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The Loop

Published: 2018/02/14
by George Ochel

Revisiting The Grateful Dead on Valentine’s Day 1986

My relationship with my younger brother Colin is solid. He’s thirteen years old, with thin orange hair and freckles, but he doesn’t have the same facial mold as Kevin or me. I was the first family member to be able to understand Colin, a full year before anyone else could. It was amazing because he was barely speaking words, but we were communicating. We’ve been on the same sort of wavelength ever since. Colin’s not about to become a young republican like my brother Kevin and he seems to favors my lifestyle over his, even if he doesn’t know what it’s all about.

After ordering, I start in with my dead babble and eventually spill the beans to Colin in a bid to get his support. Kevin overhears and instantly puts on his war-face. “What do you mean, you can’t go anywhere, you’re on a family trip”, he roars, “Why not?” I express back calmly. We exchange less than kind remarks until it becomes very heated. The arguing continues back to the hotel lobby where my parents are waiting. Kevin immediately comes out with it and the battle is on. My mother Maureen and Kevin join forces, hitting with insult after insult about my past failures. They go on to tell me how they hate the mere the sound of the words “GRATEFUL DEAD”. My father is upset too, which hurts. I sit down on a ledge and become quiet, deep in thought. Kevin and my mother simmer down as well. That’s when my father, just like Mr. Brady from the Brady Bunch would have done, comes out with this: “Son, you’re twenty years old.” “We can’t keep you from going anyplace.” “We would like for you to stay with us, but if you have to go, we’ll understand.” “Just please be careful, they are expecting cold rain and hurricane force winds tonight.” I think about it for a few moments and timidly say, “I’m sorry, but I need to go, I’ll be safe and promise to call later.” Kevin flips his lid, but my parents know nothing’s going to stop me and stay silent.

I eventually stand up, say a peaceful good-bye and make my way out the glass doors of the hotel and up onto the street. I make a left and proceed past the ship wheel. The cold rain and wind is drastically picking up. I cross the street to look for a bus, any bus to get me out of here before I change my mind. Moments later a bus comes by and I get on. Cowboy Neal is not at the wheel but I’m off to never-ever land. We continue on passed Chinatown until I see a sign for the BART subway system. I jump off at the next stop and hit the rails in search of heads that can help me find my way. I instantly spot a couple of veterans that would have intimidated me a year ago. I walk up to the two portly men and ask if they’re going to the Kaiser. One says yes. I briefly explain how I’m a lost dude from Jersey and ask about the previous shows. The same guy who answered says Tuesday night’s China>Rider was the best thing so far. I ask if the China Cat was strong because of my last experience with the song in Philly when JG was sick. He answers with a quick “Yes it was”, as if I’m some out of town newbie. I move over and wait on their next move onto a train heading towards Oakland. On the ride my focus moves from getting out of San Francisco, to getting inside the venue formally known as the Oakland Aud.

A few stops later, deadheads start filling the cars, which puts me at ease. An Italian looking kid with a dark afro, wearing a black shirt, leather vest and jeans sits down next to me and introduces himself as simply Zappa. Turns out he goes to high school with Justin Kreutzmann, Bill’s son. He doesn’t have a ticket to the completely sold out Friday night show either, but expects to score one from Justin. I tell him my story during the twenty-minute ride. He’s amused and says he’ll ask for an extra for me. I think it’s really nice of him to say, but I’m not about to believe it until it happens. I follow Zappa and the rest of the fans off the train at the 12th street station, then over to the exit turnstiles. Like everyone else I precede through, but for some reason these three-inch thick orange spheres come flying down like a lobster’s claw from both sides of the turnstile, clinching my hips and rendering me motionless, stuck in place. People start laughing out loud and my face turns bright red. The laugher continues with more joining in until I’m finally let go and I have to go back to put money on the card. By the time I put it all together Zappa has vanished.

I walk up to street level where I’m met with even stronger winds and it’s completely dark out now. I make it over to the Kaiser and begin walking along the sidewalk next to the building. A dark black man in the shadows behind some shrubs asks me if I want to buy some marijuana. I say yes, purchase a twenty bag, stuff it in my pocket and continue on. Seconds later I spot Zappa on the stairs of a side door. I tap him on his shoulder to say I’m back just as Justin emerges. The three of us walk down the steps and make a left. Zappa asks if he can get me in too. Justin turns behind his right shoulder to look me over then
asks if I’m cool. To which Zappa replies, “Yeah he’s cool.” Without a yes or no we continue around to the front of the building. We pass that African American ticket taker guy from the “Grateful Dead Movie”. I’m starting to get happy. When we arrive at the entrance doors Justin turns and hands me a complimentary ticket. I say, “Thanks a lot and by the way your father is a great drummer.” He looks up at me, smiles, then walks away. I’ve been accepted!

Pumped, the two of us cruise passed the doors and into a gothic style lobby seemingly made for this kind of thing. This is cool! We continue onto a gymnasium type floor, stopping right in the center directly underneath a mirrored disco ball. There’s a big red heart dangling up there too. This is the smallest place I’ve ever been to for a GD concert, with capacity somewhere around eight thousand. The sound is going to be awesome. I wasn’t planning on taking anything tonight, but reconsider after Zappa friends appear, a mix of three girls and three dudes. After I’m introduced, the boys head out to score ecstasy, leaving me alone with the girls. They’re very cute and interested in my tales of New York City nightlife, where the bars are open till 4:00AM. I want to fall in love with at least two of them and move here. When the guys return, Zappa hands me a clear gel hit and says its X. Not thinking its ecstasy, I put in on my tongue and keep quiet about the fact that were all taking acid. We then sit down Indian style on the polished wood floor and settle in for some wild music. I take out the bag of weed I bought and ask the group for a paper. I open the bag up and an overpowering skunky aroma overcomes me. Its Indicia all right, the supreme king of the buds. “Yahoo!” I spark a fat one when the lights come down and pass it all around.

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