When we were young boys, from the age of 12 or 13 and up, going to teen dances was one of the activities that my buddies and I really looked forward to. It gave us an opportunity to meet girls and it also allowed us to experience this tribal, communal sharing of motion and music that happens on the dance floor. Because it was home to the Eastman School of Music there was no shortage of good music, and good musicians, in Rochester New York.
We first went to street dances held regularly on summer Saturday nights and to the teen dances held in church basements during the rest of the year (e.g. St. Andrews and St. Stans). We danced to recorded music and got a chance to practice the dance steps we saw on American Bandstand each week. Later, we graduated to the teen dance clubs that hosted the popular rock bands that performed throughout city venues (e.g. Turners Club, The Tycon).
Our group was composed of about a dozen guys who moved from dance to dance each week, mostly floor gyrating to the music blasting out of the speakers at the front of the band stand. Others of us weren't there to dance, they were more interested in the inevitable friction that was generated by the rival groups of boys who ventured out of their own neighborhoods to become part of the larger city scene. There was hardly a night when a scuffle didn't break out between members of rival neighborhood groups, but it was rarely more than a flurry of hands and feet being thrown in brief exchanges between groups of boys. Eventually the size of our group grew as we merged with the rival groups from adjacent neighborhoods. Eventually, the small groups of kids from Northeast Rochester banded into 2 closely affiliated youth gangs, the Avenue D Boys and the 39ers - I was a founding member of the 39ers.
Although I was there primarily to dance and meet girls, I had a knack for getting right in the middle of everything. I was usually the one trying to cool things off by getting between combatants, but if things got started I was usually right there mixing it up with everyone else. I get ejected from more than a few dances because of my participation in these scuffles - I also got my butt kicked a lot because I didn't have the sense to stand down, and my attitude was a lot larger than my skinny ass.
As we got older our world grew larger because we now had access to cars and could follow our favorite bands when they played in the granges, bowling allies and teen clubs in the suburban towns surrounding Rochester. And although we were popular with the 'towny' girls in those clubs we found ourselves resented by the local boys, who considered us competition for the attention of the girls - and we did got attention!
It was pretty much the dancers of our group who would venture out of the city to go to the suburban teen venues where our favorite local bands would play - the 'fighters' chose to stay in the city and continue the stark street life with which they had become comfortable. So when we went to those dances we usually came with 6 to 12 guys - which was about what we could fit in one or two cars. Just as there had been friction between groups of boys in the city, there was friction between us and the suburban boys, and whatever friction existed internally between them was put aside so that they could focus on us - the outsiders - the 'city trash.' And that's what they called us - city trash, city scum, etc, and we had to put up with that week after week, in town after town - Webster, Hennrietta, Greece, Penfield, and all the rest.
But the trash talk was the least of the problem. We pretty much put up with it, but boys will be boys, and it usually escalated into either spitting or tripping or pushing - and although we were usually outnumbered 10 to 1, we drew the line at any physical contact. Remember - we had spent the last 3 or 4 years struggling for our space at city dances, we weren't about to let these 'townies' push us around. So most nights consisted of a few scuffles and sometimes escalated into major exchanges between small groups of us. We were never daunted by their overwhelming numbers - most of them were all talk, but every one of us - even though we were the dancers from our group - was perfectly willing and able to fight when any one of us was in trouble. We stood our ground, protected ourselves and protected each other.
This went on for a couple of years, but on Saturday night, October 7, 1967 everything changed.
That night, 6 of us 39ers jumped into Lenny's car and headed out to the Hullabaloo Teen Club in East Rochester New York. Hullabaloo was a national chain of teen dance clubs, and the East Rochester location was a popular venue for our favorite bands and it was a place where we had been dancing for a while. While there that night, we were subjected to the usual cat calling, but no scuffles had occurred. When the night ended and we were leaving the club I remember thinking how nice it had been to just dance and talk with the local girls that we had come to know, and I was pleased that we managed to have a good time without major problems. But all that ended as soon as we stepped out the door into the parking lot. There, between the exit and our car, was a large group of townies - probably 40 or 50 of them - and it was clear from the way they positioned themselves that they were waiting for us.
Their was no way to go around them and get to the car, so we walked right through the group. As we did, they immediately started punching and kicking and screaming at us, and we punched and kicked and screamed right back. I don't know how many times I got hit or how many times I landed a punch or kick, but it seemed like forever before we made it to the car and climbed in. And we were in pretty bad shape! Most of us were bleeding, swollen and bruised, but Ron was hurt the most. His nose was broken, his mouth was swollen and he was covered with blood. I got behind the wheel of Lenny's car - I was usually the driver, regardless of whomever's car we went in, because I had recently turned 18 so I was old enough to drive at night in New York. Just as I put the car into gear, a townie came to the open window and put a shotgun up against my head and said something like, "Get the hell out of this town scumbag, and don't ever come back!".
As we drove silently back into the city, bleeding and groaning, we knew without even talking about it that we couldn't let this group of cowards drive us from this town. If we did, we knew that we'd never be able to go to any of the suburban dances without facing the same treatment. It was quiet in that car for a long time, and then finally someone said, "OK - who are we bringing with us when we go back next week?" I had already begun building that list in my head even before the car left the parking lot.
We spent most of the next week preparing for our return to East Rochester. We spread the word amoung the rest of our group that we would ALL go back the next week and fix this situation once and for all. We had been willing to put up with the nuisance behavior - the name calling and the minor scuffles - but we needed to let these guys know who they were up against, and what we could do if we lost patience with them.
So we'd be going back the next week, and we were bringing with us the rest of our 'boys' - the Avenue D Boys and the 39ers .... and as they say in New York - "Dese guys don't dance!"