SECTION THREE

The Blacklisted Journalist Picture The Blacklisted Journalistsm

COLUMN THIRTY-FOUR, JUNE 1, 1998
(Copyright 1998 Al Aronowitz)

A TRIP TO GRATEFUL DEADLAND: THE GREAT GREEN PONTIAC

"What a long, strange trip it's been. . ."---The Grateful Dead

I had never been to a Grateful Dead concert before. My housemate, Howard, and several of my friends all assured me that it was truly a different sort of world. A world of colors, drugs, sex, music, fun, excitement, more drugs, more fun, less sex, more drugs, and no sleep. Naturally, I was intrigued. At least, the self-destructive side of me was. The controlled half of me was a little more apprehensive. You see, I had volunteered to drive myself and my housemates, Howard and Al, to the concert in Pittsburgh, about 300 miles from our home in Washington, D.C., and my concern came from the fact that my car was a 1974 slime-green, four-door, 130,000-miles-plus-on-the-speedometer Pontiac Catalina. It had rust eating through the sides, the front, and the floor. The exhaust leaked so I always had the smell of gasoline wafting in my face and every time I drove over 60 miles-per-hour, the front left tire wobbled to the point where I thought the axle was going to break. I had just spent over $250 getting the hole in the gas tank fixed, the engine tuned and a new distributor cap put on. It drank gas like it was going out of style and had been in the shop more times than a Jewish tailor before Passover. In other words, it was a piece of shit. But it was my piece of shit. The greatest pleasure I ever had (. . . well, second greatest) was to hammer my way down the highway, driving as close as possible to Hondas, Toyotas and Porsches. The terror I caught in some eyes as I cannonballed my way up behind them was obvious---I was Godzilla and they were Tokyo. For Porsche drivers, there was a different sort of terror that filled their faces, a sort of terror that often made me squeal with delight. The fact that their shiny, cute, overly-expensive, overly-obnoxious, status-clinging, CD-playing asses were about to be rubbed raw by a huge, snot-green, screaming, belching, beer-guzzling, porno-playing piece of shit that I couldn't have paid more than $100 for and, should the possibility of an accident occur, they would never, ever be able to collect enough money from me or my insurance company to even begin paying for a paint job, much less any actual repairs. It was that sort of economic terrorism that made my highs so many times of the week while driving around Yuppie-infested areas of the country like D.C. But I digress. . . The trip had a sort of three-part plan to it. Howard, who was part of the "Deadhead Network," would secure the tickets for the concert. I would drive us to Pittsburgh in my four-wheeled boat. Al had a sister who lived just outside the city, so we would stay the night at her place. Everything seemed AOK and we prepared for our journey west. I had bought four cases of beer to drink and sell at the event plus a single bag containing a spare set of clothes, toiletries, etc. Al had two bags with clothes, toiletries, a couple books, and some gifts for his sister's kids. Howard, on the other hand, brought what seemed like an entire store. He had three large bags, one smaller bag, two coats and a pair of shoes. I think also a complete set of the Encyclopedia Britannica and a goat, but I could be guessing. Actually, I may be over-stating all that, but he did bring an extraordinary amount of material and I know I saw his Rolodex. I mean, why a Rolodex? Was he planning on making some post-concert "shed-jools?" We had brought a very large Styrofoam cooler filled with ice to keep the beer and some of Howard's diet soda chilled. The cooler, the beer, and almost all the luggage fit well into the car's mammoth trunk and we set off for what we all believed was going to be one of those weekends you want to write about. It certainly was, but not in the way we expected. You see, I had made one very important mistake. I had forgotten that, although it ran like a dream, although it was roomy and comfy inside, although the heater and air-conditioner worked to perfection, although it was my big, beautiful, ugly, huge, rumbling piece-of-shit car, it was still old. It was 15 years old and that is very old for a car. Asking a car that long in the tooth to drive 300 miles at its top speed straight is like asking your grandfather to break a four-minute mile. You know, good out of the gate but don't wait for him at the finish line. Except for a couple times early on when the car tended to turn on its own (remember the front left tire?), the trip went just fine. It started to get dark and we decided to stop off at a steakhouse for supper before getting on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. All was fine in the restaurant except that Al was speechless to discover that in this particular steakhouse he couldn't get his prime rib rare. In fact, he was agog. If he hadn't started breathing again, I was going to whack him on the shoulder blades to get his lungs working. His reaction was certainly honest. A prime rib cooked any way but rare is simply a waste of fine meat. It's comparable to buying a diamond ring and wearing it on your foot. Like, what's the point? We finished our evidently over-priced meals and set off onto the infamous Pennsylvania Turnpike. This stretch of highway is probably one of the worst ideas for roadwork to have ever been envisaged. Eight lanes wide of asphalt with traffic going 70 miles at a minimum and to divide it all so no one gets splattered is a-wooden fence. Literally. I assume whoever built the damned thing had some idea of what he was doing, but to divide what was once the largest highway in the United States with a wooden fence is a little hard to comprehend. What did the guy figure, that the inside lanes would be used for ox-carts exclusively? We were about 10 miles into the turnpike