Book Excerpt: Camden, NJ

Look inside the book This All Encompassing Trip. Here is an excerpt from page 140 to 144 from chapter 19 – Tailgating Mania.

chapter 19: Tailgating mania

May 27 – 28, 2006 » Show 20 & 21
Camden, New Jersey

The next two shows are going to be in Camden, NJ, just across the river from Philadelphia, PA where we’ll be staying. Driving out of Boston is where the Touring Van experience really begins. As we wake up, Tim is still typing away on his laptop, as if he had never gone to sleep. Rachel and I are a little bit out of it after a full day of partying but, after a quick shower, we’re fresh and ready to go. In the van, Newfie Joe is still rolling around but is quick to get ready. I drive up the street to Brad’s hotel, where he loads up more Stone and Mike shirts than his own personal luggage. We pick up Melissa at her house – she’s already outside waiting for us – and from there, Tim directs me the rest of the way. So the first Touring Van crew for the trip consists of me, Rachel, Newfie Joe, Melissa, Brad, and Tim.

Our drive out of Boston seems to last forever, as getting out is just as chaotic as getting in but, with the help of my new co-pilot, our route is much more efficient. As we enter Connecticut, the skies open up and rain begins to fall, much to the relief of our new American passenger, who was sweating profusely after discovering the lack of air conditioning in the van. To avoid the traffic in New York, Tim suggests we drive onto the New Jersey Turnpike, where the paying of highway tolls begin and so does the Memorial Day weekend traffic. With the downtime, Tim is able take notes and interviews me while I’m driving. The one question he really wants to know is why I’m doing this, so I discuss how Pearl Jam’s music has always been a large part of who I am, and that after completing the Canadian tour and meeting many others who share that connection, I got a taste of life on the road and travelling and I wanted more. So I decided to quit my job and continue the travels to see where it takes me.

“Pearl Jam has really changed my life and, after that tour, my perspective on life has become different,” I explain. “It’s such a positive atmosphere at these shows, and the people I’ve met are some of the best people ever.”

He wonders how I justify leaving a good career, going in a totally different direction. “Well, through travelling you see a lot and learn a lot about the world and yourself. I’ve realized how much richer my life can be by meeting so many different interesting people, and these Pearl Jam tours have allowed me to do this,” I clarify. “This is a part of my life that I’ll never have again. I’m young and I’ve done nothing but work hard at school and then at work. I have a lot of money saved up and my career will always be there if I choose to go back, so why not invest in my life rather than in property or something like that? Besides, this is too much fun and work isn’t. I don’t have any responsibilities holding me back from this, so why not?”

“Why not?” Tim laughs. “I love it!”

We continue the interview for another half an hour, before the tunes are pumped back up again. Tim is a little surprised that we don’t really listen to Pearl Jam in the vehicle, choosing a variety of other bands instead. He commends us and says it’s refreshing, unlike the dry heat he’s barely surviving. Crossing over the Ben Franklin Bridge, we enter Philadelphia late in the afternoon. I drop off Melissa at her hotel, drop off Tim at his, and then we head toward Brad’s hotel, the Marriott. After several failed calls to find a cheap hotel of our own, Brad invites us to just crash with him.

“Brian’s already paid for the room but he’s not coming anymore, so why don’t you guys stay here?” he suggests. “There’s an extra bed, so we can make it work.”

Accepting the offer, I run out to the van and move it from street parking to the hotel valet parking. This is the first time the van will be valet parked and it’s quite exciting. I pull up to the entrance, where the valet attendant takes down the room number and then grabs the keys from me. Brad and I unload what we need from the van and head back up to the room where he proceeds to sort through nearly hundreds of Mike and Stone shirts. Once we’re settled in, we wander down Market Street to meet up with Tim, who’s having dinner with a friend. We let him know about our plan to find some Philly cheesesteaks for dinner but he opts for an early night instead.

So without our navigator, we wander aimlessly around the streets of Philadelphia, quickly noticing that there are as many Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants here as there are Tim Horton’s in Kitchener, Ontario. We manage to find our way toward the Liberty Bell, but further exploration proves that the six-hour drive earlier in the day has taken a toll on us. Returning to the hotel, I notice the van parked on the streets, one spot ahead of where I had moved it from earlier to get it valet parked. I guess it doesn’t fit in the underground lot or something. There’s also a note on it from another Pearl Jam fan from Vancouver, Brandon, who knows about the van and wants to meet up at the show. I try calling the room number written on the note, and he answers but is too tired to talk. Feeling similarly tired, we retire for the night.

Pearl Jam at Camden, NJ 2006

When I wake up the next morning, Brad is up already and looks as if he’s getting ready for a marathon or something. Without his usual Hawaiian shirt on, he’s now sporting a pair of shorts and a headband. I almost don’t recognize him. I ask the track star what he’s dressed for and he confirms that he is, in fact, going out for a morning run and asks if I want to come. Knowing that I’ll be consuming nothing but cheesesteaks and beer over the next few days, I join him. We let the others know that we’re jogging through the blistering heat toward Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Running underneath all of the flags along this street and passing by many fountains and statues reminds me of something – oh right – Rocky! At the end of the road is the entrance to the park along the river and the Art Museum, scene of the famous Rocky steps in the movie. An hour into our run, we approach a bridge. But instead of crossing the river, we decide it’s far enough and jog back. At the Art Museum again, I mimic the Rocky run up the steps – celebrating at the top – while Brad films me on camera. By the time we get back to the hotel, we’ve probably covered close to 15km in an hour and a half of solid running, which is a great way to start the day.

