The Best of Times we must endure

Second of 2 parts

Easily the most funny, ironic line of our Coachella trip:

“Let’s get here by 10:30.”

This was uttered optimistically by my son Friday night after a tremendously exhausting Friday on the way back to the hotel room. I had asked him what time he thought we should get back to the Empire Polo Club on Saturday morning. The gates opened at 11. 10:30 was a a reasonable goal.

The second funniest line of the weekend:


This was my response.

Which goes to show just how badly we underestimated our bodily exhaustion after trudging around the music festival for 13 hours, alternating in and out of shade and performances all of Friday. 10:30, not a problem!

We arrived back at the hotel late Friday night and taking my shoes off never felt as wonderful. The minute I peeled my uninhabitable socks from my feet, a day’s worth of Coachella musty foot-fog issued from my throbbing red feet. Earlier, I had planned to at least take a short shower to wash off the day’s bodily refuse. No dice. All I wanted to do was climb into bed and sleep.

We did in fact climb into our beds and the unexplored possibilities of free Wi-Fi meant nothing to my body which had expended the last ounce of energy during the day. I fell asleep quickly enough but some buffoons began talking really loudly in the morning and woke me up since I’m a light sleeper. I don’t know what time it was…I’m guessing 7. My son, who can sleep through a 150 decibel acoustic explosion, continued sleeping. I felt drained but rested. It was an odd combination of sensations. I tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t. I finally got out of bed. I decided not to wake my son up. He needed the sleep more than he needed to get to Coachella 1/2 an hour early. I began surfing, made the crappy room coffee and attempted to ready myself for another day of music and swampy grass.

Eventually, I woke him up about 10:30 and we slowly got moving. The minute I opened the door, a blast of hot air washed over me. We were about 40 miles from Indio and the temperatures there were assuredly hotter even. We grabbed Starbucks and headed to the festival, day 2, while the car AC slowly brought the temperature into a delicate comfort zone for the ride.

After some security confusion at the entrance followed by the necessity to return to my car to drop off a camera they refused to let in which they strangely allowed the day before, we walked back and forth between the car and the festival entrance about 4 times so that we were already sweating up a storm by the time we entered the festival.

The plan was to see The Vaccines first. They are a good, fun rock & roll band we first saw last year at Outside Lands. At the time I remarked that they reminded me of The Ramones. And sure enough, the opening music today before they took the stage was none other than…The Ramones. The Vaccines are the kind of music you enjoy for the sake of music and is proof that not all music must be tormented or cathartic to satisfy. The Vaccines are energetic performers and their songs have a skillful hook that makes it impossible to not like them.

Saturday was the hottest day of the concert and for the most part, the crowd languished in between sets and during sets. The afternoon sun was relentless and hordes of people rested in the slivers of shade that the sun afforded during its arc across the desert sky. People rested under tents, behind trash receptacles, in the thin shady slivers created by poles and beams. It was hilarious to see groups of festival-goers aligned along the lengths of shade. It reminds me of how civilization clusters around waterways and oceans and harbors. People gravitate to the most convenient and comfortable zones.

Guess where I am!

The way Saturday would work–our “plan”–is that we would get all our resting and band-watching over with by about 6:30 when Noel Gallagher took the Coachella (the main one) stage. We arrived there between when the Kaiser Chiefs had finished and Gallagher took the stage. My son’s game plan is this: we grab a spot a few acts previous to Radiohead and gradually push our way forward until we have miraculously reached the front and this is where he wanted to be for Radiohead. Radiohead is a very good band but not my cup of tea. It’s like I was saying…some bands don’t do it for you, but this a music festival and you don’t fixate on what you don’t like. You just go with the flow. I like a couple of Radiohead songs but the adventure of battling the immense crowd in 100 degree temperatures was the main adventure in itself as far as I was concerned. Noel Gallagher was good, not exactly my cup of tea either, but whatever. He put on a great show.

