Part 1: Second guessing my commitment
In the middle of Phish’s summer tour in 1999, I sat in a camping chair in the morning on the lot of Camp Oswego, which was a two-day Phish music festival. It was early, but I was already soaked from sweat because the oppressive heat and humidity that defined that weekend. I took another pill to alleviate the pain from the multiple injuries I’d sustained. I wondered what the hell I was doing there. I should have been at home in bed if not the hospital. For the first time in my dedicated Phish fan-dom, I doubted my commitment and effort to traveling to see this band. I mean, I love Phish, but this was ridiculous.
As I sat there in my misery, I thought back about how I became a fan of Phish five years earlier, and how traveling to Phish shows had cultured my relationship with Trish, the love of my life. I thought back fondly of all those times, but for the first time felt that maybe it was over for me. Maybe I’d finally grown up and didn’t need this scene anymore. I felt like a battered wife hanging onto a bad marriage.
Both of my legs were swollen and black with deep contusions that nearly crippled me. I had a sprained left ankle and torn right hamstring. What’s more, I was still picking gravel out of my side, most of my body was covered in an itchy scabby Poison Ivy rash, and my left eye was black and swollen shut.
I looked up and cursed the 35 foot trailer-camper we’d dragged from Illinois to New York. I wish I had nickel for every time that Trish said something like “I told you we shouldn’t have brought this stupid thing!” then at least I could afford a five-star air-conditioned hotel.
Before I explain the events that led to this condition, and to explain why a then 36-year-old man would have endured such hardships for this music, I have to start from the beginning, and that beginning begins on June 6, 1994.
Part 2: my introduction to Phish
Music can change a life in an instant. If you listen to some of the great musicians of our time, they all have a story of seeing some act or listening to some album that instantly changed their lives. They saw Elvis in TV, or listened to a Robert Johnson song or heard a Woody Guthrie, whatever it was, the music put them on a new path for which there was no return.
For me, there will always be “before 6/22/94” and “after 6/22/94” on the pin-up calendar of my life. I saw my first Phish show on 6/22/94, and for me it was like getting hit in the face by a ganja goo-ball thrown by Roger Clemens…. a juiced up Roger Clemens at that.
On 6/22/94, I was 31 years old and feeling really old. I’d been married to my high school sweetheart for four years and that was after an engagement that lasted over 5 years. (Just a bit of advice, if you go longer than a year engaged to someone it’s time to cut your losses and move on, you’re probably forcing it and it’s not going to work out).
By the summer of ‘94, I’d settled down to an agonizing state of comfort. For good times, my wife and I would put on comfy sweaters and visit with one or more of our friends who were all suburban white bread couples stuck in the same “place you ought be in your 30s” that we were. We’d eat Brie, drink wine, look at color swatches, and talk about furniture. I knew we’d hit rock bottom when Thursday nights became “Jenga” night. People my age were really getting on my nerves.
To make things worse, I’d been through a 12-year musical drought where I couldn’t seem to find any new music worth listening to. I was tired of my own collection, which was mostly music I’d discovered before 1982. To me, 1980s were the dust bowl of artistic expression. The only outlets for new music at the time were crappy radio stations pumping out one of five homogenized categories of music, all of which I couldn’t stand, and all made popular by MTV.
Desperate to find any music that might even be remotely appealing, a group of three other grad students and I got together once a week and each of us would bring some new music we’d discovered and share with the group. It was at one of those meetings where I first heard ‘A Picture of Nector. Not long after that I got a copy of ‘Junta’ and knew I’d found my band.
That very month, I discovered that Phish was coming to be in Columbus. I didn’t have any clue what Phish would be like live. I didn’t know they were actually better known for their live performances. I got tickets to the show, but I had pretty low expectations walking in. After all, it was at Vets Memorial. That place didn’t seem to inspire great performances. Most of the bands they got in there were usually some washed up act, or something akin to a Russian dance troupe.
To add to my lack of expectations, a few days before the show I’d gotten a copy of Phish’s most recent release, and after listening to it the first time, I suspected that maybe Phish had gotten sucked into the ills of the music business like most bands that I loved over the years. I had a “here we go again” attitude thinking that Phish was selling out to the mass market by homogenizing their music. At the time, I thought Junta was a masterpiece and Hoist was Phish attempting to appeal to a wider audience and that at this show was going to be a blatant promotion of their new CD. I’d seen this pattern before. “Great, we’re going to hear ‘Sample in Jar’ and ‘If I could’ note for note, oh boy”, I thought.
Of course, I was wrong about everything, except that I did get to hear the “Sample in a Jar” in the encore, which after having my face smashed in by the Musical Ganja Goo Ball that preceded it, that song has since served as a reminder of how naive I’d actually been.
Today, Phish’s performance that night at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Columbus, Ohio is still considered one of their greatest performances, if not the greatest performance of their career. In fact, it was one of first batch of live performances officially released by the band.
What I saw that night was some nerdy goofy guys like me, my age, having fun, and as good at their craft as anyone could possibly be. They were doing what they wanted and they knew they were good at it. They represented everything that I wanted to believe about myself…but didn’t.
I didn’t know it then, but I had changed. This was my Elvis moment. I didn’t turn perpendicular right away, but I definitely started playing around with the steering wheel.
Part 3: Fooled around and fell in love
By February of 1996, it was clear that my relationship with my wife was all but over. I was going to a lot of Phish shows, and she hated Phish. Not that this Phish thing was the reason we were done, but it was rock salt in the wound. It was yet another resentment and area of disagreement about what life should be like. To her, a man my age shouldn’t be going to rock concerts. I should be reading the newspaper while wearing black socks and boxers. She had a place in mind for me and I wasn’t very good at sitting in that place.
My career wasn’t heading in the right direction either. By then I’d become somewhat disillusioned with being a career Mathematician. I had good intuition and creativity but not the discipline and drive needed to be a top-notch math researcher.
So, the fact that I was unhappy in my relationship and my career made me bomb ready to explode. Phish put in the fuse, now all I needed now was a spark, and that spark walked into to my life in the guise of a young, beautiful, witty, smart girl with a heart of gold named Trish.
The first time she hit me with that smile, I knew I’d found the one. After that first kiss, I was head over heals in love. Mick is right, Love IS just a kiss away!
I saw a report once that showed CAT scans of the brains of people in love and how they exactly match the brains of those people who are clinically insane. I fell madly in love with this young coed who was 13 years younger than I was, and I became insane, and by that I mean bat shit crazy insane. I was so overwhelmed with giddiness that I’d actually became potentially dangerous.
Even without knowing whether my new-found love for Trish would grow into a long-term relationship, I went home and told my wife I was in love with someone else that I’d met that night. She kicked me out of the house right there and then, yelling …”you no good, lying, cheating, stealing, selfish, mean, son of a bitch!” All I could think was, “What did I ever steal?”
I lived in my car that winter, which isn’t easy to do in the frozen tundra of Central Ohio. You have to start your car every couple of hours or so for some heat. I had tried living in my office on campus but my office mates would come in at 6am each morning and I couldn’t take that. I managed to stay clean by showering at the campus sports and recreation center.
Trish and I kept communications going over the internet, which was still a relatively new thing to do at the time, and over the next couple of months I traveled to Illinois every weekend to be with her, returning to Ohio each Monday to teach my classes during the week. I even chased her to Panama City during spring break without telling her and without knowing where she was staying. We ran into each other one night when she found me stumbling drunk and dancing on a table with a bandana wrapped around my head shirtless and using my shirt like a feather boa. Yet, she still accepted me.
