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.