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Straighten Those Facts

It’s always good to get media attention for the plight of 50,000 seniors that live in poverty in San Diego County and the Angel’s Depot mission to feed them. However, Matt Potter in his November 18 article (“Under the Radar”) did not do his homework, and his facts are simply not accurate. While state assemblyman Martin Garrick has been an honorary boardmember of the Angel’s Depot for approximately one year, and he personally makes contributions, he had nothing whatsoever to do with the donor contributions listed in Matt Potter’s article.

Donors such as the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians and Harrah’s Foundation are founding partners who gave start-up funds as early as 2005 and continue to provide support. The other donors listed came as a result of very competitive grant requests totaling over $1,000,000 in grant submissions each year and started donating long before Martin Garrick had the Angel’s Depot on his radar screen. Martin is our friend, but he did not generate any of the donations listed in Matt’s article. We are required to make Martin aware of any contribution of $5000 or greater because he does hold an honorary board position. We love the press, but please, in fairness to all concerned, get the facts straight.

Susan Hall
Founder and
Executive Director
The Angel’s Depot

Matt Potter responds: The contributions noted in the item were reported to the state Fair Political Practices Commission as “behested payments,” as reported. This requirement is explained as follows on the commission’s website:

“Below are links to reported contributions solicited by members of the Assembly, Senate and statewide elected officers. These payments are not considered campaign contributions or gifts but are payments made at the ‘behest’ of elected officials to be used for legislative, governmental or charitable purposes. While state law limits the amount of campaign contributions and gifts, there are no limits on these so-called ‘behested’ payments.

“State law only requires the reporting of ‘behested’ payments if they total $5,000 or more per calendar year from a single source. There are no reporting requirements for payments up to $4,999.99.

“Officials must report the ‘behested’ payments within 30 days of the date they are made. This information is updated on a regular basis. Copies of the full reports are available at the FPPC office in Sacramento, 428 J Street, Suite 600. For additional information please contact Roman Porter at 916-322-7761.”

Let Me Pick Up That Tab

I read your article, “What do you wish you could afford?” (“Off the Cuff,” November 18).

I want to remain anonymous, but it appears I can afford to give Kenyatta Smith a full day at the spa and possibly give Val Buss a marimba. I’m not rich, but I’d like to give it a try if you’re up for it. I’m retired and like to find ways to help people with my money. This seems like a fun way.

Lake Murray

Guidance Gone

The “Stringer” item from Gail Powell about the disabled cruise ship that was towed into San Diego last week (“Fun Ship?” November 18) had little new information other than the insult to the Chilean miners (bystanders comparing a month underground to a few days on a luxury boat!). Has anyone looked into the possibility that this minor inconvenience could have turned into a major catastrophe? My questions will reveal that I am no expert on modern ship design, but it is interesting that no one else seems to be even asking the questions or major media outlets are declining to consider them.

I was amazed to realize that a large modern cruise ship could be out there on the open ocean with no emergency backup power system! The main engine(s) dead due to a fire, and the ship is reduced to the status of a huge top-heavy barge? The vessel stabilization system and rudder control were probably disabled if both depend on power from the engine room; what if a storm had blown in with high winds, waves, and currents? There would have been injuries as people were tossed about in their cabins and the passageways and, of course, hundreds of seasick passengers. Without rudder control, the ship could not even be turned to face the waves head-on. Would this giant boat have been quickly pushed onto the beach or on a reef? You say the 4000-plus on board could have taken to the lifeboats?; does the lowering of those escape capsules require power from the engine room? Was there any way to operate the elevators, or were several hundred of those who are unable to climb stairs and/or are in wheelchairs left to fend for themselves? Were any passengers caught in disabled elevators? Lower-deck cabins and passageways can be as dark as a coal mine when there is no power, since the battery-powered emergency lights have a limited duration span. Were flashlights readily available to all on board? What are the relevant rules in Panama (please, hold down the laughter) where this ship is registered?