when I noticed my gas gauge read between a quarter tank and empty. I thought this was unusual as I believed I had just filled the tank and the gauge is usually broken at between half-filled and a quarter tank. The only gas station I could find along the road was an Exxon station. I was very hesitant to get any gas there since Exxon has a long history of bad gas and stupid mechanics. But I had little choice. I bought less gas than I expected (It turned out my gauge was more busted than I thought) and we were again on the road. About three miles past the station we were pulling off the road. The car had started making this "whirr-whirr" sound and the engine was slowing itself down. Once we got down to around 20 miles-per-hour, the engine would cut out completely and we would have to pull off the road. This routine repeated itself about a dozen times in the dead of night before we arrived at another station where I bought some fuel additive that was supposed to dry out the water that I thought was in the Exxon gas. At this point we where about an hour behind schedule and Al and Howard were not too pleased. I was too busy damning Exxon, its gas, and its owners (whoever they were) for all eternity to notice my housemates concern. We sat at the station sucking down coffee for about another hour before taking off again. The car took off as we had hoped and we were again cruising along at a happy pace. For about 10 minutes. We pulled into a rest stop, narrowly escaping being hit by a Mack truck, and became so dejected we agreed to take a short nap and pray the engine would fix itself. Mr. Goodwrenches we were not. This, too, proved futile as every five minutes someone would stop alongside us and ask if we needed some help. As I explained to each person our predicament, each person replied they couldn't really help. Wonderful. After the fourth useless helper had driven away, we scratched the naptime idea and decided to try for something else down the road. The pitching and rolling, the whirr-whirring continued, the front wheel wobbled, the car started and stalled, and we kept driving onto and off of the highway in the black of night, thinly avoiding getting swiped several times, for about another 45 minutes. Ultimately, a cop pulled up behind us as we sat on the roadside. It was one of the few times I was actually glad to see someone connected with law enforcement. I told him the story (it was becoming routine now), and he said we couldn't stay on the curb because of all the traffic. I agreed and he said he would escort us to a nearby truck plaza and that we would have to get the car fixed there. Anything, I thought, just to get me off this damned highway. It took another 15 minutes and about six roadside stops before we reached the plaza and the officer moved on. I trudged the green bomb into an inconspicuous corner and shut it off. None of us were happy. We were faced with the prospect of spending the last of our money and the rest of the night waiting for a bus to take us home. I had completely given up on the car after a few swift kicks to the fender failed to revive it, and Al was contemplating suicide as his weekend of illicit drugs and immoral activities had apparently headed for the crapper. Howard went into the McDonald's for a snack. I didn't think Howard quite grasped the reality of the situation. I mean, here we were, at one o'clock in the morning, stuck over 200 miles from home, and he wants a sandwich. Actually, I shouldn't have under-estimated Howard. Although he looks like an accountant for H & R Block, his involvement with the "Deadhead Network" gave him an abundance of information on how to deal with situations such as this. After about two minutes, as Al and I were standing in the parking lot, feeling the cold wind chill our bones, hating everything we could think of, kicking the dirt and spitting on the ground, Howard comes back out to tell us he just bummed a ride for all of us to the concert. Apparently, it is not uncommon to find in just about any fastfood joint within a 100 mile radius of a Grateful Dead show, any number of Deadheads on their way to the concert. I didn't know this, Al didn't know this, but Howard did and soon we were rolling along the Turnpike again. The two guys who gave us the ride were a reform school's nightmare. They looked as if they could've been Alice Cooper's roadies for the past 10 years. They had all the cliches the John Birch Society adores---waist-length, greasy hair, acned faces, shabby clothes, a most untidy vehicle, and an overabundance of marijuana that they were more than willing to share. Mind you, none of this really bothered me. Hell, I've lived half my life that way. The only thing that bothered me was when I found out that these guys had personally installed a Porsche engine into their rig, which was a 1972 VW Minibus. I mean, why in the world would anyone need an engine that powerful in a van that obviously should not move that fast. I mean, why do they have to have such speed? I mean, why do they. . . And then a little voice told me, "DON'T ASK QUESTIONS!" If these guys need that sort of power in a hurry, I'm sure they have reasons for it. It's not my business and I don't need any explanations. At least, that's how I'd tell it to the judge. Our escorts names were Jeremy and Steve and, after having loaded all our gear in the back of the van, I was quite satisfied to find that they were not as brain-dead as I expected. The discussion was a mixed conversation of music, politics, cars, and, of course, the upcoming concert. All the while we passed beers and dope back and forth. The two-hour trip to the show was a small adventure in itself. Al and I were seated in the back of the van nearer to the beers. Howard, who had declared himself direction-giver because he had a map, was in the center of the van. Jeremy and Steve sat in front nearer to the weed, with Steve driving. At some point early in the