The empty kegs and loaded on the back of the pickup with the giant chrome grill. The folding chairs and tables are all put away. The empty coolers are dumped beside the wheels forming a mountain of ice. The sound is fading or maybe numb.
It was quiet a day to be part of an occasion with complete strangers. It was not on my bucket list, but when I was invited, I decided to take the risk.
I had been to the location on several attempts to have fun.
The State Fair used to preside there with its sawdust paths and giants tents offerings strange wonders only seen on Sunday matinees. The rides made me sick and all my change would fall out of my pockets, the food was sticky and sweet, but I was vulnerable to the Carney talk. Never learning how to pitch, I could knock over the bottles, but I could shot the targets, only to get a huge stuffed animal I had to carry around until I got tired of it and gave it to some kid about the same size. A display of sharp knives fascinated me to the point where a couple of years ago I ordered a set from an infomercial. One of my fond memories was the guy with the three cups and the pea. My father and I stood there watching and knowing we could guess which cup the pea was under. He dropped about $50 at my persistent prompting and finally broke off and we walked away. That was the only time I saw him gamble.
Years later, a gathering of local businesses were putting on a show. All it meant to me was getting out of work for a few hours. I got a ride in the afternoon and enjoyed the free beer and food in the sunshine. We wandered the grounds looking at exhibits until boredom set in, at least for me. Without a ride, I decided to walk home. Since I lived on the other side of the city, it took me through nightfall to make the journey, never realizing I was walking alone through the cities projects.
A few years ago, my wife wanted to go to a craft show there, so I looked at the bus schedule and mapped the route. We rode our usually Churchill 41 downtown, then took a transfer by city hall up north through a beautiful neighborhood of old houses and dilapidated sidewalks under huge trees. The narrow streets held the suburbs of the post-civil war era, now occupied by the low-income tenants and gated convenient stores on every corner. We rode pass blocks of stately homes now in disrepair and packs of men staring at us as if we were in a foreign land.
So here I was, about to make the adventure again to one of my town’s crowning events. I was invited to attend the event, not so much to join in the group activity, but to bankroll the occasion.
Without knowing the number of folks in attendance, we went to the grocery store and I packs grocery carts with my favorite drink, fully thinking if there were leftovers, I would use them. Silly me.
Back in the alley, we emptied the cartons into iced coolers. After filling every available space, the rest were placed on the floorboard in the backseat. “But they will be warm.” I questioned. “By that time, we won’t care.” was the replay. She was right.
We traveled a few blocks to connect with the rest of the herd. Several cars and a pickup truck sat in the middle of the street with about two-dozen youngsters in shorts, t-shirts and baseball caps. They were already drinking.
All piled into their vehicles and the caravan was off. My job was done.
I was not a true participant, but an observer.
A site was claimed and a canopy was set up between all the cars. The grill was unloaded and fired up, and of course, the coolers were opened and the contents spread throughout the crowd. In the background was the roar of noise that would become too close for comfort.
Food and jokes and names of people I did not know were passed around with black trash bags filling with tin. A washboard bucket was iced and a keg was tapped. There would be two more before the night was over.
The entire afternoon was a mass of people growing in numbers and wandering back and forth in a procession in front of our site. Children were running, parents walked by with colorful shirts and drinks in their hands. Everyone was screaming over the roar that blanketed the area.
Finally, it was time to observe what we had come for. I hadn’t bought a ticket, but one was handed to me. We walked in mass into the arena of power and noise.
The gladiators strutted around absorbing their adulation, signing signatures and answering questions. Their chariots were lined up in multi-color splendor. The redundant presentation of the nations banners seemed as familiar as pledging the alliance to the stars and stripes every day in elementary school. I wonder why that stopped by the time I got to high school? The national anthem was sung through a bad sound system by a local someone and the crowd cheered as if they knew the words as the fly over marked the beginning of what would be a long evening.
I had become captured in a time and place that was not comfortable, but here I was. I was not going to walk home or take the bus tonight. I put on my yellow headphones thinking it would block the sound as my brother had suggested, but I would be subjected to a heavy metal song that would not end for hours.
Even the seats vibrated.
The blinding lights flooded the landscape of a mass of humanity reveling in screaming without a voice heard. Only hand gestures and reading lips communicated the next beer run.
The mobile billboards blurred by over and over, in speeds that did not appear as fast as on television, but faster than I could imagine. Lights would flash and they would all slow and follow one another like ducklings following there mother, turning into a preset area and surrounded by people in matching uniforms performing a delicate ballet.
Finally fireworks, smoke, and the spray of liquid quieted the anxiety panic that was performed before us.
The group splintered into their escape pods, hugging and waving, horse from the excitement. The girls gathered in a clump and gestured to each other in a secret code only know to them as the guys staggered about passing silver flask of unknown alcohol between them. Everyone seemed happy.
A young woman in a tank top and cut off jean shorts threw her hands up and twirled around dancing knowing she was going to get nailed that night as the vampires moved in around her.
A kiss, not so much of passion but of appreciation signaled the end of a fascination day. It was worth it, but I won’t have to do it again.
The next day’s ride had a bit of a wobble, with several unanticipated stops.
Just another day in Just Another Life.