It was barely dawn when we rolled into the parking lot at RFK Stadium in our nation's capital. I was anxious to escape the VW after being crammed in the back of the bus with Bill with his voluminous bedsheets and Cody and Autumn, the hitch hikers (Cody had the broken leg, or was it Autumn?). I fairly dove for the door and scrambled to get at least forty feet from everybody before I noticed the sunshine, turned my face to the sky, and smiled. It was finally safe to breath through my nose again.
I can't stress enough how everybody but myself was profit oriented on this trip. I had learned to never do business on the lot, neither buying nor selling nor trafficking in contraband in any way. A Dead show is the perfect storm of law enforcement. In addition to uniformed fuzz, state and local have undercover rats there as well as a few different federal acronyms. It was dangerous enough just being there.
Once sprung from the bus, I wandered the paths between parked vehicles, meandering my way to the exit ramp leading to the lot and spent quite a bit of time there looking for a ticket to the sold out show. Where the ramp met the expressway, I met a topless girl in full lotus with a picture book of Grateful Dead. She invited me to sit with her and look at her picture book. While I did, she told me her story.
She told me she was the secret love child of Phil Lesh, bass player for the band, and that they were secretly Jewish. She said these things were secrets because there were branches of the government (also secret) who were run by the mafia and wanted to kill them. I wished her luck and went on my way, sadder for having met such a confused soul. Maybe somebody back at the van had scored an extra ticket for me.
t was a mile or more along the long lot at RFK to the bus. To the north, we were bordered by the highway. To the south, we were bordered by the Potomac; a fetid swamp of a river, covered with algae and litter that didn't even sink in the thick, polluted water. I was offended that the river in our nation's capitol should find itself in such disrepair. I heard that some people let their dogs drink from it and they became very sick.
When I got back to the bus, the only people I knew there were the hitch hikers, and I could swear the other one wore the cast when we first picked them up/ It turns out it was a fake cast. And they took turns wearing it and panhandling the crowd. I decided I might have a better chance at a ticket closer to the stadium. I'd seen Bill Graham handing out miracles from the sunroof of a limo at a previous show at Deer Creek, and that was right at the gate.
There was no sign of Bill Graham, of course, but I trudged on, with my finger in the air, looking for that miracle. I found myself quite literally tempted by the darkside. A black man in black jeans, a plain black tee, and a black ball cap told me he could get me a ticket if I were to meet him at a certain spot at an appointed hour, maybe three hours hence. I agreed to meet him if I had no luck and returned again to the bus to kill time.
I was not so surprised this time, when I found the hitch hikers had switched the cripple role again. Dave was there, and had purchased several eighths of different kind buds from which he was pulling a bud from each. He said he planned on steaming the weed when he got home to make up the weight, and would wind up with an eighth or better for himself. I grew more and more disgusted with the scene as the hours progressed. Dave left to make his money and the hitch hikers moved on to make theirs. I sat beside the bus and watched the carnival that marched by.
Across from where we parked was another bus, white, also parked parallel to the drive. A girl was there, looking a bit chewed and out of shape, and she called to those who walked past, “Bare anything for a crystal”(as in expose), or maybe it was “Bear anything for a crystal” (as in tolerate). I wonder to this day, as she seemed likely to be marketing herself for either pursuit. I never found out which, although I paid attention (lest she find a customer and the situation clarify itself). I will say that when she sat next to the bus, you could see right up her skirt and I wondered if maybe I owed her a crystal, but did not ask, for I carried no crystal this day.
The sun was beginning to get low, and I spiraled out from our little spot to make my appointment with the dark man and my way into the show. By now, there were Huey helicopters flying low over the crowds in the lot. Out one door was a soldier with an automatic rifle, out the other was an equally imposing soldier with a video camera. It was a bit intimidating, and reminded me of vietnam movies.
There was a place in the lot roped off for congressmen, and two limos and several caddies were parked there with their government tags. How hypocritical that our elected leaders should be there, yet everywhere I looked were either overly-armed patrols of active busts going down. Cops were even busting people with nitrous tanks, and forcing them to open the valves and empty the tanks. While one cop was writing a guy a ticket and his tank was emptying into the air, a hippie kid walked up and bent his face to the blast and was huffing the gas as it blasted out. The cop hit him with his nightstick and called him stupid and I strolled for better ground. I was off to the third telephone pole from the main gate to get my black market ticket.
Overall, the scene was ugly. It wasn't like any show I had ever been to. Everybody had an agenda to take advantage of somebody else. Later, it occurred to me that a lot of family who kept the vibe up were in Vermont preparing for the gathering of the tribes, and maybe their absence allowed for such an element. I would join them in a few weeks, and actually meet that topless daughter of Phil's Jewish love, but that's a WHOLE other story.