van, Howard suddenly freaked. Not that he was clinging to the walls screeching like an owl or anything, but he mysteriously turned into Mr. Straight-and-Narrow. He wouldn't accept any beer or dope and started saying things like, "I think the best way to see the Dead is totally drug-free." He also clung to his seat with a death-grip every time the Minibus turned a corner. But the worst of it was that almost every other direction he gave the guys led into the wrong way, onto the wrong street, or away from civilization. I was surprised Steve and Jeremy didn't think they had picked up a narc with a shitty sense of direction. After one of his leads had taken us onto some country back road, he actually started saying, "This is the worst trip I've ever been on. This is the worst. This is the worst." Not exactly kind words for the guys gracious enough to give us a lift. Just after he said that, Jeremy turned to Steve and said, "Say, Steve, pull over and open the side door. Let's show him how bad it can get." Al and I started howling at this reply, but Howard failed to see the humor in it. We arrived at the parking lot for the concert about two hours before sunrise. We had given up on the idea of staying at Al's sister's because first, Al didn't want to be banging on his sister's door and bothering her family at three in the morning, and two, without my vehicle, she would have to take on the responsibility of chauffeuring our derelict butts around and none of us really wanted that. So, understandably, Al was bummed. Howard was glad just to be out of the van and I was happy to be finally at the concert grounds. The asphalt lots were not any help with the cold early-morning wind constantly dying down and then picking up as it cut through our bones. There were a few other groups already ahead of us and they were keeping themselves busy either setting up canopies or hovering around make-shift fires. The beers I had in the van were keeping me warm and Steve had just sold me and Al some mushrooms that were kicking in. Soon, The cold was no longer so bothersome, but rather just another experience. Al was definitely grateful for the 'shrooms as they helped take the edge off his misery and let him decide to just catch the next bus home. He wasn't actually all that interested in the concert, he just wanted to visit family. Al soon left for the bus station, but he was at least feeling better and said he'd planned on visiting his sister next weekend anyway. Howard, who had returned to reality, went off looking for a mutual friend of his and Al's who was supposed to meet them there in the lot. I thrust a few beers into my coat pockets and plodded off in a state of mild delirium to check out the rest of the lot and see if it was true about what I always heard of there being a small town that follows the Grateful Dead everywhere on their tours. Besides, I had to go to the bathroom. I found a port-o-john, "did my business," and continued on my journey around the encampments. I found out the parking lot was actually two lots, with a larger one on higher ground. All the fires had at least 10 or more people gathered around them trying to escape the cold. I also wanted to see if any familiar faces showed up. Talk was minimal, especially when any new faces appeared, but the main theme running through the discussions seemed to be about massive drug busts at the previous concert. It seems an unusual amount of undercover DEA officials swept through the concert grounds and tagged just anybody they could get their hands on. And word was out the same thing could happen here. Marvelous. Here I am at a concert designed for illegal drug intake, wanting nothing more than to get seriously wasted and enjoy the day, and now I'm having to look over my shoulder all the time to see if anyone in a brow-brimmed hat is following me. Oh well. Nothing like a little massive paranoia to put some excitement into your day, eh? The sun was beginning to rise and I had just drained my last beer. The 'shrooms were still gently clouding my brain but my thirst was turning to a more traditional early-morning drink---coffee. I needed a big, strong cup of java and I needed it now! I wandered from the fire to the "upstairs" lot and came upon an older, grey-haired woman who was setting up a coffee and hot chocolate stand. I asked her how much the coffee was and she replied, "Whatever you can put in the can." Behind the coffee dispenser was a large tea can with several small bills and about a handful of loose change in it. Interesting system of commerce, I thought. I plunked two quarters in the can and we started talking. Her name was Sally and she was one of the "Dead mothers" that are usually always in the tours. They may vary from show to show, but they perform similar functions. A "Dead Mother" is a combination doctor, psychiatrist, salesman, and department store. If you're sick, see Sally. Are you hungry? See Sally. Did you rip your shirt? See Sally. She was a designated nursemaid to thousands of people. And she made damn fine coffee. She also needed to raise $25,000 by the end of the tour for being caught in Indiana with three sheets of blotter acid. She was a pretty active little broad for someone who looked like she just stepped off the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. She wrapped her shawl around her neck and I happened to mention my car. "Check your fuel pump and your fuel filter," she said. "What for?" "Pumps always go on those old cars and filters are always getting clogged." "I take it you hear this story a lot." "You will, too, before the day's out. Besides, it's happened to me a few times, too." People started crowding around the stand and I bought another cup of coffee before saying goodbye to Sally and walking on. The air was warmer now and I was feeling a little hungry. I lucked upon a girl making home-made doughnuts in her tent. I purchased a pack and ate the chewy, sweet, hot pastries