My buddy DK was here in Portland for the holidays. While dining at Zeus Cafe, he suggested that we could collaborate on a novel based on our experiences touring with Grateful Dead in the 1980s and 1990s. I like the idea a lot, and think the addition of a writing partner for this project would be particularly beneficial, as it will require much memory jogging and just as much vivid imagination.
DK, for his part, has his collection of hand-assembled Road Logs available for inspection (no small thing, considering DK and Anina’s house burned down a number of years ago). I too have some primary source materials to help ground the story in place and time. I also have the beginnings of a story written out in decades old drafts. My protagonist, Cody Timberlake of Salt Lake City, is a fan of the band and a pot-dealing ski bum with an East Coast education and beautiful friends.
Where might we take this character and the story now? To make a great novel, we need to adhere to the classic arch of a story and develop the necessary tension (plot twists) that holds it all together, before resolving with either a heartbreaking or heartwarming scene at the end. Naturally, we want to draw on the many real experiences we had during this ten-plus year period. In fact, I’m eager to simply record many of my true stories so they don’t fade into nothingness. Already too many years have passed, and that’s no doubt already changing the way we remember things and how we will present them. However, from a literary perspective, I feel that the distance we now have from these events will help us immensely. DK and I are not Tom Wolfe. We weren’t there as observers. And a composite view pieced together from many accounts, versus us relying on just our personal narratives, will likely present a more accurate picture of the time, the people and events.
For fun (and to prime the pump), I’d like to share one true Grateful Dead story with you now…
Deadheads are notorious for packing hotel rooms to well beyond capacity. After all, eight people in a room–four on the beds and four on the floor–is the more affordable way to travel. Of course, these configurations don’t exactly favor the hotel, and every once in a while we’d run in to some problems with irate staff.
After a show in Oakland one fine night, me and six or so of my friends, walk from the Coliseum to the nearby Hampton Inn where we are staying. At the front door of the hotel we are confronted, as is every guest, with a barricade and two hotel employees charged with the task of letting just two people per room enter the premises. That we had already checked in, paid in advance, moved in to the room itself, had all our gear up there, etc. didn’t mean a thing to these security stiffs.
I say, “Let me get this right, we check in to your fleabag hotel, go out on the town for the night and now we face a martial law situation at the entrance to the hotel?”
“Two people per room,” repeats the stiff.
I whisper to my friends, “let’s go, they’re not stopping us.” I pass the barricade with its insulting sign-in list, and my friends follow my block to the elevator area in the lobby and up we go. No one follows us, we go about our evening like the semi-normal people we are. But this whole thing is under my skin now. I’m pissed now.
In the morning I wake up, take a shower, put on my best outfit and head down to the lobby. “I’d like to speak to the manager.” He comes to the front and asks what he can do for me. I ask if we can speak in private. He escorts me back to his office. I sit down and begin to question him on last night’s theatrics. He says, “You don’t understand these people.” Long pause. “It’s one thing after the next with these people. Did you know they wash their clothes in the hot tub?”
He doesn’t see me as one of them. I don’t say anything, I just shoot scorn daggers at him with my eyes. Now he sees me. Now he says, “Hold it, you’re one of them. Screw you! You are out of here.”
I pull a piece of flattened cardboard from my pocket. The table tent I brought with me from the room says if I am not 100% satisfied with my stay at Hampton Inn my stay is free. I tell the harried manager I am not even 10% satisfied, as I toss the chain’s cardboard promise onto his otherwise orderly desk.
He stands and so do I. We head head back to the public front desk area, where the manager counts out and returns all the cash we had given up for a four night stay.
“Now get out,” he tells me.
I go back upstairs and report to my friends on the happenings below. We quickly pack up after our free night and head down to street to the Oakland Airport Hilton, where the staff have all read Conrad Hilton’s book on hospitality, Be My Guest. It’s actually the start of a long and grateful relationship with this particular Hilton property and Hilton in general. On the other hand, I haven’t stayed in a Hampton Inn room since (even though Hilton acquired the chain in 1999).