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It was December 8, 1985, the day before Neil was to perform at The Hilton in Ames Iowa, which is just 25 miles north from where I live in Des Moines. This was the first concert of the tour. The tour right before this one was the tour when Neil’s father died and where Neil had to postpone until April the shows in Calgary Canada.
Through a friend whose brother worked at the Des Moines airport we found out the approximate time that Neil’s plane was supposed to arrive. So three friends and I decided we would go to the airport and try to welcome Neil to Des Moines and to Iowa.
It was a bitterly cold day. The temperature was below zero and the wind chill was something like 20 below zero and lots of snow on the ground. There was a gate leading to the area where Neil was supposed to arrive. We were trying to position ourselves so that when the bus pulled out of the gate Neil would see us and the sign we had that said, “Hello Again From Des Moines.” We decided to climb on top of a one of those snowbanks that was made from the snowplows pushing snow into a pile. And the snowbank was directly under a street light so we felt we found the perfect spot.
Since we didn’t know the exact time Neil was arriving – just an approximate within a two hour window – we had to figure out how we could watch for the bus, keep warm and still manage to get to our high point on the road before the bus pulled out of the airport area. We finally managed to get a parking space right behind the snowbank but the bad thing about that was we could only see vehicles approaching the gate after they came from around a building. Add to it that it was dark so we really couldn’t see any vehicles until we saw their headlights. Since it was so cold we would sit in the car and then every time we would see headlights we would grab the sign, jump out of the car and climb up the snowbank. We had several false alarms and so we had to do the routine a number of times. We figured out that unless we stood there on the snowbank waiting for the bus we were probably not going make it to our spot before the bus would be long gone. So after numerous times jumping out of the car and rushing to the snowbank we decided we would just stand there. With it being SO cold luckily for us, we didn’t have to stand out there too long.
We were all positioned on the snowbank, bundled up so much that we could barely move. Have you ever seen kids who have so much winter clothing on that they can barely move their arms or legs? That was us! We were probably standing there 15-20 minutes (seemed a lot longer in the cold) when the bus pulled around from the building and pulled through the gate. As the bus drove through the gate the bus driver turned the lights on in the bus and we could see everyone on the bus pointing and waving at us. The bus pulled out onto the street and stopped right in front of us. All four of us were holding our “Hello Again From Des Moines” sign with one hand and waving with the other. We were expecting the bus to just stop for a few seconds and then head down the road but instead of that, the bus doors opened. There stood Patrick Stansfield, who for many years, if I remember correctly, was Neil’s road manager. He stood there on the steps of the bus thanking us for being there and thanking us for the warm welcome. As Patrick is talking to us I could see someone get up from towards the back of the bus and start walking down the aisle toward the door. Patrick stepped off of the bus and the next thing we know there’s Neil stepping down out of the bus and is walking toward us. Right behind Neil is Don Bath, Neil’s bodyguard at the time. Now remember, the temperature is below zero and there is a wind chill of minus 20 and there’s Neil in dress shoes, casual pants and a blazer. No winter coat. He walked toward us and started to step up on the snowbank and as he did he slipped – dress shoes are the best for getting a grip in the snow. As Neil started to fall Don grabbed him by the arm and prevented Neil from falling either flat on his face or flat on his butt. I was standing in the middle of the group – the next thing I know Neil’s hand is patting the cheek of my face – which I’m sure felt like ice – and he was saying, “Thank you for being here, thank you for welcoming us to Des Moines. What are you doing here???? Do all of you have tickets for the show tomorrow night?” I said, “Yes, Neil, we all have front row tickets.” As Neil continued to pat my face and he threw his head back and said, “How am I going to handle the four of you in the front row!!?” Neil then asked us if we had a warm place to go. We said yes. Then Neil said to us “If all of you promise to get to a warm place the show tomorrow night is for the four of you!” We thanked him for stopping. As we watched Neil get back on the bus we could see everyone else on the bus smiling, waving and some were clapping.
At the concert the next night, there we were sitting dead center in the front row. Neil came out, opened with Headed For The Future (it was the first time he had performed it in concert) and during the opening number, walked over to us and pointed at each of us. We even have it on video tape. The local TV stations were there to tape the first number and one of them was kind enough to give us the unedited version. In the tape Neil walks to the front of the stage and points down to us and smiles.
Add to that Neil’s performance of Brooklyn Roads. It was the first concert tour since Neil’s father died the spring before and the first time in a very long time that Neil sang Brooklyn Roads. Neil barely got the first line out and there were tears running down Neil’s face. It was very emotional. Neil talked and talked that night. It was overall probably the best concert I’ve ever attended. I think anyone who was there that night would agree. Neil, the band, the songs, the audience. The whole experience was just awesome.