Dead roadtrip memories

An excerpt from a drug-soaked novella

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An excerpt from a drug-soaked novella The Dead are coming back to town next week and at least 10 people I know have asked me if I’m going to the show. I don’t know yet. I like Bob Dylan, who’ll be performing with them, but I feel like I don’t need to see the Dead. I’ve done my time. Every now and then, I think back to the many Dead shows I saw in the 1980s and early 1990s. The shows were OK and the company I was keeping at the time even better. Someone was asking me the other day what it was like, going to all of those Dead shows, so I jotted down a few thoughts about a typical roadtrip in those days. It starts, as all my Dead stories start, with me behind the wheel, taking the crew to a show. Oil started leaking out of the car halfway between here and Cincinnati, causing a shiny red crescent light to illuminate the interior, and I am half expecting the car to blow up at some point, not that anyone will care or even notice anything’s changed if it does. Between the loud talking, the blaring music and the drinking going on in the back seats of the van, I am the only one coherent enough to understand that we are speeding down a federal highway at 95 mph at 4:16 a.m. with a stream of boiling hot oil splashing against the engine. All three of my friends have been tripping for about three hours now, and they are acting too stoned, probably more stoned than they really are, and it is really getting on my nerves, so I push the accelerator all the way to the floor, hoping I can get them home within an hour and get some sleep. I am more than slightly mad at them and mad at myself as well. Whenever I go to see the Dead I have a bad time. Something about seeing the Woodstock atmosphere, the happy caravan, in 1987 really pisses me off and I almost feel like punching somebody, anybody, just to disrupt the atmosphere a little. I never feel comfortable around hippies, even though just about everybody I know calls themselves one and everybody I know calls me one. “I hate the Dead,” I say, to everyone but no one in particular. No one responds. I repeat it. “I hate the Dead. They suck.” “What?” Dan says. “I can’t hear you.” I am holding the steering wheel too tightly, I notice. I say nothing. “Can’t you talk any louder?” Dan says. “You want me to fucking shout?” I say. “I hate the Dead.” He doesn’t say anything and I turn up the tape, Husker Du, louder and the guitars are wailing and the girls are looking at me like I’m getting ready to go off on them and they’re tripping on acid and don’t want to deal with it and so they don’t say anything and nobody says anything and we’re still driving at 95 mph and the CHECK ENGINE light is still on but it’s Carol’s van and someone ripped off my wallet at the Dead show so I don’t have my license and I really don’t care about that either. “I’m seeing tracers,” Carol says. “They look like fireworks. Green …” She laughs and Dan starts laughing too. “ ... And red.” “‘Stuckey’s next exit,’” Alise says, reading a billboard. “‘Pecan nut rolls.’” “Stuckey’s is the home of the pecan nut rolls,” Dan says. “They’ll never treat you badly there. They are the kings of the nut roll.” We get near a town with a couple of exits so I slow down to 63 mph, just in case Sheriff Andy Taylor from this hillbilly town is spending his Sunday morning munching donuts and pointing his radar gun at cars. The last thing I really need is to get this car full of stoned, pinpoint-pupiled people pulled over. But I am in the kind of mood where I can understand where old Sheriff Taylor is coming from. I can understand how he would be livid if he knew what we had done tonight, where we had been. For once I feel sympathy for the law enforcement community. It makes me feel old. The oil is burning now, giving off a gray smoke, and the red light on the dash is still on, and I’m starting to get a little worried about the car, wondering if it’s going to break down and I’ll not only have to deal with a car full of stoned people but a broken-down, useless car full of scared, stoned people, which is far worse. Dan leans over to me and says, “Where’s that smoke coming from?” “Smoke?” I say? “There’s no smoke.” He laughs. “Yes, there is. Isn’t there? Nooooooo ... you’re joking, right?” “You’re just tripping real hard, man,” I say. “You ought to chill, cuzzin. You’re wasted.” “What’s going on?” Carol says, leaning forward. “Is something wrong?” “Never mind,” I say. “Dan’s just tripping real hard. I was telling him to chill out.” Like it was something he was really worried about, he says, “Is there smoke coming off the hood?” And by some miracle, the smoke stops coming off the hood. To be continued ...

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