Grateful Dead

What Got You on the Bus?

An excellent suggestion from Hal R., picking up on a thread in another topic: how did you get on the bus? What was that moment that left no room for doubt?

Probably no two stories are the same, but they're all probably pretty interesting, so tell all here!


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Birdsong1969NJ's picture
Joined: Jul 7 2008
How I got on the Bus. By Birdsong1969NJ

Well, this is a long time coming I guess. People around here that know me, know me through The Vineyard forum topic as I am an addicted regular.

I saw my first live Grateful Dead show June 30th, 1985 out of necessity.

I was 15 years old and had run away from home that May. I was living in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. I was a bus boy and lived in an apartment above a pharmacy on the main drag. I lied about my age to work, and attract roommates.

Well. I was a stupid kid, and one afternoon I decided to try and shoplift a carton of Marlboros from the pharmacy downstairs. To make a long story longer, I got caught by the owner (who also owned the apartment upstairs…you see now how stupid I was!) trying to leave with the smokes under my shirt. He told me to stay put while he called the cops. I ran out the door WITH THE SMOKES! (This is important, as you will see later).

Well I ran clear across town and hid in a cluster of bushes until way past sunset. I basically tiptoed back to my apartment, which was also the scene of the crime. I knocked on my door and a very pissed off roommate answered the door, as I started to step inside, he pushed me back out. I won’t tell you what he said to me except the fact that my belongings were in the dumpster in the back. Luckily my belongings consisted of a red frame Kelty backpack with a sleeping bag, and assorted summer cloths, OP shorts, Van Halen Tee-shirts, maybe one pair of tighty whities, a sleeping bag and a journal.

I collected my belongings and took my remorseful ass to the beach to sleep. I had maybe $20.00 and could not go back to my busboy job to collect my tips in fear of getting busted by the local police, so I went to sleep hungry that night, but I sure did have a lot of smokes.

I awoke the next morning probably more scared then I have ever been in my entire short life. I had no idea what I was going to do. I collected my things and started to walk towards the highway to hitch hike back to my parent’s house in Wilmington. I was going to give up my burst of freedom over stupidity….I deserved it.

I walked about 15 minutes without a ride. I remember it being a hot dry day, which was uncommon for the Middle Atlantic States on June 30th. Humidity usually prevails, but there was almost like a hot Santa Anna wind.

Finally a big hulk of an American gas-guzzling monstrosity pulled over. A guy with shaggy shoulder length hair and a woman whom I instantly presumed was either his sister or his girlfriend because they were dressed very similarly in some kind of very colorful Indian looking clothing. There was a scent in the car, that I never smelled before, but I would smell it a lot that day and on into the future. (I later learned that this smell was patchouli oil; a scent worn by road weary hippies to mask the smell of their natural “musk”). The back seat was full of shopping bags and two coolers, but they made room for me.

They asked where I was going and I proceeded to tell them a lie of how I was just visiting some friends at the beach and hitching home. They told me they could only take me about 5 miles until we came to the highway, because they were going south, and me north.

It seemed, as they were going camping so I asked. They laughed and said, “well sort of”. They told me that they were going to catch 3 Grateful Dead shows on the east coast and then they were driving to Ventura, California.

I had heard of the Grateful Dead, but never gave them much of a listen. I was big time into David Lee Roth and Van Halen. They optimized what I wanted to be at the time, a hard rocking beach bumming party animal. I loved Van Halen.

Then, fate stepped in. They decided to pull over to a Tasti Freeze to grab lunch. I was starving so I spent some of my limited funds on cheese fries. They ordered cheeseburgers without the meat, which created quite a stir amongst the teenage employees.

They started talking about the Dead. I was very curious so I asked questions further while wiping cheese wiz off my face. They explained they made and sold some kind of vegetarian wrap at these shows to fund going to more shows. I asked what would ever possess then to see the same band in concert over and over again. It just did not make sense to me.

