Experiencing Common Ground

Experiencing Common Ground (2010)
(c) 2015 By Randy D Pearson

With a corn dog in my hand and music in the air, a smile overtakes my face as I stand looking out at the Sand Bar. From my perch on top of the large, concrete bowl, I can see the band members’ legs and feet. But due to the tarp keeping the sun from beating down on their heads, I can see nothing above their torso. It hardly matters, since I don’t know the name of the band and wouldn’t know their faces if I could actually see them. All I know is, it’s a hot, glorious day here at Common Ground, I have a plastic cup filled with Newcastle Ale in my right hand, a thick, tasty corn dog in my left… oh, and my phone is ringing.

I quickly stuff the breaded hotdog in my mouth and fumble my cell phone from its holder on my hip. The caller ID has, “Jeff & Jolette” so I know Jolette’s on the other end. Jeff rarely calls. Pushing the button to answer, I quickly realize I can’t speak with a mouth full of corn dog. The balancing act – cell phone in one hand while attempting to hold both food and cup with other – works better than I anticipated. “Hey JoJo,” I yell.

“Hi sweetie. I’m on the hill. Where are ya?”

The spot we always meet, where all of our friends expect to meet up, is just past the cement walking path and sits atop the Sand Bar. We call it The Hill, because, y’know, it’s a hill. Brilliant, am I right? “I’m here, too. See me?” I set my beer down and begin waving the corn dog in the air. The people around me chuckle.

At the moment I catch sight of her looking the wrong direction, she replies, “No. Where are ya?”

“I’m the guy to your left, waving his weenie in the air.”

Her look of shock and amusement is worth the price of admission. “I beg your pardon?”

Bending over, I scoop up my beer and again try to balance all of my stuff as I start walking toward her. “Look to your left.” When she pivots the other direction, I add, “No, your other left.”

As I approach, she finally notices me. I manage to hold the corn dog up, and she laughs loud enough to be heard over the noise of the crowd and the band. “Nice weenie!”

“I get no complaints. Wanna bite?”

She shakes her head viciously. A pretty lady in a turquoise blouse and cream colored shorts, she and her husband Jeff have been my dear friends for many years. Like most of the people I will see here tonight, I met them through my brother Mark. In fact, after we hug, making sure I don’t spill Newcastle down her back, she asks, “Is Bulldog here yet?” Everyone calls my brother by his high school nickname. Well, everyone but me.

“Not yet. Soon, I’m sure.”

Gesturing to her right, she says, “This is Patty and Bill. Meet Randy, the world-renowned author.” I love how she introduces me to people. Makes me feel important. “Patty wants a copy of your book.” Of course, I shake Patty’s hand first. A short woman with thick auburn hair and large, round glasses, she smiles warmly and asks me to describe Driving Crazy. As I regale her with the spiel – road trip comedy blah blah blah – I grab the hand of Bill, a man about my height with his blonde hair cropped down to stubble.

Within five minutes, my brother comes sauntering up to us. Even though we are the same height, he always seems taller to me. It’s probably his long, fluffy blonde hair, like a lion’s mane. Dressed conservatively with his dark blue button-down short-sleeved shirt and drab green shorts, he always makes a grand entrance. By now, several other of our friends have wandered up, like Cindy, a friendly Native American woman with high cheekbones and a cute smile, and Eric, who everyone calls, “The Tie-Dye Guy” for obvious reasons. He sports one of the beautiful, brightly colored Tie-Dye outfits he probably created earlier in the week.

“So,” Bulldog says with a slap to my shoulder, “Ya wanna go check out the other stage?”

This being my favorite part, I say, “Sure.” I love wandering between the stages, never knowing which friend I might come across. After we announce our intentions, I wave to the crowd of friends. Both Jolette and Eric decide to come along.

As we chat amongst ourselves, a young couple walks up to Eric. “Excuse us,” says the woman, who appears to be barely 21, with flawless skin, a revealing tank top, and short shorts, “can we take your picture?”

Jolette looks at me with a puzzled grin, and I whisper, “This happens every year. How often to you see an actual hippie in the wild like this?” Eric poses with his widest smile, then Bulldog takes a picture of the three of them arm in arm, Eric in the middle like a hippie sandwich.

Once they thank us, we continue on our way. “Dude,” I tell Eric, “you realize you could make extra money here. Y’know, all you’d need is a sign: Have your picture taken with an authentic Hippie – five dollars.”

“Or a drink,” Jolette adds. We all laugh.

On the way to the south stage, we all find people we know. Bulldog runs into a biker couple named Dan and Tami, where mine is a guy I remember but can’t properly place. He has a shiny bald head and a thick black beard. As I start talking to him, it comes to me. “Oh, we worked together. Demmer.” I say as he angrily goes on for the next several minutes about how he was wrongly fired and how he hasn’t found a job since then. Okay, so they’re not always people I want to reconnect with, but still, it’s the chance that must be taken.

