I nodded when my co-worker Jason asked me if I was into partying. “Well, a rave is pretty much the same thing, except with more house music and none of that trendy shit you hear everywhere else,” he explained to me while waiting for his noodles to cool down. Jason was one of the only other high school kids at my job, so we’d become good friends by default. I nodded again to indicate my agreement. “Tony and I are going to one this Saturday night. You should come,” he suggested as he twirled a string of noodles around his plastic fork. I finished my vending machine granola bar and said I was in.
I told my parents I was sleeping over at Jason’s house; Jason told his parents he was sleeping over at my house; and I don’t think Tony’s parents really gave a shit so he just told them he was going “out”. I’d spent the past hour in front of the mirror trying to decide what I should wear. After putting my visor on, then taking it off, then putting it back on and tilting it ever so slightly to the left, then taking it back off, then seeing what it might look like backwards, I finally called Jason for some advice. “No bright colors, no candy necklaces, no glow bead necklaces, no rainbow stripes, and no pacifiers. Thats all Candy Kid stuff.” (Candy Kid is a term for ravers dressed in any or all of the aforementioned items) I hung up the phone and quickly changed out of a lime green shirt and bright blue dickies shorts into jeans and a white t-shirt. I waited outside for Jason to pick me up.
There’s a scene in the movie Swingers where one of the guys is explaining to his friend that the best clubs are always the hardest to find. I think this was how Jason felt about raves.We turned on our high beams and drove up a winding trail in the hills of Ojai. The music from the beginning of The Shining started to play in my head as we traveled further and further away from civilization. It was midnight when we pulled over next to a rusted mailbox. We got out of the car and walked up a dirt trail. “I think this is it. Listen,” Jason commanded, tilting his head slightly as if to angle his ears for better hearing. “I think I hear bass speakers.” For a rave expert Jason sucked at knowing where the actual raves were. We all stopped talking and looked around, trying to sense the vibrations like Jeff Goldblum did in Jurrasic Park. A faint bass drum echoed in the distance. “Yea, this is definitely it,”He assured us. We followed the noise.
As we got closer, flashing neon lights accompanied loud techno music. My anxiety took over and I started blurting out questions, “When are you guys gonna do the drugs? Are you only taking ecstasy? Do ravers take acid? I feel like ravers would take acid. How do you know who to get them from? How much is one pill? What do you think would happen if you took more than one pill? What do you think would happen if you took three pills? Have you guys ever tried acid? What do you think would happen if you took three tabs of acid right now? What do you think would happen if you took three pills of ecstasy and three tabs of acid all at once? Do you think anyone has ever done that? When are you gonna drink your Red Bulls?”
We made our way up the final zig zag to see the side of a barn covered in a plethora of Native American dream catchers. Neon strobe lights projected elementary shapes like triangles and squares that spun around and moved in slow circles on the wall. A DJ with one hand on the turntables and one hand on his head phones sat in front of a dirt-covered dance floor. There were about 60 to 70 people total. A warm light emitted from inside the barn silhouetting a group of teenagers. An Asian kid with bleached spiked hair danced around in circles alone while kicking up dust and waving around the bright green glow stick he had in his hand. Others were dressed similarly to him and sat along the side, watching him and bobbing their heads up and down with approval. Everyone else was sitting blankets scattered about the half grass half dirt patch of property surrounding the barn.
I followed Jason and Tony to the DJ who pointed them to the ecstasy, which I had no intention of taking.When I was thirteen, I smoked something called “bud” out of an apple with a friend. Afterwards, I found out it was weed and freaked out. Then I found out it was marijuana and really freaked out. I never knew they were all the same thing. I felt about as stupid as the kid in The Sandlot when he found out the Sultan of Swat and the Great Bambino and Babe Ruth were all the same guy. I gave up on drugs after that.
I figured if anyone asked why I wasn’t getting high, I could tell them I was just there for the music and nothing else. As a matter of fact, that was it. I was all about the music. The only way to truly appreciate the intricacies of techno music was to take it all in with a clear and sober mind. Jason and Tony negotiated quantity and price issues while I scanned the crowd looking for narcs.
