Clouds of Patchouli oil. Marijuana vapors. Garlic fries. Plastic hand-buckets of icy beer. Disabled adults in wheelchairs flying around faster than bicycles. Tiny men that ended at the waist strapped into massive electric wheelchairs controlled with straws or joysticks or an arc-shaped leatherette headrest that housed the steering and acceleration. A stage covered in rock stars, music engineers, guitar handlers, pop stars, folk singers, a legendary producer and severely disabled children in wheelchairs. Children without speech but with wide ranging vocal pyrotechnics. Shrieks and laughter. Grunting. Inquisitive moans. Hands and arms twisted with spasticity and athetosis. Draped in drool scarves and medical equipment hung out of sight and sometimes delivering liquid feedings straight to a gastrostomy tube. Portable oxygen tanks just in case. Medical tubing snaked into backpacks hanging from the hardware of the child’s seat stuffed with diapers and cans of formula. Medications for seizures. Parents and children who survived catastrophic diagnoses. Brain damage from birth injuries, in-utero infections, encephalitis, genetic tricks, brain malformations and accidents. Joyful students and former students. Accompanied by parents or caregivers, friends and siblings. Sharing the stage with musician artists in front of 20,000 fans. Neil and Pegi Young at the center. The annual Bridge School Benefit concert weekend at Shoreline Amphitheatre in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Pegi Young started the school about 30 years ago with another parent. Both had sons with significant physical disabilities and were unable to speak. Pegi was married to Neil Young and so began the annual Bay Area ritual of the Bridge School Benefit concert.
I saw a review of this concert in 1997 in a discarded section of the New York Times at Einstein Bros bagel shop across the street from United Cerebral Palsy where I brought Lueza to preschool. My morning ritual. Travel from Upper West Side of Manhattan to east 23rd street. Try not to think about killing myself. Calm down Lu in her classroom and cross 23rd street to medicate myself with strong coffee and buttery toasted poppy bagel. And there’s a review about a Neil Young concert to benefit a school for disabled children. And they’re describing not only how great the concert was but the stage was covered with students. They were part of the concert stage. Children in wheelchairs with computer devices attached for communication. Speechless children learning to ‘speak’ via machine. They were describing kids like Lueza.
We moved to California about 35 months later. Lu started Bridge School in late August of 2000 and 2 months later we went to our first Bridge School Benefit concert.
I want to make this short.
It was ecstatic. Pushing Lu up the hill to the special entrance for students and rock stars. Special passes around our necks. Dora in our arms. A light rain falling. A lineup that included Foo Fighters. Who? Dave Matthews Band. I had maybe heard of them. Red Hot Chili Peppers. Definitely. And the lesbian identical twins Tegan and Sara. From Canada like Neil Young. Dora and Lueza discovered Rock and Roll. I rediscovered it. We all fell in love with Dave and Dave. Grohl and Matthews. Their music. Their generosity at being there. Their handsome beauty. It was bliss.
This year was my 5th concert without Lueza. Usually I’m there with Dora but this year she started music school in Boston and I didn’t fly her out. Jacek didn’t want to come.
I spend most of my time on the stage behind the kids. Some of them are former classmates of Lu’s. Many are the new and current students. And there are always the ‘big kids’ who are in their thirties. Many of the children have died since we moved to California. Many more are thriving and happy. I’m still here loaded with laminated VIP passes from the past 15 years and photos of Lueza around my neck. It is a love zone. For the students and their survival and joy. For the artists that make this phenomenal music. For Bridge School. And in gratitude for Pegi and Neil Young.