For Eric… with apologies
Eucatastrophe: a sudden and favorable resolution of events in a story; a happy ending.
In 1991, Achtung Baby was released. And with that, U2 went from being one of many bands I enjoyed, to the only band I had time for. For 20 years they reigned unchallenged atop my musical pantheon.
Every great band has cities or venues inextricably bound to their identity; stages on which every fan wants to see them perform. Through two decades of U2 obsession, one venue loomed above all others on my bucket list: the site of perhaps the most legendary U2 show of them all.
In 2011, I saw a 5-piece band from Los Angeles live for the first time. And with that, The Airborne Toxic Event went from being one of many bands I enjoyed, to the only band I had time for. Move over, Bono: there’s a new fixation in town.
In the spring of 2012, I received an e-mail from my new favorite band. They were announcing a show.
Debuting their new album.
With an orchestra.
At Red Rocks.
It was all I ever wanted.
A few minutes later, I picked myself up off the floor. And then I deleted the e-mail.
I deleted it because there was no possible way I could do it. For one, I had used up all my vacation time for the year, making two days off work problematic. For another thing, we had just adopted a rambunctious 2-year-old, bringing our brood to four, and I couldn’t imagine asking my wife to look after all that while I gallivanted off to Colorado for a rock show. And finally, there was the matter of money; specifically, the fact that I had none. I can justify a lot of things to satisfy my musical cravings, but to take on another $1000 or more in debt just to attend a show… I just couldn’t do it. Not even for this show. So rather than torture myself, I resolved not to think about it. Red Rocks? Whoever heard of it?
That lasted about four hours, or as long as it took for Eric, the only other Airborne fan I knew, to check his e-mail, whereupon he found the same message that I was trying to pretend I hadn’t seen. He forwarded it to me with a two word intro:
I paused. I bit my lip. I felt excitement stirring in my chest. I glanced at my wife.
I sighed. I replied. There is nothing I would love to do more. But I just can’t. It’s not possible.
A few minutes later, my e-mail chimed again. It was Eric. He’d been on Hotwire. He’d found round trip flights to Denver, out of Seattle, for $200.
I perked up. I’d figured $500, minimum. I checked the ticketing website: $65 for the show. I checked my Airmiles account: enough for one hotel night, plus a rental car for two days. I checked the calendar, suddenly remembering that I had a birthday a month before the gig, and a mom who gives generously and takes requests. I also realized that I would soon be accruing two overtime days that could be cashed in.
I looked at my wife, trying to think of something to offer in return, suddenly remembering that she’s pretty awesome. I asked. She said yes.
I was going to Red Rocks.
For the next several months, I quite literally counted down the days. Perhaps this may say something about my dire need to get a life, but I can quite honestly say that apart from my wedding day and the births of my children, I had never been more excited about anything, ever. It was a perpetual Christmas Eve.
When the countdown clock reached three days, Eric and I started talking details. We figured out how long it would take to get to the airport, and then we doubled it. After all, we’d be hitting Seattle during rush hour, and you can never be too careful about these things. He mentioned in passing that he occasionally had border crossing issues – but don’t worry, it’s no big deal.
September 20. The day is here. I pick up Eric at 6 am, and we make for the border.
On our way, he tells me about his border issues. Once upon time, he did something kind of stupid. As a result, he has a special letter that he has to show in order to cross. He’s done it dozens of times. It’s never been a problem.
Until today. Today, the border guard looks at his letter and says, “Isn’t there supposed to be a second page?” Eric says, “No. There’s only ever been one page. It’s never been a problem.”
Guard: “No. There’s definitely supposed to be a second page. You need to come inside.”
Sigh. Okay. This is why we gave ourselves two extra hours, right? Should be plenty of time. Look, there’s only eight people in line. But… no one seems to be helping them.
As time drags on, I try to pretend I’m not Freaking. The Hell. Out. At first, we talk about the trip. Next, we calculate our drop dead time: the time when we absolutely must be out of this line, back in the car, and headed for the airport, or we’re screwed. And then, we watch as the clock ticks inexorably towards that time. The line doesn’t move.
Ten minutes till Zero Hour. Our two hour cushion is gone. We are seventh in line. I am dying.
And then I start thinking. Thoughts that I’m not proud of. You know, there’s really no point in both of us missing the show because of this. How does it help Eric if I miss the flight with him? His home is ten minutes from here. His wife can probably pick him up. I can pay for his cab. If I was in his position, I would understand. I would probably even suggest it. This is going to be really awkward. How do I bring it up?
