By Tenzin McGrupp © 2004
28 Dec 03... I had been in Miami less than two days and had already found enough material for a new novel. I got a feel for the city... the city of sunshine, palm trees, plenty of neon, hordes of Cuban exiles, and those old folks 'just waiting to die'... a city cut off on one side by the thunderous Atlantic Ocean and the swamps on the other side, which led to an odd mix of freaks and miscreants. I wondered whether or not that would seep into the minds of Phish during the show. I knew the night would be interesting after I pulled out of Jerry's driveway and three blocks later, I found myself at an intersection with some asshole shining a spotlight at me. That asshole was a Miami Dade Police cruiser and the guy was checking me out. He pulled up and we were face to face. He looked like a bad ass. It was dark outside and he still wore sunglasses.
"Your lights are too high. You didn't like it when I shined my light at you. So lower your high beams,” he barked.
"Gee whiz, Officer. This is a rental car, my first time driving at night. I'm sorry. But I don't think the high beams are on."
"Well you better get the company to adjust the strength of those headlights. It's blinding drivers."
"Yes sir,” I obediently agreed.
And that was it. It's always interesting when you are out of your tits stoned and are semi-interrogated by law enforcement figures. Those were the same night stick wielding yahoos who had been beating up protesters weeks before. I knew what I was up against and I wanted to play it safe. All I had to do was blurt out, "I'm heading to Phish," and I would have been royally screwed and thrown into jail with some real criminals.
Spooked from my run-in with the cop, I carefully made my drive from Miami Shores to downtown Miami via historic Biscayne Blvd. and drove past the truly infamous Vagabond Motel. I drove through a couple of shady parts of town. I eventually saw small pockets of Phisheads walking to the venue. Traffic began to build up and I found myself right in front of the American Airlines Arena, a huge new building with plenty of neon and concrete, that reeked of corporate sponsorship. A traffic cop forced me to go left and I found myself pulling up to the arena parking lot. I drove along side the arena and saw thousands of kids trying to get in the front door. The lines were long, the security checks were tedious, and everyone was restless trying to get to their seats. I followed the arrows to the parking garage and was relieved when I saw a sign "Parking $15" which to me was not too expensive considering I parked underneath the venue in a slightly more secure spot than some empty lot run by a surly ex-Vietnam vet with a huge flashlight and a cooler filled with warm MGD. I found a back gate to enter the show and avoided the huge surge of people up front. Security was taking too long and my bladder shrunk while I was in line.
The venue was fan friendly with plenty of space to walk and tons of vendors and bathrooms. I had a seat behind the stage and the security was lax. Instead of going to my seat in row 34, I walked right down to about fifteen rows behind the stage. Phish usually throws together a no-frills setup, and aside from lights, there are no other props. The view was clear, and I was very close. The best part... I sat right behind Page. I could see him play all night, which was my plan. I hoped I would not get kicked out of my seat.
A few minutes later, a hot chick wearing a Superman shirt sat down.
"This is my seat" she said and pointed to the empty seat next to me. I nodded and smiled. From her accent, I detected she was a Boston native. Sure enough, she introduced herself. Maggie was a school teacher from Boston. Just like me, she had a single ticket and her friends were randomly dispersed throughout the arena. Her mother worked for American Airlines and had hooked her up with a first class ticket. She told me an interesting story about her flight to Miami from Beantown. She sat next too a woman who was coked up the entire time. When Maggie went to the bathroom, she saw the leftovers of a sloppy cokehead... not just a couple of grains sprinkled here and there... but a shitload of poorly cut cocaine was all over the counter and the floor of the bathroom. Maggie was not happy because for the rest of the flight, the chick yapped her ear off the entire time. She told her about her husband who was 25 years older and complained the entire time about him, despite the fact he sat in the seat in front of them! They had also two kids back in coach, whom she described as "little monsters". Maggie was bumming!
When the cokehead trophy wife headed to the bathroom, Maggie pulled her sweater above her head and pretended to fall asleep. I laughed for a few moments and I was happy with the people in my section. Maggie was cool and I had no problems with her. Usually I always got stuck next to the "passed out kid", or the "drunk girl”…
Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.