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(Created page with "<pre> FIRST AND LAST TRIP TO A "CONVENTION-HEAD" VENUE ================================================== Some deadheads I've heard of are thinking of getting out of...")
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FIRST AND LAST TRIP TO A "CONVENTION-HEAD" VENUE ================================================== Some deadheads I've heard of are thinking of getting out of the Deadshow race, settling down, working at conventional jobs, living in suburban houses and driving BMWs; instead of working odd jobs, tie-dying, and following the Dead around in their purple and green VWs. Well, I've been to the other side (for a short time, but that was more than enough), and here's my advice: DON'T DO IT! The experience was so traumatic that I'm only now reaching full recovery, and I've blanked out both the date and the city (it was a few years ago, but the incredible events of that day are still engraved in my mind). No matter, it could have happened in any of three hundred identical city centers across America, at any time during the past thirty years. It could happen to you! I was walking home from my part-time job stocking herbs and vegetables at a natural foods store; seriously bummed out because my order to the Grateful Dead Ticket Service had just bounced back. Wrong zip code! Well, yeah, I did do some flowers and little psychedelic patterns on the envelope, so the 9 may have looked more like an 8, but couldn't someone in the post office read the "CA" in the address? No! They sent it to somewhere in Arizona. So anyway, I was on a downer about missing the tix, and not looking forward to explaining it to all my housemates. I'm always telling them that you have to be organized and responsible about _some_ things, like ordering tickets on time - and now this, right? Halfway home, I ran into Jenny, an old friend of mine from college, and her husband Bill. I hadn't seen her since she went off to get her MBA (I was still studying Alternative Mysticisms at the time). So now she was doing market research for some company that makes fully automatic, microprocessor- controlled 16-speed electric home orange squeezers. Bill was in more or less the same business. So, like, you know, they could see that my shakra was out of alignment, and they wanted to cheer me up. The next day, Jenny called and said that they had gotten me a pass to some kind of business convention that was coming down the next Thursday. It sounded like a super-straight event for uptight holdovers from the '50s, but Jenny said there would be free food, so I thought, 'Why not? She's just trying to be nice, and anyway I'd probably just spend the day working on Rita's transmission.' A few days later, there was a strange noise, and after hearing it three or four times, I figured out it was the doorbell! Nobody I know ever uses it; they just walk on in. The way I figure, you know, is everything should be free - food, love, good karma - so we, like, share what we have (_when_ we have anything, which isn't very often). So, wow, it was Jenny and Bill, all dressed in polyester, and I had totally spaced out that convention-head thing. I looked for some kind of suitable clothes, but the last non-tie-dye shirt had been shredded up by China Cat, the stray that my roommate, Sunflower, brought home. So I wore one of my classiest dyes, and the only one that I had rinsed out during the past two months - the one with skeletons raising a Dead flag, and says "The Few, the Proud, the Deadheads" around the edge... Then I put on my Birkenstocks, and we left. Outside, I said, "Hey, man, like, you know, maybe I should take Rita and follow you." They looked blank, so I pointed out the purple microbus parked with two wheels on the curb (and aging gracefully, I might add - the rusted out rocker panels give her character and a sort of dignity). "Like, I might have to get back a little early... ...and, I want to check out the tranny. I filled it up with cold-pressed organic safflower oil, and that _should_ fix it, but unless you just go to the show, you don't ever know." It seemed as if they were relieved by my suggestion - don't ask me why. On the way, I _really_ wanted to listen to some of Jerry's top-40 hits, but the tapedeck had eaten one of my best bootlegs, and straggly brown strands were hanging out of its mouth like fettucine. Bummer! And we were driving on some totally alien freeway, right into the middle of Establishment City - wow, heavy. We finally got there, and I got my first hint of what was to come when the parking attendant looked at me like 'You're going to park _that_ thing in _here?_', and he wrote down my license number (see if I care - I borrowed the plates off some abandoned pimpmobile down the street, anyway). We walked a few blocks to this huge building made of plastic and aluminum stuck together with toxic glue made from some sort of non-renewable resources. The people (if you can _call_ them that)... well, there's no way I can do justice to the scene with mere words. Every body was washed, waxed, and painted, and wearing these plastic uniforms - all the same. Carrying identical little briefcases, and sporting identical blank smiles. And everyone had an identical name tag (with different names, I _guess_). I had to put one on, too, on threat of expulsion, or perhaps worse, if I didn't. Since Jenny and Bill had been so thoughtful, I had been making the best of it, so I wouldn't be a downer during their