The love insanity soon bled into my career. I ‘m a great teacher, it’s certainly the thing I’m best at doing. I’d earned a reputation as a one of the better teachers in the department, and was given the responsibility of teaching a computerized version of Vector Calculus that quarter. I’ve always been in favor of treating students as peers, and I practiced non-standard teaching techniques. However, now that I was insane, I took this concept too far and it got me into some trouble.
One of my teaching techniques was to have midterm exams at a local pizza shop. We’d meet there in the morning and the students could take as long as they wanted on the exams and they could even cheat by working together. The caveat was that after the exams were graded they had to schedule and oral exam where they had to explain everything they did on the exam.
Since the pizza shop served beer, I let students over 21 drink beer during these exams. One of the students asked me if I could develop a sliding scale of grading exams depending on how much beer they’d had in a given amount of time. Jokingly, I told him that if he drank two pitchers in an hour I’d give him one easy algebra problem and if he solved it I’d give him an “A”, otherwise he’d fail.
So the Friday night before a Monday exam, my students called me and asked me to come over to a party where this guy would attempt the beer drinking challenge we’d joked about. Since I was tripping on the love drug at the time, I agreed.
So I went to this keg party, and all of my students and many of their friends were there and this guy did indeed drink two pitchers in an hour. I have him an extremely easy question especially for a calculus honors student.
Standing, he took the notebook I’d written the problem on, looked at it, read it, and then fell flat on his stomach and passed out. Of course, I let him take the exam sober the next Monday.
If I would’ve left right then, I probably would’ve been okay, but I didn’t. Talking to one of my students I found out that he worked as a work-study at Ohio Stadium (where the Buckeye’s play football) and was in charge of the video room. Ohio Stadium is a highly regarded and sanctimonious place in Ohio and so there are security measures to keep people out and off of the field. There are security cameras all over the stadium and the video is watched by a someone 24/7 in the Campus Police Department building, which is a few blocks away from the stadium. They record each night on tape, and my student said he could patch an old recording into the video system so that the watchman would be watching a previous nights video so that we could actually go out onto the field.
After some discussion we decided that this kid would do the video trick and we would take the keg to the field and party on the 50-yard line in Ohio Stadium.
So, most of my Calculus Class and I went to Ohio stadium with a keg. The kid that worked there set the tape and let us in. It didn’t take long before we taking turns doing keg stands on the 50 yard line.
At some point, someone decided we should do a 100-yard dash from one end zone to another, in a re-enactment of the first Olympics in Greece. Someone else reminded us that the Greeks would’ve run it naked. So, some of us took our clothes off, some girls and some guys, and ran the race naked much like the ancient Greeks would’ve done, only slower, drunker and not so much in a straight line.
I finished second, which is the only thing I can be proud of in this episode.
After school was over for summer, one of the students who was a bit disgruntled about his grade reported this activity to the ombudsman. He claimed my abnormal behavior disrupted his ability to think and study properly. I got called into the department office and asked to take the summer off to clear my head and get over my impending divorce. He told me they’d reconsider my appointment in the fall. Essentially, my career was in danger of being over.
Right around the same time, I found out that Trish had promised some guy she met in Panama City that she’d go to his coast guard graduation ball in Connecticut. It turned out that while she was in Panama City after I’d left, some Coast Guard academy student helped her get away from some aggressive steroid abusing wrestler and sacrificed his own safety in doing so.
She promised me that it was just a favor to repay him for his valor, and that they were just friends and that I shouldn’t worry. I knew better, but I still helped her shop for formal dress to wear to the graduation. We found this gorgeous white dress that looked like it was tailor-made for her. She looked spectacular in that dress. I felt like I was helping to choose the blade for a guillotine for my execution, because there was no way that coast guard dude could resist this. I was sure they’d fall in love, and I’d be left with my severed head on the ground.
In the meantime, I finalized my divorce. Then, two weeks later, and the very week I was to take Trish to the airport so she could go be with another man, I got a call from my brother who told me that my ex-wife and her family had just won 24 million dollars in the Ohio Lottery.
So, it’s not hard to understand, that after I dropped Trish off at the Airport, I was really depressed. I’d lost my job, I’d just gotten a divorce, my ex had just won the lottery, and I was sure I’d lost the first real love of my life. It seemed like suicide might become a good option. To this day, I don’t know how serious I was about killing myself, but I felt like I needed to be prepared just in case. I considered all the options, and I checked off anything that would hurt or cost too much. Jumping off something would be scary and hurt. A gun would be too hard to get, pills would be too expensive. Seemed to me the best way to go would be to use the “running car in a garage” trick and go by asphyxiation. But I didn’t have a garage. So I went to hardware store and get some dryer hose, some cardboard, and some duct tape. I’d simply put the dryer hose on my exhaust pipe and run it into the window of the car and block off any ventilation with cardboard and duct tape. During this process that one of the things I considered worth living for was marketing this simple suicide kit and undercut that Dr. Kevorkian guy. I went to Ace hardware and found all the items I needed. When I went to pay for the stuff however, my credit card was denied for insufficient funds.
Of course, later, I was very happy I didn’t have any money, because Trish did come back to me after all. She admitted that the coast guard dude made a pass at her but that she had denied him. I don’t blame the guy. She’s a keeper.
She asked me to move to Champaign, Illinois and live with her, so I did. I didn’t have anywhere else to go actually. With her help, I eventually got a job teaching computerized sections of a Calculus courses similar to those I taught at Ohio State, which became the driving force in my life and career even to this day. By August of ’96 Trish and I were living together and loving life. We still remember that summer as our summer of love.
Part 4: A ball at the Clifford Ball
My birthday is on August 19, and so on the morning of August 15 when she asked me what I wanted to do for my Birthday, I had the Phish page up with the information on the Clifford Ball, which was the first major multi-day outdoor music festival. I said, “Let’s go see Phish at the Clifford Ball in New York!” I was really joking, since I knew we didn’t have much money between us, but she surprised me when said “Ok, let’s do it!”.
I had introduced her to Phish music through out our time together, and she liked the music I played for her, but of course she’d never been to a concert. It was important for me that not only she like Phish but that she would enjoy going to concerts and perhaps one day even go on Phish tour with me.
I called for tickets right away to be held will-call and told her we had to leave that moment because we had to get to Plattsburgh, New York, by the next day. So, we grabbed an extra change of clothes, loaded up the old’ Corsica and without knowing what to expect and in fact without being prepared at all we set off for the Clifford Ball…
To me, secretly, this trip to Clifford Ball became a test of our “soul-mate” bond. We threw the phrase “soul mate” around a lot. We always felt as if the universe had driven us together for a greater good. If that was the case, then in my mind, Clifford Ball would either confirm it, or deny it. There are two things that in my relationship with my ex-wife had become important to me that she had rejected and wouldn’t share with me…1) Phish and 2) LSD. I don’t mean to come across as a drug fiend, anyone who knows me knows that is not the case. It’s just that I cannot overstate the impact LSD has had on my life. I’m certain, that without those powerful experiences I would’ve ended up stuck back in my hometown in Appalachia reliving the glory days of high school like so many of my friends are now. The fact that my ex-wife wouldn’t try these experiences with me, and eventually that she wouldn’t go see Phish with me, was evidence that not only didn’t she understand who I am, but that she didn’t want to.
Because of this, as Trish and I headed to Clifford Ball, I became very anxious and nervous about what lay ahead. Firstly, as I said, I hoped she would like Phish and their fans. Secondly, I hoped she’d drop acid with me. So, I talked to her about it and as with most experiences the only thing I could really tell her was that ultimately she would understand. She told me she had heard this kind of talk before, from all of her Meth addicted friends in rural Illinois, and from a ex-boyfriend who convinced her to do Tussin Cough medicine with him but it only made her sick. She was skeptical, but curious.