as I wandered back down onto the lower lot. I chose to set up roots at the fire closest to the minibus and engaged in the conversation there. It was mainly the same people I'd left earlier around the blaze and the topics hadn't veered very far from before. I was talking with one guy when the topic turned to cars and I mentioned mine. "Check yer fuel pump," he said. "Yeah, I heard something about that." "Fuel pumps always go." "Don't forget the filter," a third person chimed in. Jesus, does everyone here know this stuff? "My pump gave out twice one time," the third guy said. "Mine only gave out once," said the second guy, "but you hear about this stuff a lot at Dead shows." "Yeah," I said, looking at all the old, rusted, travel-worn cars and trucks in the lot, "not too many BMWs around here." The fire crackled and popped as the sun rose higher in the sky but the air still had a chill to it. "Shit, isn't it gonna get any warmer?" someone asked. "I heard it was gonna get to the 60s today," another replied. "I heard the 30s," said a third. "Shit, you won't be able to do anything then." "Anybody got any weed?" "I got some over here. You got any papers?" "I have some." "Great, roll one." "I think I heard it's gonna be in the 60s, too." "Jeez, I hope so." "If it's in the 30s you couldn't do anything." "Yeah." "Yeah." "Yeah." The dialogue was getting dull but the weed was good and soon one joint was being followed by another. I went back to the van and grabbed a few more beers for me and for anyone else. I met one man who kept trading me mushroom caps for beers. Not a bad deal, I thought. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a bearded fellow in a long coat came up to the group and spoke in an all-too-loud voice, "Anybody here got any dope?" Not very subtle. Soon, this turkey was talking a-mile-a-minute and throwing so much street slang around I thought I was in the middle of a bad Wednesday night cop show. I remembered about the DEA busts I'd heard of earlier and this clown stank to high heaven. It was truly comical to watch this guy try to lay down every slang word he could think of in order to, apparently, make sure every single person at the fire knew he was talking about drugs. I mean, I would stand there and if I acted like I didn't understand what he was talking about, he would throw out three or four synonyms in order to make sure his point got across. It was so obvious and idiotic. The entire conversation around the fire stopped almost immediately and nobody would respond to this guy. The smoking stopped, of course, and I got the sense from watching the guys who had the weed and the 'shrooms that they were thinking the same thing as I was. A few people left when he started spouting about looking for volunteers to "go back to his empty apartment room and soak some sheets of blotter acid that they could sell and make some hellacious bucks at." I couldn't believe this guy was thinking he was actually going to get someone to travel back with him to an empty apartment. At six in the morning. At a Dead concert. To get drugs. In an empty apartment. Sure, right. Eventually, this hack got tired of talking to himself and moved on to the next fire where we heard him start the same spiel all over again. "What the hell was that?" someone whispered. "Had to be a narc." "No shit. Could you believe the way he was talking? He was like a Goddamn dictionary." "And he was so fucking loud. That's just dumb, man." "Did you see how he was asking everybody to go back to his place?" "Yeah, like I'm gonna go to some turdball's apartment to soak acid. Yeah, right. Ha!" "You hear about all those busts at the last show?" "Yeah, there were, like, hundreds of them." "Yeah." "Yeah." "Yeah." We all got a good chuckle out of the incident and the tension cleared the air. The mystery man's prattle had gone on long enough so that by the time he left, the day had warmed considerably and people began passing joints around again to help them enjoy this new-found heat. I went back for more beers and more and more cars were entering the parking lots as the fans filled in what spaces were left. Before long, it was nine in the morning and the parking lots were in full swing. Frisbees began flying, colors came out of nowhere, and the smell of a hundred mini-restaurants filled the air. Free trashbags were being handed out to keep the area clean and everybody was singing, dancing, and playing music. Guitars, flutes, and tambourines clashed and mixed with screams, laughs, and songs as more people arrived on the lots and set up more shops with more laughs, songs, and colors. I set up the cooler of ice and beer behind the minibus and within an hour had sold out my stock of beer. I put the cooler away and, with a few well-hidden brews in my pockets, once again set off to see the development of the "new" parking lots. The one theme that I kept noticing popping up around all the different people I met and attractions I saw was the overriding wave of near-fanaticism that seems to hang over the concert crowd like some sort of psychedelic cloud. And I'm not just talking about all the hawkers and hucksters trying to get you to buy as much of their junk as possible, nor am I talking about the fact that just about the only music you ever hear is solely that of the Dead's. I mean, it is not at all uncommon to overhear people discussing their lives and their careers and comparing who has more to lose for following this "road-show" from its beginning to its end. I actually heard one man tell another of how he was an associate in a law firm in Wisconsin and how he may be fired from his position for taking off like he did to traipse about after the Dead for the extent of this tour. This guy was a lawyer, for crissake, and here he was jeopardizing his job, possibly his career, in order to attend a bunch of concerts and get trashed in a parking lot for the next few weeks. And the amazing thing is, you