Are the cruise ships that go to Alaska similarly ill-equipped? Suppose we find ourselves so close to that calving glacier that we are tingling with excitement even though we know that the experienced crew knows better than to let us drift under the tons of ice falling from the face of the glacier, and then suddenly the engines fail?


Many large cruise ships have side-thrusters of various designs (mostly water jets) to allow maneuvering into and away from mooring places without the help of tugboats. Would it not be a good idea to have those systems independently powered with diesel-electric systems installed far removed from the main engine room and modified to provide at least a bit of forward propulsion? Large cruise ships have enough topside area to accommodate a landing platform for helicopters, which might be needed for emergency evacuations, not to mention solar panels that could keep batteries charged up for emergency use.

My wife lost interest in cruises (for other reasons), and now I would agree with her, but for the reasons cited above.

Lyle Davidson
via email

Mind That Metaphor

My long love affair with the Reader began when she first appeared in 1972 (a very groovy year indeed!).

Her occasional loss of various limbs and features over the decades may have tested my troth, yet I remained insipidly resolute. She would always be my bitch.

Until now.

Duncan Shepherd was forever her heart. Now with that heart’s exit, my passion atrophies. All future intercourse will be, for my part, that of a sad and shamed necrophiliac.

Bill Richardson
aka Jose Sinatra/Georges Alvina
North Park

The Dots I Lived By

Add my lamentations to the sorrowing chorus mourning Duncan Shepherd’s announced departure (“So Long,” November 11). Increasingly, relentlessly we’ve all had a lot to swallow and a lot to stand up to in the broader world, but this particular unwelcome change, here at home, cuts deep.

I hadn’t given thought to having to continue my moviegoing life without the ongoing benefit of Mr. Shepherd’s praiseworthy service to us all. For longer than I care to think about, we movie enthusiasts have had to pick our way gingerly midst the onslaught of contemporary repellencies (e.g., Dane Cook: My Best Friend’s Girl). Black dots from a trusted source are warranted, useful, invaluable.

No matter how busy and burdened the day — if a movie was in the offing — I knew from forlorn experience to ascertain Mr. Shepherd had not pinned a black dot to his review. I came never to doubt them and hadn’t realized fully, until now, how grateful to him I was for their placement. He saved me time, misery, money. I thank him belatedly.

Alas. To whom shall we now turn? How to know which new offering is an open sewer to avoid? Which same old hash pile to sidestep? Or which is a wonderment to rush to? How to do without his resolute discernment and warnings and endorsements? How to do without his singular learned, artistically astute acumen and insight? There is, quite simply, no other like him in quality of conviction and integrity and breadth of knowledge. It’s a great loss, and he will be missed.

Lynne Moran Yarrington
La Mesa

A Brighter Light

No, Duncan, not enough said. Not from this side of the computer screen, or paper, or wherever it is we the readers are. For 38 years, your column has been…brilliant. It has illuminated the art and artifice of moviemaking far beyond any other local writer and stands as the equal to anybody writing about movies, anywhere. It’s been a great pleasure. Thank you.

Dennis Parker
via email

Faith Restored

Duncan Shepherd’s gone and David Elliott’s arrived? There must be a God.

Name Withheld By Request
via voice mail

The Only Reason Now Gone

Duncan Shepherd was the only reason I read the Reader. Done!

Kim Bullock
via email


I read Duncan Shepherd’s farewell with great sadness. I started reading his reviews when I moved here in 1977 and started keeping a scrapbook with the capsule reviews of my favorites as well as his four- and five-star reviews (not always identical).

Looking through them, I saw Annie Hall at the Guild, Ashes and Diamonds at the Strand, La Balance at the Cove, Broadway Danny Rose at the Cinerama, The Family at the Balboa, Careful, He Might Hear You at the Fine Arts, Days and Nights in the Forest at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, Eat My Dust at the Towne, Housekeeping at the Park, and Knife in the Water at the Unicorn. I mention these films specifically because the theaters that showed them no longer exist, except for the museum, which is dark these days.

