In 1998, my lady and I were broke. I was working at Noah’s Bagels for $6 an hour, and my then-girlfriend was working at a nonprofit for $18,000. In two months, I’d get fired from Noah’s Bagels for organizing a union, which taught me that most important life lesson: how to lose.
One January morning, we registered as domestic partners so I could get on her health insurance. We eventually got married, but at the time we mainly wanted a commitment from Kaiser, not each other. We signed documents that affirmed we were in a loving, committed relationship and were responsible for each other’s debts. We paid $35.
To celebrate, we scraped our bank accounts to see Prince at the Oakland Coliseum for the Emancipation tour. We spent $75 apiece on the arena show and $20 for parking. We were too broke to drink. Zealous fans, I had just gone as Prince for Halloween, which was the least sexy midriff-baring Prince ever.
While we waited for the show to start, it was already getting suitably freaky. A drunk woman seated behind us threw up in her chair, and her date spread his jacket in the vomit for her to pass out, like a gentleman. The couple next to us shared a derisive chuckle about how the couple behind can’t handle their liquor.
A Princely person flitted through the crowd, drawing cheers until it turned out to be a superfan in Prince hair and attire. I met him once on the 24 Divisadero, and learned he designed his Fillmore studio like Paisley Park.
Finally, Prince came out. He said, “What’s happening, Oaktown?” The crowd went berserk.
My someday-wife, fresh off the U-Haul from New Mexico, never having set foot in Oakland before, our regional dialects foreign to her, in all earnestness said, “How embarrassing! Prince doesn’t know it’s Oakland, not Oaktown. Someone should tell him.”
The woman next to us passed out, down to her underwear. Her partner leaned into her face exclaiming, “Baby you are TRUTH.” She woke up to tell us she loved us and gave us kisses.
After a transcendent performance, the lights came up. People left. We stayed put in case there’s a secret encore. (I always wait for the scene after the credits in the movies, too.) Finally, they announced: “The afterparty will be at Club Townsend.”
We had heard legends about Prince’s unannounced after parties in small clubs, but weren’t cool enough to have the foggiest notion how to find out where, and social media hadn’t yet invented a solution to our uncool ignorance.
I knew that now-defunct club in SoMa. Although I had to be back toiling in the bagel mines at 7 a.m., we chose a day of pain over a lifetime of regret. Down to the dregs of our bank accounts, we pulled out $40 from an ATM. We swore if it cost more than $20 apiece, we’d pass. We got to the club, and the sign said $25. WE COULD NOT TURN BACK.
I turned all my white-man charm on the guy behind me in line and said, “Sir, we need $10. We have to see this show. Please loan me 10 bucks. I swear, I’m good for it. You can take my info from my driver’s license.” The guy, who turned out to be a manager from KMEL, gave me his business card and $10. He said, “I don’t need your ID. Call this a test in my faith in humanity.” (I sent the money.)
We got into Club Townsend around 2 a.m., while the DJ was still spinning. We went to sleep on the floor in the corner until 3 a.m., when Prince came out and jammed with Larry Graham on deep cuts for two hours.
We finally got home at 5:30 a.m. and slept for 30 minutes before going to work, having had the greatest live music experience of my life.