hear this sort of stuff not once, but dozens of times at each show! Being faithful to a band is fine, I say, but this sort of blind loyalty is downright insane! Hell, I was only a stockboy in a liquor store, but even I realized I had to be back at work the next week. The "town" had grown considerably since the early dawn hours. The lots were literally jammed full with a variety of tents, musicians, sales booths and food stores. The "show" was finally in full swing. As I walked along enjoying the warmth of the noontime sun and the light, cool breeze, I happened to come upon one of the guys I spoke to that morning around the fire. We chatted about how nice the day turned out, about the buzzes we were enjoying and about what we expected from the concert. Lady Luck was with me when I happened to mention to him about my quest for some real Dead acid. You see, I'm one of those people who delight in experiencing any "alternate realities" that can be discovered, and I had always heard of the infamous "Grateful Dead Acid" which can only be purchased at their concerts. I mean, this is the only place in the country where the original formula exists, and, although I'm always willing to try for something different, I'm not about to put myself up for experimentation for some goddamn kitchen sink crap. No buzz is worth croaking for, so I wanted only that which I truly trusted, and the Dead concerts were the last bastion for real decent acid. And my new-found friend did me justice. The sheet I bought contained 100 little paper snow-white squares. No markings, drawings, or other shit printed on them. Just a tiny handful of pure white paper that was wrapped in a larger sheet of construction paper. I swallowed two of them with a gulp of beer and 45 minutes later I was receiving some of the most splendid visuals I had ever experienced. It's true what people say who have tried the stuff---it just cannot be expressed in words. I felt happy, but not giddy. Colors took on new hues and tones, changed, seemed brighter, then duller. Images around me had "traces" of themselves which followed in quick succession after their masters and blended into the surrounding scenery. Sounds became more vibrant, echoed, turning themselves inside-out as they moved through the air. To feel the breeze hit your body was an ever-changing experience, one that took on new aspects every time the wind shifted. All my senses seemed to converge and separate at the same time, forever growing, changing, twisting, yielding, turning, and giving newer and better insights into that which I saw, heard, felt, tasted, thought, and smelled. Time itself slowed, formed potholes through which I seemed able to float, yet always aware of where I stood. Concentration focused, making insignificant cracks and crevices explode out of apparently solid, flat walls which breathed in and out like a pulsating breast. Everything everywhere happened at once in a framework of extended time and brilliant occurrence. Boy, was I stoned! I bought a tie-dyed handkerchief, looked at the colors for what seemed an eternity, studied it, remembered it, then tied it around my head with the freshness of a schoolboy who just learned to write his own name. I walked around the lots, opening myself to every corner I took and every deviation that arose. Eventually, I came upon Sally again and told her of my present condition. It was like telling your best friend a secret nobody else knew. She understood exactly what I was going through. "Kinda different, ain't it?", she said. "It's so awesome, so weird. God, all the colors and everything!" "You know what's really weird?" "What?" "When somebody does this . . ." She suddenly thrust her hands toward my face and screamed like a hawk. I must've jumped back about three feet and she started laughing and cackling. Next I know, I'm laughing and cackling, too, with my eyes bugging out of my head. "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. "Hee, hee, hee! Kinda makes you think twice about operating heavy machinery, eh? Hee, hee, heel" "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. I calmed down and we talked some more. I thanked her for the laugh (I would've done the same thing!) and bought a piece of her homemade pumpkin bread before setting off for more sights and sounds. The bread melted in my mouth as I wandered around the open lot and I happened upon a man selling t-shirts with large teddy bears printed on them. "Only five bucks apiece, man. Handmade, they're pretty hot." "Doubt you'd have any my size." He looked me over and agreed that I was right. Besides, I thought, someone my size would look pretty goofy with a teddy bear stuck on his chest. Not that I'm fat or anything, mind you. I've just got big bones. Honest. He caught on that I was wasted and soon he was shoving his hands in and out from my face. The routine was getting old quick, so it wasn't quite as funny, but I did break up when he started calling colors by their wrong names. He looked around at all the people passing by, not buying any of his shirts, and said, "Hey, I gotta take a leak. Would you watch my store?" "Are you sure? I mean, this is your stuff." "Don't worry about it. Besides, if anything's missing, I'll find you. Wanna do it?" "Hell, sure!" "Great. I'm gonna get something to eat, too, so I'll be awhile. Is that okay?" "Hey, time is relative." "Uh, right. Remember, five bucks each. See you in a bit." Wow. I couldn't believe it. This guy was going to trust me with his stuff. His shirts, his money, his personal things, this was great! This was the type of atmosphere I found invigorating at this concert. Here I was, a total stranger to this man, being entrusted with all his merchandise, even his personal possessions. Wow. About a half-hour passed without incident, and I even sold one shirt, before the man returned. I hung around a bit as he checked out his stuff, and, finding everything in good order, thanked