They tried to explain Jerry and the music in combination with the community and acceptance. I still did not get it. I asked for the third time, why would you ever want to see the same songs over and over again? Finally the woman (who was the guys wife) said; “why don’t you come and see for yourself”. The said I could ride with them to Columbia Maryland and go to a place called Merriweather Post Pavilion. They also said that I would be able to find a ride up 95 no problem, as it was a straight shot from Columbia to Wilmington. I said OK. The truth was, I had nowhere else I felt I could go. I did not want to go home so this was it for me.

We showed up at the Post in the early afternoon. They (sadly enough, I never remembered their names, gee maybe I could have found them on Facebook) said that I could leave my stuff with them and that I should go look for a ticket. I had not told them I had but $16. So I grabbed a pack of those ‘Boro’s” and went on my merry way.

I walked around the rolling hills of the Post just checking people out. Everyone seemed to be in such a state of happiness, and were all in a hurry to do nothing. I remember thinking later that the lot seemed like a colony of technicolor ants, all scurrying with purpose.

Show time approached, and I did not have a ticket. I was not really looking for one either, but I was growing more curious about this attraction inside the fence that all these thousands of people were here to see. I started walking around the parameter of the venue (and this next part I am not proud of, but like I said, I was a stupid kid) and I noticed these guys climbing the fence behind the concrete bathrooms. They were just climbing the fence and walking in. So I tclimbed the fence, and I seriously just walked right in. No security guards were even 100 feet from me. So, sorry boys, but I scammed ya outta $12.00 for a lawn seat.

I walked around the lawn for a long while. There was that smell again! I remember seeing and feeling the anticipation in the crowd. I could just not help but feel that everyone was waiting for something really important to happen.

I remember hay. I was thinking that this was such a strange thing walk on. I realized that this hay was creating an immense build up of dust between my toes and on my ankles. Little did I know that this was just the beginning of the dust!

I had stopped to talk to this group of people sitting on a blanket. We were just smoking and chatting and laughing. I was really starting to have fun. In the midst of this chat up came a roar from the pavilion and the folks I was hanging with just dissipated from my existence. BAM! They were gone. They scattered like rats at the 34th Street Herald Square Subway Station when an N Train screeched in.

At this point it was hard to know what was going on because everyone was jumping and screaming.

Then suddenly, “On the day that I was born, my daddy sat down and cried!!!!” People started twirling, pointing triumphantly towards the sky, hugging, high fiving and were generally were absolutely captured by the moment.

At this point I became somewhat intimated by what was going on around me. It was an experience that was completely foreign to me. It was quite a sight to see thousands of people grooving on the same thing but all being completely SO different at the same time. It was overwhelming to me, and I kind of had to back off a little bit.

I went to the back left side where there was fresh air and trees and sat myself down against a tree, lit up an infamous Marlboro and proceeded to collect my thoughts. I just sat against that tree and watched it all happen for the entire first set.

As the set wore on, I felt more at ease. These multitudes of people were revolving around this music. I watched group conversations, hackie sack circles, smoke outs, busts, wandering lost souls, a naked man, again, a bust, twirling, falling down, back rubs, more smoke, a deal, a jealous boyfriend, a chase, another bust (there’s that smell again!), rejoicing, uncontrollable laughter, a heavy make out session, scared preppy girls walking rapidly towards the exit, summersaults, juggling, piggyback rides, someone sleeping, and then I heard my first “We’ll be back in a little bit”, and it all came screeching to a halt!

Funny though, I was feeling kind jealous that these people were so care free and were having so much fun. How was it possible that this music (which was barley audible all the way in the back) could create such an invigorating, soul-reviving scene where people just did not care about what anybody else thought?

Well I decided to see for myself. I smoked another stolen butt, and made my way down the decimated hay stack, or lawn if you will and camped out along the fence separating the “hay” from the money seats.

The sun had started to go down and I started to feel that anticipation rising thought the throngs of dusty deadheads (I had learned that was the name of these people). The darkness seemed to add a whole other dimension to this scene. It was hard to see where you were or who you were next to. Things were getting a very surreal feel to them. This scene was a little piece of irony of events forthcoming in my magical evening.