I am enclosing my 1979 rebuttal to Mr. Shepherd’s review of Apocalypse Now, which is still a disagreement we have. One of my favorite memories was reading his review of Desert of the Tartars, which was shown here one time (on the day of the Reader’s publication) as part of the San Diego Film Festival, and being able to see it that evening.

It is my hope that Mr. Shepherd will not follow his mentor Manny Farber and completely terminate his outstanding film criticism. I would hope he would be allowed to write a review whenever he finds a worthwhile film, which is to say, perhaps, a few times a year. I would also buy a book of his film writing if he compiles one. Thanks for the film education, Mr. Shepherd!

Kim C. Cox
Pacific Beach

Grace Under Fire

Film critic Duncan Shepherd’s retirement after a remarkable 38-year tenure marks the end of an era for the paper and most certainly for San Diego filmgoers. The city is losing an important voice and a remarkable wordsmith that, I believe, have yet to be fully appreciated. I am thankful for the unusual integrity, precision, and insight I found in the columns; the occasional humor was a bonus. Thank you for the undeniable grace, courage, and fortitude. Thank you for a job very well done. His was a classy act and, as the saying goes, a tough one to follow.

Ginette Vicot
via email

Always Unwowed

Thirty-eight years is a long time. I started reading Duncan Shepherd’s movie reviews when I arrived in San Diego in 1984. I never stopped reading them. In the early days, I wondered why he worked as a movie reviewer because he didn’t seem to like any of the films he reviewed. Gradually, I came to realize that something else was going on — Duncan was one of the most literate, knowledgeable, and intelligent writers I had ever read.

His standards were high, and he didn’t care about trends. Story, writing, and characterization mattered far more than special effects and the wow factor. I came to agree with him far more than I disagreed. We shared a fondness for Clint Eastwood, not so much for the Coen Brothers. How he has survived the past several years with most movies targeted to ten-year-olds is beyond me. I would have bailed long ago.

We hear every day that print is dead and the future belongs to the web. I stand with Duncan in praise of the written word delivered on paper, preferably newsprint, which can be held in the hand and savored. Just like Duncan, we’ll miss it when it’s gone.

Mike Yelda
San Diego

Decades of Guff

I just have to say I’m really sad to hear that Duncan Shepherd is not going to be writing for the Reader anymore (“So Long,” November 11). He was the most erudite and intelligent of writers and critics, and even though I didn’t go to the movies, I always enjoyed reading what he had to say. Oftentimes, I would look up different movies that he talked about that were perhaps not available for casual viewing in our theaters and really just enjoyed seeing them, seeing his ideas, and hearing from him. I know he took a lot of guff over the years, but he will be sorely missed, and the paper will be doing something without somebody who’s very important to their success.

We wish you lots of luck, and enjoy your reading in your spare time. Thanks, Duncan.

Bye-bye, Duncan!

Candy Rand-Riley
Ocean Beach
via voice mail

Guidance Gone

Dear Mr. Shepherd,

I am sorry you have decided to retire, and I will sorely miss your reviews. Where film is referred to as a business and an industry, where movies are regarded as no more than one consumer product among others, it has been refreshing and comforting to be able to read reviews that reflect a different view. Thanks to your acute awareness of film history and of the formal and aesthetic issues involved in filmmaking, you have provided viewers with much-needed guidance of a kind that — to my knowledge — is not available elsewhere in San Diego.

It is not surprising that you find the ever-increasing commodification of film demoralizing. But this very process also makes your critical view and its public expression more important. If the hegemony of commercial interests is allowed to go unchallenged, something vital will be lost: the existence of film as an art form capable of helping us examine our own lives and become aware of the beauty of the world. Someone else can review the next installment in the Harry Potter series. But your expertise in helping us choose among the independent and foreign movies we are given the opportunity to see in San Diego remains precious. I hope you will follow the request made by some readers and continue to provide us in some form with your reviews of the movies you find most worthy of an audience.

