Saturday, November 14, 2009

Ozzfest '07 Part 1: Calm Before The Shitstorm

A sad scene at the Hard Rock Hospital. In room 666, the 12 year old festival lay there devoid of energy but proud still in denial that it had wobbled into a state dangerously close to comatose. "But, we were free this year", it protested. "We're going to come back next year stronger than ever". I smiled weakly and nodded, "Yes, yes, there there". I patted it's hand and said, "It's okay, you had a good run. Think about all those bands and those awesome day long events." The festival looked away and seemed to know it was over. There would be no encore, no "thank you, good night", no next year. The lights went down and with a smoky wheeze that denied anyone anywhere a satisfying crescendo of a death rattle, Ozzfest was gone and it didn't cost anyone a dime...


After seeing Ozzfest the past two years up in Mountain View, CA with Keno (one with our sister-in-law Janet in tow), the two of us looked forward to the summer of '07 and another "roadie" to Ozzfest. The day long event provides one with sunshine and beer, people watching and laughter, rock and roll. We assumed that we'd land another weekend date in Mountain View and the world would continue to spin on its axis.

I'm the point man for these roadies and was spot on when it was announced that Ozzfest that year would be free with the purchase of Ozzy's 2007 release "Black Rain". Ozzfest had been wildy popular for over ten years but the economy had changed and it was getting harder and harder for these traveling road shows to tour. It was decided to have sponsors foot the bill and the bands in the lineup to make their money from merchandise and by playing their own headline shows on the off days and not be paid up front. I liked the concept but when the supporting bands were announced, I was a little disappointed with the weak assortment. Then again, I knew that much of the day would be made up of experiences outside of watching bands play so shrugged it off. I watched for tour dates and it turned out that the only California weekend date would be in a place called Devore. I had to Google it. Devore is a skidmark eight miles outside of San Bernadino in the high desert of southern California. Further research told me that the Hyundai Pavilion was the home of the US Festival back in 1982 and 1983, so as much as I was intrigued to see that site, I lamented the fact that we'd have to travel to the Southland.

I bought Black Rain on its release date in May of 2007 and promptly used my enclosed coupon and went online to land my two free tickets to the Ozzfest show of my choice. It was fairly easy and when I printed my tickets, I thought to myself that many folks would simply bring their coupon to the show expecting to use it to get in. (Foreshadowing alert).

I did some online recon and found a decent looking Best Western in Rancho Cucamonga and booked a room. The only things I knew about Rancho Cucamonga was that it was a town that was mentioned in a funny way by Bugs Bunny (along with Albuquerque) in those old Warner Brothers cartoons and that they had a Single A minor league baseball team. When we talked about the trip, we both schemed to get on the road early to make a weekend out of it. I looked into golf courses and made a tee time for the Friday before the show. When July rolled around, Keno and I had planned far ahead by then: he'd be off work that morning and I'd take the day off so we could travel down south so as to make our tee time.

We hurtled down south that Friday making good time until we hit I-10 and merged into the lava flow of brake lights. I hadn't been out that way in some time and it all looked different. Mega car dealerships, behemoth box store shopping centers, and new tracts of houses for as far as the eye could see. Some aggressive maneuvering got us past the crush of stupidity and we were in the open finally, all the time watching the clock. Our tee time was fast approaching but all we had to do when we got there was change into our golf shoes and crack a beer. We practically skidded into a parking spot at the course. Slinging our bags over our shoulders, we strode to the clubhouse double time. We paid up, grabbed a couple of beers and then were told that we'd be paired up with another twosome. Damn.

Usually not a big deal, getting paired up with strangers can be a bit stressful. You have to hope that they are equal to your skill level or at least not a lot worse or not a lot better. Personality helps too. Keno and I never have a problem making friends anywhere we go but you never know. This time, it was a couple of Hispanic guys about our age named Carlos and Bennie. Carlos was tall and heavy set while Bennie was shorter and stocky. They didn't look athletic at all, much less look like golfers. We all shook hands and chatted while the foursome ahead of us was teeing off. They seemed like cool guys but were a bit reserved. They were also locals who'd played the course often so they'd be able to help us out on angles and lies.

It was our turn up at the tee box. We all hit fairly well but I felt stiff and uncomfortable with my swing. Not a good sign. As we moved through the first few holes, Carlos and Bennie began lightening up, maybe seeing that Keno and I were harmless average golfers out for a good time. At least this seemed so to me because they lit up a joint on Seven and asked us if we'd like to partake. We politely declined and I was relieved that I didn't look as much like a DEA agent as I thought.

After the clubhouse turn, my game went to shit. Keno stayed steady, even making miraculous use of a horrible slice around a 120 foot tall tree to shadow the doglegged fairway. I however hit some divots farther than the ball and hit so many into sand bunkers that Carlos said I should have brought a beach ball. On Fourteen, I was near the green and just needed to chip up to putt. Instead, I somehow used the wedge like a croquet mallet and sent the ball scorching across the green and off the edge. Four times....

On Fifteen, I hit the ball down the fairway like a frenzied parent spanks their unruly child down the aisle in Wal-Mart, with short, wild, hit-and-miss swings all the while muttering things like, "I swear to God this is the last time we're doing this unless you shape up" and "Look what you made me do".

