At all the Grateful Dead shows I'd been to, I'd never gone without a ticket. In the parking lot and on the way in to the show, I would see forlorn and ticketless but hopeful deadheads carrying colorful cardboard signs stating

I NEED A MIRACLE

and I said to myself that if I ever had a chance to give someone a miracle ticket, I'd do it.

So I started by lying to the woman at the car rental agency.

"And you're planning to stay in the state of Florida?" she asked.

"Yes, ma'am," I said. "Just heading down south to see some friends for the week."

I signed where I needed to sign and thanked the nice woman and knew that my tiny lie was justified in comparison to the king-hell fun I was going to have.

I checked the plastic tag on the keyring and found the car in the crushed-gravel lot. A silver Ford Probe. Nice. Carnie waved and "Woo-hoo"-ed from the VW Fox as I pulled out of the lot, and she followed me to our apartment.

We ran upstairs and grabbed the stuff we'd already packed: a cooler full of turkey sandwiches, Mountain Dew and Diet Cherry Coke, a bag of our intermingled clothing, the Rand McNally road atlas and a shoebox full of tapes. After we petted and smooched the cats, we left a key under an aloe plant for a friend so he could feed and water them. We left extra water and food out just in case he forgot.

A westerly late-summer breeze swished through the long beards of ancient live oaks. I slipped behind the wheel and my sweetie rode shotgun, radio stations already reprogrammed. Seatbelts fastened and mirrors adjusted, I backed out and drove through our shady quiet neighborhood, splashing through yellow pools of late-afternoon sun. We left that for the dusty truck route, and from there we sped up the onramp for I-10-East.

The windows were down and our shoes were off. Seventy miles an hour filled the car with a lightly buffetting wind which occassionally and gently lifted Carine's loose tye-dyed tank top from her bare breasts. Her sun-streaked chestnut hair with the long beaded wrap floated out the window like a flag.

She hit the play button on the dash with her big toe. "Feel Like a Stranger" cartwheeled over the speakers and we let out a joyous yell. We were on our way to Madison Square Garden to spend the last three nights of a six-show run with several thousand anonymous best friends, music supplied by the house band, the Grateful Dead. Twelve hits of acid and half a bag of pot rested in my shaving kit, not to be touched until just before the shows.

We had been to the Atlanta, Orlando and Charlotte shows of that year, selling my tie-dyes to pay for gas and food, but had never been on any trip this long. I'd proposed to Carnie several weeks before. She mercifully accepted, and we still buzzed in the oncoming glow of future lifelong fun and adventure.

We were to pick up two friends of Carnie's at a Denny's in South Carolina. Whether we got there too late or too early, I don't know, but we waited for an hour, milking an order of fries. Coffee for me, Diet Coke for Carnie. She called their number, but it had been disconnected. We waited some more.

"Let's go. They're not going to show," she said.

"OK." Then it hit me. "Where are we going to stay?" Carnie's friends had some friends in Manhattan that had agreed to take in some lonesome travellers. In exchange, we had purchased an extra ticket for one of them for the next to last night.

"Let's just go. We'll think of something."

I jogged a few laps around the parking lot in order to shove the blood from my ass to my brain and get some oxygen in to the system. Carnie brought out a large to-go coffee, and we pulled out on to the highway.

A quarter moon allowed the stars in a cloud-free sky to show off a bit. Few cars accompanied us at this hour. Most semis contained sleeping drivers parked at truck stops or rest areas.

"You sure you're OK to drive?" she asked. "No hallucinations yet?"

"Nope. I'm saving those for later."

Then she quietly pondered something for a while, lightly biting her lower lip.

"This thing has cruise control, doesn't it?"

I told her it did.

"Then turn it on."

I did.

"Now lift your cute butt up."

I obliged, not really getiing it at the time. Did she spot a quarter? A hair clip I was sitting on? A runaway french fry?

However, before I knew it, she had deftly yanked my shorts and boxers to my knees.

"Now," she said from my lap, holding me with both hands, "whatever you do, keep your hands on the wheel and the car on the road." Then she proceeded to do what she does so well.

We went through Washington, D.C. at morning rush hour. At a gas station, I made a series of phone calls to track down my cousin Linda, who lived in Queens. She said the basement was all ours.

We arrived at Linda's a few hours before the show, just enough time to scrub the road grime from each other, eat a few platefuls from the enormous spread of Chinese take-out Linda had ordered and smoke a couple of joints. She would not allow us to offer any of our stash.

Using her husband Richard's precise directions, we made it to MSG in plenty of time. Unfortunately, 36 sleepless hours caught up with me at the end of the first set, and I was pretty much a lump for the entire second set, forcing my beloved to spin alone.

