We always stayed in nearby Virginia Beach, which was in it's off season, so you could get a room for around $25 a night. It wasn't quite warm enough to swim in the Atlantic, but walking on the beach with other dazed, but beaming heads from scattered origins was the best way to greet the new season. With ten people in the room, we'd basically sleep and shower for free. Everybody in the room knew somebody else but, no one knew everybody. I had friends who would always get two adjoining rooms, one for the drowsies and one for the dropsies. Kind of a bozo vs. bolo thing. The hotel operators weren't too pleased, but they were really no match for the crafty tour brats in this game. after all we had been in the concert business longer than they were in the hotel security business. If they wouldn't let you in the lobby without a room key, than we'd send one person down with two keys, ten times, like stubbing someone down to the floor. If they tried to check ID's and lists there were side doors and windows. They couldn't really do anything unless they caught extra people sleeping in the room. Once a sudden knock woke the whole room. The guy sleeping in front of the doorway leaped into the bathroom, out of view, toting his bedroll and pillow, in one clean motion, from a dead start. You can't mess with instincts like that. We'd exit in the morning in pairs, leaving no evidence of the flophouse style dormitory from the night before. On the last night, the maid left us ten towels.
In 1985 Jerry broke into a Bertha for the first time since his dope bust the previous winter. When Jerry got around to singing, "test me, test me..." the roar of the crowd blew the roof off the the place. "WHY DON"T YOU ARREST ME!" There was Garcia, sheepishly grinning at the reaction, and returning with a "THROW ME IN THE JAILHOUSE, UNTIL THE SUN GOES DOWN!" and it was all screams and giggles on the floor.
I remember watching close up from the floor and getting distracted by a flailing, falling drunk guy who could not be subdued. I finally moved as the band broke into Terrapin. Happy with the sound and sight lines of my new location, I started rocking a bit when I sensed a void behind me. Looking back I saw an older bald guy wearing high top sneakers and... that's it. He was staggering around, when I thought, "Oh, God not again, and during Terrapin?" I tried to focus on the music but I glanced back just in time to see him do an Olympic face plant onto the concrete floor. Bruised and bloodied, he twitched and shook like he was having a seizure. A few of us went out to the concourse to find help when some roadie type guys were already being directed onto the floor. One guy, in a Hell's Angels type jacket commented with a grin, "no shit, he's totally naked?' as he cracked out a couple of ammonia tabs. The guy got up and zig zagged towards the exits as the sea of people parted when he approached. It's amazing the wide berth a crowded room will afford you if you're inebriated and not wearing any clothes.
While dancing in the concourse the next year, yucking it up with the cops and concession workers, who were wearing tie dyes and bopping behind the counters by the last night, I noticed two of the biggest, meanest security guards I'd ever seen pushing their way into the floor area with very serious, hippie stomping looks on their faces. I shook my head at the contrast between these hulking, Sherman tank sized men and the basically peaceful and harmless kids on the floor. After a few minutes they reemerged, not with scalps or handcuffs, but laughing hysterically while rubbing their heads. One of the guys pointed at the policeman and exclaimed, "man, there's a fucking party going on in there!"
Phil then said something inaudible into the microphone as I leaned forward trying to hear. A few notes were played when, what only could be described as a wave of music and human emotion undulated through the venue. I pushed myself into the morass to hear what was happening. The lyrics to Box of Rain were heard at a Grateful Dead concert for the first time in eleven years. No one I knew ever thought they would step in to splintered sunlight on any morning, any evening or any day. I tried to soak up the words to everybody's favorite poem scribed by Robert Hunter. This was easily the highlight of my then seven year long career as a deadhead. When the song and the set ended, people raced to the concourse to make phone calls and tell their friends of the unforeseen turn of events. For you young'ns, people didn't used to carry their phones in their pockets. You had to find a phone attached to a wall somewhere and drop quarters into it. Lots of them for a long distance call. It reminded me of an old movie where reporters rushed to a pay phone to holler, "stop the presses" and file a report for a special edition, for some real news, like Hiroshima or Sputnik. I'm guessing every phone call began with, "dude you'll never guess what they just played!"
Twenty five years later we're still celebrating the new season with music and dance. Unfreakin' believable. Spring is here. Feel the warm sun on your face. Dig your hands into the dark, rich soil. Take your bicycle off the hooks and ride late into the evening. Love thy neighbor. Polish your rainbow. May the supernatural life force of your choosing bless and keep you for another year. Don't forget the spf 30.