Suddenly a skinny bald guy with a beard, no shirt, and some of those colorful Indian looking shorts with a fanny pack so full it almost looked like an old time life preserver stopped and sat next to me. He stared at me for a second before saying hello. He was very nice, a little strange, but nice. He kept staring off in different directions as we spoke.

I told him briefly my story of the day, and how I was determined to see what made this scene tick. He asked me if I really wanted to know? I replied something like “Yes of course, that’s why I all the way up here in the middle of it.” Then he fished around in that fanny-pack of his and took out what looked like a silver cigarette case. He took something small and held it out to me. I asked him what it was and he gave me a brief technical explanation and then said (and I will never forget this) “If you really want to know”. He put this small thing on his (very large) tongue, swallowed and smiled. I somehow felt that I trusted this guy (only God knows why!) and did the same thing. He hugged me and told me not get scared and he was gone. Vanished! The lights went down.

Absolute pandemonium broke out. The dust became a consistent part of existence. I honestly thought I heard thunder, but it was just the opening of what I think is now was top 5 Shakedown Street. For the first time in my life, I felt bass. The sound was so much clearer and louder then my first set experience.

I started to move to the music without even realizing it. ‘WELL, WELL, WELL, YOU CAN NEVER TELL!’ The final jam seemed to never end. It would gain momentum, hit a crescendo, and then fall, or change speed, and it would gain momentum again to a fever pitch. I was open mouth; drop dead flabbergasted by this music.

Shakedown ended to what seemed like a drum solo, but then I got my first “feel” of Jerry when he ripped the first note of Samson and Delilah. That note injected my soul with Jerry and he is still in there today. By the end of the song I was jumping up and down pointing at the pavilion and screaming “I’M GONNA TEAR THIS WHOLE BUILDIN’ DOWN!

Then a pause, and then some tuning.

Then a very familiar riff. I just knew the song, but couldn’t put my finger on it, but boy I was shaking my ass to it. “Well, my temperature's rising' and my feet on the floor, Twenty people knockin' 'cause they're wanting some more, let me in, baby, I don't know what you've got, but you'd better take it easy, cause this place is hot. I’M SO GLAD YOU MADE IT!

It just all started to really make sense to me. What was making sense, I had no idea, but I started understanding something.

Lost in the music was this little thing the skinny guy and I lunched on about 30 minutes before. I had really forgotten about it until I started laughing hysterically during He’s Gone, because I really thought the lyric was “Steam Locomotive, FLOATIN” down the track”, and I was actually seeing a brilliant steam engine locomotive floating above the crowd under the pavilion! The funny thing is I remember not feeling surprised by this. I just went with it.

Not surprisingly the rest of the show is really foggy, and I honestly have little recollection of anything after drums.

The show ended and I know that I found my way back to the car where my pack was because my next memory is walking around the dark lot with my pack and a beer in each hand.

It was a chilly night and while I was walking around the raucous campers and coming back to Earth after my first Grateful Dead inspired space walk, I noticed that I was starving. I had had nothing but Tasti Freeze cheese fries in the last 24 hours.

I rounded a corner and came upon a campsite. Two guys were sitting at a picnic table talking and drinking beer. On the table was this enormous spread of bagels, cream cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes and other assorted goodies. I thought about asking if I could buy a bagel off of them. I reached in my pocket to see how much money I had left. Much to my dismay I could find nothing. I looked all through my backpack, but the only thing I had that had any monetary value was 8 packs of Marlboro’s remaining from the carton I jacked.

I mustered up the will to approach these guys hoping they smoked, and needed smokes. I said hello. They turned and greeted me in a cheery fashion. I remember telling them that the spread on their table looked so good and I would love to trade them some smokes for a meal. The guys looked at each other and one of them told me that neither of them smoked. I started to turn away when one of the guys stopped me and invited me back. I joined them. A full beer and an empty plate were put in front of me. They told me to dig in.

