For many, the Coachella festival is an opportunity to break free from the mundaneness of mainstream daily life and enter a temporary tranquil and liberating state. I see this happen for many, and I get quite envious. It doesn’t happen for me, sadly.
Instead, my focus is incessantly on the heat, mild bouts of claustrophobia, or fear that at any moment I will lose my friends and essentially be abandoned, like haywire drifting from freeway to freeway. Most pertinently, it’s the hundreds and hundreds of stunningly beautiful women, each of whom briefly look into my soul and then walk away. All said, I find Coachella stressful. I look at people doing weird things and I stress, I look at beautiful legs and I stress, chaotic crowds and I stress.
But this year, despite the stress, I did come across a handful of bizarre situations which made my trip quite memorable, if not enjoyable. Here are five snippets:
At some point during Coachella, your back starts to break. I don’t mean that in the sense of actual physical injury, but yeah, after a few hours your back breaks. Your body isn’t used to standing up for that long. Because my back broke towards the end of the second day, my legs started breaking, too, and soon enough I couldn’t walk. Meanwhile, my friends were power walking, nearly running, en route to occupying good territory to watch The Weeknd at Mainstage.
“Hey guys,” I shouted over the crowd and wind. “My back and legs are broken. Go without me, I gotta rest.” They claimed that their body parts were broken, too, and what better idea than to run a quick yoga sesh before moving on? One of my friends, overly keen on the idea, I suppose, immediately attempted a handstand, held it for a moment but then flipped; he actually knocked over a trash can, dirty cups and plates blasting out of it everywhere.
One of our friends was an avid yogi, and she led me through a fantastic sequence of poses, which, in a short period of time, un-broke my back. With the night dessert breeze skimming over, it felt quite liberating. Maybe not a spiritual breakthrough, but it did feel like my body had just hit the refresh button. And while I’m not quite ready to drop a picture of me rocking the downward dog along with something the Buddha said as the tagline on social media, I did form an affinity for this physical art I used to really enjoy picking on.
2. British girls
On the last night, I encountered a group of girls leaving the hotel en route to find a shuttle to get to Coachella. I quickly noted their fantastic British accents, and then at some point realized that after anything that came out of my mouth, two of the four of them would crack up. They were from London and cruising through Palm Springs, to LA, to San Fran.
“You on drogs?” one of them asked at some point.
“Drugs? No, not on drugs.”
“Liah. Your pupils are huge.”
“That’s how they normally are.”
“I think he’s on drogs. Lyin’ to us,” one of them said.
“Oh. Drop. No, I don’t drop.”
“I would figure.”
“I gotta go,” one of them said, at which point she immediately bolted over to a grass lawn, squatted, and did her thing. The rest of them giggled uncontrollably, watching. I turned around while she did it, but shortly after she caught up with me.
“I just shat,” she said.
“Yeah, right. You were there for a second.”
“That’s how I do it. I didn’t even wipe.”
3. Bus driver Connect Life
Shortly after my experience the supposed British shit-non-wipers, I was on the way to the festival. It was about 10:30pm, my second rendezvous that day. Kygo was going on at 11:00 and I was pretty committed to seeing him. The bus showed up at the hotel, but the driver told me he wasn’t heading back to the festival. With enough begging, he eventually caved, disgruntled, saying, “Alright, bud, get on.”
It was a luxurious bus that could fit hundreds of people, but it was just me and this driver. A pensive silence took over for the first half of the drive. Then he spoke up.
“Been having fun, bud?” he asked—I assumed he was referring to the festival, but something about the way he asked it suggested he was asking in the more profound manner, as in: have you been having fun in life so far?
“I think so,” I said.
“Mm,” he replied, conveying great old man wisdom. “You’re still young.” I could’ve seen us at a run down bar somewhere in the Midwest, drinking whiskey and discussing where and when things went wrong. We continued speaking about life for a little, how he came to start this bus driving business, places he’d lived.
It was certainly one of the more emotional conversations I’ve had with a driver, including drunk ones with Lyft and Uber drivers. He asked me why I was heading over to Coachella so late and I told him sometimes life just throws things at you and you just have to go with it and make best of what happens, but in any event I had to see Kygo at 11:00, and he said another “mm,” and “don’t worry, bud, I’m going to get you there on time,” as we continued cutting through Palm Springs, each block looking like the one we’d just passed.