The next night, rested and refreshed, turned out much better. Carnie and I ate the acid as we showered together. The ensuing slippery soapy body play nearly caused us to be late, but we made it before the house lights dimmed, beautiful trails and that sweet lysergic hum beginning to build.

And here's where it happened.

After we picked up our tickets at will call, a skinny guy with a wild mop of black hair came up to us. His equally thin blonde girlfriend shyly hung back. They both were several years younger than we.

"Ex-ex-excuse me, sir," he stammered. "I was wondering if perhaps you might have an extra ticket."

I looked at Carnie. She grinned.

"I'd be willing to pay whatever you wanted. See, my girlfriend has one." She shot us a weak, nervous smile. He looked down at his feet. "But I didn't have the money then."

I looked at Carnie again. She nodded.

"Here you go," I said, handing him the ticket. "Have a great time."

He stood there stunned with the ticket in his hand.

"I mean it," I said. "Have a blast." The roar of goodness echoed in my head and and happy jello radiation buzzed from my heart.

I made up for any dancing I missed the night before, charged with the overwhelming sense of joyous anarchy and misfit fellowship that I have only and always felt at Dead shows, either straight or stoned. My skin danced with my bones while my muscles and nerves followed along on either side. Carnie spun in an African-print skirt and an L.A. Lakers t-shirt, tennis shoes glowing.

Then Bobby mumbled something and half a minute later the house lights went up. The aisles began to get crowded.

Carnie has few inhibitions and talks the way Winton Marsalis plays the trumpet. The acid just amplified this.

"Hey," she called to an usher at the bottom of our section. "If you let us down on the floor, this place'd be a lot less crowded."

The usher, who looked like Eric Estrada's younger cousin, just waved and chuckled.

"No, really. All your crowd problems would go away if you just let us down on the floor."

Another chuckle.

"I'll be your best friend!"

Apparently we looked harmless enough, and he walked the stairs up to us.

"Let's see your tickets."

Of course, we were nowhere near where the stubs said we should be.

"Oh no, I can't do that," he said. "I could lose my job."

We were disappointed, but expected it and kept chatting anyway. His name was Steve. He worked construction and did this for some extra cash. When he learned we had driven from Florida, he was amazed.

"For this?"

"Oh yes," I said.

He said he had worked as a roofer in New Port Richey for a few years. We talked about good fishing spots between there and Tampa Bay and thatched-roof beach bars decorated with sand and severed neckties. He asked how the drive was and where we were staying. I told him we were staying in Queens with my cousin and that I was born in Forest Hills.

"You know," Carnie said. "It is still kinda crowded up here."

Steve spoke in to his walkie-talkie. Someone said something back. He responded. We heard another scratchy reply. The house lights went down. All the kids began to shout.

"OK," Steve said. "See that man down there?"

We spotted a squat, balding older man who looked like a member of the Corleone family and nodded.

"Just go to him and he'll take you to your seats."

Completely blown away, I shook his hand, calloused and strong. I think Carnie hugged him. We gingerly made our way down the steps, pausing to look back and mouth "thank you" before the older man allowed us on the floor. He then kindly but but silently showed us to our seats. The music began, we held hands, and we jumped in to the current.

The rest of the show wove a fractal tapestry of sound and color. During "Samson and Delilah", I drummed Carnie's face, sending her pinballing along the ceiling, seeing everything as heat images. I saw the ghost of Jerry's dad walking with a cane. An electric blue light, which has since reappeared during especially high times (sex, the birth of a child, athletic flow), made its initial visit along the peripheries of my sight.

Then too quickly it ended. We could not find Steve to thank him.

We wandered among the crowd for awhile afterwards, congregations discouraged by New York's finest. Eventually we made it back to Linda's where the Probe ran out of gas as we coasted in to the driveway.

We sat on the grass as Roman emperors french kissed in the trees and caballeros danced in doorways. Back in the basement we picked up where we left off in the shower, the stream like melted glass. We spilled on to the cool yellow tile floor, puddling in our juices, ravenously eating each other like fruit salad. Our metallic lizard skin sparkled as the rapture spasms smashed our atoms and melted our molecules together.

The next morning, she elbowed me and flicked my nose until I woke up. "All in all, that was a pretty good night."

Two days after the last show we drove home, and thanks to Linda and Richard bellies and cooler full and our buds untouched. Along with coffee and Diet Coke, blowjobs and finger fucks kept us awake as we drove straight through.

"My, you sure did a lot of driving," the car rental lady said as she checked the mileage on the paperwork I returned.

"Yes I did," I said. "But it was all worth it."

I figured it was best to end the trip with truth.

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