I reassured her that this was indeed different, but I couldn’t help but feel like a drug pusher myself. I had to acknowledge to myself that maybe I really was acting just like her drug addicted friends by trying to push her into a potentially weird place from which we would grow apart. It was something we’d both have to decide if and when that moment came.
We drove all night stopping only at gas stations and fast food joints and to stop and bathe in a river in the middle of New York. We arrived on the lot and shuffled in after I got my tickets from will call. One thing I noticed right away was that we were parked in a place where we couldn’t leave until the people around us left. It was then I realized I should have brought a tent, or maybe even just brought some blankets.
The first day at Clifford Ball is a blur, we’d driven all night without sleep but somehow managed to get through the night of music. Our tiredness made us a bit detached from the whole thing.
We went back to the car immediately after the show and used our extra clothes as blankets and pillows. When I asked her what she thought of Phish she said in a somewhat less than excited voice…”I like them, they are pretty talented.” I thought to myself, “Ouch. This wasn’t going well.”
The next morning after a good nights rest we ventured out among the campsites. She didn’t know that I was actually looking for doses of LSD, as we walked around looking at the clothes and art people were selling. I was reminded how naive she still was, when she commented on the fashion of the people of the lot. She liked it though, and said she felt as if she were in some tribal foreign land.
It took me hours and hours to find some LSD on the lot that day. My only chance was when I saw another deal going down. I had to bust into it, which is generally a lot drug deal fopaux. However, the guy reluctantly sold me two hits of white blotter paper which I stashed away for later.
The inside of venue looked completely different to us now that we’d had some sleep. It felt like a fun backyard carnival to her, but more like a psychedelic opportunity to me. So I decided to talk her into dropping the acid with me. She looked at me in the eye, smiled and said, “I trust you completely.” With that, we ate those hits.
We walked around for a bit and visited a bouncy giraffe castle, and watched a Russian puppeteer, by time the music started we were up on the hill were there was stand set up with tons of free acrylic paint and canvases. We sat down and started painting. At first, we painted silly scenes, stick people, and signs that had messages on them. We had poured a bunch of colors of paint onto a piece of wood that acted like a paint palette for us.
But then, to my delight, it was obvious that we had started to hallucinate. Trish noticed that the colors on the paint palette were running together but not mixing, and that it was really quite beautiful. Suddenly that paint palette was much more interesting than what we were originally painting. We became entranced with the swirling patterns that these un-mixable colors made. I grabbed a piece of grass and she grabbed a small stick and we used those to drag through the paint to make more patterns. At one point a grass hopper jumped into the paint and got stuck, Trish teared up a little because she felt sorry for the poor grass hopper who would surely die with this paint all over him. I, however noticed that the grasshopper made a pretty picture in the paint as his last gift to this world. That made us both happy.
As we painted, we noticed a crowd of people watching us paint. We heard people say things like, “How are they doing that?” and “Wow, that’s awesome!”. One guy said loudly, “Is that a picture of Jerry Garcia?”. Another person said, “It’s a Violin”. We stood back and looked at what we had done, and realized that we’d just painted a violin on fire. In and around the fire were faces and bodies of jesters dancing and holding hands.
As we stared at the painting in awe, some girl walked up to Trish and asked her to paint her. So she obliged.
Before long, Trish was doing such a remarkable job painting people’s bodies, that there was line of about 12 people sitting and waiting to be painted.
Eventually she got to this guy who asked her to paint his nipples. I called the whole thing off when I noticed that while she was painting his nipples, he was on his knees, had his head back, and had an erection that was forming a tent in his patch-work pants. So, I dragged her away but not after she hugged all of her loving fans and told them she loved them, blowing them kisses as we left.
We headed over to the Clifford ball town and had fun talking to the “townspeople”. Not long after this we were walking across the field and Trish fell to the ground, rolling and screaming “I understand!…I UNDERSTAND! and I love this band!!!” Some guys walking by said to her, “I’ve been there, and I understand too.”
Pretty soon, the second set started and we ended up in the crowd. After the song “Fluffhead” ended we were sitting at the bottom of this knoll and there were people sitting all over it. Right in front of the knoll was a big space with no people in it because it was just a big field of mud. The next song was “Run like and Antelope” and when they the lyrics say, “You’ve gotta run like and Antelope out of Control!”, Trish hopped up and ran straight down the hill and into the mud, and I followed. As we ran and danced in the mud the entire hill of people came running into the mud with us. Now there was a whole mess of people running and splashing around in the mud like antelopes out of control.
During the next song, Trish got a little bored, and wanted to walk around and talk about tripping and what was happening. As we walked around the Mike side temporary fence line, which was basically large pieces of plywood, we happened upon hundreds of gallons of latex paint up against the wall. It was obvious that this stash was the paint that they used to paint the Clifford Ball town and that they didn’t have time to dispose of it properly. All of the paint cans were open and partially used.
We could still hear the music very well, and it inspired us to express more of our new-found painting talents. So we grabbed cans of paint and threw paint against the wall. We were in a giddy laughing frenzy, throwing paint on the wall and each other. Suddenly, we heard someone clear his throat. We looked over and two security guards were standing looking first at us, and at the paint, and then at the wall, and then back at us. Their body language suggested that they weren’t pleased. Their arms were folded, and they had a scowl on their faces. Trish and I just stood there, holding our paint cans and they surveyed the situation. I thought for sure we were going to be kicked at the very least and maybe even arrested for vandalism.
Then one of the security guards pointed at the wall and said rather emphatically, “It needs more blue!”
So, we added more blue, and when we were done with that particular panel we each put our hand prints together with blue paint on the wall. We then found a large piece of plywood lying on the ground and we grabbed buckets of paint and poured different colors in pools on top of it. Then we’d slide the paint around with our feet to make a new painting. Soon, two other guys walked up and one of them was particularly fascinated with the painting. He was so fascinated that not only did he join us and paint some with his finger, but he eventually painted some with the tip of his nose. His buddy standing over him, said sarcastically, “That’s great nose art there, A Masterpiece of nose art, but can we get back to the concert now?”
As the song “Slave to the Traffic Light” was hitting its crescendo, Trish and I stood on the plywood covered in wet paint and kissed. The world seemed to disappear. We WERE soul mates after all!
When we left the concert that night, we were covered in both acrylic and latex paint. We stopped at Denny’s for a late night snack, and we were completely out-of-place. When we were seated the waitress asked, “Have you guys been to a Grateful Dead concert or something?” That night we slept in the car at a park at the lake in Cooperstown, NY, the home of the baseball hall of fame. In the morning, we tried washing off the paint by swimming and using the showers, but we just couldn’t get the latex paint off of us, so we skipped seeing the Hall of Fame out of respect.
Part 5: The best day ever
When we returned home we were closer than ever. We started tossing around the idea of getting married someday. However, that someday seemed to be far into the future.
Three months later, the week of Thanksgiving, we took a trip to San Francisco . We both had been to the bay area and loved it. It was our dream to live there someday. In fact, we each had pictures of us from there before we met, and in each picture we are standing on the same curb in the same pose in front of the clock tower on the campus of Berkeley.
The weather was gorgeous that week with highs in the 80s. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was uncommonly warm that week. San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but San Francisco with that kind of weather is THE most beautiful city in the world.
One of first places we visited on our trip was Hawk Hill, which is at the peak of the Marin Headlands on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge. To me, on a clear day, it’s the greatest view in the world. You can see San Francisco, the pacific ocean, Berkeley, Oakland, the bay, and point Reyes all from one vantage point. There is an old WWII Gun embankment up there that looks like something out of the WWII movie “The Guns of Navarone”. It is now part of the Marin Headlands National park.
