grateful dead poster

I flew from New Orleans to San Francisco for a series of Grateful Dead shows at the Oakland Coliseum culminating with a Chinese New Year concert. Obviously.

We made a connection along the way, and on the second leg of the flight, we met a hippie couple from New Jersey going to the same concerts and had a fun time partying with them over the Rockies. Although they could have taken a direct flight, they took two extra legs because the chick couldn’t make it across country without a cigarette break. I distinctly remember an empty Wild Turkey bottle rolling wildly around the aisle as we came in for a landing and a stern talking-to by the pilot as we exited.

My roommate tells the pilot, “I’m Richard and this is my lawyer Sid.” I add, “I’m Sid and this is my lawyer Richard.” (We were law students at the time.) We argue with the pilot over the proprieties of bringing your own booze onto a commercial jet, and he finally relents and agrees not to report us to the FAA and never let us fly again.

Once we gathered our luggage, we were going to get a cab, when we run into the hippie couple again, who say, “Don’t waste your money on a cab. We’re getting a rental car and can give you a ride!”

My roommate and I are waiting outside the rental car place when John, the male half of the hippie couple, comes out and says, “Either of you have a license? They say I’m too drunk to drive and Crystal is too young.” I of course wisely volunteer to add my name to the rental contract and off we go.

The hippies took us to a reggae bar, when my roommate promptly hooks up with some woman and disappears. Just me and the hippies now, in a strange city. We decide to go to another bar downtown, and I run into a hotel to use a pay phone to call the friend of a friend I’m supposed to be staying with. (This was in the days before everyone had a cell phone.) No answer.

When I get back out to the car, it’s just Crystal. “Where’s John?” I ask.

“Some people just came running down the street and ran over our car.” As in, ran up the hood, over the roof and down the trunk. “John chased them into that bar.”

I get into the bar, where John, no small guy, is being held by his neck against the wall by a group of decidedly tough-looking characters. He has accused the wrong people of running over the car. I buy them a round of drinks and manage to extricate John without too much physical violence.

When we get back outside, there is no sign of Crystal or the car. Which has my luggage in the trunk. “She does this,” John says matter- of-factly.

John decides to call the police to help find her. They show up on the scene, and he becomes belligerent with the cops. When they pull out the handcuffs, I tell them, “I’m his lawyer. Let me talk to him and calm him down.”

“Counselor, step back onto the sidewalk.”

They cuff John and take him away. I am now on the sidewalk somewhere in downtown San Francisco, with the clothes on my back and no idea where my luggage is or how to get in touch with the hippie chick. I know neither of their last names.

I go back into the hotel and ask what precinct they might have taken John to. I get a cab there, and the driver says, “That’ll be $8.50.”

“Can you take me to an ATM? I only have six dollars.”

“Just give me the six dollars and get out.”

As I enter the precinct, I demand to see “my client,” whom I hear screaming from another room as I see one of the arresting officers donning rubber gloves. Maybe I’ll just be on my way.

I have no idea what neighborhood this is, but I am seeing burned out buildings and, quite truly, people huddled around barrel fires.

I run into some punk rockers, who kindly point me in the direction of an ATM several blocks away.

“Is it safe to walk?” They just laugh and move along.

I make it to the ATM, get some cash and manage to reach the guy I’m staying with, who gives me directions. Finally, things are getting better. Except for the missing and arrested hippies with my luggage.

Luckily, John had mentioned the hotel they were staying at, but apparently when you call this hotel and ask for the room of some guy named John, they don’t put you through. They agree to at least take a message for ”the big, long-haired guy named John.”

Then I remembered the rental car contract, so I called them and got John’s last name. But John and I trade messages for days, mostly because we’re all hanging out in the Grateful Dead parking lot all day and attending the concerts all night. I walked to some department store, bought some jeans and underwear and lived in those and the cheapest t-shirts I could find in the parking lot. I got the ugliest tie-die you’ve ever seen, because it was five bucks. It had random slogans on the back like, “It’s showtime!” and “Another day, another Dead show” and “Happy New Year [wrong year]!” My friends and I really enjoyed making fun of it, until we felt bad when we realized that the guy ahead of us in line had the same shirt and surely bought it on purpose.

We all managed to have a great time, except that the guy we are staying with is a Nazi about having the fridge door open, for some reason. “You know, if you leave the door open for like thirty seconds, it uses up more power than running your stereo ALL DAY.” By the way, he runs more than one stereo ALL DAY. He also grows marijuana in the closet under high-pressure sodium lamps.

I get back to New Orleans without my luggage. On a whim, I call directory assistance and ask if there are any listings for John’s last name anywhere in New Jersey. Luckily, it’s an unusual last name. “We have two listings, both at the same address.” Great news!

So I call and I guess talk to John Sr. “Is the younger John there?”

“Hold on,” he says in a gruff voice. Then John Sr. gets back on the phone. “He’s passed out and I can’t wake him. Want to leave a message?”

When I finally hear back from John, he has actually dragged my luggage back across the country and “knows a guy in shipping” so sends it to me for free.

Hippies, man. At least they’re responsible about other people’s luggage.

Image via Flickr.