I've been meaning to do this for five years.
And now is the time.
We are about to embark on a tale of a ridiculous road trip. This tale includes multiple near death experiences (drama!), bizarre city shenanigans (comedy!), the concert of a lifetime (exhilaration!), a quick trip to the psych ward of Massachusetts General Hospital (whoa, what?), and forty-six hours without sleep (exhaustion!).
It will be told in multiple parts, over the next few days. All names have been changed to protect...well, everything.
And so it begins...
Once, there was a freshman in college whose friends introduced her to this amazing, awesome band called Dispatch. That girl's name was Kristy, and she is me.
As someone who listened to more punk than anything, you wouldn't expect me to be attracted to a band described by Wikipedia as indie/roots folk jam band.
If you'd like, you can listen to what I feel are some of their best songs here.
My Rhapsody Playlist
From the first song of theirs I ever heard, I was hooked. I listened to them as I studied, as I drove, and as I read. I danced to them. I introduced my brother to them.
And he introduced all of his friends to them.
Fast forward to the summer after college graduation. I'm interning at the local newspaper again, preparing for my wedding, hanging out with family and friends. I go to a party with my little brother, at some friend's house on the north end of town. The one thing I remember about that party is this conversation:
Me: I'm so mad that Dispatch broke up. I wanna go to the big last concert.
Brother: We should totally go.
Me: Eh, depends on where it is.
Brother: We should totally go!
Me: And it depends on how much it costs.
Brother: WE SHOULD TOTALLY GO!
Me: You know what? We should go!
The feeling spread to a bunch of Brother's friends. We discover the show would be in Boston on July 31, and it would be free.
If that's not a sign, I don't know what is.
I try to organize the trip in some way--you know, make hotel reservations or something--but Brother's free-spirited friends will not be organized. "So-and-so knows someone in Boston, and we can sleep in his backyard," Brother says. I shrug and go along with it. "We can just park our cars at this beach he knows and sleep on the beach until the show, anyhow." Again, I shrug.
We gather together, about seventeen of us, with four vehicles, in the early evening of July 30. I had worked all day and was a little tired, but the excitement bubbling in my blood keeps me going. We pile into our four vehicles and head out. I believe at this point I'm driving the second or third car in the caravan.
Our town fades behind us and we push into the forest between Warren and New York state. Not forty-five minutes into the drive, we have our very first near-death experience.
On the twisty-turny forest road, a police car has decided to execute a three-point-turn on a sharp curve. The first car comes around the bend to find said police car directly in its path. She jams on the brakes, and the screech of brakes, joined by a chorus of screeching brakes behind her as we each follow suit.
If any of us had reacted too slowly, we could've had a serious problem.
Mr. Policeman continues his turn as we wait, but we have to pull over soon afterward as one passenger of the first car is having a panic attack. Please note the panic attack, as this will become a recurring theme of our journey.
We continue on. Sometime later, we stop at a gas station near Friendship, NY (which I always remember because my great-great-great uncle started a music school there). There are some shenanigans--mainly a very eccentric member of our group, Ivan, deciding he was hungry and that those strawberries in the trash can look good. Ew.
We pull out of the gas station, which is pretty much directly off the highway. I end up being the last car in the caravan, and an eighteen-wheeler separates me from my fellow cars. I should note at this point that we have walkie-talkies. I try to pass Mr. Eighteen Wheeler, who is going quite fast, and he puts his turn signal on as I'm doing so.
I do not know, at this point, that he is just letting me know not to hog the left lane, as he'd like to pass the cars ahead of him as well. I freak out, thinking he can't see me and might try to pull into my lane while I'm still in it. Brother, who is in the passenger seat, also does not know the trucker signal's meaning. As I speed up rather quickly to avoid becoming roadkill, Brother flips off trucker.
Bad idea? Yes. Very, very bad idea, but we don't know better and we think he's trying to smush us.
As soon as I pass Mr. Suddenly Angry Eighteen Wheeler, he pulls into the left lane and practically attaches himself to my car. Looking in the rearview mirror, I realize he is so close that I actually cannot see his bumper. This does not feel safe. I scream a bunch, my passengers scream a bunch, and several voices on the walkie-talkie scream a bunch. There is no room for me to slide into the caravan, so I have to pass our other three vehicles to get into the right lane.
And now I have another reason to never forget Friendship, NY.
I have a mini-panic-attack, which I suppress because I feel that the caravan stopping for two panic attacks in just a few hours seems like a bad sign.
Oh, how little I know.
We drive and drive through the darkness. There is some irritation at the leader car, who has our navigator in tow, as she's not really great at maintaining a set speed. In one 55 mph zone, we go 40, then 50, then 35, then 60. I realize that my cruise control will be completely useless on this trip.
We tell stories to keep entertained and stay awake. Or rather, the members of my car tell one story, each person making up a sentence of it and handing it off to the others. The result is probably unpublishable in this space, but we still occasionally make reference to it even now, five years later.
We finally make it to Massachusetts in the wee, wee hours. We stop at a gas station, which is technically closed but allows you to pump gas still using a credit card. We fill up, we goof around for a few minutes, stretch our legs, all that. And then Ivan's eccentricity rears its ugly head again.*
"Why do they say not to smoke around gas pumps?" he asks, taking his lit cigarette and sticking it into the gas dispenser.**
I've watched the Summer Olympics and still never seen people run as fast as we do in that moment. All except one. The most peaceable, easygoing member of our group stalks over to Ivan, grabs him by the shirt, and starts screaming at him. When the threat of an explosion or fire passes, we pull the two apart, pile into our cars, and get the heck out of there.
That is the last of our official near-death experiences, although there are a few more bad moments ahead.
On and on, across Massachusetts, where I've never been. I'm enchanted by town names, although the only one I can still remember now is Chicopee. I say the word over and over, until it sounds like something I made up myself. By this time, the other members of my car are asleep. I struggle to stay awake and lucid, downing caffeinated beverages that don't help, as I reached peak caffeination hours ago. I chew mint after mint, which oddly helps.
I start hallucinating. The car in front of me seems to be pivoting, turning 180 degrees until it's perpendicular to mine. I see large boulders rolling, bouncing across the road.
NOTE: Should I have stopped? Yes. Did I? No. I had this strange need to prove myself, to show that I could drive to and in what is, if not the most dangerous city in which to drive, certainly in the top three. Later, looking back, I realize just how dumb I was, and even though nothing really happened, I learned my lesson.
We get into the city around 8 a.m., and my passengers awake. I am fully awake myself, as driving in this place is truly an adrenaline rush. Also, suicidal. Luckily, our navigator has lived in Boston for a while and gets us to our destination--THE BEACH!
The dirty, garbage strewn beach.
The beach we're supposed to sleep on.
I vote that we just stay at our cars and nap until the show starts. I am quickly vetoed, as everyone else wants to explore.
Into the city we go...
Stay tuned for part II, which involves admonishments from subway loudspeakers, balloon animals, and a little fountain prancing. Part II will be up...Monday-ish.
*I'd like to state right now that Ivan in no way represented the rest of the group. Many of us were not really pleased that he was coming. He did, however, provide moments of surreal entertainment that I will never forget, as messed up as it was.
**I've been told that there was really no risk that anything would catch fire or explode. I still have no desire to be around a lit cigarette and a large container of gasoline. It just doesn't seem like a happy place to be, y'know?
If you don't feel that you are possibly on the edge of humiliating yourself, of losing control of the whole thing, then possibly what you are doing isn't very vital. If you don't feel like you are writing somewhat over your head, why do it? If you don't have some doubt of your authority to tell this story, then you are not trying to tell enough. --John Irving