It was the summer of 87. I was living with my girlfriend in Laguna Beach, California. We had not been dating very long, maybe five months, but she suddenly found herself in need of a place to crash and I worked two job so was hardly ever home anyway. It worked out pretty good. The place was nice, it was a guest house on the property of an older woman who lived in the main house over looking the ocean. Her name was Jean Vander Pyl. She was the voice of Wilma Flintstone for many years. I would always tell her to say hi to Fred for me whenever I dropped off the rent check. I am sure she had never heard that before, but she would laugh anyway and all I could see was that red-headed cartoon character with a bone in her hair and a dinosaur for a pet.
One afternoon my girlfriends cousin came to visit from some small town in Indiana. He was a nice enough guy. We hung out most of the day and had a few beers. He told me that he was a huge Grateful Dead fan and that they were on tour and playing down in Mexico the following day. My girlfriend said that I should take him to the concert, that it would be good for him to experience something while he was visiting. Now I never liked the Dead, but figured what the hell. I was always up for anything.
So the next morning we got up before the sunrise and packed up the old Vega Wagon. A cooler filled with cheap beer, a couple of sleeping bags, an old tent, some sandwiches my girlfriend had made for us for the trip, and with forty bucks in my pocket we heading down Highway 1 towards the border.
We arrive in Santa Rosalita Beach around five in the evening. Our plan was to make camp on the sand somewhere, go to the show, crash, and hit the bars the following day. Make a full weekend out of it. After all, the beers were cheap and the weather was perfect.
When we finally got to the parking lot of the place where Jerry and the boys were playing, I couldn’t believe what I saw. It looked like a refugee camp. People were walking around looking half dead. Hair messed up, dirty, dressed in old clothes and pajama bottoms. Hardly anyone wore shoes and everyone was driving cars that were obviously lived in.
I was such a die-hard metal head, I was use to chrome, and metal, and leather. This was just not my scene. But we came all that way, I figured we better stay.
It didn’t take long before I started feeling more comfortable. We made a lot of friends in the show and afterwards we hung out with everyone. We were the only ones with beers left over and started selling them for a dollar a piece and trading them for food that people cooked on their grills. I started talking with this girl and she mixed me a drink from a make shift bar in her van. Then things got interesting.
I finally understood just what Lucy was doing up in that sky with all those diamonds. I suddenly understood everything. Politics and government, evolution and creation, sin and desire. It was as if I had eaten from the tree of knowledge and became God like. We danced and sang and drank. We swam in the ocean and laid out on the sand under the stars. I was able to see what it was to be truly alive among the dead. But of course evolution would soon fall into reverse and I would return to my mortality with the rising of the dawn.
I was hooked, this carefree life of the vagabond somehow seemed appealing to me. These people shared everything, they were family. Each one had something to sell for gas money, most made crafts, some cooked, I sold beers. It was insanity. We blew off the bars and followed these people north to the next stop on the tour. They would always arrive a day or two before the band. Set up camp and wait. We bought cases of blue label beer and blocks of ice. That next show we made enough money for gas and more. We needed for nothing outside of the circle. This cult of dead heads migrated further north and we followed them on their quest for routine. The days ran into each other. Time just melted away. Life in the circus was a literal Gomorrah. A smorgasbord of indulgence. There were no rules. Only the desire to expand.
One show, one weekend, became a hundred and thirty-eight shows and eleven months. The funny thing is that in all those shows, I only actually watched the band play twice. The first day in Mexico, and the night Bob Dylan joined them on stage in Hardford, Connecticut March of that year.
The guy I had started that journey with had left after just two months. He grew tired and could no longer handle the traveling and the living hand to mouth while flying by the seat of your pants (Literally). By then I had already deepened my affection for this band of Jim Jones want to be’s. The same core group of a hundred or so people stayed on for the long haul. Some would leave the tour just to regroup on later dates. But we cooked for each other. We shared tents and vans and wagons. No worries, no troubles.
When it all ended in the spring of 88 we were in northern California. The last concert just ended. and this time people didn’t linger. They packed up their stuff and drove off in a cloud of dust. They returned to their homes, their families, to who knows where. I stood there alone on that beach in Monterey. I realized that I had left behind my entire life. My jobs, my place in Laguna, my girlfriend, my motorcycle, everything I owned. I never called, I never wrote. I just vanished. What was left to go home to. Where was home.
Just then a woman approached me, the one from that very first show who had brought me the apple from the tree of life. She said that the guy she was hooking up with went back home to Texas and he couldn’t take her with him. She had a sister in Seattle and a place to stay, but had no way of getting there. She told me that if I drove her that I could crash with her for a while.
I said what the hell. I am always up for anything. In the words of The grateful Dead…I may be going to hell in a bucket, babe
But at least I’m enjoying the ride, at least I’ll enjoy the ride.