While standing up on Hawk Hill enjoying the view, we discussed how wonderful it would be someday to have a wedding there. Later that day, sitting at Boudin’s Bakery at the base of Ghiradeli square, we talked more about our fantasy wedding plans. I’m not sure why I said it, but I just said half jokingly, “Why don’t we just get married why we’re here?”
To my complete surprise, she immediately said, “Okay, let’s do it”. I said, “Really?”, and she said “Yes!”
So, we decided to get married. It was Tuesday the week of thanksgiving and we were going to get married that Friday, Nov. 19, 1996. We went to hotel room and I found a nondenominational preacher in the yellow pages who agreed to marry us for $300. He said he meet us at the top of Hawk Hill at 3pm on Friday.
That Wednesday we got a marriage license. On Thanksgiving Day, we went to China Town to shop for wedding bands because it was the only place where anything was open. We found matching wedding bands for $60. However, after they re-sized the rings for us, mine was all bent up and crooked. When I questioned it, they Chinese store sales lady looked up at me and said “It’s zee style! It’s zee style” I had to use my teeth to bend it back into the shape of a ring.
Luckily, Trish brought the beautiful white formal dress that I helped picked out months earlier for her date with the Cadet, and I brought a suit. We brought the formal wear because we had planned to go out to a fancy restaurant for dinner during our vacation. As it turned out, that dress was the perfect wedding dress… after all I had chosen it! Friday morning, we went downtown and Trish bought 5 feet of sheer fabric that I fashioned into a veil using hair pins and daisies we bought at a flower shop.
As if everything weren’t perfect enough, as we were crossing the Golden Gate bridge to get married on Hawk Hill, we heard on the radio that Phish was playing Cow Palace south of San Francisco, that night and tickets were still available.
Like I said, It was an uncommonly beautiful day. Trish was beautiful, and no one could take their eyes off of her. In fact, one lady with an aristocratic accent walked up to her and said, “Darling, you look marvelous.” We met the preacher at the top of Hawk Hill, and immediately a married couple from Mill Valley stepped up and asked to be our witnesses. The husband happened to be a professional photographer who used all of his remaining film, on our wedding pictures which he eventually developed and sent to us.
When the wedding service was over and all the photos taken, they suggested that we go to Wolfgang Puck’s new restaurant called Postrio which was his second restaurant after the famous Spago in LA. At the time, it was quite famous, and they were taking reservations at least month in advance. When we showed up with no reservations, they took one look at us and not only did they seat us, but they sat us at one of two tables that overlook the entire restaurant downstairs.
At one point, I walked Trish to the restroom. To do so, we had to go down the formal stairway leading to the main dinning room, and as we got half way down the stairs everyone in the restaurant stopped eating, and there wasn’t a sound as they all looked at how beautiful Trish was – then they broke out in applause. The restaurant gave us a bottle of expensive Champagne, and a wonderful dessert plate for which spelled “congratulations” in chocolate sauce, all complements of the house.
The only awkward moment came when NFL color announcer Paul McGuire approached our table completely drunk and belligerent. He looked at straight at me and said, “You should have never gotten married in California because when she divorces you she’d get half of everything you own, automatically! It’s the state law!” Trish winked at me and said, “Great, I get half his debt?”. Soon, Paul’s son dragged his father away and apologized to us.
After dinner we headed to Cow Palace to see Phish. Although we had to park far away and we were late, some hippies had us sit in the front hood of their car and they escorted us to the show. Even though it was set break there were still tickets available and we walked onto the floor since Cow Palace is a general admission venue. Hippie girls swarmed around Trish and gave her hugs, congratulated her, and showered her with what I hoped was confetti. Random dudes came up to me and handed me joints. Every once and while someone asked if we really had really gotten married or if we were just dressed up that way.
The moment I remember most, and the happiest moment of my life was standing next to Trish that night listening to my favorite Phish song, “Harry Hood”. This live version is still my favorite Harry Hood of all time.
Part 6: Serendipity
The summer of 1997 we again traveled to see the next Phish Festival at Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, Maine, we all know was the Great Went. This time we were much better prepared. We had what I considered at the time to be the works, a large tent, plenty of food, huge cooler, and even a blow up air mattress. I scoped out the highest place I could find to set up camp which turned out to be fortunate because it stormed hard at the Went, and flooded out a lot of Phish fans camps.
The first night before the shows, Trish and I were in our tent blowing up our inflatable mattress. I was holding the manual pump between my legs and she was pumping has hard and fast as she could since it seemed like the battery in our flashlight might go out soon, when I heard some dude sitting outside in a completely sarcastic tone say, “I’m not even going to comment on that shadow”.
I looked up at our shadow being cast on the inside of our tent, and it looked like something you’d see in a B-rated sex movie. I started laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe. Eventually, I gathered myself and went outside to talk to the guy who made that hilarious “non-comment”. When I got there, there were a bunch of people sitting around smoking a bong. I couldn’t help but notice that two of these people looked strangely familiar.
After partying with these guys for a bit, I told them about our adventures at the Clifford Ball and when I got to the part about painting the plywood panel on the ground with our feet and about the two guys who came over and painted with us, one of them jumped up and said, “Hey, that was us!” There names were Tim and Brian, and we became great friends with them and their crew, and we have traditionally gone to all of the festivals together ever since. It also happened that both my sister and this Brian guy lived in near Washington, D.C. and by a mere coincidence, Brian and my sister met at a bar in D.C. and started dating. It was a complete shock when I walked into my home in Ohio for Christmas and there sat Brian in my living room.
Inside the Great Went venue, the band again provided massive amounts of acrylic paint, but this time there were pieces of wood everywhere for people to paint on instead of canvases. We felt as if our painting all the wood we could find the year had convinced them to put those pieces of wood out for us to paint. I got a little frustrated this time around because once again people would gather around to watch us paint but it seemed no matter what I was painting people would see an image of Jerry Garcia in it. One guy said “They’re like a psychedelic Bob Ross, only painting Jerry instead of happy little trees.”
The other thing that was annoying is that every time we’d leave for set break and come back someone had stolen the artwork we were working on. Eventually we got tired of this and stopped painting.
Then Trey announced during the next to last set of the final night that it was the Phish Concert crew who had taken our paintings and used them to help build a 60 foot sculpture that was visible to right of the stage. They painted their own painting on a large piece of plywood that they passed to crowd, who then passed it over to the sculpture where it was hung up with the all of other paintings created over the weekend. During the climax of the last set, the sculpture was set ablaze and burned to the ground while the song “Disco Inferno” played in the background. We felt even more of a connection with the Phish community, a connection that had grown out of and became part of our relationship together.
Part 7: Girl Moments
One thing I realized at the Great Went was that even though Trish is really cool, she is still very much a girl. By that I mean that like most girls, she doesn’t have a lot of tolerance for being dirty. It probably is an instinct that comes with having a vagina and keeping that thing healthy and clean. She calls those moments of intolerance to filth, “girl moments”. Phish festivals tend to create a lot of these “girl moments”. Taking Trish to these festivals is a lot like what I’d imagine taking Reese Witherspoon’s character in Legally Blond to a Phish fest. In fact, Trish looks like Reese and gets comments to that fact every single time we go to we go anywhere.
The next year, in the Summer of 1998, we again attended Phish’s annual music festival. This one was called “Lemonwheel”. This time, however, I did everything I could to keep Trish clean and happy. I built a makeshift tee-pee shower structure out of 20 feet of 2 inch antennae poles, ropes, and three 30 foot canvas tarps. I built a pulley system complete with block and tackle to help hoist the five gallon camping shower bags 10 feet into the air. It had soap and towel racks, and a wooden deck so your feet wouldn’t get muddy. We brought a Radio Flyer wagon to fetch four bags of water (20 gallons) for every trip to the water station on the festival grounds. Everyone around us marveled at that shower and most of them ended up using it. I can’t count how much beer and drugs people gave me after they’d come out of that shower feeling like a million bucks.
