An Otherwise Eventful Sunday Pt. II: Bonnaroo

I was well prepared both mentally and physically for this particular adventure.

I loaded the Saturn with a brand new rolling Rubbermaid cooler, a 24 pack of water, my own water thermos, a knife (in case a knife fight ensued), assorted snacks, a few handmade signs, and a dozen copies of Vagrants in Paradise. Anything less than getting into Center Roo and selling half the books would not be acceptable.

As I made the turn onto the curving road leading to the promised land, I saw a line of cars backed up. This was no surprise. However, there was no line to leave, which I found odd for a Sunday with a festival of Bonnaroo’s magnitude. While stuck in line, I put the car in park and retrieved a few books from my bag, which was wedged inside a tomato cage I had in the back seat. I kept eyes all around for walkers. Not more than eight minutes sitting in the line, a group of scraggly tie-dye folks descended down the hill soon to pass my open window.

“Hey guys, anybody interested in a funny nonfiction book by a semi-local author?” I asked, holding the book out of the window.

They all stopped and mumbled their indifference, except one guy.

“Yeah man, cool. Local like Manchester?” He asked.

“Nope, Nashville.” I said.

I quickly took note of his crystal blue crossed eyes, and acknowledged his tweaked out southern demeanor.

“My grandaddy actually owns this farm- well he done sold it, but this wa’ his land. I been comin’ here damn near e’rry year nah.” He said with his thick rural Tennessee twang.

I went along with it, which for all I knew was the truth. I was asking $15 for the book.

“Man I think I got $12. That work?” He asked.

Of course I accepted, making my first sale while I was sitting in traffic. I was stoked.

“Well hey mang find me on Facebook and check out my outdoor clothing line, Riverside Outdoor Gear it’s called.” I completely made that name up but it was something along those lines. He patted me on the shoulder as I told him I’d check it out.

His posse strolled ahead as we did our transaction, and I hopped out to grab an ice cold water for him to show my appreciation. He was much obliged, and we went on with our day. One down, eleven to go.

As I crept up the line closer and closer, my arms and face baked in the sun, I noticed a residential home with a “$5 Parking” sign in their yard. Angels, these people. They could’ve charged $20 easy, as it was mere yards away from the entrance. This was great, as the dreadful parking monkey was now off my back.

A young girl eagerly hopped off of her lawn chair to greet me as I pulled in, while her parents glistened with sweat sitting under an oak tree, raking in the easy money.

I grabbed my backpack, pulled out the rolling cooler of water bottles from my trunk, and strolled over to the entrance with no elaborate plan to get in.

I entered the gravel area where a line of about ten white tents stood for car and bag inspections. Regardless of the lengthy line to get in, this area was not congested. I casually strolled over to a young man and woman.

The man sat and the girl very blankly and unenthusiastically had me take off my bag as she unzipped and peered in.

“What’re all these books? You’re not trying to sell these are you?” She asked.

“No, no. I was going to hand them out, it’s no big deal.” I said.

She was very skeptical, as I stood there with my folded cardboard signs I wrote on that would completely go against my statement had she bothered questioning that.

“Wait. Where’s your wristband? You don’t even have a wristband.” Now she was really catching on.

“Well, I was hoping since it’s midday Sunday that I could maybe just go in?” I asked with a smile.

“Um, no, you absolutely can not.” She was far from amused.

I then went to the little trailer where a completely stoned bro sat selling weekend passes. It was a brief and useless encounter. I went back to the car to reevaluate.

It was clear I needed a bracelet. I left the cooler in my trunk, and decided to walk the opposite direction to post up and tap my wrist to the passers by.  I stood by a fire hydrant with a good pull-off area ahead, laid out a few books, and held my hardly legible sign referring to the books.

After not even fifteen minutes of waving and smiling and tapping, a pimple-faced teen was soon to cross my path.

“Hey man you leaving?” I asked.

“Yeah.” The sun reflected like a tractor beam off of this young ginger boy’s braces.

“Can I have your bracelet?” I asked.

