Yesterday I was commiserating with an old friend on Facebook about the fact that he’s missing Mardi Gras. Even though he lives in New Orleans, he’s away from the city on business elsewhere in Louisiana. Very near to New Orleans in fact, but he’s working like 15-hour days, so he might as well be on the moon. This falls into the category of “so near, but yet so far”.
I’d like to remind this friend that back when I used to live in New Orleans, if not for him I would never have had the pleasure of visiting Houma, Louisiana, the self-described Cajun Capital of the World. My favorite thing about Houma, however, is that it’s the home of the Shrimp and Petroleum Festival. In Louisiana, where every fruit and vegetable, every variety of seafood, every nationality and country, and every holiday no matter how obscure is cause for a festival and a parade, the Shrimp and Petroleum Festival stands out as a shining example of festival-ness.
Talk of Mardi Gras led to mention of Jazzfest, which leads me to a story. Of course. Now you may think that as much as I’m fond of telling stories from the past, it means that nothing exciting ever happens to me any more. And you would be right. And I’d like to keep it that way. I want to have nothing more to do with adrenalin-producing scenarios and near-death experiences. Almost colliding with a deer last December is as close as I want to get to excitement.
But back to my one and only experience with Jazzfest. Jazzfest is held at the Fairgrounds, which is a racetrack. Fakesister and I went there once for a horse race, the only one either of us had ever seen live. Although we were novices, we developed a foolproof scientific method for predicting winners and betting accordingly. Our method involved picking the horse with the coolest name, or in some cases, the one with the fluffiest tail.
As a racetrack, the Fairgrounds is fine. As the setting for a world-reknowned festival, which draws gazillions of people, it’s…cramped. I had invited a girlfriend from Memphis to come down for it, and she brought a friend of hers. We all went in the friend’s friend’s car. (Remember that detail.) Once there, we promptly became separated, and had not had the sense to arrange a meeting place should that occur.
The first bad thing that happened to me was that I decided to make my way to the main stage, where Jimmy Buffett was playing. I was what seemed like a mile away when I realized there was no way I was ever getting close enough for it to matter, so I decided to turn around and go back. Except I couldn’t. I could not turn around. The pressure of the crowd was too much. We were all shoulder to shoulder and it was like this relentless march forward from which there was no escape. The person to my right could see that I was panicking, and said to me quietly, just go with the flow–you have no choice. You can’t get out now, but you will be able to later. I then concentrated on not falling down, because if I had, I would have been trampled. Not on purpose, but because the crowd would have no choice. At last, the people behind me made the same decision I had…that they would never get close enough, and the people at the rear edge of the crowd who could still move started to break away. I had never experienced claustrophobia before, but this experience is virtually indescribable. It was like being a member of the Borg. (“Resistance is futile.”)
When I broke away myself, I wandered to the far edges of the grounds, and promptly collapsed. I don’t mean from relief. I mean…collapsed onto the grass. Where I lay, in and out of consciousness, for an unknown period of time. I wanted to ask someone for help, but I couldn’t speak. I got angry. Why doesn’t anyone see I’m in trouble here and offer to help. The answer to that is obvious. They just thought I was drunk. I finally became coherent enough to realize that what I needed was water, and that if I did not somehow find a way to get it, I would die. About a million miles from my spot (e.g., 50 feet), I saw a water faucet. I literally crawled there and put my head under it and drank a ton of it, which I promptly threw up. But I eventually felt better. Did I mention that it was blazingly hot?
Realizing there was no way I would ever find my friend and her friend, I took a cab home. (I was grateful that I still had money; if someone, mistaking me for drunk, had tried to take it from me, I would have been powerless to stop them.)
The next day I learned that my friend(s) had left hours before, knowing they were stranding me. If nothing else, I would eventually have found my way back to the car. Ask me if I ever spoke to either of them again?
Some things leave such an impression on you that you can never overcome it. It’s like getting sick after eating a boiled egg. It doesn’t matter whether or not the egg had anything to do with it; it’s that you can never dissociate “sick” and “boiled egg”. So I will never go back to Jazzfest. I hate it, and the horse (so to speak) that it rode in on.