I’ve had the good fortune of attending a number of live concerts in my time, many filled with lasting memories. Admittedly, my all-time favorite artist is Prince. I’ve seen him three times, first in my early 20s at the peak of the Purple Rain album, later in my 20s when he was the artist formerly known as Prince, and finally in my early 40s when he’d reclaimed his name but no longer sang songs like “Darling Nikki.” While these concerts were my favorites, there is one unforgettable concert experience that trumps the Prince trifecta. It involved a couple of strangers, a Toyota, wine and a date with Lionel Richie.

I was a junior in college, away on exchange at the University of Delaware. My friend Tia and I ventured there together and we were fully committed to eking out every last East Coast experience we could before the close of our exchange and our return to the West Coast. We learned that Lionel Richie was performing in Philadelphia, and at that point it seemed he had a new song on the radio every week. It probably started with “All Night Long,” then came “Stuck on You” followed by “Penny Lover.” The hits just kept coming and we HAD to see Lionel Richie in concert.

Finding a Ride

We had some barriers to overcome, the biggest being transportation. Taking a bus to the concert was feasible, but getting home late at night posed a challenge. This was well before Uber and other transportation options, so we did the next best thing. We put an ad in the college newspaper and on a couple of bulletin boards offering up two tickets to Lionel Richie in exchange for a safe and reliable ride to and from the concert. We expected we’d have to screen some creepos and potential ax murderers, which we did. But, without too much effort we granted the tickets to two 20-something women. They had a working Toyota, a desire to go and exhibited no tendencies that would put our lives in jeopardy.

In hindsight, we were way more trusting than I would be today. With no social media and no internet yet, our method of screening involved a quick meet and greet and asking to see the woman’s license who said she would drive. Honestly, I could tell you nothing about them today. I think there were townies, living in Newark, not going to college. They both had some sort of employment and that’s about all I can recall.

A date with Lionel Richie

The Journey

It was a warm, fall day when they picked us up and we headed to Philly, about an hour away. We had beverages. I think they supplied it as a part of their contribution.  After all, they were getting a sweet deal in this little transpo for ticket exchange. I think we drank wine straight from the bottle. I believe they were twist tops at a time when twist tops only meant one thing. Cheap.

We tooled along for about 30 minutes, with the windows down, the jams playing, and getting our pre-func on with a couple of strangers. Then we hit traffic, heavy, not moving kind of traffic. It reminds me of morning rush hour traffic in Seattle on one of those days where the radio announcer recommends you work from home rather than get on the road. There was not only a concert, but a sports event that same evening. We inched along for minutes that soon turned into an hour. We started to worry about missing the concert, but an even greater worry was our bladders. Serious pressure was building.

We devised a plan. We were on the part of the freeway with an overpass, and some concrete side barriers with dirt on the other side. With the fear of peeing in a stranger’s car becoming more real by the minute and traffic at a dead stop with no end in sight, we bailed. Over the barrier we went, determined to squat for all our concert-headed friends to see, if necessary. It was magic, once we opened the doors and leapt, women from cars in front, back and to the sides of us yanked open doors and ran for the concrete hills, just like us. It was a pee party right there on the outskirts of Philadelphia.

We hopped back in the car ready for a few more gulps of fine wine and the toasting of new friends. The traffic crawled as the early fall light started to fade, but by this point we’d already made it a memorable experience and were feeling good about the night. Eventually, traffic snaked its way to the venue.

The Concert

Moments after we sat down the opening act came on, and it was Phil Collins. Who knew? He gave us an amazing performance before Mr. Penny Lover took the stage. I don’t remember much, but I do remember the feeling of being in this massive arena singing along to “All Night Long” and numerous other hits. It was a perfect addition to our quest to experience all-things East Coast.

a date with Lionel Richie
I’ll always have a soft spot for Lionel Richie!

The ride home is a blur except that we safely rolled into Newark several hours after we’d embarked. At the time I didn’t realize it was that very night that would become my most unforgettable concert experience ever, involving my good friend Tia, a couple of strangers, a Toyota, some less-than-fine wine and Lionel Richie.

How about you. Do you have an unforgettable concert experience to share?


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