She identified herself as a "mother who lives in Oxon Hill and who cares about her son." She had accompanied the son, who is 13, to a rock concert at the Capital Centre the night before. She said she had "never been around so many drugs" as she smelled and saw that night.
According to the mother, pot-smoking was going on everywhere -- in the bathrooms, on the concourses, in the seats. And many concert-goers looked as if they'd indulged on the way to the arena.
"I'm not exactly unaware of how drug-users look," said the mother, who works as a prison guard. "These kids were my son's age, maybe a little older, and they came to this concert looking like they'd just finished a joint or two in the car. I think there's a drug problem at the Capital Centre, and as a mother, I'm very upset about it."
This was by no means the first such call I'd gotten. So it was past time to ask: How common is what this mother saw? Is there a drug problem at Capital Centre rock concerts?
Bob Zurfluh, the Centre's vice president for public relations, said that "there is no real problem that we can determine." However, Bob added that "you know as well as I do that when a large number of young people get together, there is going to be the opportunity for drugs."
The Capital Centre has "a smoking policy" that applies to marijuana as well as tobacco, Bob said. "We respectfully request our patrons not to smoke in the arena. It's not a hard and fast rule. It's a request," Bob said. However, he pointed out that all local laws -- including marijuana laws -- are enforced at the Capital Centre by the Prince George's County police.
How rigorously is the pot-smoking law enforced? "It's enforced greatly," said Sgt. William Hogewood, coordinator of special operations for the P.G. police. "There are checks at the door. The ushers sometimes search baggage and handbags. Periodically, we senring with some of his work. empty beer bottles. Teen-agers walking toward the entrances were openly passing pints of rum and bourbon back and forth. In five minutes of walking around the parking lot, I counted 57 parked vehicles in which young people were drinking beer.
Inside, it didn't take long for a teen-aged girl and her two male companions to make a spectacle of themselves. They fell in a heap onto the concourse near the Stars and Stripes entrance, drunk as could be (it was easy to tell by the smell). A security guard quickly helped the three to their feet -- and quickly evicted them.
A few minutes later, a young man passed out in a corridor near Portal 12. "Drugs?" I asked his girl friend. "Drunk," she replied. They had to send for a wheelchair to pick the young man up. An hour later, he was still lying on a mat near the first aid station, Gone with a capital G. He was 15 years old.
These were only the most conspicuous examples. Other kids -- many other kids -- were staggering around, in a state of obvious intoxication. They didn't buy alcohol at the Capital Centre because it wasn't sold there on Dec. 16, and almost never is (beer is sold only at rock concerts where research indicates there will be heavy attendance from the 21-and-over set). But kids can obviously get booze elsewhere, and obviously do.
So it was a mixed blessing that no drugs were evident at the Rush concert. Alcohol was very evident. To their credit, the Capital Centre security staff refused to admit anyone who was obviously drunk. But a kid who can finesse his way past a guard at 8 p.m. might be flat on his back by 8:45 -- and I saw four who were.
No, you can't conduct a blood test or a Breathalyzer test on every kid who goes to a rock concert. But the Capital Centre and the P.G. police can do a better job of patrolling the parking lots, and a better job of making it clear that any kid who collapses in a drunken heap is going to be arrested. That's what would happen anywhere else. It's what ought to happen at the Capital Centre, too.