Jean-Louis Morhange
via email

38 Years Of Aggravation

Congratulations, Duncan Shepherd.

Never in the history of San Diego has one man pissed off so many people for so long.

Write hard, Duncan. Get it done and let them howl!

Mark Anderson
via email

Tiny Host, Huge Parasite

Don Bauder’s “Remember September 2006?” (“City Lights,” November 11) is a good examination of the tip of the economic-disaster iceberg. Yes, the public sector is paid more (let’s be honest — quite a bit more) than the nongovernment sector. But that’s just the start. In addition to the paychecks, the medical/dental benefits, sick leave/vacation leave, pension, and retirement age are much better than the nongovernment sector. We now have 30 to 40 percent of the people (nongovernment sector) supporting 60 to 70 percent of the people (government sector). The federal government alone is now the largest single employer in the nation. The government sector includes everyone paid by federal, state, county, and city government, as well as all public-funded systems (like schools, nonprivate universities, the military, military contractors, etc.). In blunt economic terms, we now have a rapidly dwindling host class supporting an ever-increasing parasite class. This is why the government (operated by the Federal Reserve) continues to print up vast quantities of paper money. Anyone who thinks this can go on indefinitely is simply deluded.

Name Withheld
via fax

According to the California Employment Development Department, the state’s employed civilian labor force in October was 15,971,800, which included 2,452,000 employees of federal, state, and local governments, or about 15 percent. — Editor

Bon Voyage, Tora

This is the first time I have picked up a copy of the Reader in well over a year, and I had to let you know how much I enjoyed Tora Lutzen’s view of San Diego (“Where Are You From?” Feature Story, November 11). She had tremendous observations and insights. I thoroughly enjoyed and agreed with her views, and I truly wish she had a weekly feature to keep me coming back for more. I wish her a safe journey back home and someday hope to visit her island. I hope her agency continues to send us more young people like her to work here. They are a welcome influence.

Kelly Trebis
via email

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Cassie and crew at the Las Vegas Sphere.
Cassie and crew at the Las Vegas Sphere.

Basketball great and San Diego icon Bill Walton died on May 27. The next day, sports commentator John Canzano posted an interview clip on TikTok in which he asked Walton how many Grateful Dead concerts he had attended. “Not enough,” replied Walton, before recounting that his first Dead show had been when he was in high school. “I was 15. I’m listening to FM radio and the disc jockey, it had to have been Gabriel Wisdom, that was the guy that everybody listened to, and he said, ‘Boys and girls, that last jam you just heard, that was a new band from San Francisco, and they call themselves The Grateful Dead.’” Wisdom then said that so many people had showed up to the Dead’s recent show in San Francisco that everyone got in free, and that maybe the same would hold true for their upcoming show in Los Angeles. “We said, ‘Yeah, that’s us, let’s go chase the dream!’ So one of the guys stole their parents car for the weekend, right? Nobody had driver’s licenses, nobody had any money, we just went up there in our shorts and our tennis shoes and a T-shirt. We just went up there, got in free somehow, went right to the front, and our lives were never the same.”

“Not enough” Grateful Dead concerts translates, in Walton’s case, to somewhere north of 850. Many of the stories written after his death made mention of his devotion, sometimes to the point where his storied basketball career seemed to be secondary. What were two decades on the court compared to more than five decades in the stands — and on the stage? (Walton famously joined the Grateful Dead offshoot band Dead & Company onstage as a white-bearded, rose-crowned Father Time for its 50th anniversary celebration in 2015.) Drummer Mickey Hart recalled that his dear friend Walton would “regularly send messages that said, ‘Thank you for my life.’ He was the biggest Deadhead in the world and used our music as the soundtrack of his life.”

