After crashing in a nearby hotel, I took off the following morning for Chappaqua. My parents were taking me out for dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant for my birthday. Unfortunately, there was a message on my parents’ answering machine from the Delt who was supposed to go with me to the first Nassau show. He had family plans that he couldn’t get out of. He was from Manhattan and his parents wanted to take him out to dinner. It wasn’t his birthday or anything, but I couldn’t really be mad. I was a little disappointed and not sure who to ask to the show. My mom must have overheard me on the kitchen phone when I got the news.
“Why don’t you ask your father to go with you?”
I wasn’t prepared for her suggestion.
“I mean, I can always get someone. It’s the first show of the run and I’m sure a lot of people would love to go.”
“That’s not the point. You think he took you to all those games when you were younger because he loves football? Who takes you every time the Chargers play in New York?”
“But how do you know he’d even want to go?”
“Just ask him, please.”
“Just treat it like any other one of your concerts. I’ll buy us some sandwiches,” he assured me.
Like any other concert? I had no idea how to do that. After he loaded up my cooler with two Italian subs and a six-pack of Becks, we took off for Long Island. While he drove, I tried to give him a crash course on what he might see that night. I played him a tape from the previous tour to get him up to speed.
“I’ve heard their music before, Rob. It’s been coming out of your room for years. It usually sounds like one long song, though. They don’t take breaks or announce what they’re playing?”
“They don’t stop when they’re jamming. Everybody knows what they’re playing after a few notes, anyway.”
This was going be a little harder than I thought.
“Maybe it’ll make sense when they’re on stage playing.”
By the time we got to the Coliseum, the weather was pretty raw. The wind was whipping through the parking lot, so we decided to sit in the open trunk of my parents’ Subaru GL station wagon. It felt like we were in a luxury box seat for the Grateful Dead parking lot scene. Sitting side by side, it was cramped yet warm.
“So what do you usually do before the show?”
“When it’s not freezing, I might explore the lot.”
“I usually buy a beer, a shirt, or something to eat.”
“We have all that here, though. Plus, you have so many shirts.”
“Yeah, but the ones in the lot change depending on the tour. As for the food, where else are you going to get ‘Rasta Pasta?’”
He started laughing and said, “I guess you’re right.”
I was about to continue trying to explain the normal pre-show scene, when a kid in a Mexican pancho and knit hat with braided tassels approached our car.
“You guys need any doses?”
“No, we’re set. We’ve both got sandwiches,” he replied.
The kid was so confused that he just stared at us in disbelief. Of course, he was clearly tripping his brains out as well. All I wanted was for him to move on to another car before I had to explain to my dad that he wanted to sell us acid. But before I could respond, my dad asked him if he wanted one of our beers.
“Absolutely,” he said.
My dad pulled one out of the cooler for him.
His eyes got even wider when he saw the label. “Becks, an import.”
He asked my dad if he’d seen any other shows on the tour.
“No, but you might want to talk to my son. He’s the expert.”
I couldn’t believe how proud my father sounded saying that. I’d always assumed he viewed my love of the Dead as an annoyance.
“Dude, you brought your dad to the show? That’s actually pretty cool.”
I was starting to realize how right he was. Our new friend finished his beer and told us to have a good show. I looked down at my watch and realized it was time to head in. As we walked toward the gate, my dad put his hand on my shoulder.
“He seemed like a nice kid, don’t you think?”
I just had to smile. My dad sweetly saw the good in things. I could only hope I got some of that from him.
“Yeah, Dad. He did.”
For once, I didn’t really care what songs the band picked that night or how they played them. They opened with an appropriately selected “Cold Rain & Snow.” When they played “It’s All Over Now,” my dad proudly told me he recognized the song as a cover from the Rolling Stones’ early days.
“This isn’t so wild, Rob. I don’t know what I was expecting.”
I told him to reserve judgment until the second set. “That’s when the songs get a lot longer.”
During the set-opening jam from “China Cat Sunflower” into “I Know You Rider,” the band really caught fire. As the roar of the crowd built, he looked over at me. He had to scream for me to hear.
“I think I kind of get it!” Once again, I couldn’t believe how proud he sounded. What I thought was going to be a chore turned out to be amazing. When things eventually did get a little too spacey for him, he just sat down. But he was tapping his feet the whole time, even during the drum solo. As if to reward him, the band played more covers by the Stones, Chuck Berry, and Bob Dylan to close things out. His review of the show confirmed how much he had enjoyed himself.
My dad was full of surprises.
After the houselights came on, we started putting on our jackets for the cold walk back to the car. I spotted a guy with a tape recorder walking up the stairs. He took one look at us and asked if we were father and son. When I said yes, he told us he was from Newsday.
“Was this your father’s first Grateful Dead concert?”
“Absolutely,” I said.
The reporter pointed the microphone at my dad. “That’s pretty amazing for you to come out on a night like this just for him.”
“That’s just it,” my dad said. “I think he thought I was coming for him, but I think it ended up being more for me.”
We never found out whether we made the article, but the best part was that I don’t think either of us cared.