version of a good time. Now I could see that my worst fears were justified - and then some. The drab suits, the conformity - I thought this kind of blind devotion to the gods of corporate profit had gone out with the '50s. I remarked to my friends how sad and constrained they all looked, and Bill turned to me and said, "You're going to meet some of the most enthusiastic, hard-working people around." "Far out." I thought sarcastically. But I tried to ignore the obvious and concentrate on having a good time. After all, I was basically the mellow, easy-going hippy type, and my friends were trying to do me a favor by getting me away from my disappointed deadhead housemates for the day. Evidently the chief convention-heads had decreed, "Let there be Muzak to fill the air", because it did - an oozing, saccharine travesty of honest, legitimate music. As we walked down a long, garishly-lit corridor, in the midst of this herd of docile marionettes; I found myself in the vapor trail of a plastic "woman" who walked with an awkward, stilted gait, in a narrow synthetic skirt and high heels. She had obviously had herself dry-cleaned no more than an hour before the show, then to ensure that not a whiff of genuine human scent got through, doused herself with a heavy, rank perfume. The air was so thick my eyes watered and there was a bitter, metallic taste in my mouth. A neurotoxin, no doubt. No wonder those people were as they were! I began to have some sympathy for these superficial, insecure, unhappy non-souls. I maneuvered cross-current in search of oxygen, but found that a big toadlike male convention-head in a shiny green suit was a few yards ahead, puffing out clouds of noxious cigar smoke. If any of the other monkey-suited robots were bothered by the poisonous fumes, they were, of course, too meek and polite to say so. At first, I tried gentle persuasion: "Hey, man. How 'bout saving that stinkweed for outside. I'd share anything with you, but not your cancer." The other c-heads glanced furtively at each other to see how they should react to this unprecedented behavior, while Mr. Bullfrog ignored me. "You, slug-face, I'm talking to _you_. Put out the goddamn cigar!" The man turned, blew a rancid grey cloud toward me, and said, "How did _that_ get in here? I knew they should have left the cat door closed." The sheep in the mob looked at each other, somehow decided what the proper procedure was, and giggled decorously behind their hands at this hilarious joke. We reached an open area, where the con-heads were engaged in a weird ritual. They milled around a set of tables, stuffed their faces with something from a sort of mass feeding trough, and displayed their name tags to each other for approval. The perfume and tobacco smoke mingled with trivial non-conversation and fake smiles, topped off by the oppressive, repetitive Muzak, to produce an unbearable ambience - enough to choke a dancing bear within seconds. Jenny urged me to join the mass refueling. I looked at the aluminum trays on the tables, and saw geometric arrays of some kind of sugar, lard, and white flour concoctions, some with dabs of brightly-colored pseudo jam pasted onto them. When I had heard "free food", I had imagined something I wouldn't have to pay dearly for later. Although I had had only a small bowl of brown rice and tofu for breakfast, I said, "No, thanks, I'm not hungry yet." and attempted a weak smile. "Have some coffee, then." Bill offered. "And help make people starve in the Third World? No way." The convention-heads were getting themselves revved up on gallons of the foul, corrosive fluid, while black women in little white aprons wheeled out more huge tanks of it. Along one side of the room, there were tables where people with fixed grins, vacant stares, and continually nodding heads (probably some kind of palsy induced by the empty diet and intake of toxic chemicals) doled out souvenirs. There were brochures, flags, and commercialistic buttons in every clashing color combination known to humankind. I learned from my friends that these people, whom I would call "Holiday Inn people", supported their spiritually impoverished existence by travelling from convention to convention, pushing those items on other c-heads, and sometimes doing mini- shows of some sort. A woman in a square suit jacket with huge shoulder pads that made her look as if she was hoping for a football scholarship, and an ostentatious hairdo that must have been epoxied in place, offered me a large button that said "Rypumoff Corp - when we say business, we mean business". "Boy, that would go great on my best T-shirt," I said with a smile, "but I'm saving room for even more attractive paraphenalia." Next, we were herded into what was called a Grand Ballroom, but was in fact a small but pretentious concert hall. The stage wasn't big enough to hold the Dead, and the sound system I won't even bother to describe, but hoping against hope, I thought, "Finally - I may get to do some jamming." Dream on! After we found our seats, which, oddly enough, didn't appear to be reserved, we sat down. Everyone sat down; you wouldn't have believed it! How conformist. The seats were cushy and in good condition, and the air was cool and as fresh as it could be after being filtered through layers of asbestos. Then, as the c-heads began to fill up the arena, there was again a miasma of conflicting perfumes and deodorants, and the usual polished mannequin faces in every direction. After noticing that there were no light racks, and