By time summer 1999, came around I tossed around the idea of going on a full-fledged Phish tour, something we’d never done before. We saw a lot of shows but they were usually shows within 100 miles of us, like Deer Creek and Alpine. If we were going to do any kind of extended run following Phish around, I knew I had to come up with an inexpensive plan to keep Trish clean and happy or she’d never go. Getting Hotels for a bunch of shows in a row was out of the question as we didn’t have much money back then.
As it happened, my father had just moved to the Champaign, Illinois area after a failed attempt at becoming a traveling carny selling Kettle Corn. He had to get back into the business of being a general manager of the worlds largest chicken coup, and had a gigantic 35 foot camper trailer left over from those carny days.
My father is unique individual to say the least. After going to a carnival and trying some kettle corn, he impulsively quit his 40 year career in the poultry business and bought a Kettle Corn franchise. He moved to Missouri so his home base would be in the middle of the country where he could be within two days drive of most of the places that have the types of fairs and carnivals that would appreciate kettle corn.
He grew out his hair, started wearing trucker caps, wore jack daniels t-shirts, and looked every bit the part of a carny. Two days before he was to go to his first carnival, he had a heart attack, and later that took a job in nearby Loda managing a huge egg business.
He was fine with letting me borrow his Camper, as well as his pickup truck to tow it. The day he brought it over, and the day we were to leave to go on tour was the first time we’d seen Camper Trailer.
First of all, there was a big gash that ran the length of the camper, several of the windows were broken out and had duct tape and cardboard in their place. And because the camper was parked next to the world’s largest chicken house there at least 100,000 dead flies covering every horizontal surface inside the camper. “Oh yeah, I had to spray for flies, son”, my father said.
Trish took one good look at this thing and exclaimed, “We’re not going!” and went back into the house.
I vacuumed out the camper, and had a long pleading discussion with Trish about it. I didn’t tell her about the fact that the Ford pickup which had a broken air conditioner, and a broken stereo, also a bad muffler that made it sound like a chain saw.
After much begging and consoling, she eventually came around and agreed to stay on plan, but she let me know that this camper would end up being a pain in the ass and she didn’t feel good about it. She said it looked haunted and reminded her of something Stephen King would write a novel about. Little did I know that this camper would end up making the 58 Plymouth Fury in “Christine” look like Herbie the Love Bug.
So, a little more than a week before Oswego we headed out. Since this was our first “tour” we wanted to take it easy and just do the last leg of the tour from Oswego through Deer Creek.
Part 8: Don’t Jump!
We hit highway 70, turned on the boom box as loud as it would go but could still barely hear it because of the noise the truck made. I had to keep the pedal on the floor just get that big trailer moving down the road.
We were on tour! We were on the road! It felt great to heading across this great country with a Phish festival as our destination. I’d put Phish stickers all over the camper and truck, and used some white shoe polish to write “On a Phishing Trip!” on camper’s back window. I couldn’t wait to see other Phish fans in their vehicles headed the same direction we were.
Our first stop was Turkey Run state park to meet up with some friends for the weekend and float down the Sugar Creek river on inner tubes, which was one of our favorite pass times. Those friends were also going to be taking care of our black labrador retriever – Wilson – who was back in the cab along with us.
We camped that night at the park, and the next day we rented inner tubes and took the rental place’s bus to Sugar Creek for day long floating expedition. We rented extra tubes to carry coolers full of beer and food. I’d already started pounded beers that morning and feeling great. Vacation is the only time you can drink beer in the morning and not feel like an alcoholic. However, Trish caught a fever and wasn’t feeling well, so she decided to stay back at camp while the rest of us went floating.
Like all labs, Wilson loves water, I mean he really loves water. He loves it so much that for the first 15 minutes he’s in water he cries and whines loudly while swimming from the love he feels for it. I thought it might be fun to take Wilson down the river with us this time.
Once the bus let us off and we arrived at river’s edge, I tied one of the inner tubes to Wilson with a rope I’d fashioned to keep him tethered while we floated, otherwise he’s the type of dog to roam out on his own and end up lost. When I turned to get the rest of the inner tubes ready, Wilson was already in the water pulling that inner tube downstream as fast as he could go.
I had to catch him immediately or he’d be miles downstream before we knew it. So, I swam as fast as I could go chasing that dog downstream. He rounded the bend and went through the narrows gorge where there is an old covered bridge crossing there. This is the best part of the entire river, an idyllic American swimming hole with cliffs on both sides under a that beautiful wooden covered bridge. Just past the bridge and cliffs are beaches and more big rocks. It’s idyllic.
Swimming as fast as I could, I swam under and past the bridge until someone downstream caught him for me and held him at the beach. At this point, I knew it be too much of a pain in the ass to take crazy Wilson the rest of the trip. So, I walked him back to the bus area via the trail up to the bridge and then followed the road to where this all started. I told my friends that I was taking Wilson back on the bus to the campground to leave him Trish. They agreed, and said they’d hang out at the beach past the bridge until I got back.
After taking Wilson back, and after pounding a few more drinks and smoking a few bowls, I unhooked the Truck from the trailer, drove it back to a parking spot near the bridge instead of taking the inner tube tour bus. Once at the bridge, I had two choices for getting down to where my friends were: 1) Climb down the trail, or 2) jump off the bridge.
Now, I’d been to this area countless times, and every time I went, I would jump off the roof of that bridge. I’d done it so many times, that it was an easy decision for me to make a grand entrance to meet back up with my friends by jumping down into the water. Since it’s a covered bridge you have to jump off the roof which is about 20 feet high itself, and the bridge is about 25 feet from the river, so it’s normally about a 45 foot drop. The water was so deep that I’d never even come close to hitting the bottom. This time however the water was 10 feet below normal.
When I climbed to the top of the roof to jump I yelled down and got my friends’ attention. All I could hear from that distance was them waving and yelling “Jump!”
Only they weren’t yelling “Jump!”, they were yelling “Don’t Jump!”
You see, what I didn’t know, was not only was the river 10 feet lower than usual, but the river bottom had changed over the last year since I’d last been there. Now the water that lay below was not only 55 to 60 feet down but it was only 3 feet deep. My friends knew this because they had waded through the water under the bridge an hour earlier.
Without any hesitation, I jumped.
I’ve never felt that type of impact, and I’ve been in some serious car accidents. I can’t imagine ever feeling that kind of collision again and living to tell about it. When I hit the river bed, my chest and shoulders didn’t even submerge. It seemed my ass and feet hit the bottom at the same time. I went limp from the shock of the impact, and started floating downstream. The first thing I thought, when I realized what happened and was alive was that I might be paralyzed. To find out, I wiggled my toes and could feel them, and realized that I could even move my legs. They hurt really bad but I could move them. “Thank God!” I thought. “I’m going to live and I’m not going to live in a wheel chair the rest of my life”.
As I floated downstream my friends ran out to rescue me expecting the worst. They grabbed me and pulled me to shore. I tried to stand but couldn’t, it hurt too badly. I suspected my legs were broken but I didn’t care…I was alive and wasn’t paralyzed.
Just as they pulled me to shore, the sky turned gray and it began storming really hard. We could hear tornado sirens off in the distance. My friends carried me under the bridge onto the large rocks to get out of the rain. They also brought the cooler full of beer.
I sat there the rest of afternoon riding the storm out, and drank as much beer as I possibly could to kill the pain. I was also celebrating life. I was given another chance at it. I felt like the luckiest man in the world that day. The only thing that was upsetting to me was that I probably wouldn’t be heading on to see Phish with broken legs.
