Throwing Up In Portland
(WARNING: Even more multiple and graphic puking references.)
Hardly anyone remembers Camel anymore. They were a British band whose popularity peaked in about 1977, not to be confused with Frampton's Camel, which was Peter Frampton's (remember him?) band of the same era. Camel was a "progressive-rock" band (like ELP, Yes, and Genesis, though they sounded nothing like any of those bands) whose airplay was limited to "AOR" (album-oriented radio) FM stations. Their biggest hit album was "Moonmadness", though they were fairly well-known for their earlier album "The Snow Goose".
Anyway, Camel toured the greater U.S. in about 1977. In Portland, they would be coming to the Paramount, and REO Speedwagon (I was never much of an REO fan) would open for them. The Paramount Theater in Portland (there was one in Seattle too) was just about the best place in the world for a rock concert. It held a little over 3000, was beautifully decorated, with chandeliers and exquisitely detailed and brightly colored woodwork everywhere. Standing was not allowed, there was no "festival seating" (the kind of seating where everyone stands). The place was fully carpeted (even the walls were carpeted to a height of about 6 feet) and acoustically, it was one of the best venues for a rock concert ever.
So it was with much anticipation and excitement that I made plans to attend the concert with two friends of mine from school. Tracy was diminutive fellow with a lisp and an unending appetite for drugs. His next-door neighbor, Steve Harrell, was of higher than average intelligence but every inch an anarchist. His cerebral but socially out-of-it ways made him lots of fun to get high with. And, he was a fellow Camel fan.
Strategies were outlined for attending the show. Now, the Paramount had no reserved seating, so there were two ways to ensure a good seat: One, you could show up verrrry early and camp out in front of the doors (the groupies usually did this), or Two, you could wait until the precise moment the doors opened, and crowd in at the corner of the block, beating all the chumps who had lined up along the sidewalk, the line sometimes reaching all the way around the perimeter of the building. As always, we would opt for Method Two.
I was the driver for this event, I had a new lime-green Pontiac Ventura with a Craig Car Stereo cassette deck I'd installed myself, so I was usually picked to drive.
We arrived about two hours before show time. We were incredibly lucky to find a parking spot right on the corner, just across the street from the doors. Here, we could imbibe all we wanted, then simply hop out and walk up to the doors when they opened. Wonderful!
Steve, being the bravest, went off to try to score some wine at a little market up the street. He managed to procure some liquor by bribing an old alcoholic street person, giving the old guy enough for his very own bottle. Then he returned to the car with the goodies: A half-gallon of warm, pink chablis for Tracy and him to share, and for me, my very own fifth of warm, pink chablis. Of course it was yucky-tasting, but that was hardly the point: We could get totally shitface-drunk, then just walk up at the right time and get excellent seats for the concert. All our concert-going experience and brainstorming had brought us to this perfect situation. We were very proud.
I finished off my fifth in about 30 minutes, as we knew the doors would be opening soon. Tracy and Steve were too grossed out by the flavor (and temperature) of the wine to drink as much as I did, but they had drank enough to develop a healthy buzz, especially when combined with all the usual weed that was obligatory for concert-going.
We noticed a clamor on the corner. The doors were about to open! We climbed out of the car and crossed the street into the dense crowd, which was when I first noticed that I was nearly too drunk to stand up. After pushing our way into the crowd, the only way I could remain upright was by propping myself against other concertgoers.
Once the doors opened, we raced into the auditorium and secured seats in the third row, near center stage! On the stage, there were three huge projection screens set up in back, as Camel had a sort of slide-projection show that would play behind them, very advanced visual-stuff for a rock band at the time.
Everything had gone perfectly, except one thing: My stomach and the pink wine were not getting along very well. So I sat there, hoping the nauseous feeling would pass.
It got worse when it was announced that REO Speedwagon would not be there. I don't remember the reason for their cancellation, but they were to be replaced by a Portland band I had never heard of, and would never hear of again, called "Wrinkle".
Just about then, I realized that puking was inevitable. I calmly got up and walked very fast to the restrooms in the basement of the Paramount.
Now, before I begin describing my technicolor yawn, you need to know two things: One, I have had severe hay fever my entire life, and I get 3 allergy shots every four weeks, a routine that will continue until I die. My hay fever can sometimes get so bad that it nearly cuts off my breathing, though I test negative for asthma. And this concert was in springtime. Two, the ancient restrooms at the Paramount were solid porcelain and tile, meaning every little sound gets amplified horribly and echoes a thousand times.
I leaped at the nearest toilet and began harfing up the pink chablis, now warmed fully to 98.6 degrees. But when I went to take a breath before continuing, I found that the hurling had somehow triggered some sort of swelling in my trachea. The only way to get a breath was to inhale as hard as I could, which made a HELL of a racket: Make the loudest, lowest-in-pitch sound that you can possibly make with your throat while inhaling, then amplify it by a factor of ten -- not unlike a very large and distressed cow choking to death. Then add the acoustical ambience of a large restroom full of nothing but hard surfaces and loaded progressive-rock fans.
A crowd quickly formed around my cubicle as the dying-cow sound was repeated, long and loud, maybe ten times. "Hey man, are you all right?" "Yeah (sound of cow choking), I'll be all right (hurl)." Once my stomach turned off the chunder-valve, I could breathe again, and felt much better. I cleaned myself up with toilet paper, blowing my nose, wiping my face off, and grabbing a drink of water on my way back to my seat, where I acted as if nothing had happened.
Soon, "Wrinkle" began their performance. They weren't very good, and my stomach wasn't liking them either. About halfway through their third number, I realized it was all going to happen again. But this time, I wasn't going to be making it to the restroom! So I pulled out my handkerchief and threw up all over myself. Steve and Tracy were most appalled to look over and see my t-shirt covered with pink chablis and what remained of this afternoon's grilled ham & cheese sandwich. Realizing that I was not going to stop blowing chunks anytime soon, I got up and began running for the exit. Jogging and puking, I managed to nail the lovely carpeted wall of the Paramount and leave a major chunder-puddle right in front of the concessions stand before racing out the front entrance of the theater, still puking, between two startled security guards.
I went across the street to my new Pontiac, where I sat in the driver's seat, checking the mirrors to make sure nobody was coming up the sidewalk before opening the door and puking every few minutes. This went on for maybe half an hour before I took my shirt off, wadded it into a ball and threw it on the floorboard, and passed out.
I woke up to somebody pounding on the windows. It was Tracy and Steve! Such good friends they were, they had given up on the concert to check on my well-being, I presumed. I unlocked the door, and they both climbed in, chattering about what a great concert it was and too bad I missed it and the slide-show thing was really cool too. I had slept through the entire thing.
TRACY became a major area cocaine dealer.
STEVE's whereabouts are unknown, at least by me.
The PONTIAC somehow lasted 186,000 miles before I sold it 13 years later.
CAMEL disappeared entirely.