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2008-05-19 - 1:37 a.m.

It feels a little strange to complain about something I paid for and about a situation I willingly put myself into, but the Radiohead show last weekend was one of the most intense experiences I've had in a while. It was a week ago but I feel I should get these details down.

I picked up my friend in DC, plenty of time ahead of the show. Her boyfriend couldn't go, so she gave me her other ticket. The show sold out within hours when the tickets went on sale months ago. It was at Nissan Pavilion, in the way-out Virginia suburbs west of DC. Traffic was heavy, but we had a good talk on the drive out. I hadn't seen her in a few months. She likes her boyfriend more than he likes her. She just got done her Ph.D. and had hoped to get a fellowship at NPR, but didn't. She had two joints in her purse and wanted to smoke them. It started to rain as we were still on the beltway.

We got to the parking lot an hour before the opening band went on. It was raining hard by then. All around, people were leaving the parking lot, streaming toward the amphitheater. I'd seen only one show there before--Dave Matthews Band in college--but knew it was a long walk and since I'd looked at the weather forecasts, I thought the rain might let up. So we sat in my truck. We had other friends coming, but they were stuck in traffic. The idea was that we'd wait on them to get to the parking lot, have a beer, and then walk over together. My friend smoked half a joint and I drank scotch from a flask. She had to pee. She waited until some people had walked by before she crouched, between cars. It was getting dark, and though she didn't want to go like that, I said I'd look out for people walking by. When we got back to the truck, she looked for the joints but remembered she'd tucked them inside her underwear. They were lost to the parking lot. She was bummed. We listened to music in the truck. It got darker. The rain didn't stop. Our friends called. They were stuck in traffic and hadn't moved in an hour. We said we'd see them in the show. I finished what was in the flask and poked holes in a too-small white kitchen-style trash bag. I put it on, over my windbreaker, but it didn't really cover much. My friend said I looked stupid, so I took it off. She had a regular black trash bag and I made her wear it though she didn't want to. We opened our doors, opened our umbrellas, and walked.

Our shoes got soaked almost immediately. Our pants were next. Though we each had an umbrella, the rain came in close to sideways. My feet were making squishing noises before we got to the sidewalk that led to the amphitheater. We jumped puddles when we could but sometimes couldn't, and so by the time we got to the security gates, we were wet everywhere except our faces, shoulders, and armpits. My friend had eaten a special cookie and was already being kind of quiet.

We got inside and, I thought, we're still at a show, right? So I got my friend a non-beer drink and I got the biggest can of Coors Light I'd ever seen. They were ten dollars each. Radiohead was already playing so we hurried up the steps. We crested the back of the amphitheater's bowl and when we did we saw a stage backed by strings of dripping, tall, wonderful lights, big video screens behind all of it. On the lawn was a sea of umbrellas, and where there weren't umbrellas were dark, shiny people clustered in twos and threes, heads bobbing, but shoulders also hunched, an occasional cigarette's orange dot going up and then down, like scattered, lazy yo-yos.

We found a spot not far into the lawn area. We could have inched closer, but the ground was soft and people were slipping. We settled in; they were playing stuff from their most recent album, which I don't know that well but which sounded really good played live on giant speakers like that. I tipped up my umbrella and caught my friend's eye. I smiled, signaling "Thanks for bringing me and hey, we're seeing a band we both love and, hey, I'm glad we're still such good friends."

What can I say about the show? It was great. We were at a pretty severe angle and so we couldn't see the video show and could only get a taste of the lights and I could tell that Thom Yorke was doing some jerky dancing though he was the size of a single letter on the page of a book, but they were really, really good. Exactly as advertised. Professionals, and loud and clear.

But by the end of the main set, I was soaked, especially in my lower half. My feet were wet, my calves were wet, my thighs, my hips, my belly. My underwear was wet, and very cold. There were two kids beside us, and they had no umbrella. They were huddled close, but they were shivering. They were also trying to light a joint. So, though I don't smoke any more, I slid in close and angled the umbrella so that the almost-sideways rain let them get their lighter going. The guy lit the joint while the girl puffed. They were grateful. Water dripped from their earlobes. I stood like that for a while, covering all three of us. We talked a little Radiohead. He was from Chicago but went to the University of Maryland. My friend hit the joint. I said it was funny that a student the University of Maryland was helping to get stoned a Ph.D. student and teacher at the University of Maryland.

I made a decision and turned to my friend. "You got room in there?" She nodded yes and so I handed the guy my umbrella and ducked under my friend's umbrella. She acted strangely right away. I figured out pretty fast that she was very, very stoned. I'd forgotten how she got: very quiet, intensely focused on stuff, and, though she didn't mean to be, rude. They started in on "Paranoid Android" and when I started talking about how much I liked that song and how it reminded me of a trip we took to the beach a few years ago, she interrupted me and said, "Please don't talk to me." And she meant it. A little later, during a particularly strong wind that almost buckled our umbrella, I put my arm around her shoulders, as much to warm myself as to try to warm her. She squirmed out of it, though, and said something to the effect of don't touch me. It was really pretty unfun. Because by that point I was shivering uncontrollably. My left calf, for days afterward, was sore. At first, I didn't know why, but then I figured out it was because of the shivering. I was leaning a certain way, while holding her umbrella, and it made the muscles in my left calf twitch and fire and generally go nuts. I shifted my stance but the calf kept going. I was cold. My hands were numb. My teeth chattered. They finished their second encore. The house lights came up. I handed over the umbrella, ducked under it, and went straight to the kids. The guy had a sort of hurt look on his face when I smiled and gently pried away my umbrella. We started walking down the big steps on the other side of the amphitheater bowl.

