We pulled into Randall's Island around 1:30, about an hour before the gates opened. Having driven eighteen hours from Madison, Wisconsin to New York City, we figured we should make as much as we could out of the two shows. I wasn't in great shape; after getting my ass kicked in the pit during the first show we had ended up spending the night in the car, parked outside a McDonald's in Newark, NJ. How we ended up there I still don't remember, but for some reason I get the feeling we were lucky to have made it out of there okay. Despite only a few hours sleep and an aching body I was more than ready to do it all over again. After an amazing, rain-soaked show the night before, we were about to see Pearl Jam for the third time in eight days. We made a point of arriving extra early for the second show. I'd already experienced the feeling of being trampled once that weekend, so I decided that the only way I'd be in the pit for the second show was if I was in the front row with something to hold on to. After parking the car we passed on tailgating and beer drinking in favor of something worthwhile, like getting a spot near the front of the line.
Rrom the time we'd left Madison, Quayle had been driven by a borderline obsession with making a t-shirt to throw to Eddie. We talked about what it would be like if Ed were to hold it up on stage, as he'd done with someone else's shirt in Toledo the week before. While waiting outside the stadium for the gates to open we spent some time trying to figure out what we should write on it, and in light of the upcoming election we decided to go with "Vedder for President."
When they finally let everyone in, we sprinted into the stadium and claimed our spots in the front row, center stage. We waited two and a half hours before the Fastbacks came out. As they took the stage, we were pushed forward by the first surge of the evening. Midway through Ben Harper's set the pit was already looking even rougher than the night before. Being in the front row, we were getting crushed up against the barrier that separated the stage from the crowd. The bouncers divided their efforts between dragging people out and hosing the crowd down with water, something they hadn't thought about doing the night before. One of the bouncers was really nice and gave us some of his food. I got half a tomato and some sauteed chicken. By the time Pearl Jam was about to take the stage it was really bad, but there was no way we were going to give up our spots in the front row.
Finally the moment arrived. After breaking out of their pre-gig huddle, the band came out and the place went absolutely nuts. Eddie walked out on stage, set his lyric book down in front of the mike, told us that the band planned on playing more songs than they ever had before, then eased into "Sometimes." The pit was unbelievable that night. After a couple songs, the band stopped for about ten minutes in an effort to calm everyone down. It didn't work. We were still getting crushed against the barrier, and the pressure was getting worse. It was getting really hard to breathe, but after coming this far we were in for good. Looking over my shoulder, it was almost scary... people were screaming for bouncers to drag them out, and more than a few people had passed out. At least one person threw up, and one guy even pissed himself. People were being pulled out every few seconds, many of them via my head since the bouncers were stationed right in front of us.
The night before, Eddie had called the New York crowd "a bunch of badass motherfuckers"; this definitely applied for the second show. Being in the pit that night was the most exhausting, intense experience of my life; it was also the most unbelievably cool thing that I've ever been a part of. The show was amazing. The band played for almost three hours, covering thirty two songs. Eddie was obviously having a great time, giving Pete Townshend leg kicks and making lots of conversation with the crowd. One of the best moments came at the end of the first set, before an extremely intense version of "Porch". Ed disappeared for a minute and came back out with black makeup painted around his eyes and announced, "I've just got one more thing to say...just one more thing..." During the middle of the song he duct-taped his face and body before giving a quick but meaningful spiel on self-identity. Then he jumped off the stage and into the pit, spending a few minutes on top of a bouncer's shoulders.
The only moment that topped this (for us, anyway) came when the band took the stage for the first encore. Quayle had been saving the shirt for the right time, and now he held it up for Eddie. Ed saw it and smiled. Then Quayle chucked it towards the stage. A bouncer tried to grab it out of the air but missed, and it landed on the edge of the stage. Eddie walked over, picked it up, and held it up to the crowd.
Vedder for President," he read. "Yeah, I got to admit though, I smoked pot...but I didn't exhale." I will never be able to describe the look I saw on Quayle's face at that point, but I might as well have been looking into a mirror. Neither of us could believe what had just happened. We had fantasized for the whole trip about what it would be like if Eddie somehow acknowledged us, and now he'd held up our shirt and made a pot joke. That moment was worth every second of drive time and every boot to the head we'd endured that weekend.
Jack then began pounding out the intro to "In My Tree", and the band launched into the first of two encores that would include "Long Road", "Off He Goes", "Present Tense" and "Yellow Ledbetter". After the show we hung around the stage for awhile, trying to get our shirt or anything else that was left up there. Quayle came away with one of Jeff's picks, but the shirt was never found. We like to think that maybe Ed still has it and will one day walk out on stage wearing it, but then again we really don't have any grasp of reality when it comes to stuff like this. Maybe if we'd taken ourselves seriously we could've done some campaigning this fall, setting up booths before the shows. I guess it's too late to get Eddie enough write-in votes for this year's election. Maybe in 2000...