Kivetsky was finally becoming the cover band for good times and fun. Every weekend we gigged at the best college bars on Long Island: Tabard's Ale House, The Oak Beach Inn, Rumrunners or The Dublin Pub. We earned a loyal following of collegiate girls (and sometimes their boyfriends.) Kivetsky was ready for its first big single. Were we big? We had our own blue Ford Econoline van with a sometimes-working radio! Fame was around the corner and we could even drive there!
It was the summer of 1973. Viet Nam was winding down, The World Trade Center had just opened and Watergate was in the headlines. My good friend Doug and I were both done with our spring semesters and we needed a job. Not to turn down any source of income, whenever there was a gig; Doug and I were roadies for Kivetsky. (Yes, THE Kivetsky!)
Lots of extra cash filled our pockets as we worked an endless series of prom gigs. Proms meant short sets, early evenings and big dollars. We were having a blast (even allowing for the nightly croon of Chicago's 'Color My World'.) The venues were extravagant. Huge country clubs, wedding halls and even The New York State Pavilion at the old World's Fair grounds in Flushing. The Pavilion was a restaurant in the round, many stories high, with spectacular views of Queens and Manhattan.
It wasn't a bad gig. The load-out of the van was easy. The elevators were large and roomy. The restaurant was expansive and the crowd thought we were bigger than McCartney and Wings. They loved us and by eleven o'clock black limousines were taking the partiers to The City for more revelry. Doug and I packed the band in record time and we headed down to the parking lot to open the van. We had a minor problem: The van was gone!
In 1973, the cell phone had not yet been invented. Near-immediate communication could be had with a dime in-hand and a pay phone nearby! Doug and I called one of the band members, Bruce Smith, and gave him the bad news. We couldn't rent a van that late at night so we begged the restaurant to keep our equipment locked up until morning. Bruce eventually picked us up in his Dad's car and got us home.
The van was registered to our lead singer Charleen Rhindress. We called her around eight the next morning and gave her the bad news. Her Dad contacted the 105th Precinct and made an auto theft report. Doug and I got together with our bassist, Don Lipari, rented a van with cash from last night's gig, and ran over to The Pavilion to re-claim our equipment in time for that night's gig.
The next few days were tense. We didn't have enough money to keep renting a van and we didn't have enough to buy one, either! After working a long three or four set night at the college bars, we had just enough to break even. This wasn't fun. We conspired for a solution when the phone rang at Charleen's house.
Kivetsky had just finished their first set when we got the message to call the Rhindress household. Charleen's Dad said The New York City Police had found our van abandoned in the parking lot of Bellerose Lanes, a local bowling alley, right in our neighborhood. I had my car with me, a not-so-sexy Dodge Demon, and we ran off to retrieve the van. We could hardly wait to see it hoping it wasn't too damaged and still moved forward. (This was a challenge even before it was stolen!)
It took us just over half an hour to reach the bowling alley, and on a Saturday night, it was hard to find a parking spot. Sure enough, when we cruised the parking lot we found the van with it's driver's side window still intact. Doug and I parked and walked slowly over to the van. I was hoping my key would start it and we could finally get rid of the rental. This was great! They found the van!
I looked into the van's window to see where we stood. It didn't look bad, but I could see that the door lock was damaged. Doug and I exchanged satisfied looks and I decided to open the door. I pressed the button on the handle and it opened right away! Cool!
Just as I was about to step up into the driver's seat, a low-riding long sedan screeches up in front of us. Four guys jump out and the driver pulls a small-caliber pistol on us and yells: "DON'T MOVE!" The other three guys grab us from behind and hold us tightly. Not a word is said. They frisk us down and pull our wallets out of our pockets. 'Take whatever you want. Do whatever you want. Just let me live' I say to myself. Every moment felt like an hour. What the hell was going on?
The driver, with scraggly beard and rock-star long hair, finally says "What's your name?" Doug and I reply with a quiver. "Who the hell are you? You trying to steal this van?" (We give up. Are these the guys who stole it? Are they going to mangle us for trying to swipe their catch?)
"The police told us it was here and told us to pick it up. It belongs to Charleen Rhindress. I've got the registration in my wallet" I reply.
"Shit!" the driver yells. 'We are so dead' I say to myself. Doug and I are looking at the ground, spread-eagle against the van, still being held by the posse. A long pause passes. The driver retorts: "Do you know what you've done? You've just blown a $10,000 stake out. We've been waiting here for hours waiting for someone to come back to this van. What the hell is wrong with you?" OK. Who are these guys? Are we going to live?
The accessory thugs release us. The driver, who resembles Don Felder of The Eagles, gives us twenty questions. I feel like I am trying to talk my way out of getting pummeled by the school bully. "Well, the cops told us we could pick it up and we didn't know it was being staked out and...(Please don't hurt me! Please don't hurt me!) I babbled away. Doug and I now get the hint that these guys ARE the police. The driver points to Doug and says "You come with me - and you (pointing at me) - get in the van and drive it back to the 105th Precinct. You know where that is, right?" You bet I know. Holy cow. Maybe we are safe.
Doug gets into the back seat with the posse and I climb in the van. Oh, crap! My key won't go in. The lock has been bashed. I jiggle and fumble with it. I can't turn it. It won't start. I'm thinking: 'What are they going to do to me now?' I sit there for what feels like hours trying to turn the ignition. The sedan screeches back. The driver yells "What the hell is wrong?" "It won't start!" He mumbles something to one of the guys in the back seat. A guy opens the door, walks over to the van, reaches into the ignition and starts it in a second. (Do I know how to do this? Jeez!) I put the van into drive and slowly follow the sedan down Jericho Turnpike and Jamaica Avenue back to the police station.
The gang escorts Doug and I to the main desk in the precinct. We are still shaking like a leaf. Suddenly we are in a bad episode of 'Car 54 Where Are You?' The desk clerk trumpets "State your names." After a brief stern speech, they tell us that only Charleen can claim the van. It will be held at the precinct for a day and, if not claimed, it will be impounded. We are happy. We will live! One of the officers even gave us a ride back to the bowling alley so we could get back to my car. What a night!
Believe it or not, it's now only about 9 o'clock. Doug and I decide to go back to tonight's gig and wind down for awhile. The entire band was relieved to hear the van was OK. Charleen and her Dad reclaimed the van the next morning. In a few months, the van's engine would die and Kivetsky would be looking for another van for a few hundred bucks. The price of fame!
Eventually, Kivetsky did find fame of a different sort. The drummer became a high school math department chairman. The pianist entertained the masses as an accomplished dentist. Our friend, Bruce, stayed in the business as a booking agent. Charleen became a housewife and lived happily in the suburbs. Doug and I are just happy to be alive!