The parking lot of a Grateful Dead show is like a carnival, and as such, it has the elements of any carnival. It's a place that either overtly or covertly caters to all manners of lusts and vices. Sometimes this dynamic is innocent: the Rube has his fun, the purveyor adds a coin to his pile. The Rube isn't the only face in the crowd however, and the Carnie isn't the only person looking to take advantage. There are carnivores at a carnival, and sometimes there is more at stake than coin.
“I have come for the Carnival,
The freedom and the peace.
Who could be among us?
Do you know their ways?
I made the acquaintance
of a sister fair and fine.
She said 'My friend, don't eat their bread
or drink from opened wine”.
-TSB (from “An Outing at the Fair”)
I walked the traffic jam coming into the lot, looking for a ticket and digging on the humanity. A school bus with a VW bus welded on the top approached. It was festooned with a dozen young topless women. I heard the phrase “Temple Whores”, murmured from the crowd around me. I'm unfamiliar with that term as it was used. I once had a hooker proposition me while dancing on the lawn at a show in Indy. After a couple of hours with no luck on the search, I headed to the stadium, hoping to find my miracle there.
I saw a crowd gathering at one corner of the lot and went to see what the draw was. There was a guy selling balloons: Hippie Crack, Nitrous Oxide. The line was long and the girl in front put down a hundred dollar bill and ordered twenty which she passed down the line. I had just inhaled mine when a cop pushed his way through the crowd.
He ordered the vender to open the valve and empty his tank. While the tank was wooshing all that nitrous into the air, the cop was writing out a ticket. A hippie stole up and bent to the tank, inhaling the gas as it discharged. The cop turned and, seeing this, clouted the hippie guy on the ear. Just then one of those big Huey choppers rose over the lot at an altitude of about fifty feet. As it flew over, I saw a man with a bog old VHS camera and another with an automatic rifle standing in the big, open, doorway. The choppers ran up and down the lot all night like it was Apocalypse Now. I scattered.
A woman approached me and asked if I had seen anybody vending prepackaged food. She was afraid of the grilled cheese and burritos, and lectured me on the dangers of getting slipped something. When she asked if I had a relationship with Jesus, I slipped away from her and through the tunnel under the highway.
Usually, on the lot, there are people selling doses and buds. Not at this show. Three different people in the tunnel approached me selling crack. What kind of dead show was this? Vietnam war choppers, crack dealers, congressmen, I was out of my element.
I found myself on the lawn outside the stadium and continued my quest. I had no luck and eventually gave up and headed back to the tunnel, hoping maybe somebody back at the van had found an extra ticket. At the entrance to the tunnel, I met the Man in Black. He was a black man with a black ball cap, black jeans, and black tee shirt. There was no logo on any of his clothing, including the cap. He asked if I was looking for a ticket and I lit up. Turns out he didn't have one either, but promised if I met him at that light pole over there at 4pm, he could get me in for twenty dollars. Keeping this in mind, I returned to the van.
Dave said he had scored a ticket for me, but traded it for some mushrooms. Bill had a similar story. The hitch hikers had switched the cast again and were working the crowd about twenty yards from the van. I told Dave how I hadn't seen anybody selling anything but Cocaine, and what a weird scene it was. Nobody was smiling. Nobody was looking anybody in the eye. I wondered aloud if I just wasn't looking in the right place. I set out again, looking for family, who were more and more conspicuous in their absence. It was almost four so I walked under the highway to meet the Man in Black.
I found 4 people, but no Man in Black at the assigned location. There were three clean cut looking guys and a girl. Wary, I stood a little ways off, but the young lady spotted me and asked if I was waiting to meet the guy who was going to let us in. I joined their group and a little while later our dark friend strolled up.
He looked furtively around and then requested our money. We each gave him twenty dollars and he stuffed all of the bills into his pocket but one. He then instructed us on how to fold a second twenty, and how to hold it. He informed us he was going to lead us to a gate where a friend of his was taking tickets. We were to approach him and pass the twenties in the manner we were shown. I didn't like it, but I was already in for twenty bucks. Nobody else liked it either and I was voted to enter first. We got to the correct line and the Man in Black disappeared into the crowd.
I considered some lyrics from “Friend of the Devil”. “Took my twenty dollar bill and vanished in the air”.