Once the storm had blown over, we headed back to get Trish and then to the nearest hospital where I got some x-rays. They were all negative. I hadn’t broken any bones, I hadn’t torn any ligaments, and I didn’t even sprain anything. All that was wrong was that my legs were just badly bruised and swollen from the impact of my legs compacting together that hard. They gave me a prescription of pain pills and some anti inflammatory medicine, and sent me on my way.
Since I couldn’t walk, we stay at the campground a little longer than we expected, but by that Monday I could walk around with crutches, albeit by shuffling, so we hit the road to Oswego once again.
Part 9: On the road again
Of course, there was a lot of discussion about returning home and recovering, but I wouldn’t have it. I felt like this trip was too important, especially now. We’d been working very hard on our new business and were losing time for each other. These Phish outings always served as a reminder of the bond we started with and helps keep us going.
We were going to Oswego if it killed me. Of course it almost did already a couple of days into the trip, but surely my luck wouldn’t be that bad again. At least that was the logic I was using at the time. Pretty cavalier for someone who has been through the things I’ve been through, but hey, you got to keep your chin up, right? right.
The next night we stayed at a rest area somewhere in western Ohio, and I took that opportunity to point out to Trish just how cool it was that we had a camper. “Just look at the money and effort we’re saving by taking the camper.” I told her. She just rolled her eyes as if she knew something about the future that I didn’t and said “We have a long way to go.”
The next morning we were off again, Trish was driving and was trying to get comfortable in the seat so I could get some sleep. Those pain pills and anti-inflammation medicine were kicking in and making me drowsy, so I really couldn’t do much other than sleep. But the Truck cab was just too damn uncomfortable, and it was way too loud. So I suggested that maybe I ride in the Camper and sleep on one of the beds or the couch. She pulled off at a rest area and climbed into the camper, slipped on my Guinness branded PJs bottoms and a T-shirt and laid down on the couch. Trish shut the door, got in the truck and drove back onto the freeway.
Here is a bit of advice for you, don’t ever ride in a trailer camper. Once Trish got up to speed every bounce was magnified ten times. There were times I was bouncing a foot off of the couch,which because of my injuries was causing excruciating pain. Trying to save myself, I crawled towards the back and laid down in the hallway near the bathroom over where the back axles of the trailer are. This helped quite a bit, but the ride was still very rough.
I prayed that she would realize this and stop soon, but she didn’t, she just drove on and on and on.
So, I laid in the hallway of the camper and waited for Trish to pull over sometime. It was uncomfortable and painful. After what seemed like forever, I got my wish. I could feel that were slowing down and coming to a stop. Seeing my chance, I got up, limped to the door and opened it. I tried to step out of the camper but when I did my weak legs gave out and I hit the curb of the highway wrong, sprained my ankle, and fell into a gravel ditch scraping my side on the way down.
I laid there in agony for a bit, until I looked up and saw the truck and camper pulling away. I struggled to climb up out of the ditch, and was yelling as loud as I could but she couldn’t hear me over the bad muffler, and she just drove off. I got up and tried to run after her but I couldn’t, I could barely walk. I stood there with my hands on legs to hold me up, and watched as the Truck, the camper, and Trish disappeared over the hill.
It just so happened that Trish had taken a detour onto route 40 because of construction on I-70 and had just stopped at a red light.
I stood there in a near panic wondering what to do. How far would she go before she stopped and found and found that I wasn’t in the back? What would she do? Who would she call? What the hell was I going to do. I didn’t have real clothes on, let alone any money. Who would I call? What the fuck?
I had to grab a ride, and quick. The only hope was to try to catch up with her, but each minute that went by was going to make that more and more unlikely.
Once I realized what I should be doing, a small Toyota pick-up stopped at the red light. Curiously, it had a make-shift wooden canoe rack with a canoe on it. I waved them over and they pulled over to where I was standing. They were two really large guys, but really nice fellows in the front cab of that tiny pickup. I explained that I had fallen out of the camper, and asked if they could please help me by giving me a lift and catching up with my wife. They agreed and had me hop in the back with the canoe. As they took off, I was facing backward toward the front of the bed of the truck, wasn’t holding on very well, and so I fell back toward the back and hit my eye really hard to the point that I couldn’t open it.
Thankfully, we caught up to the camper. I beat on the window and pointed at it so they’d know it was the right one. They passed her and got in front of the Truck+camper and slowed down. From the back of the pickup I stood up holding onto the canoe and waved trying to get Trish’s attention. I’ll never forget the look on her face as she recognized me and pulled over. I hopped out of the pick-up and thanked those guys and then got back into the Ford with Trish, exhausted, in pain, but very much relieved. I’m not sure what I would’ve done if those guys hadn’;t shown up when they did.
After explaining to her what happened, I noticed that were actually nearing my home town in eastern Ohio. I suggested that we stop and camp at Bark Camp State Park for the night. I had camped at this park hundreds of times growing while in high school. We’d take a camper and drink all night and tell stories. I had wonderful memories of that park. Yeah, that would be a welcoming place to stop and rest for the evening…or so I thought.
Part 10: VIP Camping
As we neared Bark Camp State Park, the adrenaline wore off from last episode and my ankle, eye, and scrapes were starting to hurt along with my bruised legs. I complained out loud at my condition. Trish looked at me and without any pity said with a tight grin and eyebrows up, “I told you we shouldn’t have brought this thing. It’s bad luck.”
We paid at the front office and the park ranger pointed out that there was only one spot left that could hold such a large Trailer. He suggested that we back in and unhook the truck and park it next to the camper. So, I took over driving and after a half an hour of frustrating backing up and pulling forward I finally got the camper in a good place. Like he suggested I unhooked the truck and parked it perpendicular to the camper in an attempt to give us privacy. I got out our tie-dye tapestry, and draped it over the truck as a statement of our Phish tour intention, just in case there were some other Phish fans in the campground who might want to come swap some stories with me.
It wasn’t long before I noticed that there were all these people riding around on bicycles back and forth watching us. It was the same people over and over again, riding slowly and staring at us. I walked out front to stare back and hopefully intimidate them a bit into leaving us alone which seem to work out pretty well. They simply acted as if they were just riding around and looking at all the campsites and eventually they were gone.
I then decided that it was time to start a fire, grab a beer, and smoke a bowl. Afterall, I was supposed to be on vacation! Once I got the fire started and the beer cracked open, I got out my one hitter and just before I was about it hit it, a police car came screeching to a halt right in front of our camper, but positioned so that I could only see the back of the car. I quickly threw the one hitter and the case underneath the camper behind the tires and walked toward the police car.
This really short chubby Park Ranger walked right past me and went straight back to where I threw the one hitter, got down on his knees, reached behind the tire and under the camper and grabbed my one hitter. “What have we here?” He said.
I was shocked and wondering, ‘How in the hell did he know where it was?’.
He wrote me up an expensive ticket, and took my one hitter and all the weed in it. However, what I was most worried about was the fact that I was going to end up in the court news of the county newspaper the ‘Times Leader’. Not that it affected me much, but my Mother is a highly respected real estate broker in the county and this wasn’t going to be good for her reputation.
I continued with beer and sat next to fire as twilight fell into darkness. As I sat there fretting over the trip to Oswego so far, I heard what sounded like someone talking on a Walkie-Talkie out in the woods.
I got up and grabbed a flashlight, and walked towards the woods, stopped, and listened intently. Then I heard it again, so I walked into the woods slowly and quietly stopped now and then and listened for the squelch and talking.
So, as I walked through scanning around with my flashlight, I tripped over a branch and fell into weeds; weeds that I’d eventually learn was poison ivy. I heard someone laughing in the next camp and realized that they might be laughing at me. Then I actually heard someone say “Yeah, he fell on his ass!” in a loud but attempted whispering voice. I got out of the woods and went back to the fire realizing that I was being watched.