Three days after Walton’s death, Dead & Company paid tribute to him during a performance of his favorite Dead song, “Fire on the Mountain.” The biggest Deadhead got the biggest sendoff: his image, name, and player number 32 splayed across the gargantuan curved screen of the Las Vegas Sphere, where Dead & Company are in residence until August 10. They started their run in May, after finishing their farewell tour in July of last year, and my wife was in attendance opening night. When she returned, she insisted that she needed to go back — this time, with me. She insisted that Dead & Company was not simply a glorified cover band, rehashing old favorites with the help of relative youngster John Mayer. She insisted that the band was revitalized, in an almost literal sense: the Grateful Dead were alive again, somehow, lo these 30 years after the death of founding member Jerry Garcia.

She knew just what to say. Like many fans, I had thought the Grateful Dead era ended when Garcia died. My wife understood my feeling, if only because she was a little like Walton and other devotees who talked about the Dead — and Garcia in particular — in tones that bordered on the religious.

Garcia was a reluctant high priest — he saw himself as a working man — but that didn’t stop the true believers, even if the best they could offer to explain themselves was, “They are a band beyond description,” one that provided, through their music and the community that formed around it, the closest thing to a religious experience they had ever found. “I am the human being that I am today because of the Grateful Dead,” Walton once said. And like converts, it wasn’t enough for them to attend; they had to tell the world, convince them to come along. “You’ve got to get on the bus, man!” They were friendly, wide-eyed, hopeful you’d join them. But for many, including myself, it felt like they were trying to describe a rainbow to a blind person.

On May 5th, 1990, I got on the bus — or tried to. My best friend at the time was a drummer named Steve Harris. He know I was into progressive rock: polished bands delivering tight performances of frequently complex music. He did not care. He insisted that the Dead were something I had to see, “a band beyond description.” He bought me tickets to see a set of weekend shows in a field at Cal State Dominguez Hills. He proudly declared that these were his first Miracles. I had no idea what he was talking about, but he had a sincerity that was hard to resist, and it seemed important to him that he share this experience with me. Besides: free tickets.

We wound up sitting on the grass, fairly close to the stage. It was extremely hot. A lady seated in front of us said, to no one in particular, “I wish I knew somebody who was at their first show.” Steve quickly let her know that I was just what she was looking for. “Here,” she said, handing me a tiny square of colored paper. “Eat this.” I looked at Steve for reassurance. He was happy to provide it. That set us up for a 16-hour psychedelic ride. But before the acid kicked in, the band strolled onstage and spent what seemed like five minutes tuning their instruments. I had never seen that before, or heard it. It sounded…disorganized. And when they started playing, they kind of fell into the song. The vocals seemed sloppy. I didn’t hear any of the songs I had heard the band play on the radio. The rest of the crowd seemed to approve, but I didn’t get it.

Then they took a break, and when they came back, well, only the drummer came back. The drummer played for what seemed a long time, and when the rest of the band came out, they started doing the strangest thing I had ever heard musicians do. It seemed like they were playing badly on purpose, making sounds that did not link together in any discernible way. By this point, I was thoroughly altered, and the discord sounded weird and even ominous.

By way of consolation, Steve leaned over and said simply, “Space.” I was not consoled. I was annoyed. I had heard so much hype about how good these guys were. Then, finally, they started in on a song that the crowd seemed to recognize, and it was like the whole audience exhaled and relaxed in unison. Then this guy who looked more like somebody’s grandfather than a rock and roll star started to sing something about needing a miracle every day. Steve leaned over again, and explained that a miracle wasn’t just a free concert ticket — it was a gift.

By this point, the LSD had taken hold. I had never experienced it before, and after an hour, I found it close to overwhelming. When we left the venue, we were in no condition to drive. So we sat in Steve’s car, and he played his current favorite Dead song on his car stereo — a slower number called “Box of Rain.” He explained that the song was about the bass player’s father dying of cancer. I remember still not getting it. I remember saying that they sounded like a low-budget Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, with passable but loose harmonies.

