Saturday, April 15, 2006


It was the twenty-ninth anniversary of my One Step program. On April 1st, 1977, I quit drinking. What better way to celebrate than to see The Bob Dylan Show in Reno, Nevada, April 1st, 2006.

The day started with an Old School breakfast in San Francisco with DC Marsh at Sam's place in the Mission: caffeine, canabis, nicotine and a re-hash of the previous night's party where several people who'd heard about each other for years finally got to meet.

With plenty of time to spare I walked two blocks to Mission Street and jumped on a #14 down to the Ferry Building. Bought my ticket to Reno at the Amtrak station across from the Ferry Building. Found a quiet corner for a parting puff and waited for my bus connection to Emeryville. From there I picked up the train to Sacramento where I switched to another bus bound for Reno.

At about 4:20 I pulled into the cheap and gaudy center of town and waited for Christina under a blazing billboard boasting the buffest of male bodies. She pulled up in her white pickup and it was on. We headed for the rooftop of Circus Circus to enjoy a pre-show sunset. I changed out of my travel jeans into my super skinny black jeans, a slinky black top and a pair of black boots my pal Sal gave me when I was on the East Coast last year. Sally was the first person to help me find my way out of the alcohol haze, back in the early 'seventies. How appropriate that I would celebrate this anniversary standing in her shoes. Here's to you Sally!

We took turns putting on our makeup in the rear view mirror. When we had our heads on straight, we re-parked the truck inside the multi-storied structure and took the elevator down to the flashing lights and cacophony of the casino. We followed signs advertising Starbucks Coffee and Krispy Kreme donuts, loaded up on caffeine and sugar and settled in at a counter in the middle of the lobby where we could watch the action.

Through the crowd we spotted a guy about my age in a beard, sunglasses and a leather tour jacket. "Are you my Daddy?" I said quietly as he strolled by with his big bad self. "He's going to see Dylan," predicted Christina, also wearing dark sunglasses.

We followed him to the elevator and managed to crowd in right next to him. Christina's blinding illegal smile in that crowded cubicle gave me a case of teenage giggles. "Going to see Dylan?" Christina asked Daddy. "Of course," he replied. "How many times?" she inquired further. "About a hundred," came the answer. "Sounds about right," she said. The doors opened on the ground floor. We all streamed out and across the street to the Reno Events Center. Found our way to our seats. Row 11, seats 9 and 10.

Twenty minutes until showtime and the place is filling up with aging hippies and pseudo-straights. The level of excitement rises, nothing like the massive giddiness before a Grateful Dead show, more subdued, more like a roomful of elderly outlaws who just made another big score. Laid back and looking forward to the good times. Not a speck of smoke in the air except right down in front where a crowd has gathered. There's a definite cloud rising toward the overhead spotlights, maybe even wafting from behind the curtain. When it rises, everybody lights up. It is written: Everybody must get stoned.

Dylan comes onstage wearing a white hat. We had already heard that he would be playing keyboard instead of guitar, due to back problems. He launched into his first song and although I remember digging it, I couldn't begin to tell you what it was. Maybe Watchtower. If I had to guess. There are those who come away from concerts with complete set lists. I'm not one of them. When the second song started Christina and I grabbed each other by the arms and almost screamed like teenagers. But we remembered where we were and we were cool. The king of outlaws was singing to us:

"She's got everything she needs, she's an artist, she don't look back."

I remembered quoting from this song, She Belongs to Me, in my last letter to Jack English, mentor and dear friend back in my days of national politics. I didn't know it was my last letter to him. Didn't know about the cancer that was about to take him to Jesus.

"She never stumbles, she's got no place to fall," I had written from Enrico's on Broadway in San Francisco. I described a punk in a green mohawk who went by as I was telling him how much I loved the City by the Bay. After he died, a mutual friend told me that Jack had bragged to him about my letter: "Hey, I got a letter from your girlfriend," he'd said. Jack was always trying to fix me up with somebody or other. Semper Fi, Jack.

Standing up to dance was an issue where we were seated so we joined the crowd at the back of the hall to let loose. The rest of the concert is kind of a blur. Even I have to admit that most of the songs sound the same at a live Dylan concert and I couldn't recognize the rest of the songs he sang at all. Not a one. Usually you can catch a familiar phrase and identify the song by the words, even if he's changed the tune. It wasn't until the second song of the encore that I recognized a classic and called DC Marsh on my cellphone. Held it up for her to hear the man sing "Like a Rolling Stone."

After the show, while I was in the restroom, Christina got caught up in a wave of Hells Angels leaving the show and decided to float along with them to see where they were going. My phone rang just as I was washing my hands. She told me to turn left outside the Events Center and cross the street. I did. She was waiting outside another casino where they had all gathered. We went in, sat at the bar and enjoyed a couple of Red Bulls in chilled Martini glasses. Six big bikers were crammed into the booth across the bar from us, along with a young woman who fit Hunter Thompson's description of Hells Angels' women: nervous and wary from too much bitter knowledge in too few years. I had drawn my own conclusion from years of hanging around with the boys from Frisco: It's only cool when the bikes are moving. But it was fun to see them hulking around the casino in their colors. Kind of like the old days but without the hangover.