I approached the turnstile with the quartet behind me and made the appropriate supplications, half expecting to have been ripped off. The large man received my second twenty without looking at me and allowed me through the turnstile. I was in.
I made a beeline for the restroom with the male part of our contingent. We decided to hang there for a while and let the stadium fill up a little before blending with the crowd. Of course, there was a cop in the john, so I did my best to pee and split. Curiously, the others stayed behind.
I left the hallway for the arena and bounded down the steps two at a time, headed for the stage. My floor length dashiki was billowing behind me; my long hair blowing in the breeze. I hadn't gotten far when a security guard behind me requested my ticket. I pretended I didn't hear him. “Hey Hardhead!” he shouted, “Stop right there”. I began sidling down a row of seats in an attempt to elude him. A second guard came down the next aisle and they nabbed me. Guard #1 asked for my ticket again and I told him I must have dropped it in all my excitement. He didn't buy it. The hauled me back up the steps with their fingertips dug hard into my armpits. My feet barely touched the ground. They took me to a cinder block room and locked me in.
Alone, I pondered whether or not to eat the dope. I had three hits of acid and about as many grams of skunk. I didn't know if there were cameras, so I remained calm and left the drugs in my pockets. I figured they were just going to make me sweat a while, maybe the duration of the show, then turn me loose with a citation. They only left me there for a few minutes before they returned and grilled me as to who let me in without a ticket. After several threats, they gave up, photographed me, wrote down whatever silly alias I had given, and escorted me out of Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. I was banned for one year.
The tunnel to the lot now held a crap game, as well as the surge of the crowd coming for the show, two crack dealers, and a cop at each end (facing out). I felt like a salmon swimming upstream. I was disappointed to miss the show, but even more disappointed in myself for #1: my breach of ethics while sneaking in, and #2: getting caught leaping down the steps like an idiot.
At least I still had the drugs.
There were a few hours to kill, so I decided to find somebody to smoke this grass with. I wasn't sure if I was going to even eat the acid. It was pretty good stuff though, and I really wanted to. I had fasted in preparation and waited thirty days in order to have the best trip I could. I walked all the way back to the bus and couldn't find anybody who would look me in the eye, or even return a smile. Oh, how different than the Midwest shows!
I passed a girl along the way who was promising to “Bare anything for a crystal”, or maybe she was saying “Bear anything for a crystal”. In this group there was no telling. Was she hoping to trade a crystal for a grilled cheese, or maybe continue to swap up and score her drug of choice? Was she an exhibitionist? Was she a masochist? Maybe a little of both? To this day I often ponder her syntax. Back at the van, I sat on the ground and watched the carnival walk past on the way to the show. I had never spent an entire show in the lot. Perhaps the Universe was guiding me toward a valuable experience. As I sat there considering the events of the day and debating whether or not to eat the acid, the “Bare Anything” girl sat against a truck across from me. Her legs were splayed and I could see right up her panty-less skirt.
I wondered if I owed her a crystal.
In the end, I decided I would leave it to fate and walk along the Potomac to the other end of the lot, If I couldn't see a friendly face or find the people with the love in their eyes, I wouldn't eat the LSD. If I did find my people, I would dose up and smoke them out.
The Potomac was fetid, the populace: unfriendly. I reached the far (and I do mean far) end of the lot and stood there forlornly looking at the rusty fence. I was discouraged. I had some of the best paper I had seen, blue with gold stars, plus a chunk of mop up. Fate had spoken. I turned, preparing to trudge back to the bus and hotbox the skunk in my pocket.
I heard my name and looked to find that friendly face I was looking for. It was Jody, and I didn't even know she was in D.C. We smiled and hugged and she told me she had to hurry off to the show. After she left I put three squares of paper on my tongue and began my journey.
A while later, Little Red Riding Hood came skipping toward me. “Cold Rain and Snow” was coming from the Stadium. Her eyes never left mine as she skipped right up to me. She was wearing a frilly dress, red cape with hood, and had a picnic basket draped over one arm. She was blond and healthy and wholesome looking. She said she had to look in my eyes, and then she asked if I would like a “Very kind veggie burrito”. I said yes, I sure would, and inquired of the price. “No charge for the Mad Hatter” she said with a giggle, handed me her wares, and skipped along. I thought maybe my day was getting better.