“You take care of yourself, bud,” he said, once he opened the bus doors for me to depart onto the Coachella grass. “I think you’ll make it,” he said, glancing at his watch. It was 10:53. Again, this make it seemed to connote more about life in the grand scheme than as in getting to see the band on time. Or it could have just been about seeing Kygo on time.
He put his hand out for a shake. This handshake felt important, very important, like I’d just signed a peace deal that would create global ramifications.
“You too, Carl,” I said.
4. The Escape
Exiting coachella on the last night is real mayhem. It’s basically the 405 freeway at five o’clock on Friday, but with humans instead of cars. More bodies than the mind can even comprehend line up behind each other and lethargically move like pushy snails.
When the festival ended, I chiseled my way through the blob of people, slicing and dicing through the veins of open air, pushing people when necessary and hearing a “hey!” from behind whenever I did. I am claustrophobic and I also love sleep; I didn’t want it to take two hours to get to my bed.
Despite my talents in this art, there came a point where the gargantuan crowd became too stuffy to move. It was a result of this one checkpoint that made the exit path a little narrower. All movement stopped, but more bodies kept coming from behind. There was nowhere to go, no space to cut through. Stuck.
“Shit,” I said out loud , and also fearing for my life a little because I kept thinking about this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillsborough_disaster , a disaster I watched on ESPN that has made my fear of crowds all the more acute intense ever since.
“This isn’t good,” a guy next to me said.
“Any options?” I asked.
A foot away from us was a fifteen foot tall fence. We started hitting it, pushing it, because I don’t know, I thought that’d be scientific or somehow helpful to devising a plan. You couldn’t climb it; it was tarped and there was no way to stick your shoes in the holes. However, the guy eventually pulled the bottom of it and we realized that if held open, a body could crawl underneath it, thereby cutting a good amount of traffic.
“Hold it for me, man, then I’ll get you,” he said.
“You got it.” A sense of camaraderie overcame the both of us, and I quickly associated this guy with a partner in crime of mine. It felt adventurous. Like, my grandparents escaped shady countries by way of camel and fake passport. When do we millennials, whose attention mainly centers on our twitter followers and Instagram taglines, get a little goddam adventure? Moments like this.
I gripped the fence with a fierce upward hold, proudly, while the guy crawled beneath it like a sly worm.
“Alright,” I said, “Can you hold it from where you are–?”
And he was off. Just like that.
“Hey!” I shouted. He was gone.
A moment later, while I subconsciously continued to hold this fence, I made sure to put my sunglasses in a secure location as I poised for escape.
“Thanks, man,” a voice said, following the other guy, crawling beneath.
“You’re awesome, dude,” said another, taking it as a cue to pat my back and crawl under the gate, too. Any time I’d try to voice up something along the lines of ‘what about me?’ another person would start crawling, and before I knew it I’d probably held this gate for ten to fifteen people.
“Alright, can someone hold it for me please?” Nobody heard me.
“Help me! Help me!” the next guy shouted, as if drowning. He was screaming in relation to his backpack getting caught on the bottom links of the fence. Dude crawled under a one foot opening with a backpack that made it seem he’d be travelling for a month. He was squirming desperately.
“Dude, relax. Hang on.” I held this fence open with one hand, unhooking a buckle from his backpack onto the fence with the other. He made it through finally without a thank you.
Right beside me, others starting doing it too. A tattooed guy was holding it while his hombres kept slugging through beneath.
“Yo man, can I get in there?”
“Get in line, bro. Got all my boys here, first. Psh,” he said, giving me a dirty look, too, as if I were the selfish one.
Finally, I got my turn and fled.
5. Being a Coachella employee
Once I smuggled beneath the fence and cut half the exit line, I quickly realized I’d won only half the battle. There was still a stalemate situation, thousands of people barely moving. Right around then, two Coachella employees were moving through the crowd with supplies on a dolly, instructing everybody to move out of the way. Surprisingly, everybody did, and these employees had terrific space to operate. In what was perhaps the smartest thing I ever did, I bent over, put a hand on the dolly and started shouting along with them: “Coachella staff, coming through! Coming through!” And people bought it. The crowd parted brilliantly at our approach. The other two actual employees seemed to have no issue with it. This move saved me at least an hour. I was glad to get home.
I wish I was sometimes normal enough to have regular Coachella experiences. You know, do some drugs, get euphoric, meet the love of my life, see my favorite band, talk about it forever at parties. So that when people ask me, who was your favorite band, I could answer easily, without having to recount a British girl telling me she just shit her pants, or a bus driver who was probably my best friend during the weekend, but whatever, this is what I got.