A Good Day
Well, it's December 2nd again. I feel like it happens every year.
I always look forward to December 2nd, since the final one of the last millenium. The date's a reminder of those carefree college trips, a throwback to the salad days of youthful exuberance and lust for life. Today marks the five-year annversary of the best Phish show these eyes hath ever seen, but more importantly, the anniversary of the night that kicked off the greatest month of my life.
With a planned millenium celebration in Toronto (eh?) just a month away, and the popular rock band Phish kicking off a 16-show holiday run in Detroit, Donnie and I packed up Bart Starbux's red Chevy Blazer and headed east for a three-night stand in both the Motor and Queen Cities. The three of us set out for greener grass and higher times.
Everything seemed to work out for us that day, that weekend, that trip. The Karma Gods smiled down upon three gents looking for fun with the good ol' hippie folk. First order of business was clear: As was typical before extended holiday breaks, Northwestern campus was somewhat dry and little green bags were hard to come by. We made do with what we had on the road, but questioning whether it would be easy to buy in the Shakedown lots -- sometimes it is difficult to score a bag at a Phish show -- we decided to stop off in Ann Arbor to see a guy about a thing.
I called up an acquaintance at the University of Michigan and had him on the lookout for some doje. After about an hour in his place, with time quickly becoming a factor, we cut our losses and decided to depart for the show. Our gracious host, in a truly kind gesture and one not easily forgettable, gave us most of his personals for the ride and the show, just in case. We said thanks, surely did some awkward hand pounds and shoved off towards the Palace.
As soon as we pulled into a spot -- the very second we parked -- we opened the car doors and this tour wook immediately asked, "You guys need headies, brahs?" Suuure, step into our office and let's do some bid'ness, sir. We were having that kind of night, all luck.
We trudged to the venue through frigid Midwestindecember weather, and I thought two things upon our entrance: spacious arena and tour opener. This could be a weak show. Boy, was I wrong.
The building turned out to be rockin', and the acoustics were simply amazing for an arena that size. The three of us found some Page-side seats together in the lower bowl, even though we had maybe three different seats scattered around the 300s. And seeing how the ushers actually did their jobs on this night, the first set was a large crowd of musical chairs, quite literally. People were constantly moving, shuffling to find other seats as the rightful owners got kicked out of their fake seats and had to find their real ones. The chain of events was high comedy, but we were worried we'd lose our dynamite view of the stage. The band played a standard tour opener first set, but they were definitely on. You could feel it.
Setbreak came, the house lights went on, and all of a sudden our good friend TJ in OH stared up at us from the floor. We were only about 10 rows up, so he hopped the boards and joined us for a bit. Always great to see TJ when it's planned, but it's even better to randomly bump into him at shows (UIC '98, Cleveland '00, Chicago '00, Cincy '03, etc). TJ's the Seinfeld to my Banya, my guru and mentor, a guy who just gets it. In a cool move, he decided to give up his floor seats and hang with us for the second set, which was the latest in a string of positive events in our favor. The lights went down for the next phase of the show, and the four of us stood up and waited for the second set's first note.
I have two favorite Phish sets of all time, and the next 80 minutes was certainly one of them (11/19/97 II in Champaign being the other). The Boys opened with kickass versions of Stevie's Boogie On Reggae Woman and Gotta Jibboo, but then the fire really started. The Bathtub Gin that followed was off the charts...I mean, we needed new charts that night. It's my most listened to Gin to this day, the band striding in an all-for-one and one-for-all take-no-prisoners jams. At about the 11-minute mark, Trey lays down something mean and Fishman hits a stellar drum beat, and the house almost came tumbling down. The Palace was seriously rocking harder than at the recent Artest-incited brawl there.
The band faded into an uber-industrial version of 2001, aka Also Sprach Zarathustra, a fantastic bridge to the most unique You Enjoy Myself in history. It may not have been the best YEM ever of the, what, 500 versions?, but there's never been a version quite like this. It's unreal, just awesome. There's a grinding jam after the trampolines section that just builds and builds as if someone were winding them up with a crank. It reminds me of a Jack-in-the-Box, getting wound up 'til the pressure can't build no longer. Perfection, sheer perfection. The band was on, the band was tight, the band was together. The vocal jam even concluded with Fishman singing an a capella Little Drummer Boy, a great finish to an unbelievable set.
This was the night...the Gods smiling, the Boys rocking, Donnie and Bart and TJ in tow...can it get any better than this? Oh yeah, that's right we needed a place to crash. TJ suggested his then-bachelor pad in Dayton, giving us free shelter and getting us closer to the next night's Cincy shows. "OK," Donnie said, "since we don't know where you live, we'll meet at the first Denny's in Ohio." Would it work? Would we be stranded and need a hotel?
Remember, this is before anyone had a cell phone and I didn't know how to get in touch with TJ outside of e-mail. Sure enough as the three of us devoured our grand slam breakfasts (one of us may have had a Rooty Tooty Fresh n Fruity) TJ's car pulled up and, sure enough, the whole thing worked out.
We woke up in TJ's then-bachelor pad, watched Bottle Rocket and then began our trek to Cincinnati for two more incredible shows, two additional days of laughter, music and wholesome fun. The inside jokes from those two days still make me chuckle even now, and they're still discussed to this day.
But as Chubbs sings to Happy Gilmore from beyond the grave, "We've only just beguuun." The sickest month of my life was just getting started. Over the course of one month (December 2nd through January 2nd), I was blessed with the time and the Honda CRV to travel nearly 5,000 miles across the upper right quadrant of the United States, driving 3,500 of them and flying 1,250.
Along the way I got to see 11 U.S. states, one Canadian province and the District of Columbia, hung out and slept in random houses and apartments and frat houses and hotels and met up with probably eight or 10 different groups of friends spanning all corners of my past: family, home friends, school friends, camp friends (that's kinda like Gitmo's "unit, core, God, country").
And like any good 20-year-old, I was severely wasted in some capacity just about every single night, often times waking up and having no clue where I was or what I was doing there. A trip that starts in Detroit with some of your best friends seeing your favorite band in the world and ends in Toronto rolling face at the CN Towerwith some of your other best friends as fireworks light up the night sky and the calendar rolls over to 2-0-0-0, with parties and dope and concerts and gooballs and rolls and fake rolls and nitrous and highway bong hits and good friends and close family and seeing the country all sandwiched in between...now that's a great fucking trip, that's a great fucking month. That's not, however, a great fucking sentence. Wow, that's a serious run-on.
These days I'm just another member of the working world who complains too much. Where have you gone December 2nd, 1999?
Epilogue: On New Year's Day 2000, TJ informed everyone he would be a father shortly. A little girl was on the way, a new member of the TJ clan...the then-bachelor pad was gone, but a new era was beginning, and not just on the calendar. It's growns up time.
(Many predicted this would happen, but Jeopardy! Ken officially got Buster Douglas-ed. Nancy Zerg, the surprised lady in the red puffy shirt that defeated Ken Jennings, lost in her first defense of the title after beating the unbeatable champ. Maybe now Ken will be become the craziest man in the world of trivia, vowing to stomp on the testicles of Wink Martindale and eat Bob Barker's grandkids.)