The next morning I got up and made some coffee and sat outside at the coffee table. Once again I heard the sounds of a two-way radio. I looked across at the camper next to me and realized that there was large man sitting at table next to his camper on talking on a Ham radio. As I surveyed the camper I realized that it was a permanent fixture since it was up on blocks.
To get a better idea of what was going on I walked out to the road and down to where that camper sitting. In front of the camper was a sign that said, “VIP – Volunteers In Parks” and had a paragraph below it describing the roll of this Ohio state parks program for retired people. Basically, they allow these people to set up camp for the summer for their cooperation in helping “watch out for public safety”. In other words – they were geriatric narcs.
As I stood in front of the sign I looked up and noticed the old man looking at me and I yelled loudly, “So? They let you stay in this park as a spy to narc on people, eh?!”
“Yeah, so what?” He said.
I replied angrily, “Well, I came here to camp, and to get away from fuckers like you! I can’t believe that the state sanctions this kind of bullshit in their state parks!”
He stood up and said, “Well, people like you doing drugs shouldn’t be in our parks!”
I just said, “Fuck you!” and walked back to my camp.
It wasn’t long before that guy entered my camp site. He was huge. He looked a lot like John Wayne except that he had a marine style buzz haircut – flat on top. He started lecturing me about people like me and how ‘people like me’ are what’s wrong with America today and finished with, “Why don’t you people just get the hell out of here!”
I stood up and started limping to where he was to confront him and Trish beat me to him, yelling at him, “You get the hell of my campsite, you’re trespassing!”
The looked at me, pointed and said, “you better get the hell out of here before I kick your ass!”
With that, Trish punched him in the stomach and said, “I said, get the hell out of my campsite!”
It didn’t hurt him in the least but sure did shock him. Perplexed and without saying a word, he turned around and left.
I was so appalled by this situation that I went immediately to the park office. When I walked in there was the park ranger who wrote me the ticket for possession, and another woman who ran the place, who, it turns out, I went to school with. Her name is Sandy, I hadn’t seen her in a long time but that didn’t keep me from yelling.
I started softly, “Sandy, hey, it’s Scotty, long time no see, how you doing? Me too…”
Then I went into a tirade, “Sandy WHAT THE FUCK is going on around here?! You have old fucking Narcs LIVING in our state park?! What the fuck kind of STATE PARK allows this SHIT!!”
As I yelled, she started apologizing offering to give me my $10 back for the stay and offered me a season pass to any state park in Ohio. I told her I’d never go to another Ohio State Park as long as I lived and just kept yelling at her telling her about how that man came into my camp and threatened me, etc.
It wasn’t long before the arresting officer stepped up and told me I didn’t have to worry about that ticket he gave me and that he would be asking that “VIP’er to leave.”
I went back to my campsite flipped off that old man, packed up and got back on the road. As we drove off, I felt embarrassed for my home state, and even more for the people who live in my county. Little did I know that we weren’t going to be treated much better in the next states we were to visit either.
Part 11: More trouble with the Law
Traveling through West Virginia, it’s extremely hilly and it’s both difficult to climb those hills pulling a huge trailer and impossible to stay under the speed limit when going down hills without completely burning out your brakes and/or transmission.
Going down one of those hills, I was pulled over after speeding. As usual the state patrolman asked for license and registration but he also asked about this “Phish” thing. I told him I was really into music and that this was an improvisational rock band we were traveling to see in New York. After looking at my license and registration he made me get out of the truck and join him back in his car. I started to get in the back, thinking I was being arrested, but he told me to get in the front.
I got in and he called in my name and information and such. I asked him what was going on and he said, “just hold on”, as he was writing up some paper work.
All kinds of things passed through my mind. Was he going to call in some dogs? Was he going to take me in? What was going on?
After some awkward silence, he told me he likes music too and that in fact, he was a singer. Out of the blue, he started singing Irish Folks songs in a perfect Irish accent. It was actually quite beautiful. Seeing an opportunity to get out of this ticket and situation I buttered him up and asked to sing more. Three depressing Irish songs later, I was wishing that he just give me the ticket and let me go.
It took so long that Trish got out of the truck and walked back towards to car so we could see each other but the patrolman couldn’t see her. She gave me the “What the fuck” shoulder hand gesture trying to figure out what was going on. I waved her back to join us and she got into the back seat.
I explained that the officer was an Irish Folk singer, and Trish encouraged him to sing again. Again, he went through the same four songs he’d just sung to me and I really didn’t think I could take it anymore. “At least, we’ll get out of this ticket!” I thought.
When he finished he gave us a flyer with his name and picture on it with dates and location where he was singing. He also encouraged us to come out and see him sometime and then gave me a ticket for $300 and let us go.
We continued on, and as the sun was setting we stopped at Bald Eagle State park in central Pennsylvania near State College. I started a fire and we roasted some hot dogs on the fire. After dinner, Trish got out some marshmallows and stuck them on some sticks she found. I walked around looking for my own stick, and as I walked around I noticed this park ranger following me just a few steps behind. Still annoyed from the last park we were in, I decided to just try to ignore him. I kept walking around and he simply kept following me. Finally, he stopped me and said, “Sir, would mind if I searched your vehicle?”
I stopped approached him and asked – “Why?”
“Well, I saw your girl friend over there rolling a joint.” – he said.
“She wasn’t rolling a joint, she was sticking marshmallows on some sticks” – I replied in a rather bothered tone.
“Well then you won’t mind if I do a search then?” – he said.
“Nope. You know what, have at it, have a ball, here let me open up the camper and truck for you.” – I replied and then went and sat down with Trish to make some smores.
He actually went into the camper, and I could hear him rummage around, then he went into the truck and got some bags out and searched those. Finally he came over and asked if he could search “our persons”.
“Sure go right ahead.” – I said.
He searched me up and down, and even took some stuff out of my pockets. Some gum, some receipts, and a few dollars.
He sorta patted down Trish a bit, thanked us and then left.
I looked at Trish and said, “I need to get those Phish stickers off the truck, and figure out how to get that shoe polish sign off the back don’t I?”
“yeah, it seems to be a sign telling people we are carrying drugs.” – she said with a smile.
Late the next day we got up early and entered NY. I was really getting excited by now, we were starting to other cars full of Phish fans heading our way. As time went on my foot got more and more heavy, and I had that going as fast as I could get it to go. Trish kept warning to slow down, which would work for 10 minutes or so, but I wanted to be there so bad I just couldn’t keep it under the speed limit.
Then I noticed a NY state patrolman on the other side of the interstate. “Oh crap, I can’t get another speeding ticket!”, So I tried something that worked for me before, I got off on the next exit with the idea that I’d drive around a few blocks and he wouldn’t be able to find me. In hindsight this was a ludicrous idea. I was in a large white pickup truck hauling a gigantic camper. I just panicked I guess.
Besides the exit I got off on didn’t have a town or blocks where I could lose him. The patrolman was on us in no time at all. I stopped the truck and turned it off, ready to take my punishment. He got out of his car and approached the truck from a wide-angle with his hand on his holster ready to pull the gun. He then screamed at me… “Get out of the truck!”
I got out and he made me step to side facing the truck. He did a cursory pat down with one hand and then yelling at the top of his voice asked,
“Why in the fuck did you try to run from me?! Is this some kind of trick you do in Illinois?!”
“I wasn’t running from you, my wife had to pee.” – I responded.
“DO YOU SEE ANY FUCKING RESTROOMS AROUND HERE!?!”
“GET BACK IN THE FUCKING TRUCK YOU ASSHOLE!!”