“Yeah, sure.” He said, with a tone suggesting his brains were fried like green tomatoes.

“Do you read?” I asked.

I ended up swapping one of my books for the bracelet. Another success. Small victories were adding up quick under the punishing sun.

With that I knew I was set. The barrier was broken. With a cheerful heir, I strolled back to the car. Considering I was wearing a collared lobster shirt and striped shorts, I thought I may look a bit too familiar to security, especially given the brief time frame. I happened to have pants and a long sleeve flannel shirt, which was going to be rough in the heat, but it had to be done. I threw on my Ween hat and new clothes, stuffed about six water bottles in with the books, and was about to leave when a man who saw me on the road moments ago came up and bought a book from me.

This time I was sure to go to the security the farthest away from the first soulless girl.

I strutted up with great confidence and set my bag down, jiggling my orange Volunteer wrist band around so he’d see I was legit.

Again the question came.

“What’re all these books? You can’t sell these here.” The man said.

“Oh no I know, some guy was handing them out so I took a bunch.” I said, switching it up a bit from the first time.

“Well either way you can’t have more than ten of the same thing. We have to consider that illegal vending. Could you count them for me please?” The guy asked.

I was more than happy to, knowing I came with a dozen and sold three. I counted nine, and with that, I penetrated the nucleus of the festival with a feeling of great success. I knew my best bet would be to peddle my wares to the campers, and those gearing up to leave. Approaching people in the actual festival would likely prove difficult. Nobody wants to buy a book with all the stimulation going on 360 degrees around them. Campers, however, would be hanging loose and away from the madness.

I asked a few people along the way who declined before finding a group of greyed older men, and a couple in their thirties. There was a neon sign that read “Bar” with a Martini glass hanging on their tent pole. I smiled at one of the guys as I passed.

“Is the bar still open?” I asked in jest.

“Hell yeah it is! You want a beer?” A man who could’ve been Keith Richards’ brother answered. It was shortly after I took a seat on the grass and cracked open a Yuengling that I told them that I was trying to sell my book. After a brief discussion explaining it, four of them ponied up the dough and wanted them signed.

Dear Rick….Dear Pete…Dear Jana…” I was loving it.

“I’ll be able to say I met you when you were just a wandering Bonnaroo book salesman when you get big!” Rick said with a laugh.

“Damn right! And you can sell that signed copy for like, $15!” I said.

We shared some laughs as I gulped the final warm swig of my beer. I thanked them as I got up and decided to put book peddler mode on hold, so I could indulge in the music and sights to behold.

I caught some Margo Price, Umphrey’s McGee, and Royal Blood, who I’d never heard of, but they laid down some heavy British rock from the main stage.

I decided I would enjoy the rest of the festival and bask in the success of selling seven books and getting in for free, or rather, getting paid to be there. Determination and motivation proved successful on this endeavor, as I knew it would. Handing out water bottles to a select portion of thirsty and thankful Roo Dwellers also brought about contentment.

I was on an incredible high both literally and figuratively, especially as I had eaten next to nothing all day, and had my skull baked for many hours. I was engulfed in the festival feel.

On my way out I made half-assed attempts to sell a few more books which didn’t work, and I was fine with it. As I walked out, I made a point to wave to the girl who wouldn’t let me in initially. She was blank and perplexed. I won.

I drove westbound on 24 chasing the magnificent colored sunset, basking in recent events. I noticed strips of rubber on the side of the road that looked like black pythons glistening in the sun. My high maintained but would be brought back to reality, as I kept seeing dark and ominous signs for a gun company on what seemed to be every billboard. I was reminded of my surroundings, that of a conservative southern red state, which couldn’t have been farther from my reality. One sign read, “Yes, Silencers are Legal.” These signs all had huge pictures of different guns, with dark several word tag lines. It was a quick shift in realities.