Everything was a puddle. People were sliding, headfirst, down the hill. I couldn't believe they weren't as shivery as I was. I wanted to walk fast, but my friend has a much shorter stride and besides had on the big black trash bag. I kept having to stop and wait for her to get around a little crowd of people or a gate or an oddly parked car.

I forgot to make a definitive note of where I'd parked my truck. I thought it was there, by the F8 sign, but it wasn't. The rain was even heavier, and more sideways. I thought my friend would be pissed, but she followed me down this row and that row, blithely. She wasn't as cold as I was. Her trash bag had worked, more or less. She said let's go over there, and after a half-hour of walking around the parking lot, I said OK, though I didn't think we'd parked that far out. But she was right. My friend, stoned to the point of silence, was right. We fell into the truck. The windshield fogged up immediately.

I started the engine and turned the heat and fan all the way up. My friend wanted to eat her other cookie but couldn't find it. The cars in the parking lot's aisles were not moving. We called our friends. They had never made it to the show. The rain was so bad that the state police had closed down one of the two roads leading to the amphitheater. Our friends, big Radiohead fans, could hear the band from the road, but decided to turn around and go home once they heard the band come on for the second encore. That struck me, sitting in my truck, cold jeans sticking to my legs, still shivering, as incredibly sad.

My friend still couldn't find her second cookie, so she wrangled out of her trash bag, arranged some hats and things in the middle of seat, and lay down.

After an hour, maybe an hour and a half, I saw a single line of cars, off in a corner of the parking lot, that seemed to be moving. I wiped the steam off the window, put the truck in gear, and crept over in that direction. A half-hour of that, and I got out to the main road leading out of the parking lot. I was shivering, and my friend asked several times if I could turn on the heat, and I would, every ten minutes. But that made the windshield fog up within five or six seconds, and then I'd have to turn on the air conditioning so that I could see just barely well enough to drive. I did that routine over and over on the way home, maybe eighty times. It jangled me up, the shivering and then the brief warmth and then the ducking to see out of a good spot on the windshield, the wiping, the switching of levers for the air conditioning, the shivering again.

We finally got to I-66, toward DC. It was about 1:30 in the morning. My friend was fully asleep by then. I turned up the volume on the stereo and drove fast, despite the picked-up rain. Trucks were kicking up great volumes of mist and water and obfuscation. I got to the DC beltway and my friend woke up. I was grateful for the company and tried to talk to my friend about her teaching at College Park. She wasn't into it. She said her brain was fried. She still couldn't find the second cookie. I dropped her off somewhere in Northwest. As she was gathering her stuff, she found the cookie. She was very happy. I got out to give her back her lighter and was shivering so much I didn't stop to give her a hug good night. She got into her car talking about hot baths.

Back in the truck, the engine idling, I turned up the heat again. I needed to have some warmth. I turned off the heat after several minutes and wiped down the windshield with an old baseball hat I found on the floor. I made it out to the beltway again and to I-95 north, toward Baltimore. It was 2:30. I went a few miles, turned on the heat again and realized that, miraculously, the windshield was not fogging up. I turned the fan to the "4" setting, as high as it would go. I drove faster, passing big trucks.

I realized I was getting sleepy and that every muscle in my back ached because of how I'd been toggling between heat and air conditioning and also the way I'd been wiping down the windshield. Every inch of fabric on my legs and crotch and ass was wet and cold. I reached down, worked up a pant let, and felt my calf. It felt like cold chicken breasts. I got in the right-hand lane and was prepared to take the next exit where I thought there might be a Holiday Inn or Travelodge or something. But then I put my palm to the driver-side window, felt how cold it was outside, and decided to keep driving only because I couldn't bear the thought of walking from truck to hotel entrance.

I got to the Baltimore beltway. My girlfriend called. She sounded worried. I'd be back in 10 minutes, I said. I was almost out of gas. I knew driving fast burns gas faster but didn't care. I was going 80. I took the downtown exit. It was 3:30 in the morning and thought about running red lights. There were no parking spaces close to the apartment building so I parked on Guilford. I shivered on the two-block walk.

I worked both keys in both doors and she was sitting on the couch when I got in. She said, "Oh, no," when she saw me and helped me get out of windbreaker, long T-shirt, regular T-shirt, shoes, socks, belt, jeans, and underwear. I found a cotton sweater in the closet, put that on to a great, wonderful sense of warmth, and went into the bathroom. I had to piss. My guy was very, very little: bunched-up and dense, like a very short section of garden hose. I got into bed, sweatered and pantsless. She got into bed with me and tried to hug around my folded-in arms and legs. "Even your knees are cold," she said.

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