Saturday, June 2 2001

Mickey’s Alpine Valley Diary

A word of explanation: for a few years I used to maintain an online diary at Troubled Loner, but I took it offline once I found out too many people were reading it—namely, my bosses.  Our blog here linked to the diary entries of our Alpine Valley road trip, and rather than leave those links broken I decided to republish the road trip entries here.

Friday, June 1 2001
    I did the same as yesterday, working on the U2 Detroit audio as soon as I got up.  I got word from MIke about our Buffett trip tomorrow; we planned on leaving around seven AM.  We only had stupid Lawn tickets so we’d need to get there early.  I relayed the info to Patti.  I stopped at Office Depot on the way to work, to pick up CDR stuff for this U2 project.
    Dennis told me I needed to call our company in Atlanta and discuss paying buck the money I’d been “doubly paid”.  If I did not soon, my paycheck would be docked.  The HR person had been out yesterday but I reached her today.  It was decided I preferred having my paycheck docked.  She explained this would happen over two pay periods; it would be better than just writing a check for the whole thousand.
    Almost by accident I discovered someone was selling my recording of the U2 Toronto on eBay!  They’d downloaded the MP3s and made audio CDs of them.  I could tell it was my recording since they apologized that some of the first song was missing.  I didn’t know if I should be pleased or miffed.
    I called up Patti and we discussed our plans for tomorrow.  I continued work on the U2 audio when I got home.  I wanted to get it done before the big Buffett trip, but this turned out to be pretty impossible.  In the meantime, I started packing for the Buffett road trip.  It had pretty much been decided this would be a two day trip, plus it was supposed to rain tomorrow, so I brought a variety of clothes.

Saturday, June 2 2001
    I got up at around five and showered.  I finished my packing, including a cooler for Patti and a cooler of water and diet pop for myself.  It was very cloudy outside, and it was so dim (and so early) it reminded me of tailgating at the U of M football games.  I had to keep reminding myself it was June and there was no need to bring longjohns and sweatshirts and layers of clothing.
  I was impatient to get going.  I arrived at Patti’s house, down the street from me, before six AM.  Luckily she was already out-and-about too, collecting some lawn chairs from her garage.  Before I headed to the expressway I made a pit stop at the nearby 7-11 for a bag of ice, as Mike had requested, and some Cold Eeze.  They didn’t have any so I got Dayquil instead.  And then we were off.
    I think Mike and I had discussed leaving by seven, but we arrived at his house right around then.  He wasn’t ready anyway.  He was still loading up the van—plus he had to go pick up the babysitter, as his wife was already at work.  It was nice not to have to drive the rest of the way.  After my five U2 concerts this Spring, I felt like I was a veteran of these road trips. However it wasn’t till we were already underway that one important and seemingly obvious fact dawned on me: we’d be crossing into another time zone!  After all our talk about wanting to leave early, it wasn’t till now I realized we’d be gaining an hour when we got to Chicago!
    I thought Mike had researched the route, so I assumed I was in good hands, but it turned out he was relying solely on a print-out from Yahoo’s map site.  It didn’t even seem all that detailed, especially once we would pass Chicago.  As we’d discussed, Mike found a route that avoided Chicago’s 24-hour traffic jams, but it turned out to be a toll road.  It seemed strange to us to have tolls for an Interstate, but that’s what I-294 had.

    Mike was caught off-guard as he pulled up to one Manual Pay booth.  “Bullshit!” the woman exclaimed as she turned to take Mike’s change.  Behind her I could see a shadowy form, and I guess we’d driven up just in time for Mike to become an unwitting participant in their debate.
    The weather was terrible.  It was very chilly and it rained continuously.  It reminded Mike and me too much of our road trip to Buckeye Lake where another Buffett concert had turned into a sodden muddy mess, back in 1995.

