Last week, during the hectic bustle of exams, we turned the tables on our normal carpool and I drove the crew in for a change. (Cal normally rides in with his two besties and their dad, who teaches at his school.) Even though getting in the car and driving messes with my normal morning routine of slowly sipping coffee and eating eclairs in my jammies (I kid! I kid!), I love running those guys into school in the mornings. There's a chance the dad of this crew will be Cal's English teacher next year (fingers crossed), and we learned the story behind why they chose The Sword and The Stone for 10th grade summer reading. For a fair trade, we told them about Neel's love affair with the Grateful Dead.
We started by telling those guys about The Grateful Dead channel on satellite radio. Neel pooh-poohed it at first, but now he's in love. Cal and I joke that we can turn it on at the start of a song in Norfolk and maybe just finish it by the time we get to a Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park, six hours away. A concert could last us the whole drive to Nantucket.
Neel loves the Grateful Dead station now. He loves it so much that even if he's simply moving the car from the driveway to the street in order to mow, he turns the radio to that channel. Loud, too.
Jerry Garcia was still alive when we lived in Pennsylvania while Neel was getting his PhD and the Dead was still touring. Neel and a friend hit up several concerts in the area, trading their lab coats for tie die and heading out to shake off some of the stress of academic life. I stayed home. One trip to the old RFK stadium in DC involved getting lost, and why is it that trips to RFK stadium always involve getting lost. They turned in at a gate to ask for directions, but that gate happened to be The White House.
Neel: Uh, we're looking for RFK stadium. For the Grateful Dead concert.
Guard: I'm sorry sir, this is THE WHITE HOUSE.
Traffic was miserable and moods, unless you were actually headed to the concert, were miserable too. On the nearly-stopped freeway, a truck filled with construction workers pulled up next to Neel and his friend Joe to ask, What the hell is going on? When Neel explained, the construction worked, said simply, "Well, I'll be grateful when they're dead."
We don't feel that way by a long shot, and Cal, dare I say, is gaining a growing appreciation. To some songs at least. I'd say he feels about The Grateful Dead the way I feel about a lot of things he and Neel are into (The Simpsons, King of the Hill, war movies, chicken wings): small doses. Small doses are key.
Because let's face it. You can take the tie die t-shirt out of his closet but not out of his heart.