|A bit of the line for MOG's party, |
as seen from the VIP area
Even all the way up here on the 13th floor, the snare drums are clearly audible. They cut through the night and the mushy roar of a hundred bands and a quarter million people in the streets. They echo off the shiny glass faces of the buildings. I’ve heard enough snare drums pounding out rock rhythms to last a while. And enough guitars, too.
It’s after midnight. I’m packing for my return trip. Everything is folded back into my luggage except tomorrow’s clothes, my dop kit, and the clothes I’m wearing. Spent books and magazines line the bottom of the bag, then gym clothes and shoes.
I slump into a chair for a moment, wondering how I will get to the airport on time tomorrow when everyone else is trying to do the same thing.
I set the alarm for 4 am. Early bird catches the cab, I guess. I hope.
Lights out. I slide into the hotel bed, blackout curtains closed. Even with foam earplugs in, I can still hear the snare drum tattoo, still feel the subsonic rumble of the kicks and bass playing. So many bands, so many people. So little actual listening.
In the few minutes before my mind shuts down, it replays the events of my time at SXSW this year.
The weather was pleasant. The constant threat of rain kept the skies overcast and brought the occasional refreshing breeze. All the places I had to go were walkable, which was good because driving was impossible. Streets were blocked off and/or choked with people, garbage, and music.
The beat pauses for a moment, then comes back. This drummer’s not much for fills, I guess.
I had some good meetings. I didn’t have to stand in too many lines. Best of all, I got to see a few friends I hadn’t seen in a while and had some great conversations. The work stuff was fun. But I’m exhausted and ready to go home. The air itself seems tired of carrying vibration.
I managed to eat reasonably healthy, going for as many green vegetables as I could and trying to avoid endless piles of salted meat and beer from plastic cups. I enjoyed the company at meals, though, whether it was friends or the New Yorker.
I didn’t see much music, but it’s sort of like saying I didn’t see too much air. The music was everywhere, inescapable, seeping from every shadow into every pore. Countless bands banging away. I’m sure they were all great. Or all terrible. You can’t tell after a while, and even the most poignant, compelling, well-crafted stuff starts to sound ordinary or boring or like dismal hackery when your ears are full.
Every other building had some band playing or setting up or tearing down. Bands were installed on buses and flatbed trucks, blasting their way up and down the streets. An endless parade of denim and t-shirts and telecasters and boots and beards and earnestness and 4/4 and riffage and ROCK and clack…clack…clack and this one’s called... and here’s a new one and Thank You SouthBy and come on people can you feel it.
I saw Bob Mould play. And The Roots. By all accounts, Mould was fantastic. I guess. He sounded great, competent, professional. But it’s like going to a great bakery after walking through Bakery Town, smelling baked goods and flour and butter and watching it all get made and watching people eat bread and brioche and donuts and cake and brownies while the entire time they're constantly talking to each other or their phones about how good the pastry they just ate was and which muffin are you going to eat next.
You sit down and know it’s going to be delicious, but so many aspects of your hunger have been sated that it’s hard to take even one bite. It's all too much.
I was grateful to get in with my VIP access. Happier still to see some of my former colleagues, about to wrap up one stage of work and move on to another. I miss them.
I think of the email piling up on my computer and wonder about getting to the airport in a few hours. The front desk told me all the shuttles were booked, and they couldn’t get cabs to answer the phone. They shrug and say “sorry!” in that pleasant “I’m so glad I’m not as fucked as you are” voice. No help, no service.
I think of the friends I saw and the smiles and good conversation and real human connection. These are the things I treasure about travel.
I plunge into a brief, deep, dark sleep.
When I wake a few hours later at 4 am, the music has finally stopped.
I pull myself out of bed, drenched in sweat. In the next 20 minutes, I shower and finish packing. I contact a cab company on the internet and summon a cab to the hotel. Adrenaline pushes me through the creeping nausea of too little sleep, early rising, and stress. It's good that I planned ahead, because my full brain is just not working yet. Early bird, I think.
In the lobby, I hear the desk clerks laughing at how they can’t get transportation for any of their guests. I push through the glass doors, the straps of my bags grinding into my shoulder.
There’s a cab right in front of me at the curb.
I slide into the back seat, my bags crawling off my shoulder. “Airport, please.” The driver nods and returns to his mumbled mobile phone conversation.
The cab sharks through the now-deserted post-apocalyptic streets. Trash lines the gutters and covers the sidewalks. Plastic cups. Badge holders. Bags. Flyers. Paper.
I roll down the window and let the dark, cool, pre-dawn air wash over my face.
The silence is beautiful.