It's time to hit the road.
One last time.
Calls are made. Entanglements broken. The appointed time for departure comes and goes. A revised departure time is also missed.

Things are going well.
A montage of characters gathers, cutting ties to the grind, if only for a while. The group constantly changes as people peel off and new ones come aboard. There are two post office employees, a union stagehand, a painter, two kids and a journalist.

The van fills with backpacks, sleeping bags, a futon, three coolers, a couple of boom boxes and an assortment of personalities linked together by a dedication to the Grateful Dead.

We're going to San Francisco to bid farewell to our friend, Jerry Garcia.
The van heads west. Across the Harquahala Valley and the heat of the day. We catch the moonrise near Banning, where thousands of windmills wave. Meteors torch the sky in the San Joaquin Valley. Morning breaks in the mist and fog of Santa Cruz.

Like sponges, we soak up what had been sucked out of our pores over three months of eyeball-drying heat. A few run to the waves. The youngest, age 6, gets knocked down and drenched.

During the summer, the sun often hides until afternoon on the coastline between Santa Cruz and San Francisco. Highway 1 darts in and out of fog, revealing glimpses of beach, cliffs, cypress, a lighthouse and windsurfers.

A few minutes later, we're in what local papers call The City. We stumble around Golden Gate Park before finding the Polo Fields, where we park the van. It's been 14 hours since we left Tempe.

We are tired, hungry and ragged--the perfect state for a Show.
But there is to be no show today, and we all know it.
In the center of the field, drummers continue to beat out a steady rhythm that began soon after word of Jerry's death. Dancers swirl in altered states.

Nearby, candles and incense burn on an impromptu altar. Pictures, mementos, poems, notes, ticket stubs and other offerings drape the memorial. People quietly stand near the shrine, lost in their own thoughts of what Jerry meant to them.

Everyone refers to Garcia as Jerry, because everyone considers him a personal friend. Jerry's voice and guitar sent waves of joy so deeply into our hearts that we leapt into the air in ecstasy. No one ever explained how or why--not even Jerry. But it would happen. Over and over again, it would happen.

So people would come back for more.
It's that simple.
It wasn't just a hippie thing, although the band obviously grew from the movement. It wasn't about any one type of person. It was about everybody.

A little after dark, the crowd swells to several thousand. Rumors circulate that Dylan is coming to play. Maybe Carlos Santana. Pehaps even the Dead.

A stage slowly emerges on the south side of the grounds, flanked by white, fully enclosed tents. Hopes rise, but it soon becomes clear that it isn't a performance stage. Sometime after midnight, a 25-foot-high airbrush painting crafted only hours earlier is unfurled across the iron superstructure. The painting depicts Jerry's mischievous grin, which he frequently projected at bandmates during shows.

By dawn on Sunday, flowers, candles and photographs cover the base of the stage. A Dixieland jazz band on a mobile platform pulled by a Ryder truck tunes up. A 30-foot papier-mch dragon hoisted by Dead family members is pieced together. We are going to send the Fat Man out New Orleans-style. At least, that seems to be one plan.

The jazz band leads the procession around the dirt track that encircles the Polo Fields, and thousands join in the solemn march, clapping and singing to the refrain of "Not Fade Away."

The procession stops in front of the stage, where Jerry's wife, daughter and bandmates wait. The drumming ceases. The crowd stands silently, not moving.

The words come, poems are read. Sadness permeates our souls. His wife and daughter speak. His bandmates make their offerings of how Jerry would want to be remembered. Their message is this:

Live with an open and joyful heart.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty