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Jason Toews and fifi (the band)

Coachella and Environs, April 2013


The Trip

Previous father/son trips to the Coachella Valley having been scuttled by certain… (ahem) legal matters, which we do not wish to discuss, it was time to try again. Pops made the travel plans, Mr. Max requested the time off work, and we met at LAX.

On the freeway out of LA, I saw a sign advertising the Watts Towers. I remember seeing the Watts Towers on television when I was a kid – maybe on Sesame Street (or ZOOM or The Electric Company). It was something that I always wanted to see, and here it was, right on our way! LIKE A MIRACLE. I veered across four lanes of traffic to take the next exit. Of course, that sign on the freeway was the *only* sign, and we quickly became lost. Luckily, a guy nursing a 40 outside a gas station was willing to give me directions in exchange for the price of a second 40. We found the Towers (incredible!), took some pictures, and moved on.

For the week, we stayed in Desert Hot Springs, where there’s really nothing to see, so don’t bother. Seriously. Vast stretches of scrub-dotted desert, lots of empty businesses, abandoned trailers, overly-optimistic signs for housing developments “Coming Soon!”, one Thai restaurant, and a Kmart. The wind howls 24/7, kicking up horizon-obscuring clouds of dust and sand and powering the hundreds of monolithic windmills surrounding the town like sentinels. Just down the road a bit is Palm Springs, where the overly-tanned rich folk have been hanging out by the pool and pounding highballs for the last 100 years or so. In Palm Springs, we bought a map and drove around looking at the 1950s Modern Architecture, then caught a tram to the top of Mt. San Jacinto and went hiking. Highly recommended.

Salton Sea was every bit as Road Warrior-esque as we had been led to believe. See our photos in the set below. Abandoned homes, businesses, and cars. Thousands of dead fish marking the high tide line. Dust blowing into our eyes and mouth. Broken baby carriages left to decompose on the sidewalk. Evidence of fire damage everywhere, born of arson or simple neglect. Border Patrol checkpoints bristling with cameras, antennae, and guns (well, I presume they had guns). And yet, people do live here. As fascinated as I was, I started to feel a bit guilty taking pictures, ogling the destruction with the engine idling in our rental car, ready to speed away to our air-conditioned hotel while the actual citizens of Niland and Bombay Beach went about their lives. Very different from taking pictures of abandoned hospitals or schools, where there are no current residents to complicate the story.

As the intensity of the dust storm increased to semi-frightening levels, we visited Salvation Mountain and (from a distance) Slab City.

On to Joshua Tree National Park, one of my very favorite places, just as alien and compelling as ever. With Max leading the way, we visited a couple of spots that I hadn’t seen before, including some impressive pictographs. Pictures below tell the story better than I can. I lost my official Mountlake Terrace Senior High School baseball cap to the wind, and also gashed my leg up pretty badly when swinging between the rocks. Apart from those two minor misfortunes, a perfect day.

I spent the next day driving around exploring and taking pictures on my own while Max chilled in the Desert Hot Springs Hotel Lounge with the regulars. I climbed over fences, in and out of several abandoned businesses and homes, in the glaring sunlight, with nary a question from police or suspicious citizens. I later mentioned this to a local, who responded: “Are you kidding me? No one gives a shit what you do around here.”

And on to the Coachella Music and Arts Festival! Max the Outdoorsman set up our tent and ended up setting up everyone else’s tent, too, because, let’s face it, most of these kids just want to snort some molly and play beer pong, not earn a Webelos badge. I noted a couple of things that have changed since my last Coachella in 2009:

  1. Increase in the hip-hop lineup = more diverse crowd
  2. Increase in the EDM lineup = more drugs

Though I’d love to give you a detailed account of every band we saw, that would take forever and I’m about over this thing, so here’s just a list for my future reference:

  • You Me & Us – adorable and they rocked
  • Lord Huron – twangy and gorgeous, lots of technical problems
  • Beardyman – you should see this guy once before you die
  • Aesop Rock – they cut a dude’s hair during their set
  • Divine Fits – their best songs are the ones that sound like Spoon
  • Of Monsters and Men – big, emotive, earnest; audience loved them
  • Local Natives – dramatic, intimate; one of the best acts we saw
  • Beach House – took a few songs to get it together, then bliss
  • Band of Horses – seemed re-energized; exciting, fun performance
  • Abjo – chill DJ and rapper, nice way to start the day
  • Reignwolf – motherfucking Reignwolf, man… (shakes head)
  • Birdy Nam Nam – some kind of EDM, and it sounded BIG
  • Baauer – worst act we saw, bar none
  • Bat for Lashes – charismatic female lead, icy and gorgeous
  • Major Lazer – super fun, almost got trampled
  • Grizzly Bear – beautiful lights, pristine sound, not so charismatic
  • Simian Mobile Disco – good old-fashioned electronica with lots of strobes
  • Franz Ferdinand – stylish dressers and unbelievably tight
  • New Order – best show we saw, though Sumner was a bit of a dick
  • Ghost – cool costumes, but shtick wore thin quickly
  • DIIV – ringing, chiming guitars, occasional noisy freakouts
  • Thee Oh Sees – lovable garage rock nutcases
  • Grimes – I didn’t hear any actual “songs”
  • Dinosaur Jr. – rocked just like you’d expect
  • Tame Impala – sounded brilliant, if occasionally disjointed

By Sunday, my hayfever had reached a tipping point. The heat, dust, leg pain and crowds were starting to drive both of us buggy, so we split a little early (missing Wu-Tang!) and spent the night back in Desert Hot Springs, instead of the Coachella campground. Which was a great idea, but didn’t stop me from getting sick. I woke up the next morning and vomited. Laying on the bathroom floor, head throbbing, I thought, “There is simply no way I can fly today. I’ll have to figure out some way to get Max to the airport and then I can fly home tomorrow…” but I could never quite sort out the logistics, so I just bought some Dayquil at Walgreen’s and headed for LAX. The illness brought my poor travel planning into sharp relief: WHY had I purchased a trip home with two layovers? What did I think I was going to do for three-and-a-half hours in the Phoenix airport in the middle of the night? We arrived at LAX at 3PM PST on Monday. I did not arrive at my home in Springfield until 1PM EST the following day, ready to crawl into an open grave. Close to 24 hours of cross-country misery. It was *almost* worth it.

Enjoy the pictures!

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