Sunday night, the last night, we were in Section 331 or maybe 313: the top section on the right, maybe an inch in from the right border of the picture. Second row in the middle. The Captain was in front of us, and Hobbit was to the right.
These are not cruel nicknames; one is not a nickname at all: Hobbit introduced herself to me as “Hobbit. (Right, right: Hobbit was technically a nickname, but what I’m saying is that I’m not calling her “Hobbit” to be a dick and comment on her appearance. Although, she did get that nickname because she looks like a hobbit.)
The Captain was a Jew in his 30’s in a captain’s hat; he shushed Martin and I because we were having a giggling fit naming all of our favorite Phil songs. (Terrapin, Stella Blue, Deal, etc.) In the Captain’s defense: we were being boisterous. On the other hand, when I say that he shushed us, I do not speak euphemistically: he pouted his lips and exhaled forcefully, resulting in a sound we onomatopoetically refer to as a “shush.”
It wasn’t a “Hey. Guys?” You’d expect one of those. You trail off on the “guys” a little. People are being too loud? You turn around and go, “Hey. Guys?” and everyone knows what has transpired.
I am uncertain as to whether or not the Captain put his index finger to his lips to underscore the shush.
I managed to fuck up a grocery run.
Martin is a chef and prepared the three of us breakfast in the morning at around 1 in the afternoon. Left to my own devices, I would have stopped at the taco truck before and after the show and called it a day, but Martin is not just a chef, but an adult, so he made breakfast.
Nothing fancy. Eggs and bacon. The kind of breakfast Charles Bronson would approve of.
Supplies had run low and I, wanting to be a good guest, volunteered to shop. It was a short list; I had cash and a credit card; the store was two blocks away.
Sadly, there was a Ukranian grocery next door to the regular grocery, which I entered. Now: did I walk back out on to the street and check to see if there was another place to buy food where all the labels weren’t in Cyrillic? Of course not: I circled and re-circled the aisles as if that were the way to learn the language.
Not only was all the writing in gobbledygook, I’m pretty sure Ukrainians have a different definition of “food” than we do: I did not recognize some of the animals hanging behind the butcher case. I think they eat a lot of elk.
On my fifth or sixth circumambulation of the store, the babushkas were giving me the eye; I got eggs and orange juice, then tried to hide my failure with a shitload of fruit. (I regret not buying the Latvian version of Fanta, which is called Blug.)
I got back to the apartment and explained what had happened; neither Martin nor Chris brought up the fact that the store I was supposed to go to was right next door, which is polite of them.
Chicago made me realize that we need autonomous cars, and we need them quickly.
I checked my phone during a Dead show. (Kinda. Not I kinda checked my phone; I mean they were kinda the Dead.) Not obsessively–less than normal–but I did. I would never throw friends under the bus, but Chris and Martin totally did, too. And all the people in our general area the first night, and all the people in our rows the following nights.
Everyone in that stadium who had a phone played with it at one point, and not just to take pictures: they would get a text and take their phones out of their pocket to see who it was, and then notice they had a notification on Twitter, and so on.
Please understand that I am not just talking about the sober and the dragged-there: people on acid who had not been on acid in a very long time played with their phones. A headful of LSD and the Grateful Dead (kinda) onstage, and all of us chose at least briefly to fuck around with our magic toys.
And you expect people to stop using their phones while they drive? Bring on the robot chauffeurs; we have made our choice.
You don’t make eye contact in the Men’s Room: it’s a rule. It’s an impersonal room for a personal act. However, laws supersede rules, so when someone shreds the fabric of the social contract by walking into the Men’s Room barefoot, you are allowed to make eye contact with the guy next to you.
I don’t remember what the barefoot guy looked like, but my fellow witness was tall and had a brown beard; we both saw him–naked heels and toes squishing and semi-sliding on the slick, sickly tile–at the same time.
We looked at each other.
And then back down.
How often do you know the totality of a complete stranger’s mind? And have him know yours? We shared the kind of instant communion that only onlookers to terrorist attacks or natural disasters are privy to. (Pun semi-intended.)