Later, my friend Steve died of cancer. Now, when I hear the song “Box of Rain,” I am taken back to the good times we shared before the sickness blossomed in him like a poison flower, and invariably, I will weep. The song has become a time stamp for a moment in my life. It hits deep. But even so, and even though I saw the Dead again a year after that first “miracle,” I did not become a Deadhead until I saw the band’s current iteration at The Sphere. The Dead are an acquired taste; it took me three decades to acquire it.

My wife kept showing me videos taken of Dead & Company at The Sphere. She told me it was a must-see event, that the venue was as much a part of the show as the band, and the internet seemed to share her opinion. Okay then. But our flight out of San Diego was delayed, and despite skipping dinner and making a mad dash to the venue, we arrived after the show started. I should have been soured on the whole experience, but the experience was too sweet for that.

Trying to describe The Sphere makes me sympathize with Deadheads trying to describe the Dead. I will say this: it feels like the future. There are something like 40 individual speakers per seat, and the sound is focused like a laser beam. One section might receive audio in Chinese and another in English, and there would be no confusion. Despite the sonic excellence, it was hard at first to judge the band’s music, because the visual experience was placing such a massive demand on my attention. The curved screen behind the band was enormous; the graphics, all but overwhelming.

But as I settled in, I found I couldn’t help but be impressed by the musicianship of John Mayer (and the rest of the Dead’s new blood). He was doing Jerry Garcia’s guitar licks, but taking them further. And while he got all the words in all the right places, he wasn’t trying to sound like Jerry. He was doing his own thing, and it was working. In short order, I was dancing along with the rest of the crowd.

Back in my younger days, when the band did their “drums and space” thing, that was bathroom and beverage time. No longer. This giant contraption with dozens of drums and assorted instruments was played by three members of the band — and that’s when I noticed the haptic seats. When the drums hit certain notes, I could feel it through the chair. The sound seemed to be three-dimensional, at times bouncing noticeably off the front, back, and sides of the Sphere. But it wasn’t like panning a speaker left and right; it was all around me. And then Mickey Hart did something with an instrument called The Beam that triggered light effects that were unlike anything I had ever experienced before. A one-hundred-and-fifty-foot brain appeared on the screen, the nerves pulsating as if stimulated by whatever it was he was doing. It was incredible! I would pay the ticket price just to see that one aspect again.

As it was, we came back for the Friday show with better seats, and again on Saturday. Each night, the emotional impact grew. The old favorite songs were new again. I started to get it, to understand why the Dead got so big, so ongoing, and why the scene is still so vibrant today. It’s something profound, something beyond music. After the last show, while we were doing the exit shuffle, riding the escalators down, we found ourselves face-to-face with people on another escalator. Our eyes met, and we started cheering, not for the band, but for each other. That’s the kind of love and goodwill I encountered.

Back home, I sought out the local Dead cover band scene. To my amazement, I found around a dozen. Does any other band have a dozen cover bands in one town, or 1800 nationwide, with at least six being full-time touring acts? Dead & Company called their Sphere residency “Dead Forever;” given what I saw and felt, it does seem like the long, strange trips will be going on for a long, long while.

— Albert Barlow

In 2023, Dead & Company announced that their current tour would be their last. They hadn’t played San Diego since 2021. I had to travel to Los Angeles to see the second show of that last tour at the Kia Forum and then to San Francisco to see the very the last one at Oracle Park. But just because they’re no longer touring doesn’t mean they’re no longer playing, which explains their residency at The Sphere. Or helps to explain it.

I frequent a bar in Coronado. One of the bartenders there is Cassie. She’s tall, with dusty blonde hair, the most beautiful brown eyes I’ve ever seen, and she’s drop dead gorgeous. That aside, she’s got heart and soul and is a Deadhead. One day, I went in for a beer. Cassie gave me a wide smile; her eyes sparkled. “I just got a bunch of tickets for Dead & Company shows at The Sphere.”