    Once in Wisconsin, I think we had to take Hwy 20 west.  We passed Kenosha and Mike was encouraged by all the motels by the expressway.  This could be where we could stop tonight, he declared.  Since we were over an hour ahead of schedule, we pulled into a Burger King for lunch and to kill time.  It looked like other Parrot Heads were stopping here too.  There were a couple girls who’d dressed in short shorts and were probably freezing in the unseasonably wet and cold weather.
    It was from here we got off I-90 and took WI-20 west.

    For a route to a major concert venue, Hwy 20 looked suspiciously empty.  But we followed Yahoo!‘s directions and kept going.  The highway soon turned into a two lane road going through some woods.  At an intersection I saw a sign for County D, which I assumed corresponded with “Hwy D” which was the next step in our directions.  There were no signs of any kind for Alpine Valley.  Hwy D led us through rolling fields and farm country.  Once again we couldn’t get over how alone we were, and the absence of any kind of Alpine Valley sign.  The two-lane country road led us to a small, quaint town.  We pulled into a curb-side parking space in front of an antique store, and Patti went in to ask directions.  Afterward, she relayed she’d spoken with two elderly women who confirmed we were on the right road, and that Alpine Valley was about seven minutes further on.  The one woman seemed concerned we were going to a show on such a cold wet day.
    Many miles later we wondered if the old ladies were tittering over their tea, having pulled one over on us tourists.  Nevertheless, we kept heading west on this flat and open road without any kind of sign to encourage us on.  At last Patti spotted a ski lift on a hill far off to the left.  This seemed somewhat “Alpine Valley-ish”, but the hill seemed too far from the road.  Finally we saw a structure to the left, a wooden archway that said “Alpine Valley”.  Two guys were standing in front of it.  Mike pulled into the driveway and was told that this was the Alpine Valley Resort; the music venue was a few miles further along.  We felt sorry for those poor guys, having to stand out there in the cold and keep people out; and we couldn’t help wondering if maybe—oh, I don’t know—a sign might’ve done the job just as well.

    We were in for a surprise when we finally got to the gates of the Alpine Valley Music Theatre.  The folks on the Buffettnews message board had said the gates open at noon.  It was 12:45 now, local time, but a sign out front said the gates open at 3:00!  Also, despite our worries, we were hardly the first people there.  A line of cars stretched out in the oncoming lane, heading from the west.  Some workers were standing out front, and Mike heard from them that the gates would really open at 1:30.  Mike surged forward, making a U-turn to put us at the back of the line.  Which mean we sat around for roughly forty-five minutes before we could get in.

    It was so cold out it really did feel like we were tailgating for a U of M football game.  I’d brought my U2 “Elevation” sweatshirt just to show it off, but I ended up wearing it—along with layering on all the clothes I’d packed for tomorrow!  Undaunted, all the Parrot Heads around us partied as if under balmy skies.  We couldn’t get over how one group had filled their pick-up with bags and bags of ice.  Ice seemed quite unnecessary today, if not redundant; but there was method to their madness, we found, since they filled up an inflatable pool with the ice and turned it into a giant cooler.

    Beyond the trees which lined our field was a whole different field, filled with a sea of huge buses and RVs.  We wended through it and came to the fence which blocks off the venue’s grounds.  A worker standing around told us these gates might open at four; he also pointed out the peak of the stage roof.  I’d thought the brown buildings near us might be the backstage area, but in fact the stage was facing us, though sunken out of view.  While we were here, we bought our souvenirs in advance.  We secured our bragging rights, since no one at home would be able to get any “Beach Odyssey” shirts or caps this year.  (Too bad the cartoonish designs look so much the same as before.)  We headed back to our van, to our paltry little tailgate, and to put on a couple more layers of clothes.

