Trendysomething in SoMo

A station wagon to Coachella: Road tripping with drug mules

A station wagon to Coachella: Road tripping with drug mules

A puddle of brackish brown water drained down my bathtub at midnight on Monday. I had just returned from five days sans shower — two 24-hour drives to California and three days camping in the desert, packed with all of my favorite bands. But going to Coachella wasn't an option — it was my destiny.

When you're young, it's typical to associate trite life experiences with a band that you just know is writing their lyrics for you.

I streamed Phoenix's "Two Young" from the Lost in Translation soundtrack for weeks during a self-imposed moody 12th-grade spout (and I still can't get their performance on La Blogotheque out of my head). Julian Casablancas' duet with Regina Spektor was the first song on my first iPod. I was at the party where Matt & Kim of Matt & Kim first met during our freshman year at Pratt. LCD Soundsystem provided the anthem for my first summer of love. I combatted the fear of college graduation by jamming to the hyper happy LP by Passion Pit. And I blasted Sleigh Bells' "Crown on the Ground" the afternoon I landed full-time at the Map.

It all brings a tear to my eye, too. But apparently there are 74,999 other audiophiles who identify similarly, and we all came together for three days of peace, love and sand in our hair. When first invited by friends, I was intrigued by the possibilities. The experience sounded like Jack Kerouac's On the Road meets Britney Spears in Crossroads.

And so I signed on to an epic trip in a BMW station wagon to indulge in the music experience of a lifetime.

Craigslist danger

Antics ensued. After a night drifting in and out of sleep in the backseat, I awoke to a rising sun in El Paso, snuggling under my dreamy white comforter. I looked down to find the pristine item saturated in yellow streaks. Had our benevolent couch surfer wet the bed when I lent him the blanket?

Indeed. After tossing the pee rag in a Big K parking lot, I chose to embrace my vaguely peed-on self as keeping it natural.

But I was better off than two friends who were flying from IAH to LAX and meeting a Craigslist stranger for a ride. As we were driving outside of the festival, I got a text from JToy (not to be confused with J-Woww): "We're driving down the freeway in a Chevy '69 convertible. He just asked, 'Does anyone have tape? I need to duct tape my weed to the inside of my hood.' "

While my friends were becoming drug mules, our car was undergoing the most extensive drug search of my life — made extra terrifying since one teammate had an outstanding popo charge (part of a long story that I lovingly call "Controlled Substances in Kemah").

Our glove compartments and fanny packs made it through the gates, while JToy and Co. stealthily flung open a car door, rolled out onto I-10 and into the desert sand. They hitched a ride with an innocuous concert goer, who when they exited the highway handed them a flyer indicating his profession: "I dispense legal amounts of medical marijuana. Will deliver directly to your tent."

"Don't rip any of the seat cushions. They're stuffed with the herb," he informed my friends.

They made a break from the Medical MJ Mobile and walked the rest of the way.

Once Team Wagon reunited with Team Drug Mules, we pitched our "tent," which was actually a large, open-air tarp from the Urban Harvest Farmers Market (yes, I have a friend with a broccolini stand at Eastside).

The cast of characters surrounding our campsite included a loner from San Luis Obispo singing a song with the lyrics, "I wish my girlfriend and parents didn't hate me," and a tent housing at least 14 indie kids from Monterrey, who described themselves as "Indietinos." A cloud of mota smoke always hovered above their tent, which sometimes migrated to ours when they needed to charge their phones in our car's cigarette lighter.

Furry Glove Gropings

And so began a fairly fuzzy weekend. The next morning, I awoke with an obscure insect bite on my thigh, which quickly turned into a throbbing red leg — thankfully I had my CultureMap hand sanitizer.

Our over-booked "pharmacist" left us hanging, but a friendly waif from San Diego stumbled into our campsite before Saturday's shows. "Who likes brooownies?" she sang. "I never eat so just one bite makes me pass out. Five dollars."

An hour later, we were sitting on a field near a stage and mildly paying attention to Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes. "I keep feeling the bass," a companion turned to me and said, "and I swear, it is going to split the Earth open."

I mumbled a complaint along the lines of, "I feel nothing," at which point at least six friendly stoned hipsters around me turned to remedy the situation. Two hours later, I woke up from a "nap" in the grass and was ready to dance. After perking up with a few $10 Heinekens, we jetted to the David Guetta show to find a desert tent-cum-rave, packed with tens of thousands of ecstasy enthusiasts.

"I am tripping balls right now," a stranger screamed in my direction. Added her friend, "I would kill to give you some of my pills but I just ate them all."

Men dressed in black bodysuits were trolling around the tent with special gloves that featured colored LED fingertips.

The E-ed out crowd would sink to the ground in a daze amid the thumping music, hypnotized by the moving lights. Some of the ecstasy SS also wore furry gloves, which the partiers loved being groped by. To some, this could be a disturbing anti-drug commercial. But at the time, it gave me the giggles, which transitioned to latent hunger pangs. Before I knew it, I was sneaking secret nachos back to our tent.

Late that night, our campmate with the earth-shattering fears got wind of a Kemah court summons and caught a red-eye flight from Palm Springs, taking another friend with her in preparation for her art opening (I know). The remaining members cancelled their LA flights, and we planned a new team for our long haul back.

If this seems confusing — it was. After a final Sunday night music performance, we walked for over an hour before finding the wagon where it had been hidden earlier that morning behind a CVS, and embarked eastward.

I summoned my remaining braincells for my 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. shift through Arizona and New Mexico, and had the rare opportunity to witness the sunrise across the dramatic desert landscape as my friends slept. Despite the tumultuousness of the trip, I found a moment of clarity and mild catharsis. This weekend, I had seized an opportunity to indulge my yearning for adventure and passion for tragically hip music in an atmosphere that would be completely unappealing if I were any older.

The inner peace was slightly disrupted at U.S. Border Patrol, when our driver (donning a Union Jack sweatshirt) almost announced that she was a British citizen rather than American — but luckily we made it through with just the warning, "Y'all better not be harboring any other wild animals besides yourselves."

"No Indietinos here!" I shouted as we jetted off into the Texas sun.

News_Steven Thomson_Tara_coke_Coachella
On the scene: Diet Cokehead Tara Reid.
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Other A-listers at Coachella.
News_Steven Thomson_Coachella_She_Him_Zooey Deschane
Who has time to pay rapt attention to all that music? Photo by Mike Orlosky
News_Steven Thomson_Coachella
Coachella looks peaceful here, but wait until the furry gloved groping begins. Courtesy of Coachella
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Think Jay-Z journeyed to Coachella by station wagon too?
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