Surviving the Dead

Its not just a band, its an adventure

I got beat up and robbed by a pair of evil crackheads on my way to a couple of Dead shows in Las Vegas, and it was all Neil Young's fault. If he hadn't postponed a gig at the LA Sports Arena that April of 1991 and rescheduled it three weeks later—the night before I had to drive 250 miles across the Mojave Desert to make the Dead dates—maybe I could have set out for Vegas a day earlier instead of pulling an all-night drive in a less-than-trustworthy automobile. Maybe my windows would've been cleaner, and that 3 a.m. stop at a Fullerton Mobil station wouldn't have been necessary. Maybe I wouldn't have had to withdraw the $60 that was eventually snatched from my hands, along with my wallet.

What I knew for sure is that I needed gas and a squeegee, and that I should have paid better attention to the car that screeched behind me into the lot as I stood at the night window feeding a 20 to the woman locked safely inside the mini-mart. Because the next instant, I'm getting punched in the face and knocked to the ground, landing squarely on my left shoulder, and watching my wallet, the guy who hit me and the guy driving the getaway car vanish into the early morning darkness. I thought my shoulder might have been dislocated, but the cops who eventually arrived told me that if that was the case, I'd really be a-hurtin'. I could still drive. And talk about destiny: my driver's license flew out when Evil Crackhead No. 1 grabbed my wallet. And I still had my tickets . . . clearly, God still wanted me to see the Grateful Dead!

Traumatized but undeterred, I got on the 57 freeway and didn't stop going north until I made Vegas, squinting in the morning light after four hours of steering with my right hand and resting my hurt wing on my lap.

I made it to the Sam Boyd Silver Bowl okay, but the all-night drive and the mugging turned what would've been an amazing Dead show—"Maggie's Farm" and "Loose Lucy," but especially the second set of "Sugar Magnolia," "Scarlet Begonias" into "Fire on the Mountain," and the ever-beatific combo of "Playin' in the Band" and "Uncle John's Band"—into white noise. All I could do was sit on the Mojave-baked aluminum bleacher seats and sulk, as 35,000 happy, high Deadheads swirled around me. The next morning, I sold my ticket for the second show and drove home, deflated.

After that, I probably should have stayed away from the ill-fated Dead/Vegas combo, but I went back for the next three years—only to run into bad luck each time. As I was coming home in 1992, a truck carrying highly toxic chemicals overturned on the I-15 about 30 miles into California, which caused a six-hour delay and a traffic jam that stretched back almost to Vegas—we got home about 10 hours later than planned. In 1993, my crappy Ford overheated while we were in a line of cars waiting to enter the Silver Bowl parking lot. We abandoned it and walked the rest of the way—eight miles. In 1994, the same pseudo-car conked out on the drive up somewhere around Walnut, and, after being overcharged by a friendly AAA-recommended mechanic, we barely made the second set. Skipped 1995, the last time the band played Vegas, and Jerry died about three months later. Maybe I should've gone—but maybe I would've died too. (Rich Kane)

ENGLISH WEREWOLVES AND ACID TABS

Wembley Arena, London, Halloween 1990. I took the train down the day of the show. It was a cold, blustery afternoon, just like every day in England from late August to December that year, when I was an exchange student at the University of Nottingham. I had an army parka and a return ticket to Nottingham for the next morning, but I had no food, little money and no place to spend the night.

My plan was as simple as it was stupid: bump into some other students from my exchange program who were studying in London and had tickets to the show. While I waited, I got into an argument about the Gulf War—which hadn't started yet—with an American girl who told me her dad was the most powerful doctor in the Army. Probably to shut me up, she gave me a couple of tabs of acid. I swallowed one. At first, nothing happened. Then I started feeling really happy for no reason. I forgot about needing to find a place to spend the night. I bought a falafel. That's when I finally bumped into a guy I knew, who agreed to let me crash on his couch. I gave him my other tab. We agreed to meet at the falafel stand as soon as the show ended.

After three hours of music, the Dead ended their Halloween show with a predictably crowd-pleasing encore: a cover of Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London." Still reeling from hallucinogens, I tried to locate the falafel stand—but it wasn't there anymore. My friend never appeared. Meanwhile, I saw people leaving the stadium in groups of 20, holding hands, everybody smiling and howling in unison, "Ba-oooh!Werewolves of London!"

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