We just left San Blas and it is a great place – the people are very friendly, the town is quaint and there is much to see in the area. Lauren B. and I actually forgot that Thanksgiving was coming up until we wandered into a local ex-pat watering hole called Billy Bob’s. We went in simply looking for internet and food and we left with information about the Thanksgiving event that was to be in two days – a poker run race on bicycles though the streets of San Blas that ended at Billy Bobs (this is to mimic the motorcycle race that takes place in the States). There, entrants would play their hands of poker and everyone would partake in a Thanksgiving feast.
Thanksgiving finally rolled around and we knew that we couldn’t miss this spectacle! Although Lauren B. and I couldn’t enter the race because we don’t have bikes, we watched our new friends ride on – stopping at each bar to grab a card for their poker hand. If they didn’t like their card they could buy a beer and trade it in for a new one. Genius.
We caught up with the riders at San Blas Social Club and that’s where we met a fellow named John. John lives in San Blas in his motor home but also owns quite a bit of property up in Oregon. It turns out Jonathan is a musician and a staunch Grateful Dead fan. He told us the following story:
Some years back John was looking through the Craigslist want ads online and came across someone selling a box of miscellaneous Grateful Dead stuff. He had a feeling that this stuff was worth a whole lot of money. Although he didn’t have enough money to buy the box from the seller (who bought it at an auction many years back), he did have property. So in exchange for this mystery box, John traded the only plot of his Oregon land that could have been developed in the future. He really wanted this box.
When he got home, John went through the contents of this box that he just traded his assets for. His instincts were right, and this was indeed very cool, rare Grateful Dead memorabilia. Some of the contents were:
- Lyrics handwritten by Jerry Garcia himself.1976
- The first tie die banner to ever grace a Grateful Dead stage
- Practice recordings
- Receipts for various things bought by the Grateful Dead while they were on the road
- Personal effects of the Grateful Dead’s road manager, Rex Jackson, before he died in 1976
John realized that there was easily $50k – $100k worth of items here and possibly much more. As John put it, “If you were going to make a time capsule with very rare and important Grateful Dead memorabilia, you couldn’t do better than what’s in this box. This stuff is sacred.” However it was Rex’s personal items that stuck out to him the most. There was his driver’s license, band credit card, other forms of ID and some pictures of Rex. He remembered seeing a Grateful Dead documentary where he learned that Rex’s children were very young when he died and didn’t know him or have many pictures of him.
John knew what he had to do and he was able to track down Rex’s children and their mother, Betty Cantor-Jackson (who engineered and produced many of the Dead’s songs). He took the box to her house and watched Betty as she went through each item in the box. She cried and laughed as these things brought back memories. Then she told John how precious this box was, for it once belonged to her. Many years ago, she had packed up a box of her most precious memories that she and her husband had shared with the band – this box – and then went on an extended tour with the band. What she did not realize is that she was gone while they delivered a letter to her house saying that she had to pay a sum or her house was going to be foreclosed and her belongings would be auctioned. While Betty was away, she read an announcement in a paper that there would be a lot of Grateful Dead things auctioned the following weekend. She had a bad feeling. When she finally got home, it was to an empty house and everything she owned was gone.
Betty was so amazed that after all these years, her own treasure was returned to her by a stranger, John, who had traded much of his own assets for it. I really appreciated John sharing the story with us and thought that it was fitting for Thanksgiving. Betty was grateful for her sacred belongings returned to her. John was grateful he could give the box to its rightful owners and give Rex’s children a way to know their father.
After the Social Club, everyone headed back to Billy Bob’s to play their poker hand. This was the rowdiest Thanksgiving I had ever been to! This was not a shy crowd – much debauchery was abound. Following the poker game, we all sat down and enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Lauren B. and I shared our table with a really cool couple of Australians who live in Italy and travel half of the year because their home doesn’t have heat in the winter and it is cheaper for them to travel to warm places than it is to redo the heat in the entire building (crazy Italian construction codes).
All in all, it was a great day. What a weird dichotomy San Blas is – it is a sleepy little Mexican town that happens to have a considerable presence of ex-pat hippies and travelers. The only thing we were missing were our friends and family.