Friday, January 15, 2016

Officers help themselves to confiscated illicit Grateful Dead merchandise

It is a sight to behold.

As American as apple pie.

Or as American as dildos, your choice.

On the night before a concert of Dead & Company, which is the latest incarnation of the iconic band Grateful Dead sans Phil, a group of plainclothes law enforcement officers stand on the corner of Larkin and Grove on the sidewalk opposite of San Francisco's Bill Graham Civic Auditorium next to City Hall.

Grove Street is shut down for the one city block occupied by the Auditorium. On the other side of Grove, beyond the "crowd control barriers", the sidewalk and the small park are occupied by Deadheads - as fans of the band are often called - and small time merchants and, yes, a few pot dealers.

The majority of these residents of the temporary marketplace, called Shakedown Street after a Dead song, are mostly young people, up to their early thirties, many have the requisite dogs, and small children are as much a part of the scene as a generation or two ago.

Along the edge of the grass, small patches with a variety of goods are marked by towels, a coat, or tie-dye shirts. You can hear a lot of catching up between people who have not seen each other in a long time, and many of the younger crowd do all the talking and selling or bartering with one finger up in the air.

The finger means I am searching for a ticket.

A couple of adventurous souls hold up money, indicating they can pay for a ticket. Grab and runs don't seem to be a concern in 21 century S.F. Others hold up a hand written sign "Miracle" or "Looking for Miracle", which means they don't have money or not enough to pay the full face value of a ticket.

Back to the officers.

There are about five of them, standing in a loose circle around one who is holding a black, sturdy trash bag. All but the leader are dressed in black, he is wearing a blue jacket. One of them is holding the bag open, showing the wares they confiscated so far from vendors on Shakedown across the street as "illicit" merchandise, merchandise that infringes the copyright of the Grateful Dead (or any version of the band, or anybody who bought rights).

Two or three of the officers bend down and reach into the bag to rummage around. The leader reaches down and his hand comes back out holding a black wool hat that has a "Steal your Face" patch on the front. He inspects the hat carefully, opening it to test stretchiness, going over the surface with the palm to get a measure of softness and quality.

Then he folds up the hat and puts it into his jacket pocket.

Did you see that? a bystander only two or three yards away asks a companion.

They do that all the time, man, replies the older male. That's how they roll, he adds, smiling for added emphasis.

While the officers, one of them sports a badge of the San Francisco Sheriff's Office, do this, people are milling all around them, ignoring them just as much as the officers ignore the concert goers, the other folks with fingers up in the air, and the counterfeit ticket sellers.

If you spend just a few minutes talking to older deadheads, stories about confiscation of illicit goods or just about anything police felt like taking come forward.

Some years, they left us mostly alone, other years they were crazy. I remember one show where they took stickers that depicted roses off a kid. Just because the Dead uses roses a lot doesn't mean you cannot draw roses and sell your own stickers. But they didn't give a shit.

Still don't, if you ask me.

Back in the days, I recall many cases, especially on the East Coast and in the South, when they would march in, take all your t-shirts and stuff and issue a citation to appear in court in a week. Then they'd tell you to get the hell out of Dodge before the court date and never show up in their jurisdiction again.

Such is life.

After the show, venue security gives the crowd some fifteen or so minutes to say goodbye to each other and then crosses Grove and starts telling people to move on.

Nobody had bothered the guy who made the rounds in the crowd already before the show quietly telling folks: "remember to take your Penicillin".

Yes, compared to episodes the blogster recounted in the 2013 post Bent copper for sale, the night at the Civic Center was utterly uneventful.

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