Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Joy in Mudville: A Farewell (First Part)

A little more than nine years ago -- only six days after my 16th birthday -- my older brother and I took off for Lawn Gisland's Jones Beach to see the popular rock band Phish.

I didn't really know what to expect at the time, and looking back I still can't exactly remember what happened there. I just remember being wildly out of place: a high schooler with no facial hair and teeth full o' braces. But just like the first time a guy realizes what he can do with his little pecker, that night started me on the long road of obsession with this band that compelled me to see them as often as I could.

That journey officially ended this weekend, up in the beautiful grounds of Coventry, Vermont. And by beautiful, I mean muddy: The whole place was one giant mud pit. There was so much mud, in fact, that the parking lot couldn't fit all the cars and RVs, and many unhappy fans were turned away on the highway by the state police.

About 25,000 people were undeterred though, parking their cars on the side of the I-91 and walking as long as 20 miles to get into Phish's last show ever. Last show ever. How could you make it just 20 miles from the venue and not keep going?!

But I knew the Karma Gods were smiling on me. It all started on Thursday night, at the band's second-to-last show, at the annual stop Camden, New Jersey. My buddies TJ and PB and I walked in with some heady nuge but no piece, and happened to sit in the one section of the pavillion with no bowl being passed around freely. No fuckin' bowl, except for the one directly in front of us that some scrawny kid was puffing away on. So I asked him to borrow it, pack it up and let him shmoke with us. He refused. Refused? Refused! That never happens!

He claimed that the last time he let someone use it, the security guards took it from the guy he lent it to. So I backed off. Half-hour later and no longer stoned, I asked again as nice as could be: "Hey man, we really need a piece to use, can I just give you some bud, I'll give it to you, you can just pass the bowl back to us once or twice?" Again this little turdlicker refused, saying it was "his preference," prompting me to call him "terrible."

At setbreak, after finding a one-hitter from a nicer dude, TJ remarked that maybe we should just push him over the balcony. I concurred. We didn't. But just a few seconds after I turned to TJ and said, "Somebody needs to teach this kid a fuckin' lesson," a security guard walked past him taking a hit and confiscated his piece. Instant Karma's gonna git you, kid. It's gonna be a good weekend, we thought. Victory is ours!

For the trip up to Coventry, my six companions and I rented an RV that we affectionately referred to as "Alemon," because this thing was nothing short of a lemon. It was leaking in three spots, the fridge wouldn't work at the start of the trip, and we needed to replace the alternate battery in order to work anything. But that turned out to be a serendipitous turn of events, as we took the battery-changing opportunity to walk to Home Depot and buy some big yellow rubber boots. Had we bought 100 extra pairs of boots to bring up with us, we'd all be really rich right now. Muddy-footed people everywhere were willing to pay us triple for these functioning eyesores. Rich, I tells ya.

With the battery changed and the RV on the road again, we turned to planning a route to the show that would bypass I-91, which we heard was just not moving at all. One look at a map and a few suggestions from people already at the venue, and we decided to take Rte. 14 instead of fuckin' around on I-91.

Friends of mine, including one Donnie Fiedler of Slack LaLane fame, left at least 12 hours before our trip begun, and they didn't even get into the venue at all. We stopped at a gas station and this shirtless hippie told us to take Rte. 15 to 100 to the Rte. 14 shortcut (ha, shortcut!), which we eventually did. The move worked out really well, and we ONLY had to spend 13 hours in a non-moving traffic line just 10 miles from the venue.

Contrary to the kvethcing, the traffic situation was fiiiine. Maybe it's because we were in an RV and not in a small, cramped car. Either way, picture the very last scene of Field of Dreams, when all those cars are lined up in the middle of the night on a dark rural road. There's no light anywhere except for the headlights of these cars, and those cars are being driven by people who have no idea why the fuck they're doing what they're doing. That was this scene.

Why are we waiting in a day's worth of traffic? Where the fuck are we? Thousands of revelers became fast friends -- everybody was conversing and sharing stories of festivals and shows past. The preppy kid in front of us and I talked for a while, about how we was skipping another semester to try to become a ranked skiier and to sell these ribbon belts. I found myself telling him to "make sure you get your degree, man, it's important."

Who the fuck am I, Dr. Phil's sexy younger brother? I'm stoned as hell going on no sleep, riding in a huge RV and doling out career advice to a prep school hippie in his parent's Saab on Rte. 14 outside Coventry, Vermont. As David Byrne says, "My God, how did I get here?"

At one point, with Alemon the RV only four miles from the venue, the distinct voice of Phish bassist Mike Gordon came through loud and clear on the radio. His stunning announcement: Due to severe weather conditions at the festival grounds, the police were turning cars around and no other vehicles would be allowed to enter the venue.

Did this mean us? Mike, what are you saying? Are we OK? Are we OK?! Everyone in the car line got weak, and cell phones all of a sudden popped out from every which way. People started running towards the venue to get further instructions; there was near chaos. I pictured riots of epic proportions.

Just then a police truck rolled down the stalled highway in the opposite direction with a megaphone, shouting, "If you're on this road North of Orleans Street, you're fine." And a roar from the parked crowd! I watched as the authorities cruised down the highway behind us, taking in the sheer jubilation of the weary travelers in line. This police truck started a wave of cheering that went for miles.

Then I remembered what my father told me before I left: "If Coventry makes the news, call home." And I figured this might make the news, like the traffic in Big Cyprus did. So I called home.

"Mom...Dad told me to call if I make the news, and we're about to."
"Oh no. Are you OK, dahling?"
"I'm fine, but..."
"What? I can't hear you, you're breaking up."
"No, I'm fine..."

Shit! I just told my mom I'm about to make the news, in no context, and now she can't hear me -- this may cause some panic back in Jericho. My father joins the convo, on speakerphone. I try to tell them the news, but they still can't hear me. Instead of bearing with me and waiting 'til I get into range, my father repeatedly hung up on me. Call back, click. I can't hear you, call back, click. I still can't hear you, click. Finally, I called, said "I'm fine" and hung up on them...

At noon on Saturday, after only 13 hours of waiting in line, I finally reached the muddied promised land. Fiedler's story is crazier, as he got shut out and had to park on some farmer's property and get a ride to the venue. I hope he posts it.

More on the actual festival to follow...Part Deux will no doubt debut this afternoon or early evening.