Eighteen years ago, I was eighteen years old — and had been for about four months or so. I had a few days earlier used the Usenet forum rec.music.phish to find a ticket to the Phish concert in Albany, New York and I still had not received the ticket even though it was the day of the show. I went to the school’s mail office and inquired and was told that the tickets were at the local post office. I ran over there as quickly as I could only to find that it was closed for some reason. I saw movement within and knocked on the door, finally able to plead with a person to see if I had received a FedEx package that had not been taken to my school. They mercifully were able to find it. I am surprised that they had no issue letting me have it despite being closed.
(Not my ticket, but one that looks like mine!)
The next trick was actually getting to Albany. Since I had (and still have) a very poor sense of geography, my sum knowledge of Albany at the time was that it was somewhere in New York State. I knew some other students were going by car to the same show and I asked if I could go with them — they told me that their car was full, sorry. I found someone who was going home for the day (the school had boarding students like myself and some who drove or were driven there) and asked if he could drop me off at the train station in Princeton Junction since that is where he lived. He obliged and I took the next train to New York City. I went to the Amtrak section of Penn Station and bought a roundtrip ticket to Albany. For some reason I remember distinctly that it cost about ninety-five dollars. I also recall the price being quite a bit higher when I went by bus a few years later.
Sometime before getting there, the train stopped and the announcer stated that there was a bridge ahead of us stuck in an open position. It wasn’t awhile before we moved again, and at that point I realized that I would surely be late to the show. I envied my friends who were in the car and didn’t have to worry about such things. When I got out at the train station in Albany I realized that I had no way of getting from the station to the site of the concert venue and started walking in the direction I hoped was the correct one — have I mentioned I am terrible with geography and direction? Out of nowhere, someone asked me if I was going to the show that evening and offered me a ride.
There I was, an eighteen year old boy (only a man by age, really — I was still quite much a boy for all intents and purposes!) and as soon as a total stranger offered to drive me where I needed to go I entered the car, no questions asked. I would not generally suggest this as a good idea in life but it worked well for me that evening, for I got to the venue much sooner than I would have otherwise. They asked me about myself and I explained that I was a high school student from New Jersey. Offering personal details of ones life to total strangers without knowing anything about them is probably also something I would not suggest as a life tip to others — but thankfully, that information was not misused as these were kind individuals.
The show itself was spectacular. The band played a song called You Enjoy Myself, which I had never heard performed live (this was only the second time I was seeing them — at this point I am a little over forty plus that) and I screamed excitedly as I often do when this band plays songs that I really hope to see them perform. It was true that I was late because of the train waiting for the bridge to shut — but I only missed the first two songs, and the rest of the concert more than made up for it.
Cut to after the show — what exactly did this eighteen year old Gordon have prepared as far as going home or accommodations? Absolutely nothing. As I walked outside the venue, one of the people that had been in the car spotted me and invited me to stay with them in their hotel room. Again — really, teenage Gordon Davidescu? Staying in a hotel room with total strangers that you just met? Doesn’t this sort of story end with people in bath tubs filled with ice, lip stick on the mirror reading “Call 911” due to major internal organs missing? This story ended with me having a couple of beers and smoking cigarettes, something I had no issues doing because I felt it was all part of the Gonzo imperative. I was and continue to be a bit fanboyish about the writing and persona of Hunter S. Thompson, despite the fact that he did some truly despicable things — we may never know all of them, in fact. The thing of it was that I wanted to have the experience of diving into this sort of experience without having the luxury of a paid hotel, or even an arranged form of transportation.
When I got back to school I was amazed to find out that absolutely nobody else that attempted to go from the school made it, and if I would have tried to go with the people who had driven, I would have not gotten there either. It turns out that the people who went in their car made it only so far before a massive snow storm that blanketed the area stoppered traffic so badly that nobody was able to progress for hours, and people who were on their way to see the show eventually had to just give up and go home because they realized that they were going to miss the entire thing. People asked me about the experience and were shocked that I just accepted the invitation to stay in a stranger’s room.