The time ticks. The clock strikes Zero. My heart is in my throat. I’m sweating profusely. I am gutted. I open my mouth. Nothing comes out.
I wait ten more minutes. There is no longer any doubt about it: it is now or never. I feel terrible, but I say the words: I’m going to ask them for my passport so I can go. He says he understands.
I approach the counter unbidden. They don’t like that. I explain the situation: we are going to miss our flight; my buddy has an issue he needs to sort out; I’m going to have to leave him behind; can I have my passport?
Guard: “No. You came as a pair, we treat you as a pair. But… If you’re that desperate, we’ll help you next.”
I return to Eric. We wait. There’s a change at the desk. The guard who originally sent us inside now eyes us from a cushy chair. He invites us forward. He looks again at the letter. He shows it to another guard beside him. “Shouldn’t this have a second page?” She says, “No.” He says, “Oh.”
He tells us he’s going to let us go, but not before he searches our car. Out he goes; we bite our fingernails for five minutes. In he comes; the car is clean. He’s going to let us go, but not before we fill out this long piece of paper. My fingers fly, printing illegible. And finally, he lets us go.
It’s half an hour past drop dead time. We are screwed.
We race for the highway, and then remember we need gas. I had planned on waiting for cheaper US gas, since we had a two hour cushion and all.
Fastest gas stop ever, and then we’re on the highway, TATE blasting. Knowing that I5 is notorious for speed traps, my sole objective in life is to get to the airport as fast as humanly possible, without getting pulled over. All the while, I resist the nagging certainty that this is all in vain. We aren’t going to make it.
As we fly through Mount Vernon, I notice something. I have to pee. I try to ignore it.
As we pass Everett, I glance at the speedometer. Ten over the limit. That should be okay. Cars pass by me on either side. I’m tempted to push it, but no: if I get stopped, it’s all over.
The lights flash. My head swims. Surely it’s for one of these other cars that are passing me by.
It’s not. We pull over. I kid you not – I almost cry.
The cop takes note of my pathetic state. He’s probably never seen a grown man cry over a speeding ticket. I tell him why I’m in such a rush. He writes the ticket as fast as he can and sends me off with a warning: if you get caught again, the fine will be huge. Do not get caught again.
I won’t. The speed limit is now inviolable. And I can no longer deny it: I have to pee. Bad. But I am not missing this show because I stopped to take a piss.
We make Seattle. We’re hopelessly late. We’re in the express lane, beneath the city. With my focus divided between road and bladder, I miss the sign: the one that tells me I’m exiting the highway. One second we’re cruising along in the fast lane; the next second we’re being spat out into the side streets of downtown Seattle, rush hour traffic and all. We are so screwed.
We find our way back to the highway. My bladder is bursting. But we can’t stop. We just can’t.
We have to stop. We just have to. I sigh. I tell Eric: “I cannot believe I’m saying this, but I have to stop. It’s going to make us miss the show, but if I don’t stop right now, we’re going to have a whole other problem on our hands.”
This seems a good time to confess that I am unnaturally squeamish about bathroom matters. In a house full of girls, it’s the dad who gets grossed out by bathroom humor. The thought of public urination is terrifying.
I scan the highway for somewhere to pull over. Anywhere. Really, the slightest bit of shelter on a shoulder that’s wide enough to stop on will do just fine.
There’s nothing. I can’t wait. I stop. I jog twenty yards from the car. I turn my back and do the deed, right there on the side of the road, cars flying behind me so close that their wind threatens my balance.
I stumble back to the car, spiny bushes whipping at my bare legs. I brush them aside, leap behind the wheel, and tear outta there. We’re ten minutes from the airport, and over an hour late.
I put my hand on my knee. It feels wet. I look down. Phew, I didn’t piss on myself. Oh wait. It’s blood. Streaming down my leg. Damn bushes. Nothing to wipe it with. Whatever.
We pull into the parking lot, having long since given up on the Park ‘n’ Fly that I’d prepaid for. Sunk cost.
We circle the lot, again and again. Up and down. Back and forth. We find a spot. We jump out of the car, grab a parking ticket, head for the elevator. Dammit! I left my phone in the car! I run back for it, then back to the elevator. We are so screwed.
