Sunday, May 29, 2005

In the Lynyrd Skynyrd parking lot

I got home this morning around 1:30 a.m. after 13 hours of being on "Parking Detail." My face and neck were sunburned, my feet were sore, and I had lost even more faith in the human race.

Lynyrd Skynyrd and .38 Special had come to Fort Knox, and they performed at the airfield on a huge stage that had been set up near the hangars. Over a week ago, I'd learned that I had been pegged for duty that day to help direct the flow of more than 6,000 vehicles on to and off of the airfield.

The first element was the "briefing" from Law Enforcement Command at 12:30 p.m. Tim and I showed up at the company ten minutes early, which is usually a good idea when it comes to formations, particularly with units you aren't normally affiliated with. As it turned out, that was for naught, since the briefing didn't get started until 1.

The MP master sergeant who was in charge of the whole works eventually broke us down into our individual areas of responsibility, and then told us what to expect.

"There are going to be people out there acting stupid," he said. "And there are going to be a lot of them. When it comes to drugs, if you smell something, find the person smoking or whatever and just tell them to put it out... but if someone's got a duffel bag or a 'Weed for Sale' stand set up, we're going to have to bust them."

We also learned that there would be people getting very drunk out there. Gates for parking opened at 3, but the early-comers were going to be herded into the back area of the staging area until 6, when the stage gates opened. That meant that there were three solid hours for Skynyrd fans to stand in the sun, drink beer, and get pissed off.

After the briefing, the concert detail - about 35 of us, total, including stage security, parking, and traffic control - piled into the MPs' "White Whale," a gutted Winnebago that is clearly not designed to hold 35 people.

We piled out at the airfield after a bumpy ride from LEC, and everyone on the parking detail was given a reflective vest with "POLICE" written in large block letters on the chest and back and a cheap flashlight with a six-inch pink plastic cone on the end, which everyone referred to as their "light saber."

I was given parking area 2, which was going to be filled after parking area 1, but would take overflow from 1 if it got heavy. All of the parking areas were landing pads and airstrips of varying sized scattered around Godman Airfield's 3.8 square miles of open land.

The sun was shining, but a stiff wind had kicked up across the airfield, which knocked over the plastic orange construction barrels set up to mark parking lanes. Another specialist and I spent an hour or so chasing them down and standing them back up before traffic started to trickle in at 3.

Once it hit, it was heavy. Around 5, cars, trucks, minivans, motorcycles, and SUVs were streaming constantly in through the choke point at the airfield's access gate, the only way into the venue for ticketholders. I went to the entrance to our area and directed the cars to the other two soldiers I was working with, who guided them into neat lanes.

After a couple hours, our lot was packed, as were lots 1 and 3, and the traffic control point at the entrance had to start sending drivers to newly-designated "overflow" lots - huge swaths on the airfields main two runways. I hopped on the back of a golf cart with the master sergeant who'd briefed us, and we headed up to the top of the main landing strip, and back down to the point where we were to set up new parking lanes.

Before long, we could watch as traffic headed exactly the way we'd come, then one by one down the runway toward us. I ran up to cut them off about 100 meters from the end, stopped the line, and sent each individually to one of the guards at the endpoint.

The music was about to start.