The Price of Admission
I am frugal. If there is a way to find the same quality for a lower price, I will usually take it. The first time I went to FFest, I paid for a day pass with no intention of extending my stay overnight. I could say I was simply enjoying myself too much to leave, that I was curious about the camp nightlife that turned out to be so amazing. But the truth is- I stayed because I liked a boy. Mr. Mister was the real reason I decided to go.
We hung out a few hours, here and there, mostly at his campsite. We smoked weed, drank cheap whiskey and started to get to know one another. I was embarrassed and perplexed to meet his mother there. Being stoned and drunk is never the way one imagines meeting the woman she would like to have for her potential mother-in-law. But those thoughts had not yet occurred to me then… or had they? I remember, more than my intoxication, I was ashamed to let her see the Saturday day-pass wristband on my arm, on a Sunday afternoon.
I had dragged my friend Nick along to FF with me. He had also snuck into the campsite, but just as Mr. Mister was attempting to convince me to stay another night, Nick got caught with the wrong wristband, and I had to leave. I was his ride.
By the following year, my relationship with Mr. Mister had blossomed and exploded and fell apart several times. I was going back to FFest as a volunteer, not to see him but to see whether that place had been magical in and of itself… or because of him.
I was assigned clerk duties at the camping headquarters. There I shared a simple workload with three to four other people; manage the lost and found, keep the coffee and water pouring, and make sure the volunteers’ meals were delivered. Three six-hour shifts over the course of five days; for this my admission and meals were free. It was quite a bargain!
My first dawn that fest, Mr. Mister and I were eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches around my campfire when a boy approached us. He was coming down from some sort of intoxication. He looked weary, seeking refuge, with no tent in which to sleep.
Mr. Mister was cordial initially, until the boy made a move to sit by our fire. Then he told him to leave, “You see this?” Mr. Mister pointed at the shiny wristband on his arm, “You don’t have one. You’re not supposed to be here. So you’re going to have to find somewhere else to pass out.”
The boy made one attempt to protest, but Mr. Mister was unsympathetic. The boy stumbled away.
The second year I volunteered, I began to question whether I could find a more creative volunteer position. The position I wanted, painting on the decorating committee was one that required social networking. I knew a woman on the crew who gave me a name and sent me wandering through the back lots where only volunteers and musicians are permitted to roam. There I heard my name quite unexpectedly. I looked over and saw him, waving from his car window. Victor.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m playing the main stage with Jeff.”
“Awesome! What time?”
“Two, I think.”
“Cool. I’ll try to catch that. See you around.”
Jeff’s genre was not anything I went out of my way to see, but for whatever reason, I did go to their performance. Shortly afterwards, Harry and Mr. Mister’s bands played. It was during Mr. Mister’s performance that I ran into Victor again, as I danced in the crowd. I tried to ignore his presence. I was in an emotional fog. Despite my earnest attempts to relinquish Mr. Mister from my heart, watching his dream of playing the main stage come true was moving. It is during these moments of emotional stretching that I find myself most vulnerable and likely to act impulsively.
So, I walked away and went to find food.
At the volunteer food tent, I found a seat with some other musician friends. I was inhaling falafel on a spongy pita bread when Victor joined our table. A rush stirred in my chest. Three times was the charm, and I knew I was supposed to act.
“Victor. You wanna go get high and walk around in the woods?”
“Okay, but first we have to get you a wristband. If they catch you without one, you will be in trouble.”
Given his “performer” name badge, I was certain that he would be given a wristband. On the contrary, no one could give a definitive answer and opted to refuse our request. Frustrated and determined, I told him, “Fuck it. Just walk into the campsite. You said you’re not staying overnight anyway.”
Our walk in the woods was glorious. I was less interested in flirting with Victor and more interested in learning from him. He told me that he had a degree in music composition, that he made a living as a music instructor and member of many bands. He was not playing his music yet because he wanted to compose each part, and to get musicians to play written music, one had to have money to pay them. He sounded confident, hopeful. He was extremely intelligent and eager to go above and beyond to answer my questions about the guitar. I might have been more smitten had I not been carrying a little blue rock in my pocket. (http://echovictory.blogspot.com/2013_08_18_archive.html)
As I retrieved my bowl and lighter from my tent, the little voice inside my head said, leave the rock here. I ignored it. As we walked through the woods, the voice urged me to throw it into the creek. I refused.
Rain inevitably threatened and we turned back to return him to his car. At the gate, he was caught without a wristband. I wanted to stay and help plead his case, but he gave me a chivalrous look and said, “You go on ahead now. I will talk to you later.”
Hours later, I checked my cell phone to find he had immediately sent me a Facebook message. He was detained and escorted off of Fest grounds, but he was happy to have had the walk with me. I recall being surprised by how elated his words made me feel- when a blue rock was becoming a heavy burden. I put it out of my mind- all of it.
I was so anxious by the end of five days… Mr. Mister was there with his girlfriend. Charlie was there, much to my chagrin. And it was only another week before September, the month I had vowed to not drink, smoke, or date. In the middle of the night, Sunday, I packed up my tent and went home.
My third year, I received an invitation to join the decorating committee. However, I was unable to make the time commitments they required. So I settled to clerk the office again. This year in particular it was essential that I volunteered. My credit cards were nearly maxed out. My bank accounts were nearly empty. I had just enough money to get me to September… Maybe.
I could not afford to buy and bring booze or weed. I had one little airplane bottle of tequila that a guest had left at my apartment. I tucked it into my bag in case I got desperate for a drink. Food was the one offering that I brought and shared with my campsite; trail mix, fruit cups, pretzels, marshmallows. I assume they were appreciated because they were gone by the end of fest.
It turned out that I was able to forage quite successfully. I only drank a few times, when a bottle was offered. I smoked often, whenever a circle was welcoming. I made new friends who were appreciative of my company and music. They shared generously.
The one low point came one early dawn, when a few of us were seated around our campfire, and a wrist-bandless boy approached us. Before we knew it, security came along in a golf cart and took him.
One of our camping mates pulled his long sleeves down around his wrists until they had left. Then he bragged about how they had not noticed his pathetic fake wrist-band made out of colored duct tape and magic marker. He proceeded to go on talking about teenage girls flirting with him. I ignored him, annoyed.
He should have stopped talking then... But he kept ranting even as one our senior camp members, Christian warned him, "Look man, just shut up. There are volunteers from security in camps all over. You don't think they can hear you?"
He was undeterred. Christian gave up being nice, "I've tried to be nice. I gave you a place to stay, but you're going to have to grab your stuff and go park yourself at another campsite now."
"What are you talking about man?"
"Get your stuff and go. Now. We can be friends tomorrow, but tonight- goodbye."
He was moving but not shutting up.
Finally I boiled over, "Look, if you don't get out- I will walk up to headquarters and tell them about the wrist-band. Some of us work to be here."
A week later, I ran into him at another festival, with another fake bracelet. I joked, "So, let me see your latest handy work."
He began to rant in the middle of a crowded dance floor.
I walked away. Victor looked at me, trying to comfort me. "It's fine... It's just... I can't pay my rent next week, and I paid to be here."
The thing is, I learned to like volunteering. I thought these festivals were about getting fucked up... and I have taken full advantage of trying everything I could want to cross off my bucket list. I guess I am finally okay with admitting I have taken some serious drugs now because I am not curious anymore. Now I appreciate that there were many volunteers watching my back when I was experimenting... Now I am content to return the favor.
People who treat such places purely as playgrounds imagine that they are self-sustaining, that they do not require responsible people to plan and make them possible. Time is money; either volunteer your time or pay the money. Appreciate admission is worth something amazing.