Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Sweet Savior of Swelter Shelter

"I’m falling asleep. I can’t imagine how you’re awake."


At Coachella, I
  • Withstood one-hundred-degree-plus heat.
  • Got spit on.
  • Abstained alcohol, for fear of dying of heatstroke.
  • Hydrated constantly instead.
  • Applied and re-applied sunscreen, smartly preventing a sunburn.
  • Walked a lot.
  • Rode a delightful contraption called "Cyclecide" with Skippy’s girlfriend’s friend.
  • Drank out of a coconut.
  • Lost Jessica and Shade almost immediately and had shit luck meeting up with them sense the mass of human traffic knocked out cell phone communication for most of the weekend.
  • Met a Polish girl named Carolina (pronounced care-oh-lean-uh)
  • Got knocked in my the knot on my rib, which hurt like a motherfucker.
  • Watched a giant Tesla coil shoot out bolts of purple electricity.
But more importantly…

The Pixies fucking rocked my face. They beamed. They looked genuinely happy to perform for thousands of fans who knew all the words to their songs. I don’t care how fat Frank Black gets. He’ll be cool no matter what. Kim Deal makes smoking look cool when few people can anymore. And fucking David Santiago played his guitar with a glass bottle. I didn’t think seeing a band perform could ever move me emotionally, but when they started with “Bone Machine” I felt overcome, even for just a second. The Pixies alone made the money I shelled out for Coachella worth it. Allmusic.com already mentions the Pixies’ 2004 Coachella appearance as a pivotal moment in the latter days of their career. And I was there.

I also saw
  • The Cure, who played a two-hour-and-fifteen-minute set that included nearly all their hits, even "Charlotte Sometimes."
  • The Flaming Lips, who only played four songs and bitched about politics but at least have their lead singer bounce onto the audience in a giant clear plastic space bubble.
  • Beck, a last minute replacement for Wilco in an overcrowded tent.
  • Air, who were cooler in concert than I would have expected.
  • Belle and Sebastian, who made me like them more than I ever had before.
  • Radiohead, who played an awesome set that was lost on me, who had been in the concert sun for twelve hours.
  • The Sounds, who I had never heard before and totally won me over on the appeal of lead singer Maja Iverson alone.
  • Electric Six, who could be big one day.
  • And some others I’m too tired to mention.
I had a great time, honestly, but there’s not much to say about the actual concert other than that I went there and the bands who always play well continued to play well. The gaps in between the music, however, make the story worth telling.


Lauren dropped me off in the parking lot near South Hall at one-thirty this afternoon. I was wearing the same clothes I put on more than twenty-four hours earlier, when I woke up in that strange woman’s Holiday Inn motel room — long before the Cure or the last-minute ride-swapping or the spooky rest stop just beyond the windmills.

I sat in the back of a purgatorial English 140 class, next to Hayley and the other Jessica, neither of whom smelled like dried ketchup and the cigarette smoke of a thousand strangers. I did smell like that. I had a tinny ringing in my ears — the death of a hearing frequency I’ll miss when I’m fifty, no doubt — and greasy creases in my twenty-four hour boxers that prompted me to shift in my seat every thirty seconds. Not yet having washed my face, I wore a dust stencil of my sunglasses — faux retro eyewear that also have their own small story.

I told Jessica where I’d been. She said she’d heard of "some of those bands" — not the Pixies, I’ll bet — and then I told her how long I’d been up.

"I’m falling asleep. I can’t imagine how you’re awake."

It would have been an apt question, had she phrased it as one. I was beat. And Professor Ek’s lecture on post-colonial rage and Jamaica Kincaid was completely lost on me. The rib knot smarted when I breathed to deeply. Uselessly sitting there without a notebook or a pen or charged phone or even my backpack, I thought about how I could be awake after such a self-demolishing riot of a weekend.
[ night no. one: Lake Cahuilla ]
Since I was the one who knew Hilly who knew the guy who had the campsite by the lake, I got to feel helpful. To an extent. Lake Cahuilla being in the desert, there were scorpions. They stayed out of the tent. The cockleburs, however, did not. Nor did the techno music our tent neighbors chose to blast, in flagrant defiance of the high music standards the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival tries to propagate.

Jessica and Shade fled to the car, proving that indie kids and camping don’t mix. Hilly konked out early and Lauren and I shared bicycle stories.

I didn’t sleep so much as nap, seeing as how the angry sun microwaved our tent at six in the morning. With three hours of shut eye, J, S, and left early. They bought sun bonnets like my grandma wears. I got a pair of sunglasses, which turned out to be mysteriously manufactured in Hollister. The first ambiguously meaningful coincidence.
[ night no. two: Laura’s ]
Apparently, in the two hours it took between the Electric Six show and me finding Jessica’s car in lot number two — do you realize how many gray Honda Civics there are in this world? — Jessica and Shade decided they could do better than the campsite. At about three a.m. we left the concert parking lot to find this rock star party at a hotel Jessica’s friend knows about under the ridiculous assumption that some benevolent stranger might let us crash in their room.

We get there. Of all resorts in Palm Springs, it’s the Esmeralda, which I’d been to with my family when I was wee. Deja voodoo childhood memories and ambiguously meaningful coincidence number two.

