About 3:30 on Friday afternoon, I get a call from my brother in law, whose coworker has lawn tickets for the Coldplay show in Alpine Valley. They’re selling them for $10 each. A quick string of calls later, my brother Brady and his girlfriend Jill have two, and I and Allison have the other two, along with plans to hop in my car and trek up to Wisconsin the following day.
Alas, all was not well. On such short notice, Allison, with no help from her manager —who, I might add, is a shit-for-brains— couldn’t get off of work. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth, and the sort of invectives I usually save for moments of intense pain or presidential elections. ffanatic couldn’t go, as he had obligations in the morning that wouldn’t be finished in time. Besides, he and I are seeing The Red Sparowes with Pelican this Saturday at the Metro.
On Saturday, we are still trying to find a fourth person to defray the cost (we’re all poor college kids), but Brady and I drive north to Antioch to pick up his girlfriend, hoping she will have found someone. The ride is uneventful; Coldplay serenades us, and I try desperately to remember what kind of code was used on the front cover of X&Y (it’s Baudot). When Brady and I are together now, we’re a bit of a duo; it makes me wonder how we were ever bitter rivals, though I suppose a childhood of shared rooms and social proximity didn’t help matters any. I used the time to get acquainted with more Coldplay songs, as they haven’t gotten as much play in my Ogg player as artists like Ben Christophers and Opeth have lately.
In Antioch, we arrive at the house on time; Brady’s girlfriend, sadly, is stuck at a graduation party, so Brady and I spend the better part of an hour staring, mouths agape, at the sheer vapidity of some random tabloid show (perhaps Access Hollywood?). The subject, I believe, was whether or not Angelina Jolie was behind Brad Pitt’s new blonde look. That this is of even minor importance to anyone except perhaps Brad himself is astounding to me, but I guess it just reaffirms my suspicion that my political populism (if you could call it that) is not matched by the intellectual variety. At any rate, Brady’s heard that pretty much all seats are good at this venue, so getting there when the gates open really isn’t a priority.
At 5:45pm, we’re on the road with the girlfriend’s brother in tow, an extremely softspoken but nice young man of 22. That being said, I am sorely disappointed that he is not my girlfriend. At this point, she has been working for 8 hours straight, and I have made the mistake of not calling her or even leaving a message. It is fair to say that I am an asshat for this, though in my defense, I was drunk as a skunk.
No, actually, I was completely sober, but we found out that sobriety seemed to be in somewhat high demand at the concert. Actually, no: sobriety would be hard to find even before the concert. Alpine Valley is about 45 minutes from Antioch using 173 to 43. We met the tail end of a queue of cars in the far right lane starting about a half mile from the exit. Brady, who was driving, wisely opted to continue forward in the middle lane until we were less than a quarter mile from the exit. We saw a gold coupe full of girls merge in and decided that they would be the perfect people to let us in. The guilt trip worked, and we proceeded then to inch forward a few feet at a time for the rest of the distance. One of the funny sights was a stretch Hummer populated by 5 or 6 college-age guys in their Abercrombie finest pulled over on the shoulder. We saw one guy in a red shirt fall backwards into the ditch. “Ha!” we said. “The poor schmuck lost his footing!” Then we saw him get up, wobble for a half second, and fall forward onto his face. Completely bombed out of his mind. I saw his face as we oozed by: there was nobody home, and the lights were flickering.
We managed to make it to the venue before 7:30, the supposed start time of the show. It’s normally a skiing resort, sitting in the middle of a bunch of cornfields. It goes a long way in explaining why the infrastructure couldn’t handle 40’000 people. Throughout the vast grass fields of makeshift parking lots (we were guided into a cramped formation my McDonalds rejects in STAFF shirts: more on this later), people were tailgating, filling up on beer and hastily cooked burgers before they entered the venue itself and the price of food shot up ($5 burgers, $7 cups of beers, &c.). The crowd seemed remarkably diverse: I had expected more along the lines of a sea of preppie kids in cargo shorts/polos and tanktops/skirts, and there were plenty of those (I, personally, was wearing a Firefox t-shirt), but also plenty of misfits more at home at a punk concert, as well as plenty of adults, many of whom dressed like teenagers. I suppose it’s only to be expected that a euphonic softrock band like Coldplay attracts more than just a narrow wedge of fans.
All the while, rain threatened to dampen our spirits as well as our pants. As it turns out, we needn’t have worried: the rain moved south of us, and by the end of the concert, the stars were even visible.
As we left the parking spot, stopping briefly at the Port-A-John area, and approached the ticket gate, a security cart trundled on by, with a guy driving it and a guy sitting on the side, watching the person sitting —handcuffed— on the back. Any guesses who that person was? If you guessed our balance-challenged friend from the Hummer—the front of his shirt soiled with either vomit or beer, his eyes glossed over—you’d be right. I almost felt sorry for him: the poor bastard either won the limo or pooled with his friends to get it, and now he was going to spend the entire concert in a drunk tank. Then I remembered who I was and felt thoroughly amused by the consequences of stupidity. Remember, kids: drinking to excess is kind of like hitting yourself repeatedly in the testicles with a hammer.