me heartily. I thanked him for trusting me and made my way back down to the lower parking lot. In the lower lot, I noticed a van/tent combination that had a few people sitting around it playing guitars and singing. They were playing some old John Prine songs and, since I've always liked Prine, I sat down with them and joined in the merriment. A couple of them were surprised to hear me join in so easily and still know all the words. We went through a couple songs before one of the girls dragged off one of the guitar players and the mini-concert sort of fell apart. I learned that Mark, the other guitar player, owned the van and Jeff, who was playing the harmonica, was a friend of his along for the trip. We struck up a friendly conversation around the usual topics when, once again, I heard a familiar line. "Check out yer fuel filter." "Yeah, I've been hearing that a lot. Shit, does everyone break down coming out to these shows?" "Seems so. There's a lot of shitty cars out here, man. Look around. This is another kind of people." "Tell me about it. You know, I've been hearing nothing but all these guys who are, like, putting their fucking jobs on the line to come and see these guys." "Oh, yeah. You'll get that all the time. Like I said, they're different. Jeff might lose his job for coming out here, right?" "Uh-huh." "What do you do?" "I'm a systems analyst for a computer company in Albany, New York." I just shook my head. "Isn't that kind of insane? I mean, don't you make a lot of money?" "Yeah, pretty good." "So, what did you do? Just tell them you were going to be gone for a few weeks and just leave?" Jeff laughed. "Yeah, that pretty much covers it. Ha!" Mark started laughing and I couldn't help myself. Unbelievable. "Jesus. Oh well, what the hell. Ha! Aw, boy!" We sat back, laughing a little here and there, warming ourselves in the afternoon sun and watching all the women walking by. Gorgeous, just gorgeous. Light blouses, shoeless, hair hanging down wildly, smiling, giggling, moving, swaying, each as pretty as the next, all of them so sensual, so happy, so gorgeous. I love women. The way they move, the way they stand with one foot sideways to the other, the way they smell, the way they laugh, all their sizes and shapes and attitudes, the way they gently tug on their earlobe when they think, everything about them. I love women. "I love women." "If you're lucky," said Jeff. We broke up laughing and kept laughing until our sides hurt. "Oh, jeez," I said, "am I stoned. Sheesh." "You get some good weed?" asked Mark. "Hah, acid. Real good shit, too." "I've been looking for some. You get a lot?" "Yeah. Want some?" "Sure! How much?" "Don't worry about it." I tore off two of the small tabs and handed them over to Mark. I offered some to Jeff, but he declined. "No, thanks. I can't handle that stuff. I'll just stick with my smoke." We rested, enjoying our buzzes, and I noticed a crowd gathering in front of the stadium doors. "What's going on down there?" Mark looked at his watch. "Almost time for them to open the doors. You got tickets?" "Yeah, but just for tonight." Mark nodded. "Yeah, us, too. Better get down there soon before the crowd gets too big." "Hmm, good idea," I said. "You guys coming?" "Nah, I gotta close up the van. We'll see ya later." "Okay, later!" I plodded off to the front of the stadium where the crowd had grown and made my way as close as possible to the front doors. There was no shoving and pushing with the people as you'd expect at most concerts. Rather, it was a sort of communal waiting. Just a bunch of people hanging around, waiting. After a short time, the doors opened and the horde slowly moved forward. You could smell the dope in the air and everybody was obviously either stoned or drunk, yet, as a whole, they were all a happy, roving lot. Once inside, most people zeroed for the bathrooms, the port-o-johns outside having been rendered useless by, well, let's just say "excessive use." I found my seat in the balcony and watched as the mass below grew and grew while more and more found their way inside the stadium. It was like watching ants slowly gather around a sugar cube---just a few at first, then more, scrambling and grouping. Then hundreds, then thousands, growing and swelling, until no more can congregate in the limited space available. There was whooping and yelling as some took their assigned seats while others merely roamed from one side of the building to the other, chugging the beers they bought in the lobbies. I washed down two more hits of acid with a swig of my own beer and awaited the dimming of the lights and the volume of the music. Needless to say, the concert was phenomenal. There was dancing in the halls, music in the air, and good feelings all around. I was picking up splendid visuals from the light show and must've sweat off three pounds from singing, dancing, and running around the stadium, getting the whole effect of the show from as many different vantage points as possible. I may not have known the words to many of the songs, but I clapped and danced and sang with a carefree abandon that I had never experienced before at any other concert. This was truly the best time I had ever had at a show. The songs shifted in tone and, quite possibly, the most moving part of the entire performance was when the audience took over the band's version of Hey Jude and turned it into a low, soft, sentimental refrain. There were the usual encores at the end of the concert and then, before long, I found myself' back out in the parking lots, where things were just as wild as before. I soon came to understand why I saw so much paraphernalia being sold with "Did you get in?" printed on them. So many people had arrived without tickets, hoping to buy. This is what you heard almost every ten yards. And then something beautiful happened. I ran into Tadas and Gerri. Tadas and Gerri were old friends of mine from back in Indiana and I knew them