After sneaking in the staff entrance and down a hallway no doubt verboten to a wannabe Scooby gang like Jessica, Shade and I, we sit on the patio and describe our respective levels of tired:
the closest i can really relate to this is this time this summer when charlie and i were on the night train from nice to barcelona even though we didn’t have reservations and we were probably halfway there when this guy and his daughter get on at one of the stops and they come to our cabin and tell us that we’re in their seats and we have to get up and leave. only you can’t just sit in the fucking hallway and i'm kinda freaked out we’re gonna get in trouble for being on the train when we weren’t supposed to be so we just wander down from one car to the next like we know where we’re going only somehow charlie finds this open couchette with nobody in it and we actually get to put our stuff down and lie down and lock the door and hope none of the footsteps going by are somebody who’s gonna throw us out but we actually get to sleep. and I guess that’s what i'm looking for because i'm so tired and we don’t have anywhere to go and i just want to find something like that open couchette
Only I’m too tired to interact with party guests or schmooze with anybody who might have a vacancy so I swipe Jessica’s car keys and sleep in the back seat like some homeless guy or Twyla or something. Four hours later, it’s sunlight out and I’m quasi-conscious and we’re throwing our stuff down in the motel room of this woman with purple hair and a scapula-to-scapula back tattoo of blue flames. The maid wakes us up in the afternoon and as the four of us get ready to leave, I learn the following about this Laura, this nice lady who’s given us a place to sleep:
  • She is a driver for the Cure.
  • She lives in a boat.
  • She’s from rough Baltimore, where "people go for rides and just don’t come back."
  • She’s willing to fuck up the people who screw her over.
  • She has anger blackouts during which people get hurt.
  • And this testimonial: "It pisses me of that I get a cop giving me shit for some weed I have growing on my doorstep when my husband's out fucking your nine-year-old daughter." (paraphrased slightly)
But what could have resulted in J, S, and I in tubs of ice sans kidneys actually turned out fine. Quirky, sure, but Laura was a genuinely sweet person. We paid for the room for the night and tossed down and extra twenty. Laura left. We showered. We saw the first half of "Permanent Midnight," which I liked better than I thought I would. We shed the filth and misery of the previous night and were ready to leave.

But I noticed a Catholic votive candle on the minibar, the kind they sell at the Mexican grocery stores in Hollister. I got a kick out of the candle’s recommendation of Lucky Prophet brand candle dressing — whatever the hell candle dressing does — and I wondered whether Laura bought it because of piety or kitsch.

Then came the marvelous, enticingly-profound-but-probably not ambiguously meaningful coincidence number three: the candle is for Saint Jude, the Catholic patron of lost causes, of the hopeless and the desperate and the lost and the miserable. If I had read it in a book, I would have discounted it as hokey, too-obvious symbolism, but it just struck me so perfectly. There’s no word for it, for such a beautiful coincidence — ambiguously meaningful coincidence number three.

At that point, Saint Couchette got bumped out of my number one spot by our Saint Jude: Laura with purple hair.
[ night no. three: all along Highway 10 ]
I rapped on Jessica's shotgun window.
okay the good news is that i found a way home tonight with hilly and lauren who i finally found and now you can stay tonight because i know you want to and i don’t want you having to drive home tonight on my account and plus i found alex and he needs a ride home so i figured he could just take my place because he doesn’t need to be in santa barbara early and i do and just keep my bag and i'll pick it up tomorrow and thanks for such a great time and i see you guys when you get back and i gotta go okay?
I don’t remember what Jessica or Shade said or even if they said anything. I was still thinking about the Cure’s marathon set. But Alex got in the car so I assume everything was copacetic. As I write this, I actually haven’t yet spoken with Jess, so for all I know, they might have ended up in the kidney ice bath after all.

Lauren, powered by determination and Red Bull, pulled drove me, Hilly, Vadim and this other girl I’ll call Velma just after three a.m. The rear passengers went nighty-night right away, but as Mr. Shotgun it was my duty to keep Lauren up with talking, which was cool since I wasn't actually tired. We talked about the peacocks and Andy Warhol and bicycles, but just beyond the windmill orchard, the rotating branches of which I could just barely make out in the dark, the only one of the five of us who could drive stickshift pulled into a rest stop.

I guess I’m happy we stopped there. I don’t like highway rest stops. I’ve had some bad experiences there. Some urban legends, after all, are true.

The girls slept in the car. Wired from the weekend, I explored the area, which was cleaner and less sketchy than the rest spot just out of San Ardo on the northbound 101. They had a map of Californian roadways posted and the distance between Indio and Santa Barbara seemed so small — just an index finger and a knuckle, really. Vadim and I had one of those hands-in-pockets conversations about the weekend, but I got cold and went back to the car.

I sat there for half an hour, watching this single, unsettling gum tree move in the wind and hanging my feet out of the shotgun window. Precariously, I’d say. Urban legend fear dictates that some maniac could have lopped off my toes or slit my through altogether.

He didn’t.

When Lauren woke up, we drove some more, sleep-drifty and unwisely. Somehow, we ended up in Colton, which is near Riverside, I think, and Vadim and I convinced Lauren to give up and stay at a hotel, which charged us a full night’s price even though we only stayed from six to ten.

Lauren dropped me off in the parking lot near South Hall at one-thirty this afternoon. I was wearing the same clothes I put on more than twenty-four hours earlier, when I woke up in that strange woman’s Holiday Inn motel room — long before the Cure or the last-minute ride-swapping or the spooky rest stop just beyond the windmills.


Things my parents would have been proud of:
  • Wearing sunscreen.
  • Not drinking.
  • Not doing any drugs.
  • Being responsible enough to realize our driver was too sleepy to continue driving.
  • Making it to class on time.
Things my parents would not have been proud of:
  • Trusting a stranger with purple hair not to kill me.
  • Sneaking into a swanky hotel.
  • All the swears.
  • No earplugs.
  • Twenty-four hour underwear.
And the cruelest joke of all: herding a bunch of indie kids who normally don’t do camping or festivals or the desert or sun onto some polo grounds for two hours and force them endure hot, sweaty, hairdo-wilting hell to see such a kickass line-up.
"I’m falling asleep. I can’t imagine how you’re awake."