Somehow we missed our exit. We had to stop for directions (at my insistence – like most men, Derek couldn’t admit when he was lost, and did NOT want to ask anybody else), but we finally figured out how to get to San Diego University.
After the truck stop clerk drew us a map, Derek got a mischievous look on his face. First he bought a San Diego Padres ballcap, two red bandanas, and a flannel shirt. Then he motioned me over to a payphone and dumped in a whole bunch of quarters.
I could hear Ryan answer on the other end. “Damn it, Derek, where the hell are you?! The opening band goes on in fifteen minutes!”
“Ry, if I’m not there, I want you to go up onstage, okay?”
“What do you MEAN ‘if you’re not there’?! You PROMISED me you’d be here! I bought a 95,000 dollar car for you JUST SO YOU’D BE HERE ON TIME!”
“Just go up on stage on time, okay? Just do it.”
“DEREK – ”
“Talk to you later, man!” Derek said happily, and slammed down the receiver.
“What are you doing?” I asked, worried beyond belief. In my mind’s eye, I could see Miles getting that shovel out of his car and starting to dig a hole by the side of a lonely desert highway.
“Trust me,” Derek said, and lifted up his sunglasses long enough for me to see the twinkle in his eye.
We finally got to SDU at 8:50PM and pulled into the parking lot for Viejas Arena. I was on the verge of hyperventilating, but when we finally turned in, I was okay.
And then he went and parked way out in the middle of nowhere with all the concertgoers.
I stared at him. “Aren’t you going to go park with the tour bus?”
He tied the two bandanas together and looped them over his head and under his jaw like he had a toothache. Then he pulled the cap down on top of it all. “Nope.”
“What the hell are you doing?”
He pulled on the flannel shirt and buttoned it all the way to the top, then removed his sunglasses and tucked them in his shirt pocket. “We’re going in undercover, baby.”
“Do I look like Derek Kane, lead singer of Bigger?”
The flannel shirt covered all his tats, the cap hid his distinctive hair, and the weird-ass bandana arrangement over his ears and jaw totally obscured his face. And Derek Kane never appeared in public without his sunglasses; everybody knew that.
Unless you knew you were looking at Derek Kane, there was no way in hell you could tell it was him.
“No, you look like an alternative rock dork who doesn’t know how to tie a do-rag,” I said.
“Excellent,” he grinned, and got out of the car.
“You’re just going to leave your new car out here in the parking lot?!” I asked, flabbergasted.
“It’s not exactly new.”
I scowled at him. “Okay, you’re going to leave your $95,000 car out here in the parking lot?”
He shrugged. “There’s other expensive cars out here.”
“At least put the top up!”
He finally gave in because I refused to budge until he did.
We found a scalper in the middle of the parking lot who sold us two pit passes for $150.
“Jeez,” I muttered as we walked towards the stadium.
“That was expensive.”
“Compared to a $95,000 car?”
“Has anyone ever told you you’re a smartass?”
He laughed. “No, but this one girl I knew years ago told me I was inappropriate.”
I hip-checked him and bopped him over a few inches. But secretly I liked that he remembered what I’d said back in my dorm room in college.
“Why are you going to all this trouble to sneak in when you should just go in the back?”
“Stagecraft, baby. You’ll see.”
We presented our tickets at the gate and filed with thousands of other people through the halls of the arena. The raucous tones of the opening band reverberated through the concrete corridors as we shuffled through the mob towards the pit.
“When I split, go backstage,” Derek said.
A little bit of panic filled me. “What do you mean, when you split?”
“Just go backstage. They’ll let you in.”
We pushed our way through the bodies in the pit. It wasn’t that hard; though people were packed in pretty tight, the opening band wasn’t exactly setting the place on fire, so the crowd was kind of blasé. It was only up at the front, amongst Bigger’s most hardcore female fans, where we had to forcefully plow our way through to the stage.
There was a lot of unladylike cursing and some mild violence along the way.
“Unh-unh, bitch!” one surfer girl snapped at me as she gave me a sharp elbow in the side.
