When I Was 18

The venerable Ace Cowboy from over at Slack LaLane has recently been discussing what he was doing this time of year seven years ago. He was up at school in Chicago and had a few friends come in town for three nights. They were four dudes who Ace had known for a while, really cool guys; maybe a little too into music and drugs, but all in all good fellas.

Ace and I got to talking about those guys (he didn't know that I knew them too) and I started to remember their Chicago stay as well. In fact, I had caught up with them in Madison the night before they drove down to Chicago. Mike, Jon, Page, and Trey. Four crazy fucks. Phish.

I don't talk about it much anymore, but back in '96-'98 I was a HUUUUUUGGGEEEE Phish fan. I saw just about every show they did in the Midwest (Madison, Deer Creek, Alpine Valley, UIC, Champaign) and had a blast doing so.

When Phish went on hiatus for the first time in 2000, I was floored. It was the same feeling I had when Darryl Kile died, almost like losing someone who you had grown up with. Anyhoo...I got over my obsession with them and moved more from the classic rock which had warmed my heart through Junior High and the jam-bands I had loved during High School to newer music; be it Radiohead, Wilco, and other pretentious stuff. Or, starting around fall of '01, ass-hat hipster stuff like The Strokes or Kings of Leon.

Phish got back together in 2002 and I saw them in Raleigh during that tumultuous summer of '03. It was a really weird experience. From the last time I had seen them in '98, I felt as if I was five years older, but the crowd was still 17 years old (if that makes any sense.)

Anyway, the music was great, but I had long before quit smoking pot, and I had just got home from Iraq, so the last thing I wanted to see was a bunch of dirty wookies.

After that show, I had a little bit of closure. My Phish obsession had officially come to an end. They were a giant part of my adolescent years, and have provided me with a million happy memories. I thank them for that. However, I'm still pissed that I used to spend $3 for a grilled cheese sandi that somebody cooked in a parking lot.

Remembering where I was at seven years ago, however, takes me back to when I was 18 years old and didn't have a care in the world. It was during the stretch of time after I left college and before I joined the Marines. Irresponsibility reigned supreme.

I was working full time at Office Depot (I know, pretty glamorous) when I heard Phish were playing in Madison and then three nights in Chicago. Since I had friends who went to school at Wisconsin, and another friend who was modeling in Chicago (which actually was quite glamorous) I knew I'd have people to stay with if I wanted to follow Phish around for four nights. I scraped up some cash, got some tickets for the shows, and pointed my '93 LeBaron north, Wisconsin bound.

The first night, at Madison's Kohl Center, was a blast. Lots of booze, great tunes at the show, collegiate shenanigans afterwards. Not as good as Deer Creek in '98, but not as bad as Champaign in '97. Good times all around, though.

Some friends had made the drive from Peoria to Madison with me and when we woke up the next morning, one had decided that she was going to stay an extra night in Madison and go back to Peoria later. The other two made the drive with me down to Chicago, where we stayed at our friend Erin's apartment in Lincoln Park. The first show at UIC was not as good as I was expecting but still quite fun.

The next morning, I had learned that another group of friends had come into town for the show and had an extra bed in their hotel room if I wanted it. Since that sounded more comfortable then where I had slept the night before (underneath of a coffeetable) I took them up on their offer. Their hotel was out by O'Hare, which would normally be a half hour drive from where I was leaving from. It ended up taking over two hours and I vomited twice while driving. Not cool.

By the end of the second night in Chicago, I was officially sick. Like shaking and puking sick. But, I wasn't about to let that keep me from having a little fun.

A couple of buddies and I had gone into downtown Chicago to kill some time, when I noticed that we weren't too far from the Sears Tower. I had always wanted to try something there, so we went.

I walked into the lobby, went to the first security guard I saw, and said to him "Excuse me sir, where is the sporting goods department?"

"What?" the old man replied, clearly flustered.

"The sporting goods department. I need a pump to inflate my basketball."

"What are you talking about?"

"I need to know where the sporting goods department is. This is Sears, isn't it?"

"Son, I think you're a little confused...this is the Sears Tower, not a Sears department store. We don't have a sporting goods department."

I began pouting and kicking fruitlessly at the floor, mumbling about how much my basketball needed to be inflated. Quickly, and much to the old security guards surprise, my quite self crapulance turned into loud, uncontrollable rage.


And with that little temper tantrum, I had finally fulfilled my life long dream of being kicked out of the Sears Tower.

Later that night, Phish played their final show at UIC. A show which, due to sickness, I was forced to be sober at. And I thank the lord I was. It was, and to this day still is, the finest rock concert which I have ever attended. Hands down.

We got to the arena early and were standing about three rows off of the stage for the entire concert. By the time they encored with a cover of The Edgar Winters Group's "Frankenstein" and an acapella cover of "Freebird," I was toast.

That night I made the drive from Chicago to Peoria alone, driving through one of the worst storms I have ever witnessed. I woke up at my parent's house the next morning, not remembering a good 3/4 of that drive, but knowing somehow I had made it home.

At the time, those four days didn't seem too special. I was 18 and I thought my adult life would be an incredible journey of concerts, beers, friends, and little to no responsibility. Little did I know that within one year from then, I would have been arrested, become an uncle and a godfather, and joined the Marines. More responsibilities than one could shake a stick at.

But those four days, man. Those four days with Phish. Those four days on the road.

Those four days were probably the coolest that I have ever been in my entire life.

I agree and sympathize and share your feelings with everything you said in that post. Well, except two things -- I never joined the Marines, and Champaign 97 might be the best second set I've ever heard Phish play.

Seriously, if you have a copy of that show, throw in disc II -- that 2001 is some of the greatest 18 minutes in the history of the band. I'd love to hear why you didn't like the show, but then again, I know everyone's experiences at shows are totally different.

Nothin like waxing poetic about and drinking the nostalgia of ol' Pheesh shows.
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