“Did you get it?” I asked them. Jason opened his hand, revealing two tiny blue pills in his palm. Jason explained that ecstasy wasn’t just ecstasy. There were sub categories, usually with different names that sounded like someone playing the pyramid game and their category was “Things Found in a Child’s Room”. There were “Purple Dinosaurs”, “Green Monsters”, “Yellow Tweeties”, and as Jason stated while pointing to the 40-dollar purchase he held in his hand, “Little Blue Smurfs”. I watched them both pop the tiny blue pills into their mouths and wash them down with a big swig of water from a bottle. I envisioned what the police report might say after they overdosed. “Jason Reynolds – Dead on Arrival, lethal consumption of little blue smurfs.”
We sat in a patch of grass next to an old oak tree covered in a string of Christmas lights. The air was palpable with the overwhelming scent of Vicks Vapor Rub. It flooded my nostrils and gave me a similar sensation to the one you get when you dive into a pool and the chlorinated water rushes through your sinuses and gives you a five second headache. Jason sat cross-legged and rocked back and forth while grinding his teeth and rolling his eyes. He looked around without focusing on any one thing in particular. He’d turned into what you would call an “E-tard”. “Why don’t you hit the dance floor?” he suggested before taking a swig of water and returning to the vigorous teeth grinding.
I was anxious to try out some new moves I’d learned. Earlier that week Jason had taught me this dance that was supposedly popular amongst ravers. You lock the insides of your wrists and twist your hands around in a figure eight pattern. I wasn’t really sure what to do with the rest of myself, but I figured I could just take cues from everyone else. After carefully observing for a few minutes, I cracked two glow sticks from Jason’s bag and positioned myself on the side of the dance floor next to a group of Candy Kids. I twirled my hands around and spun in a slow counter clockwise circle. I added a small kick with a head jolt that probably looked similar to the Elaine dance from “Seinfeld”. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a group of people watching me. I started grinding my teeth and rolling my eyes back to excuse my behavior. I slowly stopped and looked around like I wasn’t sure where I was or how I had gotten there, attempting to give the illusion that I was on drugs . I walked back to the patch of grass where Jason and Tony were sitting, pretending to stumble a bit on the way. “Not bad, I think you’re getting’ it,” Jason said to me while looking up to the sky and moving his head around like he was Stevie Wonder.
“Do you want a light show?” a girl about eighteen with greasy blonde hair and an unwashed wife beater asked. I felt guilty that she had offered me this under the false pretense that I was high. But I did want a light show even though I had no clue what it was. She straddled my outstretched legs and sat on her knees facing me. “Close your eyes and relax,” she said before she put a tiny bottle in her mouth. She blew into one end and a mist of Vicks Vapor rub came out the other end and onto my face. “Now open them slowly,” she instructed. A fast paced flashing white light allowed me to see things in short clicks like a strobe light. She twirled around a bright blue light that seemed to leave a trail marking the erratic pattern it was making. I started grinding my teeth and moving my head around while trying to look like I couldn’t focus. “Craaazzzy,” I said in a cheesy stoner voice. This went on for another minute or so until I heard a clicking sound and the lights vanished. She got up before I could thank her and asked the person next to me if they wanted a light show.
We cracked open our Red Bulls. “Dude, maybe you should give Brian your drink,” Tony said to Jason. “You know, so he could at least get like hyper and stuff, since he’s not high.” We agreed this was a good idea and I drank both Red Bulls in a shotgun fashion. I immediately started bobbing my head and feverishly tapping a beat on my jeans as if the effects of the caffeine had instantly set in. We walked around for a bit and I found myself in a conversation with an older women in her late 40’s who I was pretty sure had taken three tabs of acid and three tabs of ecstasy all at once. Her eyes would flutter and roll back into their sockets every few seconds. She started to cackle at one of her own jokes, revealing a smile that looked like one of those “before” pictures you see at the dentist. She could barely finish a sentence without being interrupted by the glowing stick in her hand, or the glowing beads around her neck. She was a mess. “You’re never too old to party!” she said to me while flashing a mini strobe light around my face. “Yeah, I totally know what you mean,” I told her in a way that totally sounded like I didn’t.