My interest was piqued. “How do I get in on that action?”

“I got tickets for the first weekend and second weekend. I think we’re going on the second weekend.”

“That’s the weekend I want to go!”

Buzz began to build within the local Dead community; people wanted to know who was going to which show. It intensified when the first clips hit the internet after the opening show on May 16. I didn’t want my experience to be spoiled, so I resolved to avoid them. But the thing about spectacles is that you want to look at them. Happily, they didn’t lessen my excitement about the real thing.

Cassie, her friend Fil, Evan and I were the Coronado Tribe, headed for the May 24 show. Unlike Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo in Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, we opted to fly instead of drive. (Cassie let me know which flight to book and already had a hotel lined up.) Like Duke and Gonzo, we had plenty of drugs to keep us company: eight hits of LSD (4 microfiche and 4 liquid gels), five infused joints with kief and rosin, one pressed Ecstasy pill, sixteen Molly caps, four cannabis pens, one bottle of 1000 milligrams of THC tincture, and a quarter of mushrooms.

That Friday morning, Evan came to pick me up in his golf cart. Golf carts are not uncommon on the streets of Coronado. Evan is 26, and is in the Navy. The Navy promises one sort of adventure; our journey promised an entirely different sort. We met Cassie and her roommate Luke at their place to catch a Lyft to the airport. (Luke was heading to London and his flight was around the same time as ours.) Fil was already inside the airport bar, waiting for us and drinking a beer. Cassie and Evan opted for Starbucks, but I stayed with Fil and ordered a $14 Tito’s & soda on the rocks. I’m not a big fan of flying, so a stiff drink was in order. Fil is 43, svelte, and has eyes that pierce into one’s soul. That gives him authenticity.

We arrived at our hotel around 1:30. Fil had arranged for a suite at the Hilton Grand Vacations Club. After unpacking, it was time to change into our Dead attire and head out to Shakedown Street. For non-Deadheads, Shakedown Street is the designated vending area set up in the parking lots of Grateful Dead concerts. Vendors sell clothing, jewelry, arts and crafts, food, drinks, and illicit items. In this case, Shakedown Street was at Tuscany Suites & Casino, less than a mile away from The Sphere. We arrived at 4 pm, and after we had taken a couple of laps around the lot, we concluded that it wasn’t as robust as others we had visited. (I recently learned that the vendors eventually moved inside the hotel due to the heat.) Fil noticed something odd: “I don’t hear any tanks or see any balloons! Headshops sell tanks here in Vegas, though.”

Cassie bought a hoodie and we decided to walk towards the Sphere. Along the way, we passed by Lawry’s Prime Rib Steakhouse on Howard Hughes Parkway. I was telling my crew that the place was an iconic restaurant when I noticed something else: “There’s a headshop!” Inside, we learned that 2.2-liter nitrous oxide tank prices ranged from $45-$99. We all pitched in for the $45 tank and some balloons. People sell nitrous balloons for up to $20 at shows.

We found a staircase at a shopping center across the street from the Sphere to do our balloons. But we got kicked out by security immediately after doing our first round. We decided to head into the Sphere parking lot to see if there was a space for us to do our thing. First thing we saw were police officers getting ready for their concert shift. We needed a different spot after that encounter. We looped around and found an abandoned parking lot. There, we were free to do our derelict activities: inhaling balloons, smoking joints, and playing music.

After our frolic it was time to march to the Sphere (but not before hiding what was left in our tank in the bushes). We found the line to the entrance. While in line, I saw fellow wordsmith Emily Elizabeth Allison from San Diego. I went to say hello and get her thoughts. This is what I got.

Dead Forever

Giant round belly

against the sky,

an egg, giving birth

within itself

to itself.


swirling dervish

calling across dry sun,

an unforeseen spectacle

so full of nothing

but offering something…

spiraling dreams

in a bubble

that no dawn can burst.

