Real Life Stories: Jerry's last ride
Back in the ancienter of days, 1967 maybe edged into 1968, Jerry and Caroline would see me walking up University Avenue and perhaps recognizing a familiar face or maybe they were just like that with everyone, they'd pull over and just offer me a ride towards campus in one of their matching white and black little BMW’s. These were the older boxier style of BMW’s, they looked a little like Austin Minis, and the cars were quite white with dark shiny black roofs painted for contrast. Caroline was behind the wheel that particular day and really enjoyed wheeling that baby around.
I'd seen those cars buzzing around various times. I didn’t know they each had an identical car until I saw them each behind the wheel of a separate vehicle headed in different directions shortly later. Caroline loved that car, and always was smiling when she was behind the wheel. She had long curly kind of wild hair because she liked to drive with the window open. It was funny, she drove with the perfect 10-2 position of her hands on the wheel to have good control of the vehicle and I would perch on the thin leather of the back seat with my book bag on the floor.
One day a little later, I stopped by a place they were housesitting for a friend in Berkeley, I guessed to get a little farther away from the San Francisco scene and have a little vacation across the Bay. The cars were parked at the curb out front, and I was starting to laugh as I made my way up the stepping stones to the French garden door because there were a lot of donkey bells and blue donkey beads hanging on a rope as a doorbell for callers to announce themselves. The neighbors must have been amazed at the arrival of so many camel caravans in an urban area. Beneath the bell, a big potted cactus caught my eye. This and that was said, I had just a few minutes to peek in to say "Hi" while I was on my way to class and maybe drop off something from the health food shelves at the Coop on my way back because I knew they just wanted a little time alone and they knew it, too.
Nobody but nobody had very much time but would try to make a little, and we started talking about their cars. I remember Caroline saying about their matching his and hers BMWs that they kept hoping the cars would breed, and I pointed out that they probably couldn’t do that parked as they were. To continue the joke, I walked past a few days later and the cars were parked like stuck dogs, back bumper to back bumper, but I don’t know if that were an accident of parking or an intentional joke on their part. But they could be a cute couple. Caroline didn’t like Berkeley’s habit of giving parking tickets at the first sign of an expired meter, but who did.
The last time I saw Caroline in her BMW in Berkeley, we were riding up Dwight Way or Bancroft Avenue towards Telegaph. She was a little bummed and it showed in her driving, because she had one arm draped out the window and was steering with one hand at the bottom of the wheel to make it easy to reach over to shift. Well, that can be hazardous. She was wearing kind of a lot of beads, and had put on a few what she called "el-bee-ess." I could tell she’d been stressed as she said she had a tendency to eat for relief and Jerry really liked to chow down. Things got better, I guess, because the next time I saw Caroline, she’d gotten a new brighter hair-cut, sort of a blond pixie, which gave good accent to her cheekbones and eyes and she was cutting a trimmer leaner figure. She used to have a doubled breasted grey wool coat she wore everywhere, which reminded me of a confederate general's. You know in all of this happening to be around Jerry Garcia and Caroline (I didn’t even know she was called Mountain Girl until I saw that in print much later on and figured it might be her), I only went to one Grateful Dead concert at one New Year’s eve show as 1967 turned into 1968 and that was just ok, so immemorable as not crowd a brain cell. I'm pretty sure I stood and watched the whole show, as I was a sturdy sort back then. Some of their guitar jams even then were like listening to kids on a long bus trip singing "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" and by the time they got to "Take one down and pass it around, two bottles of beer on the wall" my mind had wandered elsewhere and was having a much better time. I mean I had really lost interest. I truly didn’t have a lot of leisure time and the Dead per se were not my trip. Plus, they weren't "political".
You see, it's not like we were friends or anything. But we happened to be in the same neighborhood so to speak and I would run into them now and again. And later on, although I ran into Jerry a few more times when he would come to play at various clubs I had something to do with, these events were separated by more than a decade. And then I ran into him in Hawaii maybe '92 or '93 at a health food store and the lady he was currently married to was throwing her weight around, demanding special treatment from the staff because they were dropping so much money there, and generally acting like a badly behaved yuppie inisting on having her way. I even helped carry a big box of veggies out to the rent-a-jeep where Jerry was behind the wheel. And then soon after he was dead.
[p.s. it struck me as quite a coincidence, isn't it, with all the names there are to choose from in the world that one of their daughters was christened Annabelle, which was my own mother's name. Well people in the '60s didn't invent name changes -- they weren't the only ones reinventing themselves and changing their names, though they'd dream up stuff like "Star" or "Aquarius Wonder Woman" or something else they felt was more suitable. My mom was from the South and had shortened and modernized her name because ... well, just because (she was ashamed of having come from the South because of all those damn Southerners, you see.) I'd always liked Caroline, she was sometimes adamant about being a real peace-lover.
And what I'm saying is this: One of the nicest things about music then is that it was part of the community. There was the feeling, too, that the musicians were understandable as they were members of the community. In Berkeley, Country Joe and his Fish were definitely a part of the environment. Blue Cheer even rented a two-story house and painted their band name on the side just as an expression of who they were and that’s where they were. We had bands of our own in our own damn towns.)