We enter the airport. Disheveled. Blood streaming. Sweat pouring. Breath heaving. Plane boarding. No bags to check, thank God. Sprinting. Stuck in line. Through security – no beeping, thank God. More sprinting. Gate looming. People waiting.
We made it.
I think I stop shaking by the time we touch down in Denver.
We made it.
We get our car. We have time to kill before our dinner reservation at the Ship Rock Grille inside Red Rocks. We decide to find our hotel, get settled, and then head off for the night I’ve been dreaming of most of my life.
Traffic sucks. Really, truly awful. And then we get lost. When we finally find the hotel, we’re back into rush mode, if we want to make our dinner reservation, which we really do. Check in. Throw the bags on the bed. Tickets: check. Camera: check. And, we’re off.
When they open the gate, I am the first person through.
We find our table. The red rocks tower over us. We place our order. For the first time in what feels like forever, I am relaxed. This is where I’m supposed to be.
I notice a stranger eyeing me carefully. She makes her way over to me, hesitantly. And then she says, “Are you Glen Hoos?”
What the hell???
“Um, yes… And you are…?”
She introduces herself. We had chatted through the Airborne forum, and talked about possibly meeting up. I had completely forgotten. She is nice to me anyway… Very nice.
“So we might have some backstage passes for you and your friend,” she says. My jaw hits the floor. I tell her where we’re sitting, and she promises to find me when she gets the word. My mind spins.
She finds me before the show. “I have good news and bad news,” she says. “There’s a big group of us. We only have one extra pass. I’m afraid I don’t have one for your friend.”
Yikes. That is very good news… And very bad news. Love ya bro, but you know I can’t turn this down. I’m going to have to ditch you… again. I’m so sorry. He understands. I think.
The lights dim. The band takes the stage. My anticipation can no longer be contained, and it no longer has to be. It starts. All At Once.
I wish I can remember the show as well as I remember the rest of the day. It’s a blur – but it’s a spectacular blur. The sound is perfect. The new songs are as breathtaking as I dared hope. The Secret – a revelation. Timeless – indeed. Safe – Anna sings! Music simply does not get better than this song. Or does it? The Fifth Day proves me wrong. Those desperate, high notes at the end, the crowd dead silent. I am stunned. It is perfect.
Midnight. Innocence: they could have played only this song and I would’ve gone home happy. And the party wraps up with Missy.
Except this time, the party is just beginning (and not just because DeVotchka is still to play).
At the agreed upon time, I leave my seat for the meet and greet. I don’t know it now, but I’m about to make some wonderful new friends – not the band, but a dozen like minded TATE fans who will add so much to my life long after this day has passed.
Somehow, they all seem to know who I am. Are you the Glen that wrote the letter? Oh, now I get it… it’s because of that letter I posted a couple weeks ago in the band’s forum. Apparently it’s taken on a life of its own. I had no idea.
Before you know it, 12 giddy
children fans are being ushered through the back hallways of Red Rocks. Past the photos of the icons who’ve walked these very steps on their way to the hallowed stage. Past a sign on the door that says simply: The Airborne Toxic Event Dressing Room.
And then there they are. Anna, shorter than I expected. Daren, much shorter than I expected – I can actually look him in the eye! Steven and Noah, leaning oh so coolly against a table, beers in hand. And Mikel, working the crowd just like he does on stage.
For half an hour I hang out with my favorite band, backstage at the venue I’d waited my whole life to visit. I tell Mikel, “You have no idea what I went through to get here.” He laughs and says, “Well then, you deserve a pick,” pulling one out of his pocket and handing it to me. I reassure Anna, who is worried about whether the sound quality was adequate, and then I make a tongue-tied, stupid-ass suggestion that they should come back to Vancouver again soon, knowing full well that they’d just been there four weeks previous. I’ll be kicking myself over that one for at least a year, if not longer. Autographs from everybody, photos with all but Daren (a mistake I’ll rectify in the future), a group shot with all my new friends, and then it’s over.
But I’m not ready for it to be over. Eric rejoins the group as we emerge into the night. We hang out for awhile, gazing up at those majestic rocks, now just dark shadows looming over us. Finally we say goodbyes and go our separate ways. But not really… we will meet again.
As we head for the car, I turn and take one last look.
I finally made it.
It was better than I ever dared dream.
I’ll be back.
Glen is the founder and editor of This Is Nowhere. He’s grateful for an understanding wife and kids who indulge his silly compulsion to chase a band all over the Pacific Northwest (and occasionally beyond) every time the opportunity arises.