The burrito, delicious and fresh as it was, made me thirsty. Way the hell out this end of the lot, there weren’t a lot of vendors. I went looking for a cold drink, and found a guy selling lemonade out of the back of an old truck. His sign read “Lemonade $6”. He was dispensing it in ten ounce cups. I was livid. I had guilt from not telling Dave what I thought of his WAY overpriced Sunny D, and wasn't going to let this guy go without an earful.
I told him just what I thought of people coming to the show and taking advantage of the poor, thirsty hippies by charging exorbitant prices. I told him he should be ashamed of himself and that he was behaving just like the capitalist “Babylonians” we eschewed. He told me if I thought his portions were unfair, to give him six bucks and drink all I want.
God help me, I did. I had about six glasses. It was days before I realized what I had done.
It wasn't long after that when I met the Grilled Cheese Guy. I thought the Grilled Cheese Guy was where it all went wrong. I wasn't thinking about the two hits of gold stars on blue paper, or the mop up, or the burrito, or the six glasses of lemonade. Nope, it was Grilled Cheese Guy. He reached into my head with his greasy grilled cheese finger and did something to me. It sounds funny now, but it wasn't at the time.
I started hearing his pitch from about twenty cars back. “Grilled cheese! Getcher Grilled Cheese! KIND Grilled cheese!” The later had a leering quality to the word “Kind” as if it were somehow satirical and I tried not to look when I passed him. The next time he hollered “Grilled” I had drawn up even and was looking right ahead of me at a drummer some distance off. With the word “CHEESE!” he leaned in front of me and tapped me solidly between the eyes with his finger. I didn't notice which one; finger that is.
Freaked me right out. That grilled cheese guy reached right into my psyche and was poking around in there for god knows what reason. I felt mystically violated. I wasn't going to hang around and try to toss fireballs with some evil wizard. I headed toward the masses around the drummer.
He was shirtless with dreadlocks, and I was halfway from the grilled cheese attack when I noticed I was dancing to the rhythm and the drummer was staring intently at me, drawing into him. I wondered if he was in collusion with the Grilled Cheese Guy. Lucky for me I was carrying a three inch ovate brass bell that was hand made by Buddhist Monks (at least that's what Jody's friend told me when he traded it to me for some gold stars back in Muncie).
I dug out that bell and found a whole different beat and broke free of the hold that drummer had on me and his grilled cheese friend too. I turned right at the next corner and danced away. I thought I heard whispers of “Mad Hatter, look!”. Two girls: plain, with straight brown hair, sat in the middle of the path. They were moving as if dancing, but weren't in step with “Franklin's Tower”, which was pouring out of the Stadium and further freaking me out. “In Franklin's Tower there hangs a bell. Might have one good ring baby, who can tell?”
One turned to the other when I drew closer, and whispered to her “Don't get in his shadow!” I did my best to remain calm and continue to the relative safety of the bus. “Franklin's Tower” turned to “Estimated Prophet” and I chilled a little. Then I saw those same girls again, coming toward me, and didn't know how they could be there. When I walked past, the one looked at the other and whispered “Don't look in his eyes!”
I was almost in a complete panic. I stopped and cast about looking for Grilled Cheesemen and evil wizards or at the very least, Dave's bus. The Vietnam choppers continued to threaten the skies. A friendly voice called out, “Hey bro! Come over here for a while, the helicopters can't see you under here.” I looked. There were two split window buses parked next to each other with a tarp stretched between. They had built a bunker, front and back, with bedrolls and gear and duffle and such. It was incredibly comfortable. Over at the stadium, we could hear “Dark Star.” A bowl went around.
By time it came to me, it was empty. I reached for my stash to refill it and the girl who had invited me in said not to worry. I handed it to her and she told me to watch carefully. She stuck the tip of the little finger from her right hand into her mouth and sucked on it a minute. Then she inserted it into the pipe and twisted it. With each twist her finger rose a bit more in the bowl. When she was done and handed it back to me, it was nearly full.
It went around again and a new girl joined us, sitting to my right. The bowl was empty by time it got to her. I told her not to worry and reached for the wooden pipe. I told her to watch carefully as I sucked on my right pinkie and then twisted it in the bowl. I imagined our hostess's eyes sparkled a little. I felt a small kernel rising in the pipe, I twisted. The pipe refilled itself again and before I, or the new girl could express our amazement, our hostess stood and commanded us all to hush. A neighboring jam box was playing a different version of Dark Star and they were synching up here and there. She told me I was safe to go back out now. I noticed Dave's bus a few rows over and excused myself. I was refreshed. I thought the worst of the evening had passed, but those brown haired girls would have none of that.