I couldn’t tell you the set list of any of the shows I attended; I will never forget that moment in the Men’s Room.
If there had been no show, no music at all, and was just a crowd of happy people in the summer, then that might have been okay, too.
Soldier Field was not built to be wandered around. The outside, I mean: unlike most stadia plunked in the middle of ten-acre parking lots, Soldier Field is on a little strip of land in between the highway and Lake Michigan; there are natural choke points for movement, plus there are hills and multiple levels so you can’t ever get a vantage point on where the hell you are.
(Grant Park, which is right next to the stadium, was built to be wandered around in. It is a park.)
You had to show your ticket twice: first to get in to what you could call the front yard of the joint, and then again to get in the building proper. Once you got inside the wire, there was open space, flat, on three sides of the stadium; space and grass and sun and opportunities to buy anything you could ever want, as long as the only things you ever wanted were Dead merch and RC Cola.
People were in wheelchairs: the unlucky, with their legs in casts; and the really unlucky, with nothing obviously wrong. Hobbit’s left leg was in a massive brace, the canvas one that wraps around your entire leg from the back like a tortilla, and the velcro straps in front.
Soldier Field was refitted around the turn of the century (the most recent one, not the old-timey one) and it was necessarily a bit of a kludge: there’s at least one part where changing levels on the concourse involves going both up and down. They had a certain amount of space, and they fit a football stadium into it. It’s a little discombobulating on the best day.
But during a Dead show, the place becomes completely uncombobulatable.
“Chris,” I said. “Can you combobulate?”
And he said nothing, because that conversation did not actually occur. (The fictionality of that anecdote takes nothing away from the fact that I will now be using the word “combobulate” to mean “finding your way with purpose and efficiency.”)
We were not so confused as to disregard the cardinal rule of show-wanderin’: follow the tall guy and you’ll get there eventually. If you try following the short guy and getting there soon, you will fail.
While we were walking, we talked loudly about the soon-to-be-announced shows at CitiField in two weeks. We were hoping, perhaps, to return to our seats and have the people around us buzzing like extras in a screwball comedy.
“Didja hear, Marge? They’re taking the show to Queens!”
“Queens! This bunch of jokers?”
“Why I oughtta…”
This did not happen. That people who heard us did not believe us.
RC Cola should use the marketing strategy that they employ in Soldier Field in more places: I would buy RC Cola much more if it were the only product available. People have brand loyalty when it comes to soda–I’ll admit to preferring Pepsi to Coke–but it’s all the same poison; I have one every two weeks or so. In Chicago, I had one every two songs or so. The trick is to get the soda/sweating ratio just right; this limits both bathroom runs and the chance of sunstroke.
Chris and Martin, who I have mentioned previously are adults, had beer.
After the show, back at the house, we watched Ferris Bueller in honor of the city. There was whiskey or whisky or scotch or whatever that brown stuff is officially called. Martin and Chris relaxed with their drinks; again: like adults.
I asked for a glass, pounded the shot like I were in a biker bar, and then made this noise MANACXHblech HOO nHOO and I also made a face like a six-year-old forced to finish her broccoli.
They judged me a little.
The stadium was protected by being a stadium: they build them to be defensible, and while most of the security was “security,” there were also the requisite number of enormous private guards and bemused cops. There was also a fence, and nothing can get through a fence.
In the corner of the stadium, by the taco truck, someone managed to crack the fence code: he climbed it.
“I never would have thought of that,” Chris, whose book Paradise Now is garnering rave reviews and you should really buy, said.
“So that’s how you do it,” Martin said.
“You use your hands and feet. Right,” I said.
He was a little wiry guy with a massive backpack; it didn’t slow him down as he scampered up the chain-link, over, around a cop, and into the crowd.
We were mild. “This is why we can’t have nice things,” was our first thought and then we remembered it was 2016 and that backpack was enormous; we talked about something else until nothing blew up, and then we talked about the kid with the backpack a little.