Fortunately, Bulldog taps me on the shoulder. “Dude, we got a special deal, but we gotta go right now.”

As I inch away, the guy, whose name still escapes me, continues to ramble on about the unfairness of life. “Sorry man,” I say with a wave, “but I gotta go. I’m sure I’ll see you around.”

With his scowl in my rearview mirror, I whisper to Mark, “Thanks, brother.”

“You looked like you needed saving.”

“Yeah, he’s a treat. They used to call him something weird at Demmer… Kitty Litter…no, Catnip. He used to talk about his cats constantly. Had pictures in his wallet and everything.”

“Lovely. Besides, we do have a special deal.” He points over to our friend Dan, who everyone calls Animal, and as I shake the giant man’s meaty hand he says, “Tami can get us into the Uncommon Club.”

In years past, Jeff and Jolette used to spend the extra money to get the Uncommon Club package, but at $350 for the week, they decided not to splurge this year. At least once a year they would sneak Mark and me in, and though I liked the naughtiness of it, I never felt overly comfortable with it. So this invitation, though interesting, gave me a bit of trepidation. I smile at Tami, a tall woman with her brown hair nearly touching the top of her shorts. Returning the smile, she hands me a paper ticket. “I won a bunch of these things, so we can all go in!”

After thanking them, we inform them we are heading to the south stage, but Animal points out, “There’s no one playing on this side today.” Sure enough, the stage hasn’t even been completed yet. So, we turn and head back over the bridge.

On the way, I see Mike and his daughter Maggie. Mike has some of the coolest barn parties on his property in Eaton Rapids, with live bands and tons of fantastic people. Maggie, his teenager, is a budding musician, with an angel’s voice and a wicked set of drumming skills. High-fiving him as I walk past, we continue on to the Uncommon Club entrance.

Even though I hold a legitimate ticket in my sweaty hand, I still can’t shake the feeling I’m doing something wrong. However, I hand the ticket to the lady at the gate, and she smiles as she slips it from my grasp while ushering me inside.

The food is free in here, so we all head straight for the table with the warm hot dogs, hamburgers, and pulled pork meat. Grabbing a bun, I load it up with as much pork meat as it would sustain.

Taking two steps away from the table, I almost plow into Bruce, a fellow I went to high school with. We’ve seen each other exactly once in the last 25 years, last August at the DeWitt Ox Roast. As I munch on my sandwich, he says a few kind words about my book, which he picked up at Everybody Reads a couple of days after my book signing. “I stopped reading a James Patterson novel to read yours,” he says matter-of-factly. I thank him whole-heartedly between bites, and part of me wants to tell him a secret. His last name is Olney, but up until we became friends on Facebook, I was sure his name was pronounced Only. From my best recollection, we all called him Only, and no one ever corrected me. Though I suspect he’d find it amusing, I choose not to say anything, deciding to wait until I am drunk. That way, I won’t be bothered as much if it offends him.

Saying our goodbyes, I realize I lost sight of my posse. I stand there, half-eaten sandwich in my hand as I scan the crowd. Since I still don’t see them, I decide to sit down to finish off the sandwich, picking a table with a stunningly pretty couple seated across from me. Between bites, I introduce myself.

They do the same but I instantly forget their names, as I often do when I’ve been drinking or when I meet stunningly pretty people. They both had brassy blonde hair, accentuated with heavily tanned skin and unnaturally white teeth. If they weren’t holding hands, I’d have pegged them as siblings. He looks at me and smiles casually, while her bright smile lights up the whole tent. “We’re here from Owosso,” she says loudly. “My friends won some tickets and they couldn’t go.”

“I get the week-long pass and go every year,” I tell them. “Wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
“Who’s playing right now?” the guy asks me.

Turning my head, I see a shirtless man on stage holding a chainsaw over his head. “Oh, that’s Jackyl. The Lumberjack Song… ever hear it?”

With eyes wide, they shake their heads rapidly.

Turning back, I catch sight of my brother’s frizzy mane, up near the left side of the stage. I turn back to the Pretties. “They’re entertaining, to be sure. Well hey, I see my people up there, so I gotta run. Nice meeting you two!” I pop the last bite of sandwich into my mouth, buy another Newcastle, and head to the stage.

Though I try to drink as much as possible before I reach the crowd, I still spill some on myself as I snake through the throng of people.

I spend the rest of the evening standing as close to the stage as possible, on this side of the Uncommon Club fence, listening to and watching Buckcherry as they play hit after hit. The members of the band are all shirtless and covered in bright tattoos. The lead singer has so much vivid ink on his body that it appears he is wearing a long sleeved shirt.

After the band finishes their encores, we push our way through the crowd and back up to the hill. We collect our chairs, and I chuckle to myself about how I never once sat in my own seat. But this is by no means uncommon. I bring it every time, set it up next to the tall pine tree on the hill, and wander off to find adventure. My chair, I think, enjoys Common Ground as much as I do.