We headed back to the venue gates at around four, finding out they would really open at six.  I was alarmed to hear a recording reciting how patrons would be subject to “a pat-down search” upon entering the venue.  Since Buffett broadcasts his shows on the Internet to one and all, it seemed ridiculous he’d mind my making my own audio tape, but I was nevetheless a little taken aback by this information.  The whole reason I’d come here was so I could continue my streak of uploading concert excerpts to my Buffett page.  I always seem to have bad luck when I record out of state, and that trend seemed to be returning.  I’d had such good luck with U2 that I guess I’d gotten cocky.  And now I was having second thoughts about the whole thing.  It might’ve been simply due to the fact that I was already in a bad mood because of the cold, but I was ready to chuck it all and not even bother taping.  Mike tried to talk me into chancing it anyway, but as far as I was concerned there was no point in trying to smuggle my stuff in—especially under the threat of a pat-down search.  I had to smuggle in mics, my DAT recorder, plus my bulky bass roll-off filter; there was no way all three could get in under close scrutiny.  Mike at least took my microphones, saying he’d just tell Security they were a hands-free unit for his cell phone.  This still left with me a large recorder and filter box to smuggle in.
    We hung around the gates, waiting to see if Security actually would search people.  I held back, waiting to see what these searches looked like.  I spotted the VIP line going in first; and sure enough each patron had to hold their arms out while a security person crouched and patted them down.  If the VIPs were getting searched then there seemed no hope for me.  I gave up and headed back on my own to the van, although truth be told I had probably made up my mind already.  I had a chance to use a nearby portajohn too, which was horrendously filthy inside—so offensive there was no way I could use it.  I discarded my stuff in the van and then headed back to the box office gates.  By the time I returned the line waiting for Lawn had disappeared; I could walk right in without waiting.  I was asked if I minded being searched; I held my arms out and the guy patted my waist…and that was it.  He didn’t come near where I would’ve hidden my gear, so I would’ve been able to smuggle the stuff in after all!  That seemed fitting for a day which was already turning into a major let-down.
    I met up with Mike near the first beer stand, as planned, and I confessed how there’d be no concert tape to listen to this year.  I was surprised to see only portajohns set up inside the venue, lining the fences surrounding the “concourse”.  I could understand portajohns in the parking fields, but the fact that the only bathroom facilities inside were portajohns too was quite disturbing.  What kind of malaria would we be spreading, with germs going from soiled hand to money to food vendor to the next customer?
    Patti had secured a decent spot on the lawn, Mike told me, so we trudged down to our spot.  The Lawn seemed steep enough at the top, but it kind bowled near the bottom…so much so that the people in front of us seemed higher.  This became apparent when we all stood and the stage was completely blocked from my view.  I could barely make out an occasional musician between people’s shoulders, and for the most part I had to rely on the video screens.  The one on the right kept going out, showing solid blue for quite a while.  I felt sorry for those people over there, stuck without any kind of view—only to have the same thing happen to me.  The center screen went out a few songs in, and stayed out for the remainder of the first half of the show!

