My First Riot
Leonard, Duran and a Tube Too Far
Today marks the 35th anniversary of my first, and only, riot.
Our story begins, however, two years earlier on one of New England’s darkest days – October 2, 1978. It was the day of the one-game tie-breaker playoff between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees won the game when the lowly, unheralded Bucky Dent hit a corked-bat home run over Fenway Park’s Green Monster. I watched the game in downtown Providence and afterwards took a stroll in disgust.
I passed the Ocean State Performing Arts Center (now known as Providence Performing Arts Center), a once majestic movie house that was about to reopen as a performing arts center. They had a sign that usher’s were needed and I signed up. A few weeks later was opening night with singer Ethel Merman. I worked in the upper balcony and it was love at first sight. I loved the beauty and glamour of the restored movie palace, including its many ghost stories.
It was a great experience for me, since I not only was exposed to a wide range of performing arts, but to others with an interest in the arts — especially girls. (An important point for someone who attended an all-boy high school.) Afterwards, many of us would go out in downtown where I discovered that one did not seem so obviously under-aged when you are wearing a jacket and tie and hanging out with adults.
The Brawl in Montreal . . . and Providence
On this night in 1980, undefeated welterweight champion Sugar Ray Leonard battled Roberto Duran in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. Since this was before cable television was big, the fight was shown via closed-circuit television at theaters and bars across the world. The Ocean State was the only theater in all of Rhode Island that had the fight in color.
The fight turned out to be a classic, although I have never seen it. That is because the combination of a hot summer night, an under-performing air conditioning system and a lack of foresight led the tube to blow during the under card, leaving the packed theater with only the audio. This did not go over well with fight fans, who immediately began trashing the place – knocking over its huge urns, smashing glass etc.
Luckily we were able to get fans to leave without too much difficulty . . . .but very unluckily just across the street lay several stacks of faux-cobblestone brick as part of the Mayor’s effort to beautify downtown. Disgruntled fight fans quickly found the pile and proceeded to pelt the front of the theater with the bricks, I was given the responsibility of saving the antique curtains on the doors in the lobby as bricks hurled over me. It was quite an adrenaline rush.
I came in the next day to help with the cleanup and was talking with the local promoter, who told me that after the tube blew, the closed circuit roadies said it could have been avoided if they had simply placed a fan on the tubes so they did not overheat. Of course, nobody bothered to mention that before it blew.
Duran won that night, giving Leonard his only professional loss. Leonard would reclaim the crown in a rematch five months later, but that was one event that was not shown at the Ocean State.