The weirdest thing about finding all these Grateful Dead shows online is how I can feel the same obsession I felt when I was 19. A touch of it. Like when I scroll through the list of shows in 1988, the venues and the towns seem like exotic places, and the notion that the dead would be playing there makes them seem more exotic still.
When I look through the set lists, though, it seems so silly. They're all basically the same. Yet I just had to get to as many shows as I could.
Yesterday I went through and bookmarked all the shows I've been to. And over the next couple of weeks I plan to listen to them. When I look at them all lined up in order in my favorites folder, the Irvine Meadows shows stand out for some reason. Just the name. Irvine Meadows. Even now it seems enchanting.
Irvine Meadows is in Orange County. I drove past it a couple of years ago when I was on my book tour. It's a cookie-cutter amphitheater, exactly like Fiddlers Green in Denver or Sandstone here in KC. But in '88, it was my destiny.
To get there, for the three shows the Dead had scheduled there in late April of that year, and to two more a week later in Palo Alto, I took my exams early and persuaded the head cook in the dorm cafeteria to give me a box of food -- apples, bread, peanut butter, stuff like that. I needed the food because I only had $50 in my pocket, for a 10-day trip.
As soon as I hit Shakedown Street, I spent almost all my money on some dry goods that are typically not eaten. Seven days later, I was stranded in Palo Alto with no money, no ride home and a new pair of glasses. The latter I picked up (along with a weak prescription courtesy of $20-bucks-a-no-appointment-visit Dr. Huang) in San Bernadino after I'd lost mine in Joshua Tree. Grandma had saved me by calling in her credit card number. And mom saved me from having to sell myself on the streets of San Fran by wiring me some cash.
She sent enough for a bus ticket, and a little extra for food. Except, right before I bought the ticket, I spotted some other Dead Heads and we ducked into an ally and got stoned. And I was so stoned I left my wallet on the counter after I purchased the ticket. By the time I came down enough to realize where my wallet was -- ten paces across the room, laying there in plain site -- it had been liberated of all my remaining cash.
So there I was with a wicked case of the munchies, facing the prospect of a 26-hour bus trip with the one or two oranges I still had left from my box of food, and not a dime for a bite more.
I had an overnight layover in Salt Lake City. The bus stop was right across from the Mormon Tabernacle, so I decided to go over there and check it out. My hair was all mussed up and my clothes were filthy. I don't think I even had a backpack. I recall carrying in my arms my tent and mangy sleeping bag and whatever bag I was carrying my clothes in. I'm not sure exactly, but I certainly stood in contrast to the clean polo-shirted Mormons who were milling around. It was a sunny day and there were tulips bursting from every corner of the compound.
I noticed this guy eying me. After a while he comes up and says, "You look mighty forlorn." I gave him my sad story and he gave me 20 bucks. I raced across the street to an all-you-can-eat place and stuffed myself for at least two hours.
Properly nourished, I found a corner of the bus station to spread out my sleeping bag and managed to drift into sleep. Suddenly, I awoke to the scene of a couple of cops arresting somebody -- right on top of me. They had chased him to my corner, where they slapped cuffs on him, right after confiscating his gun.
All that for what?
Nothing in the set lists appears to have been worth that ordeal. The last shows in Palo Alto had some surprising twists, I suppose, but nothing monumental. The only vivid memory I have of any of the shows was the last one, where they played "Stuck Inside a Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again," in which Bob Weir screamed, mockingly, it seemed: "Oh! Mama! Can this reeeeeeeeally be the end?!?!"
But then, we did drive up the Pacific Coast Highway. I haven't done that since. And I visited Joshua Tree, too. That's a lovely place. What I saw of it before I lost my glasses.