were gonna do it all. But things went sour with the cash flow and she had some problems when the fee for Federal Armor was held off the top for their services. Rather than getting paid like the other vendors they took and kept their fee. Well she went off the deep end and it was not pretty in the trailer. I had to fire the people who were the ground security the day before the fair opened because we caught them stealing wood chips. 

I thought of all the people we interviewed including the guys who do security for Earth Wind and Fire at the RFK in 75...not an easy crowd to manage. The were represented by some guy with a gem stone in the middle of his forehead. Some dude in a Jaguar XKE had a good security firm, real big guys with other guy that I like too had some kind of detective agency.

Wood chips were being stored somewhere on site because we were making paths for the parking. we used them as sidewalks I guess you could say. Getting those wood chips were difficult at best. 

We had these specially built trailers for ticket dispensing and all of that. they cost like 30k... which was a lot in those days and they were high and we had to build ramps. We were out of it a little bit with all the security for doing a 1-million-person event. This artificial constraint ...we had 1 million coming screwed us every-time we turned around.

So the Fair opens...and about 10 minutes before the Fair opened.  Dave panics and said all kids are free So over 11 days the agony persisted that no matter what I was going to lose money$750,000.


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