    This, in a word, was bullshit.  We’d driven all this way for nothing.  I couldn’t see a thing (apart from people’s shoulder blades) and even the sound was horrible.  It was loud enough, but the audio was very blaring and brash; the high-end keened so sharply I could feel it in my eyeballs.  I was wet, I was cold, I was getting sick from the stinky smoke of some frat boys’ stinky cigars, blowing over their shoulders into our faces.  It was bad there was nothing left but to give up.  As the band took an intermission, I decided to leave.  I actually walked out.  In the old days, such a thing would’ve been unthinkable, but I was so disgusted by this whole misbegotten day that I asked Mike for his keys and I moved on.  The walkway to the concourse was covered by people; I wasn’t even sure I was on the walkway, but I followed the line of people struggling to walk upstream.  We trudged and trudged and it seemed to take forever to finally reach level ground.  Once on the concourse I couldn’t believe the number of people who were also filing out.  There weren’t just a few people heading back to their cars, there was a steady stream of people disgorging out onto asphalt.
    I knew I could not gain readmittance, but I figured I might still be able to tape something anyway.  The music had been loud enough I figured I could at least catch one or two songs from the woods outside the music shed.  I headed back to the van, gathered my gear up…and only then realized Mike still had my microphones.  They were in his jacket pocket.  I headed back to the venue anyway, figuring I could at least eavesdrop on the remainder of the show by myself.  I was still seeing a steady stream of people coming out.  Maybe they didn’t know there was a second half.  It turned out I wouldn’t've been able to record anything anyway: the buses and RVs in the nearby lot were idling loudly, and that stupid recorded message about pat-down searches was still resounding from the PAs.  What music had been so loud on the lawn barely made its way up to the parking lot.
    Without any better distactions, I was able to concentrate more on the people issuing from the venue.  They looked bleary-eyed, zombie-like, staggering so badly they had to cling to their companions to keep from pitching onto their faces.  This then was a Buffett audience.  I’d spent so many concerts just facing the stage, this was my first eye-to-eye look at them in quite some time.  I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the people who worked at Alpine Valley, having to deal with or having to clean up after such a pathetic looking lot.  There were a cluster of attendants in yellow jackets by a yellow trailer; they looked like they huddled up to plan a defensive strategy.  The one doing most of the talking glanced at the crowd with what looked like contempt.  A worker near me was using a pushbroom to move a pile of broken bottles over to a trash barrel, while nearby some jackass was too out of it to know he was walking barefoot through the bits of broken glass in the worker’s wake.  The kid was bare-chested, his toes were curled, his face contorted, and he kept murmuring “Ow, ow” as he walked—completely oblivious he could have protected himself by simply stepped off the sidewalk and onto grass. 
    There was no point in hanging around when I couldn’t even hear the show, so I went back to the van again, for good.  What I’d seen had practically sickened me.  Was this what Jimmy’s fans really looked like?  With sober eyes, they really did look like zombies.  This whole damned day had me questioning whether any of this crap is worth it.  Buffett sings the same songs every year, with the exception of a precious few; and were those few minutes really worth the effort any more?  It felt like I’d completely wasted my time in coming here, and what was worse, I’d dragged my friends along too.
    I hung out by the van, having some beers and snacking, and waiting for Mike and Patti to return.  A few cars down I heard some girl effusing about some handmade kite she’d bought earlier from some guy in the parking lot.  She simply would not shut up about her stupid kite and I heard about it the whole time I waited.  I found Mike and Patti ditched out before the encores.  As soon as we were together we got in the van and headed out.  People had set up their canopies and awnings so haphazardly it was tough to squeeze around the ropes and tent pegs.  We either had to drive very slowly or wait for people to move.  Things were more normal as we made our way into the next field.  We were able to find a pathway out and were soon quite near the exit.  Patti however begged Mike to pull over.  As if channeling the after-concert spirit of Steve [who’d gone to this Spring’s U2 shows too], she suddenly felt ill.  We pulled out of line, over to some tall weeds between the lot and the roadway we would be exiting onto; and we waited for her to come back in the van.  Just like Steve, she had no reason for this sudden nausea; she hadn’t drunk or eaten too much, she had just started feeling queasy l once the van started moving.
    While Mike and I sat there, we noticed it looked like all the cars were turning left.  This seemed odd.  We needed to turn right, we knew, but once we finally merged back onto the roadway and approached the exit we saw to our disbelief that the cops were forcing everyone to turn left!  We had no idea what was to the left, our directions did not mention anything on the left.  Besides, it was so dark that way it looked as if we’d been consigned to sail off the rim of the world and drop into the void.  A road sign showed our choices as being Milwaukee to the north or Chicago to the south.  We headed south, getting onto I-43.  Chicago was somewhere out there ahead of us, and that was about the extent of our knowledge of this route the cops had dumped us on.
    We approached a town called Develan.  Mike spotted a Holiday Inn sign and got off the expressway.  We waited while he went inside and tried to get a room.  Mike stayed inside for quite a while.  Patti and I weren’t surprised to find out the place had been booked, but the woman at the front desk had been helpful enough to call to other motels in the area as well as to explain to Mike how we could take I-50, which we’d just passed, east to Kenosha.  At least we could head to somewhat more familiar ground.  As we continued, Patti, sitting behind me, asked me to roll down my window for some fresh air.  After a while it started getting very cold in the van, but I still left the window down for Patti’s sake.  I waited for Patti to tell me to roll the window up, but she didn’t say anything.  After a longer while I started to grow concerned that she hadn’t said anything.  I didn’t look behind me though to check on her—as if I was afraid to find her with icicles hanging off her or looking like Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining.  Finally, after a very long time, I heard a little voice behind me, barely audible above the wind noise, asking me to roll the window back up.  And I have to admit I was relieved to find out we had not just frozen Patti to death.
    Mike would get his chance to get a room at Kenosha; but once we got there we found out that was easier said than done.  I had talked Mike out of arranging for a room this morning, figuring it wasn’t necessary; but now every motel Mike went to was full-up.  Mike pulled up to every single motel we could see, going inside to hear the same story.  It seemed unlikely the whole town had been overrun by Parrot Heads, but the only excuse Mike was given was that there were a lot of weddings going on this month.
 nbsp;  One motel only had a conference room empty, meaning we could sleep on couches.  Another one had a “blue-tagged” room available, which meant its bathtub didn’t work.  Finally, at the very last possible hotel we could’ve checked into, we found there was one room available at a Super 8.  Mike took a bed, Patti took a bed, and the manager wheeled in a cot for me.  I tried to open the cot, but it turned out to be too big!  There wasn’t room for it to extend; I could’ve wheeled it closer to the door, but then it would be blocking the bathroom door.  So, despite how late it was, Mike and I started redecorating, moving the leftmost dresser in front of the right one and creating enough room for me to sleep.

