Last Thursday night, I texted a friend: "What should I wear to a Dead show? No tie dye available," and got back, "Tank top, no bra."
"I'm afraid that ship has sailed," I wrote.
I'd been invited to see Bob Weir play. I mostly listen to NPR these days, but the concert was only a mile from my house. I haven't seen the Grateful Dead in decades, but really, how much could have changed?
Well, for starters, since Jerry Garcia passed, it isn't the Grateful Dead anymore. However, I can't even bring myself to say "Rat Dog." I've reluctantly settled on "Bob Weir's band."
It was sad to learn how much my tie-dye options have waned in the last 25 years. What's left is an oversized tee shirt whose arms I cut off to wear at the gym and a Kelly green dress that's so big and lifeless I only wear it as a beach cover-up, and even then if no one is around.
I put on a black tank top. Avec bra.
I drove around my snow-covered town, the few spots available taken by SUVs parked halfway up curbside snow banks. All the lots were full, so I parked blocks away and trekked to the theater, climbing up and over small curb moguls, pulling my fleece-lined hoodie tight against the wind and trying to remember if I'd ever made this kind of effort to "see the band" in the '70s, when I actually belonged there.
The first person I saw in the parking lot looked familiar. Maybe from Roosevelt Stadium in 1976? Is it possible the same guy was still selling t-shirts and buttons?
I met my "date" near the entrance. She'd just gotten off the bus, straight from work, where she edits perhaps the most authoritative newspaper in the world. Still, she managed to show up in tie-dye.
Our seats were in the balcony, way in the back. It smelled like weed up there -- a once-familiar substance that has become so far removed from my life that, to the horror of my teenage sons, I still refer to it as "pot." OK, "smells like weed" is an understatement. The air conditioner was broken and all the smoke from the entire theater had meandered up to the balcony; you could actually watch it making it's way from behind the stage. Everyone around us -- everyone -- was lighting up a joint. I have never been anywhere with so much weed in one place at one time in my entire life -- including real Dead shows. We were encased in smoke. Mentally, I started sorting my outfit: machine, hand wash, dry-clean.
I didn't know any of the first few songs, yet everyone around me was singing all the words. I realized I must accept a sad truth: Four Grateful Dead shows did not a Deadhead make.
My concert companion pointed out the netting that flanked the vaulted ceiling of the renovated concert hall. "Do you think that's there to keep the plaster from crumbling?" she asked. A friend had told me just the day before that the local Kohl's roof caved in from the weight of the snow. I imagined hearing the roof above us groan. The exit door was rows away. I took a deep breath, settled back into the band's first 13-minute jam and wondered whether this was how I was going to die.
Mid-jam, I texted my husband: "Do you think the theater roof will cave in from snow?"
"No," he wrote back. What else was he going to say?
The guy in front of us turned around to pass a pipe. I put up my hand and shook my head. Aside from the smell making me sick to my stomach, all I could think about was where his lips had been.
I was surprised I wasn't already high from the second-hand smoke. In fact, I think I was the only person in the theater who was straight. Even my companion had wandered down to the bar to get a beer. Oh, there was a guy in an Alpaca sweater dancing with a 2-year-old in his arms. The toddler was probably straight too.
Finally, they began a song I knew. There is something about music that always compels me to move, and especially this music. However, I remember my son's friend, back from a Citizen Cope show, standing in my kitchen mimicking how "moms dance" and the vow I'd made that day to never dance at a concert again. Still, my hips started to sway. Everyone was moving, some gently, some emphatically; a bearded gentleman near the exit door was performing St. Vitas Dance to some rhythm that apparently only he could hear.
For a second I thought I recognized the guy dancing next to me. No, he just looked like Hurley from "Lost." In fact, everyone looked a little like Hurley. Probably even me. I watched all the happy, swaying Deadheads and wondered when I became such an uptight asshole. Like, I really tried to pinpoint the moment.
The beauty of being a woman over 50 at a Dead show is that no one pays any attention to you. You can dance in your seat, in the aisle, with abandon, in a manner that would normally be fitting only alone in your bathroom, and no one cares or even notices. The invisibility we curse as middle-aged women for once feels like a blessing. My eyes closed. My body moved more deeply. I wondered if it was too dark to take a selfie and post it on Facebook.
Three and a half hours later, it felt like the band had only played six songs. Well, that much hadn't changed.
I crept into my house after midnight, went straight to the basement and stripped off my clothes in front of the washer so I wouldn't have to explain to my teenage son why I reeked of weed.
The fleece-lined hoodie was so heavy in the spin cycle that it broke the washer. Now I had to call a repairman and I could feel myself turning back into an uptight a**hole again.
Only five short hours had passed since I first left my house. But what a long, strange trip it's been.