before they got married. They're a couple of laid-back musicians and some of the last people to see me in that state. You see, I had left Indiana to travel to Jamaica (to which I never made it) and when that island was run over by one of the worst hurricanes to hit the area in 50 years, they thought I had died with the hundreds of others down there. So when we bumped into each other, it was more than just a happy reunion. We all hugged and laughed and updated each other on our lives and felt really good at having seen each other again. Unfortunately, they were heading back to Indiana on the next bus and they had to leave, But I promised to get in touch with them real soon. This, for me, was the high point of the entire concert. It was getting late now, and those who had to leave had left. Everyone else was settling down for the night and I had to find someplace to crash. I went back to Steve and Jeremy's van and had thankfully found they had not yet left. Apparently, Steve had met a woman who agreed to "accompany" him for the evening and Jeremy had already bedded down for the night. So, with the temperature dropping and the wind picking up, I was literally left out in the cold. I remembered Mark and Jeff's van/tent set-up and hastened my way over to them. I found the guys sitting in front of the van, under the tent canopy, swigging beers. I asked them if I could crash there for the night and they said they had no Problem with that. We sat around talking about the concert, the impending weather and other subjects when a guy with a cast on his leg hobbled his way up to and under the canopy. He was a friend of Mark's and he set his crutches against one of the canopy poles as he lay down on a rolled-out sleeping bag he had brought. As we spoke, a lithesome young girl approached Mark, whispered something in his ear, and Mark took off with the girl down the encampment. There was a sort of stunned silence around the group. Then, looking at one another, we all broke up laughing. "Oh, jeez, shit," choked Jeff. "How does he do that?" "If you find out, write me," I replied. The storm moved in and we all agreed it was time to hit the hay. Since Jeff had seniority, he got to sleep in the back of the van on some old blankets. The guy with the busted leg (I never did remember his name) plopped himself in a chair behind the passengers seat where I was positioned. The driver's seat had too much junk in it to be of any use, and there was no more room in the van for any serious stretching out. What a night! The wind howled and the rain fell almost as fast as the temperature. The guy with the busted leg had inadvertently propped his leg in the crack of the side door so it was ajar by about an inch. Through this inch, the wind streaked in, hitting me continuously and directly along my spine. The numbing chill wouldn't have been so bad except that the acid I took earlier was keeping me awake and forcing me to feel every blast of icy air with the intensity of a brick thrown at my back. Besides that, I hadn't taken a shit since two the previous afternoon and I had to go bad. The prospect of wandering from port-o-john to port-o-john in the freezing rain trying to find one in serviceable condition was not at all inviting. So I sat, freezing, shaking, grunting, and keeping my bomb bays as retracted as possible. At about four in the morning, the rain had let up and I was getting cramped. I thought it would be a good idea to find somewhere to take a poop. The johns on the lower lot were still in such a disgusting condition that I don't want to think about them again, much less write about them. I took my clenched ass upstairs and, among the numerous johns up there, found one in useful condition. After wasting half a roll of toilet paper clearing off the seat, I sat down and proceeded to give it all I had. Taking this massive gassive actually gave me back some of the buzz I had lost and it reminded me of something a friend of mine in Indiana, Jeff, once told me. He said, "Diamonds may be a girl's best friend, and a good cigar a smoke, but only a man can really enjoy a really good dump." Jeff always said things like that. I don't know why. I was on the can for about a half hour when I was finally done, and, God, did I feel better! Hell, I could even enjoy the cold now! I found a small fire going with a small group huddled around it and hung out, talking until daybreak. I walked back down to Mark's van and found the broken leg guy awake and sitting in what little light he could get, still smiling from what was obviously a long-lasting buzz from the night before. "Feeling good, huh?" I asked. "Oh, yeahhh." "Pretty bad storm last night, huh?" "What storm?" Maybe I should kick him in the other leg, I thought. "We had a storm last night. A big one." "Oh, yeah?" It was then that he looked at the ground around him and noticed all the puddles of water and the wet garbage that littered the lot. "Oh," he mused. "We have a store last night?" I started snickering and he started giggling. "Feeling good, huh?" "Oh, yeahhhh." I offered to grab us some coffee to help bring in the morning and, on my way back, I saw Steve and Jeremy's van pulling away. I ran over to them and asked if they could still give me a lift back to my car. It was Monday now, so I figured it'd be easier to get a mechanic. "Oh, yeah, I forgot," said Steve. "You wanted a lift back?" "Yes, please." "Oh, okay. We left your stuff with the guy in the truck behind us. Go get it and we'll wait for you." "Thank you." I thought it best to be as polite as possible rather than be stranded 300 miles from home. I gathered my gear, said goodbye to the broken leg guy and hopped into the van. As we pulled out, we ran into Howard and he asked if he could hitch a ride, too, since he sold his other ticket and didn't have any plans for rest of the day. The guys said sure and soon we were off. Getting out of Pittsburgh was 10 times easier than getting