Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Thanksgiving Miracle

The whole of my mom's family would come to New Orleans for Thanksgiving. All 3 siblings It was always great to have my cousins around since we were five or 6 boys all born within a couple of years. My aunt and uncle who lived in Jackson would come down and stay with us. Their son and I were the closest of all my cousins - we both played tennis, liked strange music, and were frequently partners in crime. During the day we would head to Terrytown to my godmother's house for an insanely huge dinner where we would try to see who could get away without eating peas, green beans, or anything else green.

After dinner we headed home where our parents promptly fell in to a post turkey dinner food coma. I am somewhat hyperactive by nature, so relaxing is foreign to me. I could not wait to go out and do something, anything, to get away from my parents and the eyes of adults. Wednesday was the big night to go out. What could we do on Thanksgiving?

It turned out that U2 was playing in Baton Rouge at the PMAC. We had mentioned that as a possibility while in the car home from dinner, but we didn't have tickets and it had sold out long ago. Then there was the directive from my dad as we were heading out - "Don't even think about going to Baton Rouge." We took stock of our situation - between us we had less than 30 dollars, the car had a quarter tank of gas, and neither of us had any idea how to get around in Baton Rouge. (There were no ATMs, and I certainly never had enough money to put it into a bank. I had what I had. Heck, my dad even gave me 10 dollars and we still didn't have 30).

That clinched it. U2 it was. As soon as we left the house in my 1983 Nissan Stanza (the same one from Halloween), we agreed to head to Baton Rouge. We hopped on I-10 and headed north and west. We had pilfered a few beers from the garage to get us up there and get us feelling good.

We got off I-10 wandered around for a few minutes while the gas gauge began to dip dangerously low. Eventually we found LSU and paid $5 for a parking spot in a field. Still, we had no tickets but we didn't mind. We were going to be content to stand outside and listen the best we could. We were there, and we were happy enough. Brit and I figured it would be best if we got out of the parking lot and at least headed up the ramp.

As we started walking toward the Assembly Center, a guy a few years older than me but with an extraordinarily good looking woman asked us if we wanted to buy his tickets. He and his date were going to do something better than listen to a U2 concert. I think I would have gone to the concert first, but it wasn't me. And I bet his story is pretty interesting, too.

"How much?" Brit asked.

"$20" the lucky man said.

Brit and I looked at each other forlornly. We were so close to getting into this concert, but money was going to be an issue. Damn it.

"Each?" Brit inquired.

"No, 20 for both."

Our wallets immediately came out of our back pockets and we handed over the requested amount. Thank yous were exchanged, Brit and I were giddy. Holy shit. We were going to see U2.

We made our way into the concert. The seats were not great, but they were the first row just above one of the entrance tunnels so we had totally unobstructed views of the concert.

I don't remember if there was an opening band, but I do remember that they played the Beatles on the PA. And everyone began to sing along. When they came out, the crowd went wild. I remember running around the entire stadium during Pride (in the name of love) and making out with a girl whose name I remember but will not say here. I still love that song.

When the concert was over, Brit and I still were in disbelief. We had seen U2 live. And the crowd sang 40 as we walked down the ramp. It was surreal but awesome.

When we got to the car, we drank the last of the beer and waited for the crowd to leave. We really couldn't spare the gas waiting in traffic. I have no idea what time it was but I knew our only real issue was how to get home before curfew. We thought.

As soon as traffic died down, we started up my little car. We were very low on gas, so we stopped at a Circle K to fill up. I had grabbed a handful of change on my way out of the house, so we had that to pay for gas. It couldn't have been over three dollars. It was always embarassing to pay for gas like that, but you do what you have to do. I filled up the best I could. Then I had a terrible idea. New Orleans is downriver from Baton Rouge. I could see a levee. I would just follow the levee down river as long as I could. Surely there would be tons of gas stations and convenience stores and traffic. How hard could that be. It would be much faster than trying to find my way through Baton Rouge to I-10. What if I wandered around Baton Rouge with no money or gas?

We turned left on River Road. I think. I figured left was downriver for some reason. It probably was. We drove for at least a half hour and all that happened is that it got darker and darker. There were no lights. There wasn't much of anything. In fact, I felt at one point that the road actually ended. So we turned around and headed back from where we came.* It was one of those moments in life where you realize that the amazing thing you just experienced was about to bring the pain of reality down on you. Yes! We saw U2 live! No! We weren't supposed to be in Baton Rouge and we were running low on gas. We had no cell phones. If we had run out of gas, we would have had to make a collect call to my dad who would have to come get us. I really didn't have an excuse - I was clearly told to exactly not do exactly what I had done. This amazing night was certainly going to end horribly.

Brit and I navigated our way back through Baton Rouge and wound our way to the interstate. We headed home, fingers crossed. 90 miles later, we got off I-10 in Metairie. The little yellow gas pump on the dashboard was shining brightly. It had been for some time. But there was still enough in the tank to get my back home. It was a Thanksgiving Miracle.

We made up some story about what we had done and we agreed to stick to it no matter how much my uncle tortured us for the truth. He would come and quiz us and grab the pressure point just above the inside of the elbow until we fell in pain begging to tell the truth. We didn't cave this time.

I don't know if my parents ever knew that we did that. Sometimes my dad would let me know that he knew what we had done, but he never let on about this one. Hey, dad, I know you told me not to go to Baton Rouge that time, but we went anyway. Sorry about that. But it was really fun. You would have liked it. And, if you knew what we did, thanks for letting me think I got away with it. It made it more for me.

Hey, Brit, I found this online - it's the set list and a bootleg. I think I know what I am getting me for Christmas.

UPDATE: Brit said he found his ticket stub. And he did. Check this out! And I even found out there is controversy surrounding this concert - did they play "With or Without You"? No one seems to be able to remember, and it's not on the setlist! Whoa!

*As I got older and became slightly more familiar with Baton Rouge, I think I was on Highland Road heading south. If I had gone five more minutes we would have been on I-10 near where the Tanger Outlets are today. But we were nervous, it was late, and there was nothing for miles. Or a sign that let on we were on the right track. So we turned around. Lucky stupid kids.

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