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The Loop

Published: 2018/02/14
by George Ochel

Revisiting The Grateful Dead on Valentine’s Day 1986

02-14-86: Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center

Set 1: Feel Like a Stranger> Cold Rain & Snow, Mama Tried> Big River, West LA Fadaway, Looks Like Rain> Brown Eyed Women> Let It Grow

Set 2: Keep on Growing> Lost Sailor> Saint of Circumstance> Terrapin Station> Drums> Space> Wharf Rat> Throwing Stones> Lovelight

*Enc: *Brokedown Palace

“Let it Keep on Growing”

By the time December rolls around, I find myself craving more live Dead. There isn’t much I can do about it though, unless I make plans for New Year’s and that’s just not in the cards for me this year. So, with the circus not due back in town before spring, I begin to hunker down for a long, cold winter. I’ll work hard on my studies at St. Thomas Aquinas College, while renting VHS tapes to strangers at West Coast Video in Closter. Montclair State has become the best place for me to be if I want to socialize, but I’m spending way too much time there. And while the dance clubs in Manhattan are still going strong, I rarely, if ever make the effort to go since my style change. In spite of that, knowing Christina’s off for winter break from her freshman year of college, I inevitably ask her out for a night on the town. She happily agrees to go, and once again, I think I’m on the right path to the promised land. I do my research and discover the new, in place to go these days is “Limelight” … advertised as a church turned disco sin castle. I give Christina a call back to get her excited about the club. During our conversation, she asks me about bringing her best friend Elise along. I say, “I don’t mind” and it’s all set. Elise is lots of fun and like the second prettiest senior that went to Northern Valley Old Tappan High School last year, right behind Christina of course. After the call, I get Beamen on the line to ask him to be Elise’s date. Naturally, he’s down for a shot at making it to the promised land as well.

It’s Saturday night December 21st, 1985 and the girls are all dolled up and looking phenomenal in short skirts, pantyhose and pumps when we pick them up in my mom’s 78’ Mercedes 300D. Kevin helps keep the conversation light and airy for the quick ride over to Manhattan. Once in the vicinity of W. 20th, I find a spot and parallel park the diesel, then get ready to jump out. Chris and Elise are eager to bolt as well, and do, as Kevin lunges over from the backseat to check out his hairy mug in my rearview mirror. I wait. No big deal. We’re only a couple dozen steps behind them. After Kevin’s primping, we gradually walk up to the corner, discussing strategy.

As we turn the corner I see at least a hundred and fifty people outside wanting to get in. Blue police barricades are creating a pathway to the entrance for guests pulling up in limos who get to go directly inside. It’s a scene right out of the Studio 54 days, with one guy pointing and choosing who’s getting in and who’s not. There was a time, not long ago, when I would’ve thought this was keen, but now it’s just pissing me off. I start looking around for our dates, but they’re nowhere to be found. I walk up and ask the main bouncer at the door if he’s seen two blonds in the last five minutes and sure enough, he says yes, I let them right in. Then he tells me to go back to the group waiting to get inside. What the hell was I thinking? I should have walked in with my friend Christina. After at least forty-five minutes of freezing my ass off alongside the other so-called losers, in cloths more suited for an Eagles concert than a disco, I turn to Kevin and loudly say, “Fuck this shit! Let’s go!” I then walk swiftly to the car with Kevin on my tail, jump in and take off, never to look back. My clubbing days in the same rearview mirror that got me into this mess in the first place.

The girls somehow made it home in one piece, thank God, but my relationship with Christina is severely damaged. After years of being just friends, my heart gave out and she just didn’t get it. I was no longer a high school virgin in puppy love. I needed something real with her. I thought about mustering up the courage to talk it out, but instead I let whatever we had just fade away.

With the holidays around the corner, Kevin Cunningham is talking New Years at the Oakland Coliseum. He reconsiders in a hurry though when he finds out it’s going to be on pay per view and Tom’s throwing a bash. Kevin has completely entrenched himself in getting ready for the spring tour, transforming Mrs. C’s basement into a bustling tie-dyed shirt factory. He’s completely dedicated and becoming a real pro at it with hundreds of quality dies ready to move. Terence’s taper friend Ron will make the journey west for the four-night run and capture the tunes for us. I felt covered for New Year’s without even going. A few days after the PPV NYE GD concert party blowout, I receive a call from Terence. He starts out by saying, “George you’re not going to believe this, Ron is in Bergen Pines Mental Institution.”

“Bergen Pines?!” “What the hell happened?” I reply. Terence continues, “He took too much fucking acid on New Year’s Eve and freaked out during the flight home the next day.” “Holy shit, not good”, I say. I knew Ron well enough to know he shouldn’t be in there. He’s a nice, quiet guy and certainly not crazy. I’m sure he must have stood out to business travelers though with his long hair and Guatemalan get up, but he’s thin and harmless. It’s a damn shame. This incident takes Ron and his great tapes out of the picture for a very long time.

Let’s switch gears. I just found out my father George has saved up enough frequent flyer miles to take the whole family on a February winter vacation. Yahoo! We could have picked anywhere in the continental United States, but choose Heavenly Valley in Lake Tahoe because the family loves to ski. With only a week to go before we fly into San Francisco, I place a call to Cunningham and ask if by chance there were any shows coming up. He promptly says yes, they are doing the Mardi-Gras run that week and playing on Friday night the 14th. “You’re going to be there!” “You have to go!” He exclaims, as if I need to represent New Jersey or something. I’d like to try, but how am I going to approach the subject with my parents. I leave it as an open-ended idea to start, but as the day comes closer I’m leaning towards going. And on the morning of the flight, I’m determined to make it in.

I’m preoccupied and super tense flying over to the golden state, wondering how I’ll wind up dropping the bomb. We touchdown at noon on Valentine’s Day, rent a station wagon, then find our way over to the Fisherman’s Wharf. We check into two rooms at the Holiday Inn on the waterside. Soon after, we take a walk around to check out the shops. My dad pulls out a twenty and hands it to me with instructions to take my brothers out for a late lunch. Colin and Kevin follow me to a restaurant just past the famous ship wheel.

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