First, of course, there’s the minor silliness of the “security checks” at the entrance gate. Of course, as it’s a military facility, we expect security checks, but when you think about allowing tens of thousands of people to spend the day picnicking on the grounds, you wonder how they can really check them all with enough rigor to make it worthwhile.
And that’s the point: they can’t, but they want to make a show of it. So a show they make. Two separate checkpoints have guards looking at your driver’s license, proving only that you’re able to get something that looks passably like a driver’s license. No information is recorded — they don’t have a record that I, in particular, was there. Nothing was scanned, nothing was looked up. Public Enemy Number One could wander in there, and as long as he had something that looked like a driver’s license, bearing something that looked like his photo, he would pass.
The second guy who checked my ID also looked in my trunk, and in the trunks of half of everyone else who came through; his partner peered into the trunks of the rest. I just had picnic trappings in there, but he didn’t look in the bags, and he didn’t look under the trunk floor. I could have had machine guns in the canvas bags that actually held collapsible chairs. I could have removed the spare tire and filled the well with explosives. He would never have seen them.
OK, so one gets through the security checks — and I must add, as a positive note, that the guards are very pleasant and friendly about it — and one parks, pulls out one’s picnic stuff, and walks over the Trophy Point. One surveys the lawn.
And one finds that it’s not so much a “lawn”, at this point, as it is a sea of tarps and blankets, nearly all of them unattended. Last time, I got there at 4:00. This time, a little before 2:30. I couldn’t tell the difference. Word has it that people arrive early in the morning to stake out their areas. They then leave and go about their day, coming back only shortly before the 8:00 start time. Some of them don’t even put out blankets or tarps, but just use “caution tape” to box out a prime parcel of turf.
Even at 2:30, there was nothing to be had but an area with its view partially obstructed by a tree. At least the tree provided shade for the day. I would have thumbed my nose at those stuck out in the full sun... except they weren’t there, and were probably enjoying the pleasant shade somewhere less crowded.
Finally, the people who don’t bring chairs, and prefer to sit on their blankets, really get a bad deal. When they do find a spot, it’s behind the claims of loads of other groups. At first, it all works out, but as the others begin to drift back in, the first thing they do is unfold their chairs and sit in front of the people who’re down on the ground. The blanket people can’t see a thing. And there’s no way they can tell in advance where the safe places are, because there’s no telling when the chair folks up front will return.
Contrast this with Wednesday’s visit to Shakespeare on the Sound, in Baldwin Park in Greenwich, CT. They had cops milling around and keeping an eye on things, but you barely noticed them. Of course, that’s a normal difference between a public park and a military academy, so never mind that.
It’s the next difference that struck me, as I passed the sign to the right, which you can click to make bigger, but it should be perfectly readable at this size; it says, “No Blankets/Chairs before 4:00 pm”, and adds that “Anything left before 4:00 will be held at park entrance”. Right. You can’t stop on the way to work in the morning and claim a spot. I suppose you could try coming by at 4 and dropping stuff off, then be back for the 7:30 performance. But 4:00 seems a fair time to allow people to start arriving, and at that point you might as well get there to stay.
They had another great setup, which I didn’t photograph: there was an inner circle marked off, closest to the stage, and it was labelled “Blankets and LOW Chairs Only.” Outside that marked area was another sign that said, “High Chairs Allowed.” Excellent! Give the people who will be low to the ground a chance to see. Someone is thinking.
It just doesn’t seem that hard to get some of these things right.
 Well, they do now.