Sunday, June 3 2001
    In the cold light of day we could’ve gotten that one room with the broken bathtub after all.  None of us bothered about washing up once we woke.  We had crashed quickly last night and now we were in too much of a hurry to get going.  (Then again, that room had been at an expensive Executive Suites.)  We at least had had beds to sleep in (unlike that conference room), but this room hadn’t been all that great.  The toilet ran, for one thing.  Actually, it screamed.  It sounded like someone was turning on the water full blast for a few seconds; that’s what I thought it had been at first, like someone in a neighboring room turning the sink on too hard, but it lasted all night, every couple minutes.
    I had no clothes to change into for Sunday, having worn all of them yesterday, so I simply rearranged layers.  Mike and I put the dresser back and then we headed to a nearby Denny’s.

I got an omelette this time.  Then, once we’d eaten, we got on the road and started heading for home.
    Mike and I couldn’t decide whether it would be more fun to tell our friends the horrible truth or to pretend that they’d missed having a wonderful time.  We finally decided we’d gone through too much crap to not share it, and then we spent a long while trying to remember it all.  (I also tried to work out what the heck I was going to write on my Buffett page, to excuse not being able to post an audio file for the first time in fourteen years.)  Since it was Sunday morning we didn’t bother avoiding Chicago and took I-94 right through it.  I couldn’t tell if the buildings looked familiar or not [from my trip there to see U2].  Mike got a kick out of the fact I was swigging Dayquil the whole morning, but I was worried yesterday’s chill would give me a sore throat and then a cold.  Even though we were still far from home, it was funny how we felt a palpable sense of relief once we crossed over into Michigan.

    Mike’s wife was working again, but he’d made arrangements that his kids would stay with his mom.  They weren’t expected back till six, which gave him a couple hours to decompress on his own once we finally made it to his house.  I drove Patti back to our subdivision.  I sped like a maniac, eager to get all this behind us.  I think I got home at around four:thirty.  I cleaned out the coolers, put all the junk away, powered up the computer to check my e-mail (and to find out what Buffett’s encores had been last night, since Mike and Patti hadn’t known either), and then crashed on the couch.

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