[Editor's Note: We originally sent city columnist and noted curmudgeon Jim Schutze out to Fair Park on Saturday night on something of a lark. We knew he'd be a fish out of water, sure. But we also knew that, in some ways, covering the event would be right up his alley -- a chance for him to see one way in which Dallas is using its city-managed property to appeal to different demographics. Circumstances obviously threw his take for a loop. Still, we think, his is an important perspective on the event to keep in mind as information continues to trickle in about what went wrong on Saturday night.]
All right, the geezer view: I attended the Electric Daisy Carnival at Fair Park on Saturday night as a reporter. I am in my sixties.
I have covered official events, concerts, floods, fires, riots, panics and way more parades than I ever want to remember. I'm also a frequent critic of Dallas City Hall, and that was one reason I went -- to see if the city was stupidly allowing Fair Park to be abused by rampaging druggies.
I was there only two hours, leaving at about 10:30 p.m. My observations prove nothing. Sometimes the best information comes much later, often from plaintiff's attorneys.
But I have to tell you: I just saw nothing wrong with the way it was run.
The security I saw was extremely efficient. I was stopped three times at a succession of tables for I.D. checks, pocket checks and ticket-taking.
Could people have sneaked drugs in anyway? Of course. They could also simply have handed drugs through the miles of chain-link fence. There's a point at which full-body pat-downs and cavity searches are absurd.
I believe that I have a fair eye for professionalism or the lack thereof in security personnel. Sometimes they have all the right training, for example, but they're too green: They lack the force of personality to get the job done. I did not see that at all in this set-up. The security people I saw were trained; they were confidant; they had a protocol, and they stuck to it. I just don't know what more anybody could have done.
I have covered presidential visits where the security was less thorough. As every reporter who has ever covered one of those knows, the president rolls the dice every time he leaves the White House. And every concert promoter rolls the same dice every time he sells a ticket. There is no such thing as absolute security. You do the best you can.
The mood I saw along the esplanade was extremely mellow. I didn't pick up any aggressive vibe at all. And before you all start chuckling at me, let me hasten to assure you that I understand that a good deal of that mellow was chemically induced.
I saw one other old guy there -- not as old as I am, as it turned out, but at least he had a cane, so I felt comfortable chatting with him. Jerry Ritter, 59, had driven up from Galveston with two 20-something persons to whom he was related. I couldn't hear his answer when I asked how he was related.
I asked if he was there to keep an eye on his 20-somethings, and he said no. He said he had attended Woodstock as a teenager, and he just liked coming to things like this to sit and watch, "even though I can't do the drugs they do," he said. "I don't even drink any more."
Ritter said he thinks there need to be things like this for kids to do, "because they're going to do something."
I think that is true. I never knew a kid who agreed to do nothing.
I counted five ambulances waiting at the ready at the back gate. Dallas police officers were not walking through the crowd, but plenty of them were stationed in the shadows watching.
As I said at the top, I don't feel I have any conclusive evidence or reporting to offer here, just impressions. But I did not see any obvious defaults of responsibility on the part of the city or the organizers.
Before we leap to conclusions about the casualties, we need to see numbers putting this event in context with similar events in other places.
I can't imagine being the parents of the young man who died. They are not going to take my word for a damn thing, and I don't expect them to. I wouldn't if it were my son.
But it's also wrong and unfair right now to start a big stampede against the city and the event. That would require a lot more information.
So if we just shut down all parties like this in the city, what do we expect? Kids won't party? Kids won't do X? We know better than that. All that would accomplish would be to push the party underground and distance officials from any responsibility for what happens. How is that better?
Better to have the ambulances. Better to have the cops nearby. It's not great. But it's better. It's also wonderful for young people to have fun at Fair Prak.
I have been taking kids to Fair Park for many many years -- little tiny kids, bigger kids, big kids. Before I turned to leave Saturday night, I stopped and watched dozens of kids and young adults on a carnival ride whirling through the air, glow-sticks held aloft against the backdrop of Fair Park's fanciful art deco roof-line.
Oh, I know they hardly had any clothes on, and some of them were stoned out of their minds. I am also aware of medical studies reporting that some young people (cover our eyes and ears) engage in sexual activity.
When I looked at them up there against the night sky, my mind's eye saw six-year-olds with white-knuckled grips on the steering wheels of the 18-wheeler ride, eyes wide with terror, mouths grinning in delight. Old people can't take that away from young people, because it is not ours to give in the first place.
Nobody owns fun, especially not us. Life finds its way to pleasure, somewhere, somehow. Can't think of a better spot than this.
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