You are a memory

of past desert days

and simpler times.

You are the magic ball

of the future

telling fortunes

in rapid blinks,

sensory reminders

of parts of ourselves

that had been forgotten

and now beg to be


You are a balloon

with its exhale

catapulting itself

against hopeful blue

sky water.

You are my bucket of joy

and then my hollow of grief.

I never could have known

how I would be swallowed

into your orbit

and spun within your cycle

of a million stars.

You remain for me

a single planet


like a gift

with no corners

or ribbons

and seemingly no end.


like Christmas,

your smile will subside

and you’ll start a new list

of naughty and nice.

But for now,

you are the wizard

behind the curtain

showing all the love

and unexpected tears

are my own.

Decades ago

I never could have imagined

you are rolling up to my gaze

like God’s spaceship,

offering a portal

that demands no vehicle

but breath.

You, round star,

watch my arrival

then spin behind me

as life pulls me away

back to the sea.

You are indifferent

to my comings and goings

and still, I see your wink

inviting me back

each week

to swim in your sphere.”

Our seats were in the 300 section. Once at our seats, we ingested our LSD. The information I was getting on social media was that the 300 and 400 sections were the best for catching all the visuals of the show, and the floor was good for dancing, spinning and being up close to the band. I haven’t experienced the floor yet. (I stress “yet!”), but confirmation can be provided that the 300 section is good for the visual aspects. Viz: the doors opened to the Grateful Dead House in Haight-Ashbury while the “Music Never Stopped” and then everyone was floating up into outer space. Not to mention standing underneath a waterfall, letting the water run between my fingers and catching the rain with my mouth, only to arrive at that cathartic moment viewing Jerry’s silhouette during “St. Stephen.” The crowd on the floor looked like amoebas moving in their pseudopodal state.

The show ended and it was time to find our tank. Cassie had a pin on it, but wasn’t confident one of our brains would work enough to get us there. Good thing I’ve had children, because my fatherly instincts for finding the child kicked in, and we found our parking lot and continued our derelict activities. There was enough in the tank for two more balloons, and we smoked a joint. That was night one.

Next day was recovery by the pool, drinking beers, hitting the vapes, putting tincture under our tongues and relaxing. At one point, Cassie sat up from her lounge position and declared, “We fucking deserve this! I know all of us work so hard!” After sufficient relaxation, the plan was to get cleaned up and head to the Venetian for the Dead exhibit they had there. When we arrived at the Venetian, we learned the exhibit was (and is )at the Palazzo. Exhibits about the history of the Grateful Dead; I probably don’t need to recommend that. Cassie, Evan and I started eating mushrooms at a microdose pace; we didn’t want to trip out too hard before the show.

The Palazzo connects to the Venetian, and the Venetian connects to the Sphere. Because we were in Vegas with some time to kill before the show, we all splintered off to do some gambling. We set a meeting spot, and after meeting at our designated rendezvous location, we shared our stories of being up and down and happy to lose only around $60. We all considered that a win.

Time to go to the show. Night two was not as intense and I was able to grasp and capture everything better because I was in a more stable state of mind. We all opted to head back to our hotel after the show because we had to wake up at 7 am for a 9:30 flight. Our flight back only took thirty-six minutes, but we were stuck on the tarmac for over an hour because there was a plane with maintenance problems stuck at our gate. That was the worst thing that happened on our trip.

There were firsts for each one of us. It was my first back-to-back shows. It was Cassie and Fil’s first indoor show. It was Evan’s first Dead show ever, and the first time he did LSD. He had moments of going deep inside himself, trembling and being confronted with moments from his youth. He made it out with enlightenment. None of that can explain, nor can anyone explain what happened. As Cassie said, “It’s inexplicable!” Our own experience is the one we have. I got to share and rejoice with my sister and brothers.

As the late Bill Walton (Rest In Power) once said, “We all won, and everybody wins.”

Gabriel Garcia


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