no sound mixing board, set up; I began to understand that we were going to hear little, if any, music. The proceedings finally began after what seemed to be hours of waiting. The introductory speeches were pompous and vapid, but at first not unpleasant, being short. During one "keynote address", an obnoxious, nervous man carrying an enormous tripod and festooned with cameras, frantically ran around the venue. Obviously strung out on caffeine, he popped his flash in everyone's faces, including the stuffed shirt behind the podium. Incredibly rude! When I asked why the crowd didn't object, I was informed that convention heads tolerate such behavior because they covet pictures of their favorite shows, as well as transcripts of the tiresome speeches, and even trade bootleg photos by mail. I would have been happy to donate money to buy the freaked-out photographer a cup of chamomile tea and let him go mellow out under a bush somewhere. As the speeches progressed I began to get tired of the seemingly endless length of them. Themes were redundantly reiterated again and again to the point of fatigue. It was becomming difficult to distinguish one speech from another and I frequently found myself longing for the short blessings of relief that came in between. Soon I was concentrating on everything but the music; the curtains, the seat in front of me, the clock, my smoke- and perfume-induced headache, the Ramada Inn-people, and the wonderful idea to exit early - but I remained so as not to insult my friends because they had so much wanted me to have a good time (a decision I would come to utterly regret later). The speakers droned on, dumping a brain-deadening stream of cliches about "meeting the challenges of a changing market environment" and "interfacing with the dynamic forces of society" onto the audience of entranced c-heads, who clapped enthusiastically on cue at the end of each speech. Then we went out and were herded into smaller rooms, where cynical executives gave lectures on how to con people into parting with their hard-earned cash in exchange for useless, gimmicky gee-gaws that a year or two later will end up in a landfill where they will last until long after humans have driven themselves to extinction. The "heads" were enthralled by catchy videos and product displays. I thought I'd seen the most depressing and depraved side of humanity by now, but there was even worse to come. After the first round of mini-shows ended, we were channeled into what was dubbed the Banquet Room, to have lunch (so-called). We sat at round tables piled high with frilly knicknacks and plastic flowers. Under multiple strata of cellophane, there were small identical portions of food. I was informed that the spongy, stuffed object on my plastic plate was a "croissant", and in fact it did resemble one in its general outlines. Next to me was a pasty-looking couple who had flown all the way from Iowa. They had already consumed half of their allotted repasts, and seemed to be eyeing mine. "Good lunch," the woman was saying, "but not quite as good as the one we had last August in Cleveland. Remember, honey, on the second day?" This was something I was noticing more and more. The hard core con-heads were incessantly comparing the trivial details of the numerous shows they had been to; arguing over seminar lists; complaining if they had to hear the same speaker twice in the same convention... I was getting hungry, and figured that the stuff wouldn't kill me in a small dose, so I took a deep breath and bit into the "croissant". I nearly gagged on the powerful petroleum derivatives, and my teeth seemed to be glued together. I opened the little sandwich, and there, in all its International Distress Orange glory, was - you guessed it - a rubbery slab of imitation-pasteurized-process-American-cheese-food-product-spread. Restraining the impulse to get it out of my hand immediately, even if that meant throwing it across the room, I calmly laid it back down and looked for something to flush out my mouth. Just at that time, Bill offered to fill my glass with punch. It was a benign-looking yellow concoction, and I was grateful for anything cold and wet. The punch tasted almost like real orange juice, and I quickly downed several glasses of it. Jenny smiled at me approvingly. There were more speeches and "slide presentations"; more inane and boring than the first set, if that's possible. I was beginning to have a warm feeling, although the room seemed to be humming, pulsing, and tilting around me. I started to talk randomly, and the gaudily painted woman at the next table began to look almost attractive. Jenny said, "Good to see you smiling. I thought that punch would loosen you up." "What do you mean?" I demanded, "What's it spiked with?" "Oh, probably vodka." Alcohol! My so-called friends had dosed me without my knowledge, and the other c-heads had sat by and watched. I was instantly filled with rage to think someone would be so crude as to inflict the deadly chemical on me. A small argument ensued and I was accused of being naive about punch at conventions. I asked how long I could expect this to last and was told that I could have a hangover as much as 12 hours later. I had never taken a central nervous system depressant but I knew enough to know that a person having a bad time would have A REALLY BAD time if they imbibed it. It could lead to violence and serious injury, as well as brain and liver damage. This only compounded an already unendurable situation. I never