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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Take a Permanent Vacation Pt. II

“If he wants me to blow him I’ll blow him. Hell if Gary wants me to blow him I’ll blow him too- I’ll blow ’em all!” This was Daniel, a regular, talking to a business crony on his hands free cellular device at the bar. Daniel is the head of operations at a TV station and talks with a boisterous arrogance I can imagine these kinds of bigwigs often do. Although he talked loud and pompously on the phone with zero regard to others surrounding him, he was always cool with me. He was from Boston and worked with the Patriots at one time, so we often got into some hearty football conversations. He spoke with pity and sympathy upon learning of me being a Bills’ fan, as most usually do. My first instinct is to hate New England fans, and I do, but Danny eased the hatred ever so mildly with his acknowledging of how shitty the Patriots were for years before their near two decades of dominance. He spoke of watching games from the press suites and Bill Belichick’s unusual rules and precedents in allowing Danny and his crew to film them during practices and whatnot. What a bastard he’s got to be. The whole lot of ’em. Alright I’ll cool it with the football tangents. I get carried away. Especially with the season around the corner. Speaking of which what’s going on with Buffalo’s backfield this offseason? Shit, sorry.

And then there was the man with a gray ponytail under a backwards Cream hat on a motorized scooter. I stood at the counter closing out a check and from the corner of the store the man came weaving through the seats up to me with a stern face that jiggled from the vibrations of the scooter.

“Take this.” He looked at me like a disappointed father over the top of his thin crooked glasses.

“Um okay? Sir you can just leave that on the table, we’ll pick it up.” He tried forcing the checkbook into my hand.

“Well I’m on my way out, just take it.” I opened it up and there was no signature or tip.

“Okay but you just need to sign this quick is all.” He shook his head like I was an idiot.

“Kid you don’t understand. I CAN’T sign it. I have MS.” I didn’t know what to say.

“Well…maybe just scribble something on here I guess?”

I felt bad and in hindsight I could’ve just put a line through it or just whatever. Not a big deal. Shaking his head he abided and indeed scribbled on the receipt. He tried tossing it on the counter but it just clipped the lip and fell to the ground with the pen and receipts flying out. “See ya dude.” He said as he quickly jerked his scooter around and wheeled out of the store like a bat out of hell with his ponytail dancing around, waving goodbye to me. It was pretty badass. Mad respect to the dude.

It’s been a wild ride working at an airport. It’s a world completely unto it’s own- a world of anxiety, stress, chaos, and unpredictable hijinks. And what’s the best way to cope with all that? For most, it’s booze. Hence the thousands of nerve-rattled guests I’ve served in my time behind the bar. I’ve encountered all kinds and learned a lot about people and places. Unfortunately the company I worked for is notorious for having poor management skills and manipulative inexperienced leaders. I’ve never worked for a company with such phony values and “do as I say not as I do” mentalities from management.

Things were sketchy from the get go with them. I was part of the grand opening team, and on our third day of business, both of our managers took the day off for inexcusable reasons. It was three of us versus hundreds of people and we hardly knew what we were doing. We were thrown to the wolves and got our asses handed to us on a silver fucking platter. That set the tone for the following year of bullshit within this company.

Having said that, I recently was let go/quit because I finally crossed the threshold of blatantly giving no shits. I showed up physically (usually 20 minutes late), but mentally I was long gone. I worked with two older women who worked service industry jobs their whole lives and admitted they’ve never experienced such bullshit both from customers and the company. It was no secret this place ran about as efficiently as a 5th grader’s Rube Goldberg project.

So ends this chapter of American Shmucks. It’s been a relatively short sprawled out run, but it’s been fun. But by God I can assure you this won’t be the end of my ramblings. There will be more to come in one fashion or another. ‘Til then, friends…

“Life has become immeasurably better since I have been forced to stop taking it seriously.” -HST

 

 

 

 

 

Take a Permanent Vacation Pt. I

Well I got into another fight with an old woman. At least this time fists weren’t involved. Just kidding. They were. (the shaking of fists, that is) This lady, maybe late 60s, began by waving her skinny wrinkled Slim Jim arms with wild intent to get my attention. Every time somebody feels the need to flail about in their seat for my attention I look at them with a blank face and make them wait at least another thirty seconds. I gave my last shit many moons ago with this establishment and the jackals inside.

“What else do I need to do to get your attention?” She said in a most condescending elitist tone.

“Sit there patiently and be motionless?” I said with a bit of snark.

She laughed a most high society, nose in the air laugh.

“Tell me young man what can you tell me about these Rosés?”

“They suck. Just kidding!” I went on to explain.

Her husband sat back letting out some sly remarks here and there, but the queen beach rat was the head honcho in this situation.

“Bring me some ice, would you dear?”

“We don’t have ice.”

“Don’t have ice? How bizarre! What kind of place do you run here?” She began laughing again.

“Yes a little strange perhaps, but we are a wine bar. We don’t cater to the 3% that wants ice to dull down their wine. Apologies madamè.”

There would be another time or two with her flailing those dehydrated beef stick arms for my attention, but gears started to switch towards the end of their visit. Things were finishing on a reasonable note, and I even joked with the husband about his youthful picture on his credit card compared to his current old ass self.

They cashed out and left. No big thing. Moments later they saunter back because of a flight delay. This time they take a seat closer to the bar. The woman makes a remark about them being back. I continue to keep busy for a minute. Then things start to get ugly again.

“HELLLOOOOOO! Did you think we just came back here to sit down?” My blood began to boil and I took a deep breath.

“Oh wow you’re back I hardly noticed!” I hollered over the counter with a teeth-gritting laugh. I walked over to them.

“So what can I get you this time?” I had my hands in my pockets sure to look as disinterested as possible.

“Crossings Sauvignon Blanc and make sure it’s COLD.” The man said.

“Oh I’ll be sure to find the warmest possible bottle. Hell I’ll even pop it in the microwave for ya!” I said in devious jest. Of course we had literally just ran out of the Rosé ol’ mechanically separated beef arms had.

“Well could I get a taste of the other one?”

“No.”

I didn’t feel like telling her why. Truth is we aren’t allowed to give tastes which is unfortunate but it’s a corporate wine bar in an airport, what do you expect.

“You know what? I’m pissed off now. No ice, you run out of the wine I JUST had, and I can’t taste the damn wine? You guys REALLY need to rethink your setup here this is just awful.”

“I encourage you to contact some of the people who make these decisions and share your feelings, miss. The customer is always right.”

“Good idea! Why don’t you go ahead and give me your manager’s information!”

“I would be so glad to do that for you miss.”

Naturally I wrote down a fake name and email address. John Binns. This was a “professional skateboarder” from our town that my friends and I had an inside joke about for years. I happily provided her with his “info.”

Words cannot express the nature of the ever-revolving bullshit encountered on a daily basis. It’s chaos in one shape or another damn near every day. Yet on the contrary it’s rarely boring, which I reckon is the silver lining. A classic situation is people frantically realizing they need to board their plane and dropping this line: “Hey I have a flight to catch I gotta cash out.” Really? Holy shit let’s get you outta here buddy why didn’t you say so! Everybody else here is taking the train! Often they smash in front of people at the bar or counter and throw their card at you. I make sure to take my time when this happens.

The only way to deal with the shit-circus is to be a dick right back to these people, in a more clever subtle fashion, or just kill them with blatant fake kindness. Or start drinking. Or take a permanent vacation.