He proceeded to yell at me for another 15 minutes, even telling my wife that she was married to big loser and that she should find someone else.
After a while, he calmed down and told me to get the fuck out there and keep my speed in check. To my complete surprise he got back in his car and left without giving me a ticket.
Part 12: Setting up at Camp Oswego
I was really happy to arrive at Oswego. We got there early, and didn’t have to wait long in line to get our camping spot. Like we did for Lemonwheel, we’d met up with those guys we met at the Great Went who we ran into while painting at the Clifford Ball, Tim, Brian, Hadley, and Rachel. My sister came with Brian who she was still dating at the time.
Once we got onto the lot, I set up camp. Even though I was still limping badly, and was in a lot of pain, I was so excited to be there that I just couldn’t sit still. I put out the awning and an extra Easy-up shade structure, and put out a baby pool that we could soak our feet in to stay cool. It was already incredibly hot and was supposed to get hotter.
One thing I’d learned at these Phish festivals is that it’s important to put up a flag or something really high in the air so you can find your spot easily after the show. When there’s 80,000 people camping in a huge area it’s very easy to lose your perspective and get lost without a land mark like a flag…the higher the flag the better. In fact, to me it felt like a competition, perhaps some ancient and deep seeded male obsession with having a big phallus. Whoever could get the highest and loudest flag on the lot wins!
When we were swimming back at Turkey Run, I had bought a bunch of those foam “noodles” to float down the river with. In fact I bought every color they made, and when I piled them together to put them away I noticed they made a perfect and pretty cool looking rainbow. I also still had the long poles I used to use to make the make-shift showers, but now that we had the camper that had a shower so I could use the poles to make my camp flag pole.
So, to get the flag poles as high up in the air as possible, this time I decided to mount the now 25 foot pole on top of the camper and anchor it with make shift nylon rope guy wires. It was a bitch, but I climbed up on top of the camper and had Brian hand me the poles, the noodles, and the rope. I tied the noodles together to make the rainbow then tied that to the pole. The pole was in the middle so that the noodles hung down in a perfect rainbow shape. Then Brian came up and held the pole up while I tied off the support ropes to the four corners of the camper.
I was really pleased. It was a beautiful sight. As I looked around the entire lot from the top of that camper, I realized I did, indeed, have the highest and loudest flag pole on the lot. As I was backing up to get a better look at it, I took too many steps backwards and fell off the top of the camper.
When I fell, I fell off the front corner of the camper and landed between the back cab of the truck that I’d unhitched and backed up to the camper to help us climb up on top of it. One one hand it was lucky I fell there because it helped break my fall, on the other hand, I got sandwiched in a pike position and tore my hamstring… a hamstring that was already injured from my jump in Indiana.
I screamed in pain. My wife and friends helped me into a chair as I fought back the tears. Thankfully I had all those pain pills which I immediately popped and chased with whiskey and beer. I drank so much that I eventually passed out.
I slept the rest of the day and all night, and don’t even remember going to bed in the camper. When I woke up early in the morning I sat there in the heat dejected and in pain wondering what the hell I was doing there. By now I my skin was reacting to poison Ivy I figure I gotten back in Ohio. So on top of the pain pills I’d was eating tons of Benadryl too.
Both of my legs were swollen and black with deep contusions that nearly crippled me. I had a sprained left ankle and torn right hamstring. What’s more, I was still picking gravel out of my side, most of my body was covered in an itchy scabby Poison Ivy rash, and my left eye was black and swollen shut.
I was wondering what the hell I was doing there. I was too old for this. Music isn’t worth this kind of hassle. Trish and I should take real vacations, you know, the ones where you just sit and relax. Yep this
was surely my last go around with Phish.
When Trish got up, she tried to console me, saying with smile on her face, “I told you we shouldn’t have brought this camper.”
“I told you we shouldn’t have brought this camper.”
That sentence would not stop ringing through my head.
At least I could take a shower. It was really hot and humid. One of the hottest weekends I’ve ever experienced. “Thank god we have this camper, so we can shit and shower.” I kept saying to myself.
“Well fuck it then, I brought this fucking thing all the way out here, I’m going to take a shower!” – I announced to everyone in earshot.
If you’ve never used a camper shower, the way you shower and conserve water is to turn on the water just long enough to get wet, then turn it off and leave it off while you soap up and the then turn it on just long enough to rinse off.
So, I turned it on, got wet, soaped up, but then when I went to rinse off, the damn thing wouldn’t turn back on. The pump broke. I had soap and shampoo all over me and had to walk – or rather limp slowly in my robe all the way to the camp water station to rinse off. And now, because the shower didn’t work the toilet didn’t work either, only no one knew it yet. So of course my sister went in and took a huge morning shit. When I limped back into camp, she sheepishly said, “I’m sorry about the bathroom.”
When I entered the bathroom and opened up the toilet lid, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. This shit was astonishingly huge for such a small girl. It at least was the size of her forearm. We dubbed it the “Sequoia Turd”, which is really embarrassing my sister to this day. However, I was the one that had to go cut it up with a knife and push it into the camper septic tank. I wore pot holders as gloves and put a bandanna over my nose and mouth, and drank a few shots of whiskey first. It was disgusting. I used a jug of drinking water to rinse as much of it out as I could, but the smell never really went away over the weekend.
“I told you we shouldn’t have brought this stupid camper.”, Trish reminded me again.
Here is some advice: Don’t fly anything resembling a Rainbow on a flag pole at a Phish Festival.
Because of that rainbow, our campsite became a mecca destination for the weirdest people. These strange unruly smelly dudes with green teeth and crystals around their neck would come and sit in our campsite and talk about bizarre quasi-religious cult-ish philosophies, and ask for food. We eventually discovered that they were part of something called the “Rainbow Family”. That was the first time I’d ever heard of this group. They didn’t make the best first impression, but one of them did leave us with some pretty good sugar cubes.
So, after a long hot day we went to the show. Obviously I really wasn’t feeling it. In fact, Trish joined me as I hobbled back the camp during the first set and we listened to it from there.
Part 13: Odysseus and Penelope reunite
We went to the second set, and again I was in pain and depressed. The pain pills helped but still, I wasn’t really in the right frame of mind for a concert. The crowd was getting to me, and we were hot and sweaty, so Trish and I went just outside the venue, sat down, and leaned against the plywood wall that surrounded the concert venue. We talked about the past festivals and remembered how great and fun the Clifford Ball was. All that reminiscing about our past Phish experiences made me feel better. So, when Down with Disease started we decided to go inside again and join the festivities.
I stood up, brushed off my shorts, and faced the wall. Looking at that plywood wall, I couldn’t believe what I saw! It was the very plywood panel that Trish and I had painted at the Clifford Ball! The exact same one.
We really couldn’t believe our eyes, so we put our hands on the blue hand prints we had made three years earlier and indeed it was our hands and our painting.
It’s difficult for me to explain the feeling that this moment gave Trish and I. I’m not a religious person, but I knew that this was predestined somehow. I was yet another embodiment of Odysseus, and Trish was my Penelope who I upon completing this journey, found, and embraced once again.
With renewed vigor we went inside and I enjoyed Phish once again. After the show that night we went back to the camper, grabbed the acrylic paint we brought with us, and took it out to the center of the festival grounds where they’d built the playful buildings for the festival. One of those buildings was the temporary Post Office where people could mail post cards. We sat down with our canvases near that building and started painting. As we were painting, a couple came along and borrowed some of our paint and started painting the post office. Eventually, more and more people borrowed our paint to join into the fun of painting that post office. Eventually, we didn’t have any paint anymore.
We didn’t mind. We went into the post office and watched people paint, which made us proud, because we knew that those people would have their own stories to tell someday.
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