“As Is Ever So on the Road”
Written and Photographed by: Thomas Miller
Driving up the 101 towards San Francisco. Its early morning, daylight has begun to creep through the valley and engulf my eyes with scenery of euphoria and greener pastures. I am on my way from Los Angeles up to San Francisco to see the final shows of the final Dead & Company tour. This was the final road trip I had during my time on the west coast. “As is ever so on the road.”
“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road,” I take these words in the title from Jack Kerouac. One of the forefront writers of the beatnik generation and author of On the Road, from which this quote is taken from. The book symbolizes freedom of the person, living carefree pursuing endless possibilities for endless reasons across America. From coast to coast, this generation lived in the moment. Devoid of responsibilities, work, deadlines, and overall adult life issues. It is the defining novel of Americana, and the generation that rejected materialism and focused on the now. This is the life I dream of.
I took a nearly two-week trip to the west coast. I am at a very pivotal point in my life. I have gone through some major life changes in the past year that had deep emotional and psychological impacts on me. An escape was what I needed. My journey began flying into Los Angeles. Quickly after landing we began our first leg of the journey driving out to Las Vegas. Sin City. Lust, greed, and the remaining deadly sins flourish in this city. Vices are exploited and pleasures are consumed by the masses for their own selfish pleasure and enjoyment. Time there can be best explained as a blur, exploiting these sins, and watching others be consumed by their own vices. This juxtaposed the escape I was looking for. I looked for inner peace and harmony with myself and my being. From gambling at the casinos to late nights at strip clubs, this was the opposite of what I longed for. It is a city that can swallow you whole. After a weekend there and I had escaped the prison of the desert. My real journey was still ahead of me.
For the following week, I remained in Los Angeles. Another city quite devoid of the escape I was looking for. During this time, I used this time to visit friends, meet new people, see new things in museums and shows but still I was missing something, a journey.
Saturday morning, I picked up a rental car and left at 4am to begin my journey to the final Dead & Company shows of their final tour. Dead & Company is the modern iteration of The Grateful Dead, long past since their frontman Jerry Garcia tragically passed away in 1995. I had met up with a close friend of mine in Los Angeles to make the trip up. A six-hour car ride felt like a thirty-minute cruise. We passed through beautiful countryside that was brand new to my eyes. This was a part of America I had never seen before. Completely different from the hilly Appalachians I have passed through countless times on the east coast. To me, this was something new. To others, it is a daily routine. Whether it be driving through this area to go to work or just for pleasure, I was not the first to pass through this territory. But it was a new sensation to me, bringing forth a scenery which just felt right. I could be free and one with nature. Like Don Draper in Mad Men, California symbolized to him freedom and truly being himself, not living in lies and shadows from his truth. Just like Don, my inner being felt like this environment was just right for me, spiritually and psychologically. Once more like Don, I set my eyes on Big Sur, one of the most beautiful landscapes America has to offer.
As we made our journey north, I slowly realized I had overshot Big Sur by nearly two hours. Cannot turn back. I came on this journey determined to get a real experience with nature on this drive. Through trial and error, we stumbled upon a dreary coastal beach. We met a kind, elder soul on our stop. We talked about basketball, the coastal beach, and he even gave us a great recommendation for lunch. Through his words and his eyes, I can tell the coast had been good to him. He was a gentle and at peace soul. Living in this moment and enjoying nature as it was intended. He seemed immune to any real-world problems and content with the life he had.
“As is ever so on the road.”
We continued our journey up to San Francisco where we met up with several friends at our hotel for the final shows. Our first stop? Shakedown Street. This is the lot outside of the Dead & Company shows where thousands of Deadheads spend their time before, during, or after the show. It is best summed up as its own ecosystem. Shakedown has tons of vendors who spend all summer long traveling with the tour selling their goods and services to the patrons of the shows. You can buy just about anything you can imagine that is Dead related there. Hats, shirts, shrooms, weed, beer, LSD, ice cold fatties (whippets), and so much more. Some notable brands such as Online Ceramics are present in the lot as well, selling apparel. They are one of the bridges connecting the gap between the younger generation and the older generation at these shows. To us, the younger generation, Online Ceramics is a fashionable brand we all know and chances are we either own one of their shirts or we want to own one of their shirts. To the older generation, they are a regular vendor at Shakedown Street.
They likely cannot fathom the magnitude of the scale the brand has outside of the realm of Shakedown Street. Most vendors are free-living people looking to make a quick buck while traveling across America to watch their favorite band. This small lot embraces the ideology of the beatnik generation and what the music of the Dead personifies. They are all unified together to enjoy the music and see their favorite band play. Some of these vendors have been in the lot for 20+ years. Its not about the money. It is about the community and the passion they have for the band. Uniting each other with their various goods and services. The band is their unifying force and it formed a bond of love and understanding for many years for these folk. Traveling in the lot from show to show is not about the destination, it is about the journey and living in the moment of the now. I would do anything to go back and spend a summer traveling with the tour just as they did.
I had seen the band once before prior to this year, but going into San Francisco for the two of the three final shows were my 4th and 5th time seeing them this year. To say their music is transformative is an understatement. Seeing them just a few weeks ago at home in New York changed me completely. I had taken shrooms for the first time and I had experienced a feeling I cannot quite explain. The passion behind the music uplifted me into a newfound inner peace. No longer was I feeling burdened by my regrets and my anxieties in life. I had emerged from those shows as a better person. A better state of mind and a newfound sense of joy.
My journey to see the band in San Francisco, their hometown, was something I knew I had to do. Being in the city of San Francisco for the first time, I hit the typical tourist spots but I arrived at my real destination at those shows. Tens of thousands of fans made their pilgrimage across America to see these final shows, I was not the only one. The embodiment of harmony was personified through the crowd’s reaction to the music those nights. Tears of joy, warm compassion and careless ecstasy filled the faces of thousands those nights. This was the feeling I was chasing. Not necessarily a destination along my journey, but a feeling that is so unique and special that I do not think could ever be matched again.
We cheered and our eyes glistened with wonder when we heard the songs we had been chasing to hear live finally come out to play. For me, “Jack Straw” was one I had been longing for while. Other friends were ecstatic to be able to experience “Terrapin Station” live and we commenced a group hug to emphasize the significance of this moment. When the music played, nothing else mattered. No responsibilities, no jobs, no stress, only the music mattered. Our giant group hug solidified the moment and impact this journey had on us. It would be something each and every single one of us would remember for the rest of our lives. No matter where we wind up, what path we take in the remainder of our lives, we will always have that weekend. We cried on the floor Saturday night to the encore of “Ripple.” The final show on Sunday evening stayed true to form and continued to melt our faces with renditions and guitar solos we could not believe we were hearing. The final encore of “Truckin’” to “Brokedown Palace” to “Not Fade Away” were exactly what we needed to hear. The stadium echoed with thousands of claps and fans singing along to “Not Fade Away” as Bob Weir literally faded away from the mic. My journey was now complete and I can begin a new chapter in my life. Back on the way home, “as is ever so on the road.”
“Fare you well, fare you well
I love you more than words can tell”
- “Brokedown Palace” by The Grateful Dead