A couple days ago, I needed to run to grab a thing at Ikea and some stuff at another couple places nearby. In Pittsburgh, that entails getting on the Parkway West and driving for longer than it should actually take, because Parkway West traffic, duh.
I settled into the car and called up the Dead show from the University of Colorado’s arena on Dec. 9, 1981 on my iPod and let it play while I headed toward the Fort Pitt Tunnel.
That Boulder show was the first bit of live Grateful Dead I had heard besides stuff the band had released. Steve, Mark and I were just getting into the Dead, and (I think) the older brother of a friend hooked us up with copies of the cassettes of the show, labeled “Boulder 1″ and Boulder 2”; the funny thing was that none of us knew enough about the band to notice that the tape labels were on the wrong sets, but that didn’t matter. It was a hot show, no matter what was played when.
The mislabeled Boulder 2 tape closed with what is still my favorite version of China > Rider of all time. It crushes all of the combo’s expected peaks and Garcia’s guitar is especially good. And that’s where I was in the playlist as I charged out to Robinson on the parkway: Jerry was tearing up a solo just before Weir delivered the “Sun’s gonna shine…” and I was feeling good.
When Jerry started on his line “I wish I was a headlight on a northbound train,” my bliss was interrupted by a car that jumped into the fast lane just ahead of mine. I was annoyed for sure, until I saw what the universe had just handed to me: the license plate on the car that cut me off began with the letters JSK.
I broke into a grin. And said, out loud, to whomever was listening, “You are that light, my friend. You are.”
In just over two weeks, we’re going to meet in Columbus to celebrate Steven’s life. And I say “we” because if you knew Steven, I hope I see you there, at the service (1:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 14 at Northwest United Methodist Church, 5200 Riverside Drive) or at the picnic after (3 p.m. at the North Shelter House in Thompson Park).
You don’t have to bring much, besides a hug for Mary and smiles, hugs and memories for everyone else. I’m getting better at smiling when I think of Steve instead of feeling sad, but his death is still — and will be for quite a while — a hard thing for me to digest; if it is for you as well, let’s help each other out on Aug. 14. See you then.