"Excuse me, sir. You can't sell those in here."
"We don't allow anyone to sell anything in the lobby."
A barefoot guy with a stack of tie-dyed shirts was arguing with the tall, lanky uniformed security guard. The hippie had set his shirts on the floor inside the main doors of the Hilton and was trying to hawk them to the crowd--mostly American Medical Association conventioneers who were mingling with Grateful Dead fans.
"I'm staying in the hotel, man," the hippie argued. "It's not like I'm not paying to be here."
"All the same, we can't allow you to sell those," the security guard said firmly.
"Oh, that's bullshit," grunted the hippie. "They didn't say anything to me at the Blackstone."
"Well, that's the Blackstone," said the security guard, shrugging. "This is the Hilton."
The rumor was that the police weren't allowing anyone to camp overnight in the Soldier Field parking lot for the Dead concerts. So the Deadheads had packed up their belongings, grabbed their Birkenstocks, and spurted out onto Michigan Avenue, looking for someplace to stay. They wound up in that bastion of hippiedom, that most alternative of campgrounds, that 60s paradise of peace and love--the Chicago Hilton and Towers. They had hit the mainstream. Even Channel Two had taken time out from its busy schedule of interviewing mass murderers to talk to Deadheads at Soldier Field for the evening news.
There were Deadheads in the convention halls, Deadheads at the reception desk, Deadheads tipping porters who toted their luggage and their coolers, Deadheads using apricot soap in the tile-floored bathrooms.
In 1968 the Hilton served as headquarters for the Democratic national convention and the hippies were camped out across the street. Today they were inside. The pink-and-green swirling floral carpet suddenly looked a bit psychedelic.
Two guys in Aunt Jemima bandannas were standing by the elevators, weighed down by heavy bags. "Where's the room, man?" one asked.
"We're stayin' on seven," the other said.
"We got a view?" asked the first one.
"No view." The other shook his head. "They said they can't guarantee a view."
"That's bullshit," said the first one as they got on the elevator, repeating to himself disgustedly, "No view."
In the main lobby two female Deadheads with Carol Moseley Braun buttons were discussing the lunch they had just consumed. "That was a really good lunch," one remarked.
"Wasn't it?" agreed the second.
"Did you try the grouper?"
"I hate grouper."
"How can you hate the grouper?" asked her startled friend. "Grouper is one of the best foods in the world."
Not far away a guy with a Rolling Stones' Steel Wheels concert T-shirt was bickering with a guy in a violet half-shirt and matching sandals. "What did you get? Did you get the suite?"
"Suite?" mocked the guy in violet. "No, I didn't get the suite."
"We woulda got breakfast if you did."
"Hey," said the violet man. "I didn't want to put another 180 bucks on your credit card, guy."
"Fuck the money. Money is money. I don't give a fuck about money. I'll forget all about that money next week. But breakfast, man. When you wake up in the morning, you want breakfast. That's all I'm saying."
The security guards were busy stopping anybody with a cooler, checking it for alcohol; the Hilton was charging extra to bring alcohol into the hotel rooms. Some of the wiser members of the Deadhead contingent had stowed cases of Bud Light in their sleeping bags and dragged them right under the noses of the guards.
"You gotta pay to bring your own beer?" demanded a guy with a big beard who looked about 30. He was just outside the parking lot, stepping out of a brand-new bright red rented Chevy Camaro with a big bottle of tequila. "That's about the craziest thing I ever heard. I wonder what they'll start saying when I start quaffing this here bottle of Jose Cuervo."
His frizzy-haired girlfriend laughed as she turned the car keys over to a valet. Then she began to tap-dance drunkenly in the middle of the car turnaround.
"What the hell are you doing?" asked her bearded friend.
"I'm being Jose Cuervo," she laughed.
"That's Jose Greco, you idiot."
Another Deadhead with a "Freedom Now" T-shirt and frizzy hair that dangled into his eyes where it escaped his knit hat was having some trouble with his mountain bike. It wouldn't go through the revolving doors.
"Fuck," he said huskily as the other guys he was with laughed at him. "It ain't funny," he said.
"You need a haircut," giggled one of his buddies.
"Hey! Fuck you!" he responded and threw his bicycle to the ground. He picked out the guy who had insulted his hair and pushed him up against the wall.
"Lay off, man. Lay off."
"You're about the tenth person today who's told me I need a haircut," he said. "I'm not gonna get a fucking haircut till I go back to my fucking barber in fucking Minneapolis, all fucking right?"
"All right, all right."
"All right," he said, satisfied. "Look at what you made me do to my bike. It's all fucked up."
Back inside one of the limo drivers was laughing as he watched a barefoot young woman with long blond hair and a Red Stripe beer T-shirt cursing out the assistant manager of the hotel.
"There's a charge for bringing in alcohol?" she shrieked. "Goddamn it!" She turned to her friend. "Go get Scott! Damn it, go get Scott. Just go get him! I'm not signing another one of my goddamn traveler's checks until he pays me back for the last hotel. If he wants to drink beer, he's gonna have to pay for it."
"I've never seen anything like it before," laughed the limo driver as he watched the rainbow of hotel guests standing by the registration desk. "Maybe I should go to the concert. I hear they're pretty good. You know their music? Yeah, they're pretty good. I used to listen to them when I was growing up. Some of their new stuff isn't that good, but their old stuff, I like to listen to it. I really liked "Trick of the Tail." And what was that song about the lamb?"
"The lamb lies down on Broadway?"
"Yeah, that's pretty good. The old stuff though."
"You've got the wrong group," I said. "That's Genesis."
"Right," he said. "Who's playing?"
"The Grateful Dead," I said.
"The Grateful Dead?" he asked. He looked puzzled. "Who'd want to see them?" he asked.