Regardless, I was psyched to have more books out in the world. I made it home to watch the deflation of the entire city of Nashville as the Pittsburgh Penguins brought home a second consecutive Stanley Cup. It was a bitter ending to such an otherwise eventful Sunday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Libraries Are Cooler Than You

Right now I’ve got Leonard Cohen’s Death of a Ladies’ Man spinning in my computer, soon to be secured in my iTunes for my future listening pleasure. Death of a Ladies’ Man joins about a hundred other albums I’ve transferred via Compact Disc to my music library, thanks to gift that keeps on giving, the actual library.

You can rock your skinny jeans and scarves or flat-brim caps and Lonzo Ball sneakers all day long, but you’ll never be as legit as a library. As the old adage goes, it’s what’s in the inside that counts, not the outside- or whatever.

I was recently interviewed for a documentary on libraries whilst at the 7th Annual Gonzo Fest in Louisville, and I was reminded just how badass libraries really are. No, I’m not necessarily talking about the hush hush environment, lack of activity around you or perhaps the pungent old man in a muscle shirt and gym shorts next to you. But just consider all of the information and content stirring that might as well be alive within the library walls. Thousands of books of all kinds both in text and audio, rows and rows of free music via CD to help you drift downstream, and the plethora of FREE movies and TV shows on Digital Video Discs to capture your eyeballs and brains. A wealth of free entertainment that will help you forget the world, your job, your lame boyfriend, your debt, your dog that wakes you up multiple times throughout the night to go to the bathroom (that may or may not be specific to me) and so on. There is much knowledge to behold. And again in case you didn’t catch that it’s all FREE FREE FREE.

Just don’t forget to return them on time or you’ll wind up with a casino-sized debt like me. The library pit bosses are still on my ass about Good Will Hunting and Mrs. Doubtfire.

And don’t give me that new age rubbish that books, DVDs and CDs are out of style and value. To hell with your iPods, iPads, Kindles, MP3s, Laser Discs, Tamagotchi and so forth. It doesn’t get much more convenient than getting a seemingly endless supply of media and information for no cost, and little moving. I know how lazy us Americans are and we want our Game of Cards and House of Thrones with a half-click of a button, but come on. Libraries need more recognition for their infinite power, wisdom, and resource.

Now I use my phone and computer plenty, but you don’t need to be a slave to Apple and Verizon. Challenge yourself, and make a conscious effort to take a break from the screens and their infinite and often useless distractions. Set up a hammock and get lost in a book. The library will lend you that book, and heck, maybe even the hammock.

Not to mention that libraries are a fantastic haven to focus and work. It’s a solid place to collect your thoughts and “work from home.” If you feel cooped up, just take a stroll to your neighborhood library. No distractions from your dogs or cats or birds or frogs or children, nor temptation to pop on some Sportscenter or Price is Right “in the background.” Yeah coffee shops are okay for that too, but they won’t have any Roy Orbison CDs for you to put on your computer.

It’s time to give libraries their due, and recognize them for the quiet fortresses of stimulation they really are.

In the Louisville library interview, I was asked multiple questions, the last being do I think libraries should remain free and open to the public, or privatized and require a nominal fee. That was an absolute no-brainer. Charge the bastards an arm and a leg.

Just kidding.

It would be a sad, sad day if libraries turn to the dark side and pull such a move. We’d truly be facing the end of times. I hope that isn’t even a legitimate option, but seeing what’s transpired in recent history, anything is possible. Pigs will fly in no time. In fact they already have…

So do yourself a favor, and next time you pay your Direct TV bill, splurge on iTunes and at Barnes and Noble, finding yourself without extra spending money, remember: your neighborhood library will welcome you with open doors. (unless they’re closed)

 

 

Gonzo Fest Revisited

This past weekend marked the 7th annual Gonzo Fest in Louisville, Kentucky, which celebrated the life of literary renegade and local hero Hunter S. Thompson. It was held at the Louisville Public Library, as opposed to the Big Four Lawn of Waterfront Park like previous years. It was another strange affair, as anticipated, though not as strange as last year.

Upon learning of this festival dedicated to one of my literary idols, I knew I had to go. My co-pilot then was Oregon Neal, one of my first roommates upon moving to Nashville a few years back. For clarification sake, I lived with two Neal’s/Neil’s, the other being Wisconsin Neil. I found this to be the easiest way to refer to them. Two very different but very chill Neal’s/Neil’s.