I spent the next hour eating, drinking, and talking to these guys. They were college students from the University of Pittsburgh.

I told my story. When they understood I had no place to go, they invited me to spend the night with them. First they led me to a water source because I was brown. I had a layer of dust on me that must have been a quarter inch thick! I washed up, they gave me space in their tent, and I passed out. I do remember it being a very restful sleep.

I ended up spending the whole next day with them, and getting a free ticket from a friend of theirs.

We went are separate ways for the show.

My memories of that night are not nearly as vivid for me. I remember being completely comfortable being one of those people I was jealous of the day before for having the freedom and comfort be whatever they felt like being. What a feeling it was to be one of those people.

After the show my Pittsburgh friends would not hear of me trying to leave that night and they fed and took care of me again.

As a matter of fact, they invited me to ride with them to Pittsburgh the next morning for the final show of the East Coast summer swing. And so I went.

I ended up hitchhiking back to good ole’ Wilmington after the Pittsburgh show and sucking it up by going back to my parents, but I was well on my way becoming part of this community. For the first time in a long time I fely like I belonged.

In 48 hours, I had been shown so much kindness and generosity, while having more fun then I have ever had in my life. I had also challenged my own mind and perception of reality and came out on the other side smiling.

I felt like I was an explorer at the beginning of a voyage. There was so much yet to see. I was home.

I think back on how powerful this experience was in my life, as it really has defined me. 6/30/85 defined where I have ended up. It defined who my life long friends are, and it truly defined my journey in life.

Just think, how shoplifting .a carton of smokes changed it all. What a day.

P.S. Being a parent now, I realize how bad this story may make my parents look. Well, it was pretty bad, but I was no joy to them either. We are all tight again now. Being a kid is hard. The morale is: try your hardest to make your kids feel accepted and loved no matter what. Love will prevail!

"Circle songs and sands of time, and seasons will end in tumbled rhyme,
and little change, the wind and rain."

lamagonzo (not verified)
Gos Save The Freaks!

I read Tom Wolfe's book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test in 11977 and I was on the bus. I dropped acid for the first time in 78 and found out the bus was me & I was the bus!
What got you on the Bus? Kind of brings you to ask the question "What does being on the bus really mean?" A lot of deadheads use it as a metaphor for getting hooked on the Dead. But "The Bus" is a bigger concept than that, in my mind. It means tuning in, turning on and dropping out of your "typical city involved in your typical daydream." Which is saying, like, how did you get deprogrammed from the bummer of middle-class oblivion? How did you find alternative ways of thinking and doing things?
If you went back to the plastic mightmare and got caught up in accumulation (he who dies with the most toys wins!) then you got off the bus!
At least, thats what it means to me...
Kesey and the pranksters put an ersatz bus in the Smithsonian and then took a wild, wild freshly painted one out on tour some time around 97. I caught up with their act in Ann Arbor and it was just like in the book. Hangin' out, blowin' bubbles. Totally comfortable with being a freak.
What did Hunter Thompson say in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas? "Just another freak in the freak kingdom."
Like the bumper sticker says, God save The Freaks!

Joined: Jan 23 2009
2/3/79 End of first set

Once they played Music Never Stopped, my life hasn't been the same since.

If you haven't listened, go check out set 2 from that night. UFB

chinacat1954's picture
Joined: Jan 2 2009
My 1st was April 14, 1972


On the Europe 1972 Tour Grateful Dead gave 3 shows in Denmark. The April 14 show was broadcast live. I read about it in the newspaper, and as I had nothing else to do that Sunday evening I taped the show. Wow. I was hooked. In general great music that I had never heard before. More consistent I think than Jefferson Airplane that I was in to. And very appealing. Playin in the Band, I will never forget it, and then Dark Star>Jam>Sugar Magnolia. I heard that passage over and over, and still do. However the Jam is "difficult" and has scared most of my friends away.

