My friend Nancy Smith is gone. She had retired the name “Nancy Smith” years ago, reverting back to her birth name, which was Rita. Ever present at most of the punk shows in the early to mid 80’s with her cassette recorder, Nancy had come from the South and was working at the Crane Library for the Blind, where people would come in or be on staff to read books for the blind. As such, she had access to lots of budget cassettes.
We were both living in the Manhattan building downtown. As you entered her apartment, the hallway had black handprints of punk musicians on the wall. There was if I remember a bookcase with some of her collection of these band concert tapes, often many copies of some, as she was very generous in giving copies to the musicians. It was important to her to document this wild scene we were all a part of at that time.
Along with Lenore Herb, Nancy played an important role in the history of the Vancouver Punk scene. Like video and audio fanzines, these recordings didn’t always have the greatest sound quality, but when you put them in the player, you were there again.
Nancy was sometimes in the middle of the crowd, other times at the back or side. As such, you could hear the difference in sound and perspective.
I’m lousy with dates, but I think it was 1985, when Nancy and I took a trip together to New York. I remember landing at JFK, and catching a cab to Greenwich Village to her sister’s apartment. It was a very hot and humid time of year in New York. You would take a shower, then walk out on the street, and in a few minutes feel like you needed another one. The water at that time tasted like a petrochemical by- product.
Her sister gave us her room, where we shared a bed. (We were just friends sleeping in the same piece of furniture.) Her sister was very skinny, chain smoked Virginia slims and had an empty refrigerator with nothing but Tab. Plus she had a cat. I was not a fan of cats, so of course this cat would whine until we let it in the room, then jump up on the bed. Also her sister seemed to have an aversion to changing the litter box, so combine that with heat and humidity, and you can see why we spent most of our time exploring the city.
We didn’t care about the empty fridge, as we spent most of our time enjoying restaurants, like Great Jones Cafe, where I first had blackened redfish, the Moondance Diner, and Carnegie’s. We shopped or rather I shopped, for vintage jackets and clothes, saw Linton Kwesi Johnson at SOB’s, Vernon Reid’s Living Color when it was a heavy three piece, Elliot Murphy in Greenwich Village, plus so much more I forget.
It was an incredible trip only marred in my memory by how it ended. Nancy was going to stay a bit longer, so I had to make my way to the airport on my own. I asked about a cab, but Nancy said everyone takes the subway- faster and cheaper. So I went down the subway to wait for the train. You could tell it was going to the airport as many of us had luggage.
Long story short, there were delays that day on the subway. When it finally picked me up, I was anxiously checking my watch, sure I was going to be late. When I got the airport I ran all the way to the terminal only to be told the plane had boarded and I would have to make other plans.
Did I say it was a very hot and humid time? By the time I got to the ticket counter, I was so parched, my tongue was dry and stuck to the roof of my mouth. The guy at the airline booth had also just arrived late for work as he was on the same train as I was.
Somehow I got lost and ended up on another level and went out these doors and found myself in a grassy field. I made my way through the grass and got the other terminal, waiting to check in.
When I got to the front of the line, the attendant asked for my ticket. I felt in my pocket. No ticket. I checked all my pockets. No ticket. Somewhere between the other terminal and this one, I had lost the ticket. In those days, you needed the physical ticket. I asked them to watch for my stuff, and ran out the door. A bus driver shouted something incomprehensible but ended with “your ticket” and pointed to his right.
I went out and saw there was a overhead pass, over-the highway. It was there that I found my ticket in the shrubbery. The only way I saw it was the red carbon that they used in those days. I made my way back to the other terminal and got on the plane. We had a stop over in Chicago, so I asked the crew if I could leave the plane for a few minutes and call my brother in Seattle to let him know I would be a few hours late. I made the call, and went to get back on the plane.
As luck had it, the crew had just changed. Someone recognized me from the previous part of the flight and they let me back, and New York was a bad memory.
Actually my first trip to New York with Nancy Smith is a great memory, the airport hijinks notwithstanding. No one could have asked for a better friend to be with. She was charming in her Southern way, and smart and funny.
I was shocked to learn today that she was no longer with us. I am blessed to have known her, and her two wonderful children, who are no longer children, just as I am no longer the young man I was when I went to New York with Nancy Smith.
Nancy Smith. RIP 2021.