From 7:30 until 9, when Coldplay came on, our time was mainly spent by preserving our little claimed patch of hillside (Alpine Valley is ampitheater style, with the stage at the bottom of a large sloping hill). We were resigned to the fact that we wouldn’t be able to actually see the band, as the hill curved downward too steeply, its horizon blocking our view, and there was a VIP canopy set up dead center in front of the stage, which further hindered our view. We, for some reason, chose to set up right next to the beer stand, which, despite its exorbitant price, did a brisk business throughout the night. It was clear from the get-go that many people patronizing it should have already stopped drinking by that point. They would invariably buy a cup of beer and start wobbily dancing to the warm-up band or the radio they pumped in between sets, spilling half the beer. They didn’t seem to notice until they went to drink and found half of their beverage gone.
Coldplay’s actual performance was great, seemingly spot-on. I’m not using any superlatives mostly because the arena style of concert is still new to me. I’ve been to five concerts, two of them at a local music store and the other 3 at the House of Blues in Chicago. I’m used to a small venue where the artist is clearly visible from any point and the sound is crushing and exhilarating. Coldplay, while cool to see, wasn’t quite exciting when I was watching them on a screen, occasionally squinting down the hill and thinking “I think that smudge is Martin, and that smudge is Buckland….” Such is the price of seeing a popular band, I suppose, but I’m more excited about seeing The Red Sparowes than I was about Coldplay.
I, always conscious of crowds due to my loathing of them, had the bright idea of leaving during the final song to try to beat traffic out of there. I reasoned that the crush to get out would be even more ridiculous than getting in. I most definitely did not want to be sitting in a queue of cars until 2 in the morning: it would be about 2.5 hours just to get back to our house. So, during their “final” song, we trekked back to the car, knowing full well we’d miss the encore. Still, as I said, the concert was not so riveting that we couldn’t live without completing it. There were a fair number of people who either didn’t realize there would be an encore or had the same bright idea, but compared to the total number of people at the venue, it was a light trickle. As we pushed our way up the hill, through the massive crowd, we’d get handed pearls of wisdom like “They’re not done, they’re not done…” I just trudged silently onward, but I wanted to spin and tell people, “Yes, but some of us would like to be on Highway 43 before all the drunks try to pull out of their parking spots!”
Speaking of which, you might recall that the Darwin’s Waiting Room crowd had our cars scrunched pretty close together. The created long horizontal double rows, two cars bumper to bumper, with a space to the front and back. But not a very big space. Had we driven Brady’s car, we perhaps wouldn’t have had a problem, but we were in my Saturn LX300, which is significantly longer than the average coupe. If you have ever seen the first Austin Powers, when he’s trying to turn the cart around in the narrow hallway, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what we looked like trying to back out of our space. I had to get out of the car and direct Brady back and forth the few inches than we had to move. Around about 15 iterations of this, we were finally clear (which elicited cries of congratulations from passers by), and we were out of the venue within minutes. I congratulated myself heartily for having escaped a late night traffic jam and tried not to think about the various smokes that had decided to stick to my mucous membranes (I woke up sick on Friday). I say various because a girl who looked no older than 12 but who was probably my senior decided to toke up in front of me. I was unable to smell the smoke, really, but the shape of her “cigarette” didn’t lie. Whatever: I’m against the criminalization of marijuana, but I’d rather it wasn’t smoked around me. I’ve no desire to try it, secondhand or otherwise.
We reached Brady’s girlfriend’s house at 11:30. After a few minutes saying goodbyes, we got in the car and started it up…. only it didn’t start up. Didn’t even wheeze (not that it should: it’s only a few years old). The headlights worked, the radio worked, and the damn thing just wouldn’t ignite. At that time, I would have sworn it court that the start was dead: I’d experienced the exact same situation when the starter on my old VW Golf died. In such a case, jumping the car is futile, so it was decided that we would spend the night there. Brady wasn’t exactly sad, as it meant more time with his lady, and I, though inconvenienced perhaps (so much time away from my computer!), was thanking my lucky stars that my car had chosen to die in Jill’s driveway and not at goddamn Alpine Valley. Had that been the case, it wouldn’t have been hours before a tow truck or a family member could even enter the venue to get us.
In the morning, I awoke at 8:45, surprisingly refreshed despite sleeping in my contacts, and with unbrushed teeth (which felt disgusting fuzzy), went out to my car, and tried starting it again. This time, it chugged. Once. I tried it again, and again it gave a slow, drawling chug. I held the car in the ignition position: the car began to chug furiously, but gave no hint of coming to life. Surprised by this entirely different behavior, we called AAA, waited 90 minutes for a tow truck—during which time we ate breakfast on a boat and schmoozed with Jill’s family—and when the tow driver jumped the car, it started immediately.
The car is now at the mechanic’s, who says that it’s a bad battery (thank the lord it’s not a bad starter), and I am back to work, quite ready for a nap. Alas, it will be some time before I get one.