Actually the show was later televised in a number of fractions and of course in black and white. I have heard of a friends friend who should have the televised show on VHS.

In 1981 I had a chance to see the guys in Copenhagen. I was realy turned on but the show was a disappointment. I had been at work all day, and Jerry was looking as if he felt uncomfortable, hiding away behind the pedal steel in the left corner of the scene seen from my seet pretty much in the front. Also the sound mixing / the acoustic was very poor, so you did not realy hear the music and the place never rocked. I missed the collective vibe I had hoped for.

In 2007 I was lucky to see Ratdog in Red Rocks, that was awesome. In 2008 we crossed the ocean once more to see Ratdog in Stroudsburg. Fine concert in a small venue. Very good experience but the Band was playing kind of on the routine. But OK, the crowd was nice and I don't regret we went there.

And now we have got tickets for The Shoreline Amphitheater May 2009. We are realy looking forward to that. Look four me in section 202. I may be the one in the tie die you know.

Peace to all of you!

Joined: Jan 4 2009
Jerry's sweet voice.....

I have to agree w/Marye,ever since the first time I heard Jerry's sweet voice(there's just something about it that soothes my soul right to the core)cant really explain it.......

theotherone2's picture
Joined: Jan 1 2009
American Beauty

Found a Japenese import copy (vinyl) of American Beauty in a dumpster at work in 1974. Played the freakin grooves out of it. October of 1974 was the Winterland run for the filming of the movie. Sat on line all day and my life has never been the same. Only regret that I didn't see them more.

Joined: Jan 11 2009

I never really heard any of the deads music till I went to a Richfield show in Ohio back in 91. At first the parking lot inspired me, and I can remember the three heads I went up with telling me "just wait till we get inside"
By the second set, I was spun in the crowd. I know now that its all about the music and the drugs only enhance it. But I guess that I would have to say that LSD got me on the bus. I haven't tripped since the Dead Heads For Obama show and probably won't till the Philly run.
Been collecting shows since 91.

Joined: Jan 18 2009

Simple. I had heard some GD on 8-track tape (not kidding) when I was a kid. I was in high school in 1977 when a friend took me to McNichols that October. The first set was all nice, and stuff, but then the jam during Sugaree... that did it.

Then Red Rocks 1978...and 79...and...

I've never been the same.

Joined: Jun 13 2007
JGB Portland, ME '93

First off, there are some great stories here. They'd make a great book!
Mine starts after meeting a hobbit (long-haired, bearded guy in pesent clothes--taken from Hal's earlier post) in the lot at my first Jerry show. I just turned 16 and thought he was the coolest person i'd ever met--i wish i could remember his name, but i did run into him at a couple of later shows. He talked with my friends and i for awhile, spun us, and went on his way. We went in to the show and it was AMAZING! The music, the spinners, and all the people. I'd never seen anything like it and knew that's where i wanted to be. After the show I wanted to go with them, but a friend held me back.
The next day everyone was gone, but i still wanted to be with them. During school the following week my friend and i found out when the next tour started (i think it was in SF) and started saving our pennies. We mapped out a route and since we didn't have a car we planned on hitchhiking. I went to school that morning with a stuffed frame pack ready to go, but to my dismay my friend hadn't packed. He was backing out because his parents caught him packing. I was Pissed! An older girl that we had just started hanging around with heard us arguing and said she would go with me. We went to her house to pick up some stuff and were on our way.
We didn't make it very far, only to New Pultz, NY, and had to call my grandfather to come get us. We had a heck of a time though---i think it took us 2 weeks just to get to New Pulltz!
After things quietd down at home all three of us decided that we were really going to do it, and Highgate would be the place. It was and we finally made it on the bus! All 3 of us got rides and we were off to RFK!
Wow, i only planned on a few sentences and all this came out--and I even left out all the fun details of the shows!

marye's picture
Joined: May 26 2007
lovely story

thanks for telling it!


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
What Got You on the Bus?