Dawn finally began to break and we decided to head back. My glow sticks had lost their glow and it was time to go. We walked down the trail, bass drums still humming in our ears and Vicks Vapor Rub seeping out our pores. When we got to the car, Tony inspected Jason’s eyes to see if his pupil were dilated, which was supposedly a dead giveaway that you’re on E. “What do you think?” he asked me as I jumped back in shock. His pupils had almost completely taken over the iris, leaving two black beady eyes staring back at me. It reminded me of the Simpson’s episode when Homer thought he saw an alien but it turned out to be Mr. Burns all drugged up. “They look fine,” I lied.
It was bright enough outside now to make Jason downgrade from headlights to fog lights. We drove back through the winding two-lane canyon road, techno music blasting. The song playing had one line for the chorus, sung by a girl that repeated over and over again while oscillating between which words the emphasis was put on. “Do you think you’re beeeeettttteeeeeerrrr off alone? Do you think you’re better off allloooooonnne?” At some point, around the 8th or 9th time this question was asked, Jason started slowly veering into the wrong lane–the lane where cars are going the opposite direction as us. I managed to get out an “aauuuggh” before he noticed the mistake and very slowly corrected it, finally returning us to safety by the time we’d finished the blind turn. Thankfully, we were in the middle of nowhere and it was 5 a.m. Around the 14th or 15th time the girl in the speakers asked me if I think I’m beeeetttteeer off alooonee, Jason veered into the other lane once again. This time we were not so lucky.
The man driving the pick-up truck was able to turn just enough so that we didn’t hit him straight on. We hit the side of his hood with the side of our 91 Honda Civic’s hood and both cars spun out. The windows blew out, the tires blew out, the hood got squished and something under it made a light hissing sound while blowing steam, like you see on the Universal Studio’s tram ride during the King Kong part. “Shit dude . . . holy shit!” Jason screamed. “Shit dude! We’re fucked. We are so fucked! Oh wait, Is everyone okay?” Tony and I briefly inspected ourselves. “Um, yeah,” we replied. “Okay then. We’re fucked! We are so fucked! Fuck we are so fucking fucked! Brian! Hide the glow sticks and beads and anything that would connect us to the rave!” As I did this he pulled down his sun visor that was still intact but had shattered glass in the tiny square that was once a mirror. He looked back at me. “How are my eyes, dude?” he asked in a panic. I squinted and looked back and forth from left eye to right eye. They looked the same as before. “Good man, they look good. Better than before.”
“Is everyone okay?” a middle aged man with long hair and a goatee asked us while hunched over and looking in. “Yeah, I think we’re alright.” Jason replied as we all stepped out and reviewed the external damage. The car looked much worse from the outside. Even the guy’s full sized truck looked pretty messed up, certainly un-drivable. He walked back to his car and dialed the police. I looked out into the canyon of dirt and trees that we might have fallen down into, had we spun out the other way. It all looked artificial to me, like a Hollywood set that I could roll away. Behind it would be my house where I could sneak back into my bed and my parents would never find out.
“Yes, I’d like to report an accident . . uh huh . .yes I’m at . .” I tried to remain stoic, starring out at the hills as I listened to the man’s phone conversation. He got to the part where they started asking about the smaller details, and I noticed him glance over at Jason to size him up for a brief second. “Umm . . no . . no I don’t think so” He said in a quieter voice. I started to think of what my parents would say when they discovered I was up all night partying at a drug-infested rave out in the sticks. When most kids my age got into trouble it was because they were at a local house party where there was alcohol, not a creepy farm over 60 miles away owned by Buffalo Bill. I looked back at the mountains and daydreamed of a tunnel that went straight through them to my house. A bullet express train going from the scene of the accident to Brian Pratt’s room, no stops along the way. Just then, it hit me. “I’ve been here before,” I thought to myself. “Not in a weird dÃ©jÃ vu kind of way. But like I have actually been here, in these mountains, on this exact highway. But when? And why? What would I be doing out here? I’m not the camping type. Think Brian, think. Okay. I’m on this highway, its bright, it’s sunny, and it’s hot! Definitely hot. Midsummer? I am driving, and I am driving . . . my dad’s car! Yes! My dad’s car! My dad’s little white Toyota Corolla! The windows are up? No, down. No, they’re up because I have the air conditioning on and Mike wont roll up hi- Mike! That’s right! Mike was in the back seat and he kept rolling the window down and making that annoying vibrating sound. And Mike was in the front seat! Both Mikes! Mike and Mike! We were driving, windows up, AC on, and they both keep singing that stupid Head PE son — DEVIL’S PUNCHBLOWLS! Of course! We drove down this road, this exact road, to get to the hiking trail that lead us to the Devil’s Punchbowls where we went cliff diving!”