have and never will forgive the person who so irresponsibly gave me the drug. The remainder of the convention was strange and at times scary. I spent a lot of time gazing at the ceiling in a stupor. The Holiday Inn-people's idiosyncracies that disgusted me before now seemed to be magnified several-fold and nearly horrified me. I wanted to leave. Now! Immediately! I couldn't stand it any longer. I would have given anything if a giant pumpkin had landed and Ken Kesey would have escorted me out of that deplorable place. After the lunch, I went outside to try to find Rita, probably the only reminder of real, down-to-earth life in that entire desolated region. I realized I was too drunk to drive, but would have been happy to just lie down on the ragged futon in back and let my head spin. Outside, there was no way to tell direction in the uniform landscape of billboards and fast food franchises. After walking for several blocks, I realized that I could walk all day and still be in the same place. I passed several U-park-em lots, but couldn't find poor Rita. Finally I realized I was lost, and had no alternative but to go back to the convention-head venue. But where was it? I walked into the first door I could find - some sort of uptight insurance agency. A stiff prig of a man looked me over, wrinkled his nose, and seemed disappointed when he saw that I wasn't barefoot, so couldn't legitimately be thrown out. "Can I help you?" "Yeah, man, like how can I get to the convention-head building?" "The what?" "You know, there's like this big flat ugly building with an ostentatious fountain out in front - where all the convention-heads hang out." "Oh, you mean the DeWitt Memorial Pavilion. If you want people to know what you mean, you should _say_ what you mean." "Yeah, right, that's it; the Dimwitt Pavilion." So I managed to get back. Take a right after the third Burger King, across from the Hot-Tubs-R-Us, then go just on the other side of the downtown Hilton... There were more mini-shows, too excruciating to bear description. I wandered into other parts of the vast venue, but encountered even more terrifying scenes: a boat show that redefined the phrase "flashy status symbol", and even a gun convention, complete with automatic rifles and nasty, stupid dudes decked out in camouflage - I backed out of that one in a hurry, glad to get back to the relative safety of the home widgets section. Finally the convention finished and I rose, clapped and cheered because of the warm feeling I had that it was over. I said rapid goodbyes after getting directions from Jenny, and hurried to my little bus. I was not unable to drive as I must have had a subacute dose of ethanol. Unfortunately, the line of traffic was enormous and I was stuck near the end of a row so Rita sat idling for a long time. While I waited, a group of clean-pressed, rabid Republicans was sitting on a Cadillac and looking at my VW. I could hear them ridiculing me for some reason. Finally, a young woman came up to my window, looked me straight in the eyes with a glare of anger and said with sarcasm, "What kind of man would bring a Volkswagen to a convention-head show?" I spoke to her with a smile and tried to calm her down, but it was to no avail. She began to utter obscenities and I rolled up the window. This antagonized her and the clique of idiots she was with. Several began sticking leaflets saying 'Jail all the queers' and 'Nuke Moscow Now' under my windshield wipers, and one of them plastered on a bumper sticker that read "I'd Rather be Killing Commies in Central America". They rocked Rita back and forth while spewing out a stream of insults. I sat inside helpless and sickened by this pinnnacle event to a thoroughly rotton day. A few blocks later, when the light turned green, Rita got stalled as I nervously tried to cross the intersection. Some dude in a Porsche got stuck behind me as the light turned red, and leaned incessantly on his horn. Yeah, okay, Rita does pop out of first now and then, so blow an artery over it... He must have been a convention-head who failed to meet his quota of electric toenail buffers, he was so irritable. At the next light, the Porsche pulled up next to me, honked obnoxiously, and a dude in a starched shirt screamed obscenities at me. At least I assume that's what they were. I shrugged, smiled, and gave him a peace sign, but that seemed to enrage him further. He tried to roll his window down so that I could hear better, but it was stuck shut by some kind of brown sticky liquid, probably coffee, that had been poured all over it. As he screeched away, leaving a cloud of burnt rubber, I noticed that there were dirty barefoot prints all over the hood and rear section of the otherwise gleaming Porsche. Why a guy would put $40k into a car like that that's primarily designed to impress people, then let it get all dirty, I'll never know. You figure it! Finally, I got home, parked poor Rita, and began peeling off the offensive bumper stickers and fliers. I hung my clothes out in the back yard to try to air out the stale tobacco smoke that clung to them. As of this day, the words "Convention-Head" bring back visions of those vapid, moronic pieces of human plastic violating my trusty campmobile. The majority of scum I came in contact that day were an insult to the image of caring, mellow, environmentally and spiritually conscious people everywhere. Quite the opposite of the visions of responsible, independent-thinking, dynamic people we hear attend these conventions.