in. I mean, for people getting out of the city, there were actually signs and everything! It made me think this town would rather have people leave than come in. Sure must make for an interesting tourism board. We got back on the Turnpike and were soon at the truck plaza where I left the green bomb. I found a mechanic and, as the guys waited, he adjusted a few things and got it started. I drove it around the McDonald's parking lot, and checked it out. It was running! Hooray! We thanked the guys for the lift, said our goodbyes, and Howard and I loaded ourselves into the bomb and took off for home. We were happy, heading home, feeling a good outcome to this weekend and just zipping down the highway. For about 20 miles. I got pissed. The damn thing started that whirr-whirr shit again and turned itself off. I pulled over to the roadside, got out, kicked it once and then walked up to the nearest emergency call box I could find. Howard was obviously not enjoying this crap any more than I was, but at least he didn't have to claim ownership of it. The repair truck soon arrived and this kid, who looked like Gomer Pyle's younger brother, jumped out of the truck, stuck his head under the hood for about five minutes and then emerged with the news. "'T's no wonder you wuz havin' problems. Yer PCV valve wuz way out of whack." Of course. Why didn't I think of that? Silly me. "Can you fix it?" "Jess did." "Oh." He handed me a bill for 20 bucks and again we were off. I knew I shouldn't be so hard on the kid. I mean, he did fix the car and he even offered to follow us five miles to the next exit just to make sure we were all right. But, he was there and I was bitchy, so what the hell. The car ran fine and we began to feel good again. Howard and I thought we would never see 60-miles-per-hour again. We got to the kid's exit, waved goodbye, and continued on our way. Two miles later, I was walking to a call box. The repair truck pulled up and---surprisel, surprise! It was Gomer. "Just tow us in," I said. "Whatever it is, I want it fixed." We ended up in an armpit of a town that consisted of three gas stations, 15 houses, one abandoned motel and two dogs. We were about five miles from the Turnpike and over 20 miles from the next town. When we got to the garage, I asked the mechanic to check the fuel pump and fuel filter. I figured, why waste common knowledge? We waited for four and a half hours as the mechanic put in a new pump, drove the car around, checked the filter, put in different pumps and tinkered with who-knows-what under the green bomb's hood. Howard made some phone calls (No, he didn't use the Rolodex, wise-ass) and discovered the nearest Greyhound station was in that town over 20 miles away. Both of us were quietly considering what it would be like to have to hitchhike on the Turnpike. Not a pretty thought, especially considering that Howard would be carrying everything short of his grandmother's dead body. The mechanic came into the waiting room, said some things about perhaps a coil or some other things, and how he didn't know how long it was going to take. I was beginning to feel tired. Damn tired, "How much would you give me for it?" "We don't buy cars." "Anybody around here do?" "There's a salvage yard down the road a-ways. I could call him." "Call him." Howard came up to me. "If you sell the car, how're we going to get home?" "I brought enough money in case we have to taxi it. Do you have your Visa card?" "Yeah." "Then if we have to use it, I'll pay you back." "This is really turning into a hassle." "Hey, tell me fucking about it." The salvage guy came and looked the bomb over. I told him how I just shelled out for a tune-up and a new distributor cap. It got a new generator last fall and a new battery. It was 15 years old, but the heater and air conditioner worked fine. It guzzled gas and was in the shop several times in the past six months, but ran like a dream when it ran. "Make me an offer," I said. "I'll give you $40 for it." Just then, Howard jumped in. "Oh, and can you give us ride to the Greyhound station? It's only 20 miles away in the next town." Instantly, this guy's face dropped just like someone had thrown a brick at it, not that his face was any gem to begin with. That was just no way to heap that sort of shit on this poor guy. I mean, here he is buying what may be a crappy investment, even if it is only $40, but now he might have to be playing cabbie to a couple of shmoes he didn't even know to a town he had no intention of going to. I had to act fast. "Tell you what. Make it $10 and a ride to the station." I knew there'd be no way he could turn that one down. Despite its condition, old heaps like mine were a gold mine in areas like this. The old man agreed. He gave me a 10-spot and I gave him the title. We loaded our gear in his pickup and he drove us out to the station. When he dropped us off, I wished him better luck with the monster than I had. We waited for the bus and rode for eight hours until we arrived in D.C. Since it was two in the morning, the subway wasn't running and we had to find a cab. My wonderful streak of luck was still with me as the only hack we could find to drive us home was an old black man who apparently just finished off a bottle and a half of some real cheap gin. The taxi itself was in no great shape either. Every time we turned a corner, the car sounded like it was going to lose a door or something. Still, it wasn't too bad. He only got lost twice. When we finally got home, I was surprised Howard didn't French kiss the front door. I know I would have. We were both too tired to go to sleep but eventually I was able to get to bed. I remember before drifting off, this was the only trip I'd ever been on that went from bad to worse, to good to better, and then straight back into the toilet again. Except for the beginning and end, the whole thing wasn't too bad. ##

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