After he finished, a new push erupted and we were pressed so tightly into the the heart of the crowd that we couldn’t even lift our hands. And it was hot as shit. Not for the faint of heart! Standing there is uncomfortable because you can’t sit or even shift your stance that freely. Your legs and feet begin to rebel. The heat, the human swarm and the forward push strikes in waves. Each wave leaves you in a different spot and hopefully, closer to the front. Between Gallagher and The Shins, claustrophobic sensibilities (if you have them) begin to plague. It’s furious, this crushing wave which catapults you deeper into the crowd and you find yourself wondering WHY? For a front row Radiohead seat! When you’re pressed in like this, everyone becomes an intimate neighbor and people talk and laugh and joke. At one point, there was one more push and we found ourselves maybe 7 or 6 people from the front. Then a lady yelled “Does anyone have a plastic bag!” loudly. Evidently there was a girl in her vicinity who needed to get sick. I glanced at my son, a bigger emetophobe than I. I could see he was becoming nervous. I didn’t see it happen, but he told me later that a plastic bag did indeed make its way to the girl and she stuck her face in it and the rest is history. What absolute torture for the poor girl. It’s not like you can run to the bathroom, and in fact you have an audience as you toss your cookies in this most inopportune of spots.

In the midst of this crowded chaos, you look to the sky for release, to forget your cramped surroundings. You see a tail of balloons hovering in the sky, spanning the width of the field, each end of the tail anchored in place at distant points far way from here. You watch the balloons float freely in the sky and you long to soar in the wind as well, far from here. They look so pretty and you get lost in their abandon. For a moment.

Then reality revisits. You are not floating in the sky. You are immersed in a mass of unrelenting humanity. There is nowhere to go! It is hot and people are pushing you en masse toward the front. Everyone wants to get to the front. You are helpless. You will be squashed. And a girl is puking in a plastic bag and your legs yell “I’m dying.”

Ah. But it is so beautiful! This is electric. This is grueling and trying but you feel stronger for it. You are sweaty and tired and hot and you feel precariously lucid. But there is nothing like it in the world. You await the next group, The Shins, whom you know nothing about.

The crowd condenses again.

Some clown yells to a friend, “The Shins are going to be sick, dude!” Well, with that kind of confidence, how can I not look forward to The Shins? As they take the stage, there is yet more crowd condensation. We are being pushed to the left and toward the center. This is good, I suppose.

The Shins. Uh.

OK, like I said, you need an open festival mind to enjoy it. You can’t judge music. You can’t be some high-maintenance priss. You gotta let your hair down! Still…there is nothing worse than seeing a band you absolute loath while stuck in the middle of thousands of clamoring fans. The Shins stretched the limits of my patience. How can people like this band? How could that guy promise us that they were going to be “sick?” Why on earth does the term “sick” connote “good” in modern jargon? I stood there helplessly, nowhere to go, and The Shins droned on.

I bring you…The Shins. Imagine you are surrounded by thousand of fans, little to no airflow, and this music.

After one particularly savage crowd condensation following The Shins’ final song, my son turned around, and in a classic anti-climactic moment, suggested we leave this crowd. OK. So we turned and head out. But making your way out of a crowd like this is best accomplished with a smile on your face while wearily avoiding stepping on feet, hands, faces, and all manner of bodily appendages. The crowd space between where we originally stood and the outer perimeter of the standing crowd was a morass of human detritus of every shape and form in every possible configuration and shape possible. It took minutes to finally escape the crowd. My son was tired, the vomiting chick rattled him, and it was obvious that we would never reach the front row at our present pace.

We walked around a little and allowed the night air to invigorate us and the walking allowed us to stretch out our legs again. We ate and then came back later to watch Radiohead’s performance from afar. At one point, 3 people in our vicinity collapsed from the heat. They were dropping like flies and I stared at the heart of the crowd near the stage and thought…I could be down there still.

Don’t let it fool you. These are the best of times!

Last installment of the Coachella trip, the Sunday finale, to follow at a future date