A foreign student from Holland and nascent deadhead named Jelle wanted to go. I liked him and needed his money for gas, so I agreed. He had a friend visiting from home, Hank, who spoke no English, and had been in the states for about forty eight hours when we whisked him off to see the Dead. The Volvo liked to overheat so we drove at night. Arriving at 8am, the lot was already well populated with fans, most of whom seemed to be sitting on their tailgates, pulling bong hits. Well, I thought, we're at the right venue. The show was sold out well in advance, but our European friends didn't seem too worried. I set out trying to sell my artwork since we were strapped for cash (we hadn't factored tolls into our expenses). Hank was blowing bubbles when I found him later. Steve was doing what he did best, mooching food, drink and smoke from others. Jelle sat contemplatively looking at bumper stickers, commenting that Deadheads seem to love the earth, but had no problem throwing trash everywhere (some things haven't changed).
The grounds were green and wooded, with streams and paths. I was cooling my feet in one when someone handed me a large crystal, when I indicated no, thanks, he said it was a gift. I had given him one of my posters for loose change after a show in Providence the previous Spring because he was out of cash. One of those moments that seemed to validate the whole experience. Not being a sentimentalist I sold it for toll booth money. I returned to the lot to find numerous heads crouched in the brush by the gate. The venue had recently added a double fence but had neglected to attach the barbed wire yet. Bad move. Recognizing the breach in the Pavilion's security, dozens of heads spent all day quietly staring at the chain link, mustering the conviction to overtake it. As soon as people started entering the show, they leaped like gazelles over the double wall, some clearing it by several feet, letting out determined battle cries as they stormed the Bastille and scattering immediately once inside. I'm not a fan of gate crashing, but these guys worked for it. Were there two shows that year? I seem to remember spending the night at a friend's parents house in Landover and watching the Dead movie (the one with the cartoon beginning).
I do remember a monumental Scarlet/Fire that left people in all the aisles and back areas of the grass twitching involuntarily and moving arms, legs and heads long after the songs ended. I also remember a Half Step and looking down at my shredded loafers, recently repaired with duct tape as Jerry sang of nailing a retread to his feet and praying for better weather. After the show I found an elated Jelle and Hank sitting on the trunk. For some reason MPP wasn't tearing the tickets that year and people began throwing them over the fence after passing the turnstiles. Don't worry Hank, the streets may not be paved with gold here in the States, but it does rain money. Or concert tickets. They collected their paper admittances falling from the sky and entered the show, and, like good European Socialists, remembered to throw them back out to the masses gathered by the gates. Small wonder the Dead were banned there. There must have been fifty thousand people inside. After Jelle related the story, he said they wanted to be dropped off in New York City on the way back. Nervous about our dwindling funds, but understanding the spirit of adventure they were operating under, I agreed to take them but only across the river and they would have to negotiate their transportation from there. Getting lost on a detour in the city could empty the fuel tank. Realizing we would be passing NYC around 3 or 4 in the morning (I had to work the next day) made me wonder if I'd ever see them again. We crossed the tunnel and I cautiously advised them to find the first open laundromat or diner they saw and wait for daybreak. As we returned to I-95, Steve and I gave each other looks indicating we thought they were crazy. I made a mental note to check the Times crime page the next day. Apparently they took my advice. After turning their first corner they stumbled across a prostitute and her john doing it in a filthy doorway. Welcome to the Big Apple!
I made it home on fumes, put some gas from the lawnmower in the Volvo and made my way to work as an arts and crafts counselor at Mt. Ida College Day Camp. No sleep that night. Lord knows what I rambled to those kids about that day but I recall having them lay on the floor as I turned down the lights, told them to dream of a far away place while I played a recent space and drums on cassette. For my purist readers out there, I might have some of the facts wrong about the shows, but that's how my once drug addled brain recalls them. I do know for a fact that it is still the greatest thing in the world to be a 51 year old Deadhead on the road in America in 2012. I'm back at Merriweather today. I still have an old car, but better shoes. Shake your bones and freak out your neighbors, people. (But could you pick up your trash this time?)