I hurried over to Jason, trying not to look too anxious. “Dude, I got an idea,” I said to him in an excited whisper. “I know this place. There’s a cliff diving spot about a mile away called Devil’s Punchbowls. We can say we got up early and we were going out here to hike back to them!” Jason nodded his head up and down while mulling this over. “Okay. . .We wanted to go early in the morning because . . . because that’s the best time. So weâ€¦ we hung out . . we just drove around . . you picked me up and we drove around and chilled until like 4 a.m. . . Then we headed out here . . to hike!” I took a step back to let my idea sink in. This was brilliant. This was fail proof. This was the best idea in the history of ideas.
After corroborating our stories together we went back to our “totally not guilty of anything, totally didn’t just come back from a rave” pacing. An SUV pulled up, coming from the same direction we were. The passenger window rolled down. “Are you guys alright? Did you just come from the RAVE?” an Asian girl wearing a bright yellow shirt, candy necklace, and rainbow striped beanie shouted out. “Fine, totally fine, everything is cool. We got it all taken care of. okayseeyoulaterthanksgoodbye!” The window rolled up and they drove away with us motioning our hands for them to continue.
The police finally showed up. One officer. He stepped out and walked straight towards the man driving the truck. They conversed back and forth, far enough away so that we couldn’t make out what they were saying. Occasionally during their discussion, they would glance back at us three looking guiltily like we were students sitting outside a parent/teacher conference. The officer began to walk towards us as Truck Man sat back and watched.
“Everyone doing okay? You boys alright?” he asked with mild sincerity. “Yeah,” I replied. “We’re totally good, dude. I mean man . . I mean officer. Officer!” Tony said. He grabbed his belt. The belt that has his gun, and his club, and his hand cuffs, and probably some other crazy shit we don’t even know about, and asked, “Which one of you boys is uhh Jason Reynolds?” Tony and I pointed him in the right direction. “You alright, son?” he asked, stepping a little closer to Jason. Tony and I both shot each other a look to as if to say “Alright? Why, what do you mean alright? Of course he is alright. He is alright. We’re alright. You’re alright. Everything is aaaaalllllright.” He looked at Jason, assessing him, then finally said in that douche-y tone of voice that only cops use, “Alright Jason, what I want you to do for me Jason, is to follow this little light using only your eyes. Is that okay, Jason? Can you do that for me, Jason?” Jason nodded his head. He looked left when the light went left. He looked right when the light went right. When it went up, he looked up. When it went down, he looked down. His head stayed still. He was good.
The cop drove us into the city because we were awesome and definitely weren’t on drugs. “You can call your parents from the phone at the station,” he said to us, as if the news would be a weight lifted off our shoulders. Normally this thought would be funny, but we really did have to get home and, well, logically, it was Jason that needed to make the call. I mean, how is going to explain the missing car when he gets dropped off? He made the call, we all waited.
Jason’s Dad picked us up. He said nothing. It was an hour-long drive. He said nothing and he looked nowhere other than the road ahead. He approached my neighborhood and I had to navigate. I cleared my throat and stuttered the directions. As we drove down my street I closed my eyes and made a silent prayer. “God, if you get me out of this, I promise I will never do anything bad ever again. Amen.” When we got to my house the garage door was shut and there were no cars in the driveway (tell-tale sign that no one was home). “Where could they be?” I thought to myself. “They never leave unless . . . Church! They must be at church! Ohhhh you are good! You are good God! God you are good! Thank you Jesus! Praise the Lord! Hallelujah! Good luck Jason, I’m going to bed!” As I opened the car door and stepped out I finally heard what the voice of Jason’s Dad sounded like, “Tell your parents to call me when they get home.” Shit.