I wanted to punch her in the face, but Derek stopped me.
Okay, not that I really would have punched her in the face, but I was about to unload a torrent of profanity on her, as well as suggest how many pigs she might have had unnatural relations with last night.
“YOU – ” I began, and then felt a hand on my shoulder.
I looked over and saw Derek shake his head ‘no.’
“But she hit me!” I shouted at him over the opening band’s teeth-rattling noise.
He leaned in close to yell in my ear. “What do you think would happen if you drew attention to us, and they figured out who we are?”
What he really meant was ‘figured out who I am.’
Because nobody would have cared about me, except to trample me to get to him.
I could just see it: his true identity slowly dawning on the women around us, one by one… them lapsing into screaming fits and attacking him… and the knowledge spreading outward like a wave and infecting new people, who would then join the melee, too.
It would have been like unleashing a bucket of chum in a shark tank.
I saw the wisdom in turning the other cheek.
“Okay,” I grumbled.
“Good girl,” he grinned, and gave me a kiss. Which, I have to admit, did make it better.
The opening band finished up not with a bang, but a whimper. They strolled off and the road crew set things up for Bigger.
My apprehension slowly built, and I kept tossing worried looks at Derek.
He would just shake his head ‘no,’ and I would go back to worrying.
Finally, when my tension was at an almost unbearable peak, I heard a roar all around me from the crowd. Here came Killian and Ryan, walking out onstage with their instruments. Riley followed and climbed behind her drums as Mike the backup guitarist joined them. But there was no big announcement from the speaker, no “Heeeeeeeeere’s BIGGER!” And no opening riffs from Killian, either.
Ryan walked up to a microphone. “Hey, everybody… uh, this is a little embarrassing, but we’re kind of missing our lead singer at the moment.”
The entire crowd booed their disappointment.
“Yeah, I know,” Ryan agreed. “He promised me over the phone he’d be here, and is he? No. He’s not. So do me a favor: tell him he’s an asshole for making you guys wait.”
The crowd started chanting, ASSHOLE! ASSHOLE!
I looked over at Derek one last time.
He winked, then grabbed the back of my head, pulled me close, and laid one on my lips.
God DAMN that man could kiss.
And then he was gone.
He pushed his way between two female fans, planted his hands on the riser, and catapulted himself up onto the stage.
I could see the utter shock on Ryan’s face. He just stood there goggling at this sudden intruder, his mouth open wide as the figure grabbed the microphone out of his hands.
There was an audible gasp from the crowd – the sound of ten thousand people inhaling all at once.
Two burly security guys darted out from the wings of the stage, racing over to give this upstart punk the bum rush –
And then Derek’s low, rumbling voice came over the speakers and shook the auditorium.
“Who the hell you callin’ an asshole?”
It all happened instantaneously:
The look of relief on Ryan’s face, followed by him breaking into laughter.
The security guards stopping in their tracks just a few feet away, bewildered.
Derek turning towards his fans, chucking his bandanas and cap into the crowd, and sliding on his Maui Jims.
And the reaction of the audience, who thundered (the dudes) and shrieked (the girls) their approval.
I swear to God, I thought I was going to blow out an eardrum from all the high-pitched screaming around me.
Killian suddenly launched into the opening power chords of their hit “Go All Night.” Derek stripped off his flannel shirt, and the place erupted into the most amazing rock show you could ever imagine.
It was exuberantly joyful, totally and completely. Their last two shows had been great – but this one was incredible. They obviously hadn’t decided on a set list beforehand, so Derek would shout out songs as soon as one of the band’s hits ended. Every time, he chose something either incredibly upbeat or just plain fucking awesome.
“Walkin’ On Sunshine.”
“Light My Fire” by the Doors.
“American Girl” by Tom Petty.
“I Love Rock ‘N Roll” by Joan Jett, although he changed the lines to it being a girl next to the record machine – and changed the age from seventeen to nineteen, the age I was when we first met in Athens.
I would like to think I had something to do with the song selection.
I refuse to put an emoticon in here, but you can imagine my smile as you reread that last line.