Sixteen was a short par 3, just what the doctor ordered to collect myself. I swung and looked up to see the ball taking off like the Space Shuttle but on course for the green. "Wow, you got all of that one", Keno bellowed. The four of us tracked the arc of the ball but I glanced down to estimate where it would land and mumbled "cart path" just as we all heard the familiar rattle and sputter of the beer cart. The ball was reentering the atmosphere when we saw the beer cart come over the hill and yelled, "fore!". The cute little gal driving the cart slammed on her brakes and smiled and waved, thinking she'd interrupted someone's swing. In fact, she stopped on the big cartoony X that marked the spot where my ball looked like it was going to land. Luckily, it hit the concrete about a foot to the right of the cart and she shrieked and curled into a ball like a pill bug. Meanwhile, my ball bounded about 60 feet in the air and then rolled harmlessly towards the tee box on Seventeen. I figured it was a sign for me to skip this hole and tee off on Seventeen. As I walked by the beer cart girl, I sheepishly apologized and she just blinked at me in shellshock.

Keno played out and met me on Seventeen, snickering. While Carlos and Bennie finished up, we scoped out the fairway. We both gasped as we looked over a pond that had to be about 250 yards across with the flag another 150 away. This looked impossible, but we started strategizing anyway. "What are you guys looking at?", Bennie asked from behind us as Carlos was taking warmup swings on the real tee box. Immediately realizing that we were setting up to shoot on the flag of Five, we both gathered ourselves and said something about the view. Later, we both laughed about the havoc we would have caused hitting back across the lake onto a hole we'd already played. The round ended mercifully and not a minute too soon. Keno shot respectfully but I stopped counting when I reached triple digits and still had a handful of holes to go. We headed to the hotel after picking up some beer for the room. We checked in, cleaned up and headed out for some dinner and for whatever Rancho Cucamonga had to offer.

It wasn't much as it turned out. We ate at TGI Fridays and then calculated that there wasn't anything to do here. I had done some research online and read about a club that sounded interesting, at least to provide the precious people watching we love. We drove over and pulled into a massive parking lot for a small club about the size of a ranch style home, only to be directed by lot attendants into an overflow lot. As the gravel crushed under our wheels, we both wondered what this place was all about. We got out of the truck and talked briefly with a security guard, a young African American guy that sort of looked us over with bemusement.

"This must be a happenin' place, huh?", Keno asked the guard.

He smiled and shook his head, "Yeah, it's like this every weekend. Gets crazy in there. You guys are heading in there, huh?"

"Might as well", I said. "We're here for Ozzfest tomorrow and looking to kill time tonight".

"Ohhhh, okay. Yeah, yeah, that should be wild out there tomorrow, man". He said it as if he'd figured out a mystery or just got the punchline to a joke told to him yesterday.

We started the trek to the club and my phone rang. It was Janet wishing us a good show. I love how concert people do that, as if we as fans are performing. I chatted with her for a few moments and told her that I wished she were with us. As I hung up, we were approaching the club and Keno asked me if I noticed anything. I looked around and said, "Oh. Yeah, we're the only white people here. Huh, what do you want to do?". He kept looking forward, never breaking stride and said in a chipper manner, "We're going in".

We paid the small cover and got our IDs checked and passed through the doors. We drifted through a glass door to the left and entered a smallish, dark lounge. A jazz quartet was killing on a Coltrane number that I couldn't place at the time. There were a few couples dancing in front of the band. We walked to the bar and got a couple of beers, then turned to lean on the bar to get a look at the layout. There couldn't have been more than 50 people in the place with many tables and booths empty. "Where are all the people for all those cars?", I asked. His brow was furrowed. He was trying to figure it out too. It was a fine place and the music was good but we were missing something. We took a seat to watch the band and hang out.

Behind the band was a smoked glass wall and you could see the reflection of the band's backs and of the couples dancing. I kept seeing the reflection of a large crowd of people and turned around to see them but we were almost against the back wall and there was nobody behind us. I didn't say anything to Keno but I noticed he did the same thing a couple of times. "Are you seeing people in the reflection too?", I laughed. "Yeah, what the hell?". As I focused on the smoked glass, I realized it was a partition! "Wait a minute", I exclaimed, "that's another room in there behind the band". Keno then recognized it and we both laughed. We grabbed our beers and made way for the glass door. Pushing through, we paused for a moment in a small, quiet foyer where the sounds of the jazz band drifted off before heading through another glass door where we were met with a blast of beats and a rush of warm air. The lights were flashing and a DJ was perched on a podium above hundreds of people gyrating on the dance floor. It was a different world. We were literally through the looking glass....

As we surveyed the room, it was confirmed that we were indeed in the minority here. We were able to find two other white guys, one dressed head to toe in Ecko clothing and one that looked like he mistook this place for the Elks lodge. Also, the bartenders were white. Everyone else without exception was black. We got some more drinks and tried to settle in somewhere to watch the action but it was so packed that you just stood where you were which meant a lot of bumping into each other. Once, I bumped pretty hard into what I thought was a rhinoceros but turned out to be a huge black guy in a pin striped suit and fedora. Instead of pummeling me into part of the carpet pattern, he laughed and basically picked me up by the elbow and passed me through on my merry way. "There you go, little man. Playa. Rocker. Whooo, go on now....", he howled. I think I may have said, "Thank you, sir".

Keno and I found a place on the edge of the steps leading down onto the dance floor. The air was thicker there due to all the body heat. We watched this gorgeous black woman refuse the advances of every man that came up to her. It got to the point where we were betting on guys. "Watch this guy, I bet he gets her to dance", Keno would say. Then she'd wave him off. After a while, we were rooting for the guys. They were coming at her like soldiers storming the beach. She waved off another, this one very polite and charming. "Oh come on, what was wrong with that guy, woman?", we'd yell to ourselves laughing.

We stayed a little longer and decided to head back to the room. We crashed pretty hard and woke up refreshed for a long day in the sun. Little did we know that we'd be heading into a war zone.