It's the spring of 1992 or '93. I'm in New York for a Saturday matinee of "Das Rheingold" at the Metropolitan Opera. Afterward, I stroll down to Central Park South, turn left, and walk by the Ritz Carlton. I'm by myself. Why not? I can afford at least a ginger ale with the rich and famous. I take the elevator to the deserted mezzanine lounge, find a seat at a table, and order.
It's not exactly true to say the lounge is deserted, for three or four guys sit at the bar. I'm meditating what to do next when one of the guys, big guy with a beard, turns on his stool and says, "Why don't you join us?"
I look around. "You," he says pointing at me. I hesitate for a moment, then take my drink, stroll to the bar and join the finger-pointer. "You visiting?" he inquires. "Yeah, just went to the opera." His thick eyebrows rise.
"Where you from?" "Alaska," I respond. Anticipating his "What do I do with an Alaska opera nut?" thought, I brace for dismissal. But his eyes light up. "Oh yeah? I've got a daughter down in Homer. You been there?" I have. "Great little town," I say. We've opened a line of communication and chat about his daughter, Homer, and Alaska.
He asks me my name, and I tell him. "What's yours?" "Jerry Garcia." No reaction from me. "What do you do?" he asks. I tell him, and politely ask in turn, "What about you?" "Play guitar in a band with these guys." Really? What's the name of the band? "The Grateful Dead," he says. That rings a bell. "Think I've heard of it," I say.
My new friend now knows that I'm seriously deficient, and he's intrigued. He's got someone - a yokel from Alaska - who doesn't know who he is, a rare if nonexistent occurrence. We chat for another few minutes when one of the guys says, "Jerry, we've got to go, we'll be late."
"Going to a party down at NBC," Jerry asks. "Want to come along?" I've got plans, I say. But it's not true.
"Too bad," Jerry says. "It should be fun." He pulls out a business card and hands it to me. "You ever in California" he says, "give me a call." "Sure," I say. I file the card in my wallet. The guys depart.
I fly home to Juneau the next day. "How was Wagner?" my wife asks. "Quite a show, but a long sit. You ever hear of a guy named Jerry Garcia? Met him at the Ritz. He plays in a band with a funny name. Nice guy."
She stares at me, mouth open. "You're kidding."
I pull out the card and hand it to her. She reads it.
"Do you have any idea who Jerry Garcia is?" she asks.
"Nice guy?" I respond.
"Where have you been for the past 30 years?" she says.
"In Alaska." I say. "Figures," I hear her say as she leaves the room, shaking her head.