With my exercise for the tour all complete, we round up the two Newfoundlanders and head to South Philly for some cheesesteaks. Consulting Tim last night, we decide that we can’t search for the best cheesesteak in Philly without going to the two most famous ones, Geno’s and Pat’s. Today we opt for Geno’s for lunch. Parking the van in front of a schoolyard, we have to walk a block to the restaurant, which has a line up around the block anyway. The rival across the street has a similar crowd of people waiting for their chance to order some of Philly’s finest. The service is efficient, so the line moves quickly. As we get closer to the front, we see the inside decorated with photos of the so-called celebrities who have eaten at Geno’s, none of which Rachel recognizes. As we reach the counter, I notice a sign instructing how to properly order a cheesesteak. You must say the type of cheese first and then “with” if you want fried onions, or “without” if you don’t want fried onions. When my turn comes up, I order an “American with” and Rachel does the same. The transaction is quick, and within a minute, I receive my hoagie.

“How long have you guys been in business?” Newfie Joe asks.

“Since 1966.”

“Are you guys better than Pat’s?” I follow, holding the camera in his face.

“Excuse me?”

“Are you guys better than Pat’s?” I repeat.

“Of course we’re better than Pat’s,” he answers. “Why would you be eating here if we weren’t better than Pat’s?”

In anticipation of the experience, we find a table along the edge of the sidewalk. Brad orders one without the bread because he’s allergic to flour, and Newfie Joe doesn’t order one at all because he has cut off all meat since the Canadian tour, so they’re curious about our opinions on our first genuine “chilly pheese steak,” as Newfie keeps mistakenly calling them.
“I think I should have gotten the cheesier whizzy, extra cheese or something. It’s kind of bland,” Rachel describes.

“Tastes pretty healthy actually,” I joke. “The blandness keeps it healthy.”

Overall, it’s somewhat disappointing. Perhaps we’ve hyped it too much, but it won’t stop us from trying it again. Full on bland cheesesteaks, we attempt to pick up some supplies for the show, but it appears to be difficult to buy beer in this city. There are no stores that really sell beer – not even grocery stores, corner stores, or even wine and spirit stores have it in stock. Asking around, we’re told that most pubs sell beer to go but, needing a large quantity we’re directed to a beer depot to load up on beer, wine, and ice. With all the necessities, we head to Camden for what’s expected to be the tailgate party to end all tailgate parties.

Crossing over the river, we can see the Camden Tweeter Centre down below, and with it is the massive number of cars already parked in the lots. It’s barely after noon, but it’s a Saturday on Memorial Day weekend so the fans have come out early and in full force. I pull the van into lot 2 but it has been closed off, because it’s completely full and so are lots 1 and 3. I explain to the parking attendant that there’s a fundraiser happening in lot 2, which we’ve brought items for, so we need to be there. She claims that there’s no space available at all. However, she can get us into lot 1 and won’t charge us the $15 parking fee. Done. Brad hops out to deliver the box of shirts to the fundraiser and we drive up to lot 1. Each lot is separated by a chain link fence, with the entrances closed off by a chain. As the parking attendant gets the okay to let us in via radio, he unhooks the gate and I roll the van into the parking lot to a bunch of cheers and smiles. “I can’t believe it. The van is here!” someone yells out.

I pull into a parking space and a crowd immediately greets us, some of whom have no idea what the van is all about, while others already know who we are. Digging into our stash of beer, I see Brad returning to the van calling me over. As I approach him, it looks like he’s trying to hide something or someone behind him. Peeking over his shoulder, I do a double take at the guy holding a video camera of his own, wearing a familiar backwards blue hat. I’ve seen a ghost, it’s Cali Joe.

“Fuck! You made it!” I scream.

“Surprise!” he announces.

“What a big surprise. But I’ve got a good one for you too,” I reply, guiding him toward the van where the others are.

“What the fuck? Newfie Joe?!!” he says, shocked.

“Since you didn’t make it over to Newfoundland, we thought we’d bring Newfoundland to you,” Newfie Joe replies, handing over a Black Horse Newfoundland beer.

“Man, I was banking on this big surprise and I get it right back with Newfie Joe being here. I never thought I’d see the guy again.”

“So you lied to me on the phone the other night?” I ask.

“No, I wasn’t going to come when I talked to you. But then I got the pictures of the van all nicely redecorated and I saw the Boston 2 setlist so the reunion couldn’t wait any longer,” Cali Joe answers. “I decided about noon yesterday to fly out, and here we are in Philly.”

“The two Joes rolling in the van again,” I announced.

“Who would have thought,” Newfie Joe follows.

Earlier in the day, Cali Joe even found a pair of tickets for the show, so he has a spare for Newfie Joe. Brad gives us all Stone shirts to wear, including a special blue one, which I put on, and then I meet up with Justin, the fan I’m buying a spare ticket from for these shows. He gives me a third row ticket, which I hand over to an exhilarated Rachel. She takes a full swig from her bottle of wine, celebrating the fact that this will be the closest she has ever been to the stage, before joining me in exploring the rest of the tailgating action.

The scene is pretty wild. It’s similar to the tailgating experience we had in Kitchener, except for the fact that everyone is participating and contributing to the madness and it’s ten times as big, filling up four parking lots…..

Buy The Book

Check out some of our images from this mother of all tailgates at the Pearl Jam Camden, NJ shows on Memorial day weekend in 2006.

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