This is about where we were sitting, Chris and Martin and I, for the second show; in real life, the stadium didn’t get this blurry until later in the evening. They were better seats than we’d had for the first night, as we did not have any seats at all for the first show and therefore any seats would be better: overturned paint bucket, half-deflated beanbag, one of those chairs that looks like hands and is excruciating to sit in. Seats: the promise of America! You could ignore them, stand up and boogie and get real loose with it, but you could also take a load off; just having the option was a balm to the frazzled mind and aching calves.
Seats are nice, but a view is worth something and ours was vantageous: the stage, and the crowd, and Chicago’s skyline over Trey’s shoulder. There may or may not have been a moon, but there was definitely a blimp. The mass on the floor was tight in the middle and scraggly around the edges like penguins huddling against the cold, but with fewer eggs and more Jewish guys.
We invented a game–it was one of those games you need to be in the right frame of mind to find interesting–called Colors. (It wasn’t called that at the time, but I just decided to, and if Martin or Chris disagree with the name, they can start their own blogs.) One of us would say “red” and all the Enthusiasts on the floor in red t-shirts would leap from the background into HD focus, and for a second they would really mean something, maaaan. And then “green,” and ZZHWOP out would bounce the groovy guys and gleeful gals in emerald. It was a good game.
It was during the second set–perhaps–that we fully appreciated our perch. At the back of the floor, right around where that scrum at the bottom left of the picture is taking place, two Deadheads tried to kill all of us. Maybe “try” is the wrong word; their intent was almost certainly not sinister: let’s say that two Deadheads attempted to create a situation in which all of us would die. Much better.
The two had a sky lantern, which the Chinese invented, because it is a thing and the Chinese invented all the things. They look like this:
You’ll notice the open flame, and I cannot remember which of my friends said, “Oh, that’s a bad idea,” but I do remember the quiet fatalism he said it with. The only thing worse than an open flame in a football stadium full of people surely must be an airborne open flame in a football stadium full of people, and the worst thing of all must be an airborne open flame in a football stadium full of people on acid.
But in our doom lies our salvation. That which would have killed us all (being incapacitatingly high) instead saved us. Here I paraphrase Shakespeare: acid maketh you to think that launching a firebomb in an enclosed crowd would be a good idea, but it also removeth the ability to get the sucker in the air. The candle-thingy wouldn’t stay lit, and then one of them stepped on the whole rig, and then the other one tried hurling it into the air, and there might have been some running with the contraption held aloft like a kite: it was a mess. A good analogy would be North Korea or Trump: were it not for the possibility of everyone dying, it would have been hilarious.
Even at a Dead show, you can only play volleyball with a flaming laundry bag for so long; an authority figure came and confiscated the lantern, but it seemed like he was cool about it.
We were a little sad for the for the loss of our secondary show, but the Dead (kinda) was playing, so no one dwelled on it. Later on, we discussed the forethought and planning that must have gone into Operation: Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow. The security wasn’t strict, but they did check bags and pat people down; they must have hidden the fire balloon on their person. Before that, they had remembered to pack it and bring it to Chicago, and first they had to buy the damn thing at all, which I would expect was not an impulse buy: you make a special trip for a sky lantern. You don’t buy a dozen eggs, some milk, a lottery ticket, and a Chinese sky lantern.
There was a process, is my point.
And nowhere along that magical ride from idea to confiscation, did the question “Will my actions turn Soldier Field into a Michael Bay movie?” come up.
I don’t know why I remembered that; memories pass me by like joggers in the rain.