Christmas day, 2001. I am watching a pc-rom video of the Grateful Dead’s New Year’s eve concert from 12/31/87. They were performing at the Oakland Coliseum. I remember how excited I was to get my tickets to this show. These were my tickets; my passes back from Boston to California.
I was a grad student at Boston University in the fall of ’87. I remember one Saturday working in the lab trying to synthesize a flask of T-butyl-tin-hydride. The product had to be made under an oxygen free atmosphere which required more patience than I had. During that synthesis, I had the dead playing on a cassette when I heard the lyric, “I can tell the future, just look what’s in your hand”. In my hand was a bottle of NOT t-butyl tin hydride. The lights came on and I decided that at the end of the semester I was going back to California. Grad school wasn’t working for me at this point in my life.
I remember getting the money order at the Newton Post office. Back then in order to get tickets, you had to mail in to the GD ticket office. I included my stamped self-addressed envelope. I struggled about where to have the tickets sent. I finally settled on having them sent to my Mom’s place in Las Vegas. I was afraid to have them sent to me in Boston just in case they came after I left.
My girlfriend Sue flew out from CA and we drove from Boston to Las Vegas in 5 days. We left after my last final at about 6pm. We stopped at my Dads in NY, he put us up in a motel near his house. We settled in about 2am and he was back to pick us up at 7. We spent the day with him and then went to have dinner with some of our relatives in the Bronx. Sue and I headed out that night and drove straight through to Washington D.C. I remember the radio talking about the upcoming 88 elections. We pulling into a Days Inn at about 2am. It was not in a nice part of DC. I remember the children playing in the room next door to us. All we wanted to do was sleep.
We woke up the next day and found that the neighborhood we were in was worse than we thought. We drove around Washington DC for a little while. We were trying to find the White House but we didn’t have a local map. At one point we decided to turn into this park and ask directions. We made the right turn into the park and there in front of us was the White House. We parked and walked towards the WH.
The park had Christmas trees for each state. We walked over to the Washington Monument, Vietnam Veterans memorial. It was all pretty impressive. From there we hit the road. This was the first time Sue was willing to drive on this journey. The traffic from Boston to New York just scared her. We went through Virginia (beautiful state) and Tennessee. We crashed the next night in Memphis. Woke the next morning and drove by Graceland. I remember the feelings when I drove over the Mississippi river. It was like an American rite of passage. We hauled all the way to just before Little Rock, AK. I remember when we drove through the Ozark Mountains and Rocky Top TN. We stopped at a little diner there for lunch. I got up to use the washroom at one point. The men’s room was out of order, so I had to use the room designated for ladies. I will always remember that there was a sign posted in the room telling women that they did not have to live with domestic abuse.
There was a number for women to call to get help. I had to wonder about the society that these people lived in. Was D.A so much of a problem? Did that many women live with problem … and what kind of person figured out that this was a good approach? How did they approach the storeowner? How many women these signs had helped? And how many victims saw the sign and went right on being abused. I guess my own history with domestic abuse made that sign stick out in my mind.
I’ve said since that trip that couples should be made to travel across country together before they are allowed to get married. You find out about your true compatibility at that time.
Our next stop was outside Little Rock Arkansas. I forget the name of the town, but it was a sleepy little one road town. We arrived too late to get food. We had to settle for a 7-11 dinner. We stopped next at a Days Inn in Albuquerque, NM. This place had an indoor pool and Jacuzzi which we took advantage of. The following day we drove straight through to Vegas. We hit a nasty snowstorm somewhere around Phoenix. I wanted to stop at the Petrified Forest. But they were closed, it being Christmas Eve and all. The last few hours of the trip were long. We pulled into Mom’s mobile home that night and spent Christmas with her.
We stayed with Mom until 12/29 then we headed for La Verne, my new home. We pulled i n a t night and backed the car up on the lawn. I ran over a sprinkler head and punctured a tire . We unloaded the car and I put the spare on the car and drove it over to a shell station where one of my new roommates worked. I left him the car and he put a new tire on that night and drove it back in the morning. Sue and I headed out to northern California the next morning. We drove up I5 and stopped by my Godmothers house to say hello, then I we headed into Oakland. We checked into yet another Days Inn and headed off to Sizzler for dinner. I remember paying for dinner with my American Express and not knowing how I was going to pay the bill when it came. I had been bringing home $800/month as a grad student. I had nothing saved. We filed into the Oakland Coliseum a t 6:30pm for the 7pm show. The opening act s were Neville Brothers and another local band. The Dead made their first set start at around 10:30pm. They played for about an hour and then went backstage. They came out on a f loat at Midnight.
It was great.
The Dead came out for the second set and went into Hell i n a bucket, Uncle John’s Band, and then they went into a long version of Terrapin Station. Sue was wiped a t that point. She decided t o leave and head back to the hotel . It was probably close t o 12:45. I was disappointed t o be left there alone by her. Silly I guess as I was among many thousands of friends. But it hurt. Terrapin station went into a drum space for about 10 t o 15 minutes. The rest of the band came out and did a psychedelic set that went that turned into “The other One”. That was a sweet set that took probably 15 to 20 minutes. Jerry went into a classic version of Warf Rat. From there Bob Weir went into a rocking rendition of Throwing Stones, which flowed smoothly and effortlessly into “Not Fade Away”. The boys were in rare form that night.
Each of the songs in the second set and the encore were interweaved with perfection. The band left the stage with the crowd chanting “Love is Real Not Fade Away”, mmbop, bop, bop, bop. The crowd kept going for probably 10 minutes before the band came back out. They started the encore with the Neville Brothers i n a rousing rendition of “The Women are smarter”.
There was a short 10 second break between that song and “IKO IKO”. I swore that the music was played exactly the same between the two songs. The rhythms were completely the same. It blew me away. From there they went to a combination of “The Banana boat song” and “do you wannal dance”. Then the entire show closed out with a haunting version of “knocking on heaven’s door”. Watching the replay right now.
Some 14 years later that rendition still gives me goosebumps. I didn’t want the show to be over. After the concert I walked back t o the hotel. There were kids partying in the rooms and the hallways. I wanted to join in, but I went back to my room and joined Sue. I told her about the rest of the concert, trying to hide my disappointment that she left early. I still am disappointed all these years later. I kinda; think I always will be. I don’t remember a darn thing about the drive home the next day.
That New Year’s Eve marked the end of my college years. It was the long drive away from BU and a graduate school lif e in organic chemistry (which I hated) and a drive towards a career. But it was a great night. It was the longest drive I have ever made for a Dead concert. But to this day, I am really happy that I made the decision t o go.
Editors note in 2011 – This was never intended to be read by ANYONE. I had to use restraint not to edit and update it. I posted this because it was amusing looking back at my life, looking back at my life.