The Unlikely Dead

The summer of 1988 was an interesting one for me. I’d spent the previous year at the College of Stuffy Dorks in St. Paul.  Imagine a facility designed to train Catholic priests stuffed full of the demon seed of suburban yuppies. I chose to spend my spring on the cliffs above the Mississippi with my guitar, monstrous bottles of King Cobra malt liquor and a few close friends who could always shake something out of their coon skin hats. Needless to say early that summer I received a letter inviting me to attend a different college.

One of the summer’s highlights was the Grateful Dead show in mid-June. My buddy Todd and I were going to make an adventure out of it. On the day of the concert, Todd backed out………the late 80s were an easy time to pick on the Dead and that scene just wasn’t going to be cool enough for him.

Out of the blue my friend Kathy, whom I hadn’t seen in a long time, called me at work and asked me if I had tickets………….well, yes I did.  I was always nervous on dates as a kid, but Kathy was so astronomically out of my league that I was comfortable going with her as pals.

I drove my Ranger Rick green Fairmont station wagon down to her place by the U and we jumped in her red Toymazdasan and headed to the show out at the old Met stadium. Since I was providing the tickets, Kathy was good enough to procure a large bottle of rum, some coke and ice.    As 19 year old kids, we thought it best to lay low in the parking lot to avoid the fuzz.  We sandwiched her car between a camper and a rusty brown Volvo wagon with Oregon plates.

We rolled down the windows, put on some music and mixed a couple of severe rum and cokes on the sly while chatting about life. After about ten minutes we noticed that there were two dudes in the car from Oregon. One looked like Charley Manson and the other looked like the guy on the cover of Zig Zag rolling papers. After forty five minutes we noticed they hadn’t spoken a word since we got there. They were just staring straight ahead and the guy behind the wheel was hanging on white knuckled as if to avoid a crash.  We were parked.

After three or four drinks we threw caution to the wind and cranked up the music and got out of the car. Soon the two Volvonaughts must have decided we seemed cool and got out and started talking to us. We fixed them each a drink.  As will happen at a Dead show the conversation quickly turned to war stories about who had tried the most interesting chemicals etc. Before long our neighbors pulled out a giant sack of vegetation and rolled some of it up in an American flag rolling paper. It was only then we realized there was a dog stuffed in the back of their car sandwiched between tarps, tents, food and the rear window. Oddly enough the dog seemed happy in that position, as if he had been relieved of his responsibility to gravity and could just hang out.

Each time we discussed a new chemical, one of the hippies would go to the Volvo and rummage around in the back producing a zip lock bag containing said chemical. By this time, I was feeling mighty fine and didn’t care to mix things up further, but Kathy, who had always had a hollow leg for booze and substances, took a nibble or two out of each bag. The real truth is I’ve always been a little chicken shit and really wanted to avoid the dreaded “first aid tent”, otherwise known as being dragged away by burl-headed Nazis, for the next seventy two hours. We had a great time and though pretty different, these guys were ok.

It was almost time for the show so we headed through the bizarre towards our gate. If you have never been to a dead show, many folks sell food, tie-dye, jewelry and mostly drugs to afford the long strange trip. Though feeling good, I was pretty uncomfortable in the crowd. Too many things going on………..lots of colors………smoke from grills and lots of people walking by whispering………….weed…………..hash…………..shrooms………………..acid……………..bouncies……..betties. I probably had a bit of a sour face on but really I was just kind of buggin about the crowd and focused on finding the right gate.

From about two hundred yards off there was an enormous, hairy, bear-like hippy staring right at me. I tried to avoid his glares but each time I looked back there he was again staring right at me and moving closer. What did he want? Had he found my wallet? Did I know this huge fellow?   As the giant moved closer and closer the crowd’s soliciting whispers grew louder……….pcp……uppers….downers………………..tee shirts.

Right as the the hippy monster was brushing past me he held up two fingers and said      “Absolutely nothing for sale……….two dollars”

It took me about ten steps for the humor to kick in and I turned around wanting to give him the two dollars just for making me laugh but he had disappeared.

The show was fantastic and we hit it off with the guys sitting next to us.

Kathy somehow piloted us to our new friend’s house for a little post show pow wow and then to her place where we did the dishes and had a few laughs till dawn.

The very next day I was waiting at a stop light and the same dudes from the night before pulled up next to me on their way out of town to Alpine valley for the next show.


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