A few things stand out from last year’s Gonzo Fest. One being the moment I got crushed in the head with a football immediately after purchasing an $8 beer, spilling half of it on myself. Things got off to a rocky start despite the beautiful day and scenery of the Ohio River and bridges abound. The day progressed with the usual activities of live music, spoken word, and tales of Hunter via his son Juan F. Thompson, Ron Whitehead, and others that knew and worked with him. People gallivanted through the park in their finest Gonzo apparel, clown makeup, dinosaur costumes, and other freakshow attire. It was a fine day.

But the most disturbing and memorable moment would come when Oregon Neal and I decided to take a stroll across the bridge and over the river.

As we soaked in the aesthetics of the Louisville skyline, we noticed an obese woman on a motorized scooter slowly but surely cresting up the incline as we descended. Unfortunate, I thought. As our paths began to cross, we noticed a young girl, maybe 9 or 10, clutching to the back of the scooter, riding up with what seemed to be her mother. This poor girl’s face was terribly, terribly disfigured. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen. Her face looked to be swollen 10 times over, with her eyes sunk deep into her head, and what looked like a face incapable of expression. Her incredibly large face was pockmarked and misshapen, and all I thought of was The Elephant Man. It was truly a disheartening sight.

But the worst was yet to come.

When we exited the bridge, we noticed a small ice cream shop littered with folks inside and out, so we decided to make like school children and indulge. We relaxed for a bit, and then decided to hoof back to the festival. As we were about halfway across, we both looked at each other with a “you gotta be kidding me face.” At one end of the width of the bridge was the obese woman staring blankly at the other end, in which the poor disfigured girl danced to some modern pop music with a little bucket with a $ symbol on it. Oregon Neal and I were greatly disturbed at this sad exploitation. The girl waved her arms in the air, put her hands on her hips, twirled around and so on in her little polka dot dress.

This was the defining moment of the festival, and it was fitting given the nature of the event. Luckily this past year was void of unfortunate incidents.

I drove north on I-65 from Nashville with the warm southern air swirling through the cracks in my windows as I sipped Private Selection coffee from my Grassroots ’15 mug. With a head full of wonder and ears full of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, I sped past exit signs for Bowling Green, Elizabethtown, Horse Cave, and other obscure Kentucky towns. Massive billboard signs for chicken, gas, whiskey, fireworks, and casinos scattered among the rolling hill landscape, penetrating the sky with its enticing and inevitable offers.

They moved the festival to the Louisville Library this year, which was far less scenic and far less spacious. It was a bit more watered down, but still an interesting endeavor. I found a parking lot nearby that costed $1.50 for all day parking. I thought for sure I drove into a time warp.

As an author greatly influenced by Hunter, it was exceptionally enjoyable, especially hearing from people who knew him and worked with him. The most intriguing I found to be was his son Juan, whom I met and got an autographed copy of his book, Stories I Tell Myself, about his life growing up as Thompson’s one and only child. Juan seemed to be the polar opposite of Hunter: meek, mild, respectful, kind, balanced- normal.

Another interesting character was Ron Whitehead, another local Louisville hero who has published books, poetry, and music of all kinds. He was a friend of Hunter, and just one look at Ron and you could see why they were comrades. His appearance demanded attention what with his whitish-grayish long hair, bejeweled white braids hanging from his chin, custom designed denim jackets, and overall funky attire. He spoke loudly and passionately, with a fierce southern twang in his voice.

Gonzo Fest is an interesting and intriguing festival for fans of Hunter S. Thompson, and though it’s a moderate affair, I would recommend it for his fans that may not know about it. There are all kinds of nifty Gonzo crafts being sold at little vendor booths, all kinds of food and drink, and good bands setting the tone. But to reiterate, the discussion panels with those akin to him are likely to be the meat and potatoes to true HST heads.

Football season is never over with the existence of Gonzo Fest.