There they were, standing across from the bus. They were right where I had last seen the Bare/Bear Anything girl. The one looked at the other and whispered into her ear “They're taking his soul!” There's only so much a fellow can take. I dove right into the surprisingly unlocked van and hid under some blankets. The band was covering “It's All Over Now Baby Blue” Maybe the Grilled Cheese Guy did get me? I tried to meditate, but the only mantra I could hold was one of repeated panic. After an eternity, I heard a voice.
The voice said hey man, its okay. You know what to do. “Do I think about all the love in my life?” I asked. The voice chuckled. “You'll be alright.”
I smoked a joint. I was alright. No Grilled Cheese Guy was going to take my soul. I shouldn't listen to strange brown haired girls. After a while I got out of the bus. The show was over, the fireworks had started. I walked away from the lights a bit, but kept the van in sight. The first firework turned to smoke. The smoke turned into Tom Sawyer. I walked farther from the lights. The second firework turned into the woodcut of the skeleton with roses. Then it turned into just a skeleton. Then it brutally sodomized Tom Sawyer. I ran for the van.
It was locked. I stood at the van and tried not to look at the smoke. I also tried not to look at the truck across the way, lest there be two very mean brown haired girls or at the very least, one brown haired vagina looking back at me. I focused on a spot halfway from the bus to the path and up stepped The Man in Black. He was looking the other way, watching concert goers as the came out and walked along the path to their cars. I tried to convince myself that it wasn't him. It was.
The Man in Black reached into his left pants pocket and bowed deeply toward the truck across the way. Suddenly, he pivoted on his heels, and came up facing me with a huge stack of hundred dollar bills fanned out like a hand of euchre. There must have been thousands of dollars there. He looked up and smiled and pivoted back toward the path with his hands in his pockets. I was stricken. Then he glanced at a spot on his left and looked over his shoulder at me. Then to his left/ Then back at the path. He was inviting me. I dove back in the bus, which was unlocked.
No matter how hard I listened, I couldn't find that reassuring voice again. I lay on the floor and smoked another joint. After a bit I crept up and looked out the window. The Man in Black was gone. I crawled back out of the van.
Dave and Bill showed up, and eventually the hitch hikers. Neither wore the cast, they were carrying it. We all got in the back and smoked another one. Dave and Bill informed me that they were too high on mushrooms to drive. I told them about my night. They said if I didn't drive then we were staying right there. That sounded okay to me until the third time the cop came by and told us if we didn't leave we'd be towed and/or arrested. God help me, I drove out of that lot, and down the road to Dave's aunt's place in Virginia.
Every exit ramp had five or six cop cars waiting, with lights flashing, to bust the Deadheads. The helicopters were swooping and the buildings were glaring at me malevolently. I'll never go back to that damned town. The hitch hikers dropped a hundred and a half on Dave for gas and got out at the exit for Dave's aunt. I think Autumn was wearing the cast this time. Somehow we made it back to Dave's Aunt's. I don't know if Dave's aunt even really exists. I didn't see her. Bill and I had to sleep in the back yard and weren't allowed to use the toilet.
Dave and Bill ate mushrooms and so they slept like babies. I had done god knows how much acid (I still hadn't put two and two together about the burrito and the lemonade). I was up for the duration in a backyard where I wasn't particularly welcome in Virginia, damn close to the most evil city on the east coast and the grilled cheese sorcerer bastards it harbors. I decided to go for a coke. My soul seemed safe for the moment.
“Winding his way among goblins.
The dancing man ringing his bell.
Did it indeed occur as he's seen?
As he sees? Or somewhere in between?
In and out of the temple
betrayed by his leaps toward the floor.
Pipes were all dry, no love in their eyes
Heard a voice, swallowed stars, still denied.
Hunger drove him to that smiling maid.
Then he argued with a merchant on the price of lemonade.
The man shouted “Fine my friend! Take you two times three!”
How sore I erred.
In truth I fared
The price of gluttony.
Foolish and dumb,
The fruit had come
From a magic lemon tree.”
-TSB (from “An Outing at the Fair”)