The Road Away from Camp Bisco V
Hunter Mountain, NY, 2006
Final Night, 4:30 am
The well-lit lobby glowed like a beacon from the pitch black thunderstorm raging outside. My eyes were drawn to the light like a wet moth to a fluorescent flame. I broke rank from the slowly shuffling line ascending the rain soaked mountain and slipped into the double doors of the ski lodge like a whisper. I immediately felt the sterile indoor air fill my lungs.
Suddenly I felt clumsily overdressed, as if I had wandered into a sanctuary trailing mud from a strange and perilous battlefield. I loosened my windbreaker hood and pulled it down to my neck, unsheathing my head to the cool environment. Unnatural chemicals pulsated under my skin, making my extremities feel electric. Reality had become foreign and semi-fictitious. All at once it occurred to me how ominously silent my surroundings were. I could hear the discordant and foreboding din of a far-off sound system through the wall, but for the most part the main Lodge was a soundless vacuum that made my ears pop. Outside the double doors a thickly woven line of patrons clad in rain gear traversed the mountain like a great black caterpillar.
The padding of my sticky wet sneakers squeaked on the clinical linoleum floor. My shoes were soaked straight through and squishing like sponges with every step. My glasses instantly fogged over, so before going any further I popped them off to rub them clean with my sweatshirt sleeve. Standing in a rather dank thicket of darkness, feeling my pulse in my neck, a sensation washed over me that I was not alone. At music festivals like this it’s typically unlikely to find a place of total solace, let alone one as clean, open, and silent as this. I began feeling terminally out of place.
As my eyes finally began to adjust to the dark, I stepped into a large foyer and felt the vacuum of the tremendous room around me as I entered. This room was hotter; more amphibious. I put my glasses on and blinked a few times. Wearing glasses can be pretty bizarre on a night like this; no person should really have to see that clearly mid intoxication, and it gave an inorganic and disorienting quality to my progressively slurring eyesight. All around me I could make out bulbous, cozily shaped mounds across the floor. An animal scent filled my nose, and on the brink of thinking I had stumbled upon a herd of sleeping buffalo, I realized the room was filled with humans. I covered my mouth even though I hadn’t gasped, and continued to adjust my eyesight to the darkness. Familiar smells pulsated up at me, reminiscent of this-or-that smoke shop and every festival under the sun. Sweat riddled dreadlocks on a hot July day. The sour feeling in my stomach matched my escalating level of disbelief. Agreeing that I was only half-hallucinating, I sat down on my haunches and decided to have myself a good think– a moment to drink in such a rare silence.
Hours before this I was dancing under a cornucopia of undulating light. The Disco Biscuits appeared as four black figures on a far away platform, stretched like a toppled monolith over the green expanse of the ski slope. Their physical motions as musicians made no sensible translation to the sound that came flooding through speakers, and for however many hours I was trapped in a sort of madness. Seeing the Biscuits truly do their thing is akin to being in attendance at the first mass service of a newly erected stadium church. The crowd is rabid, the sensory overload is relentless, and everyone is so along for the ride they don’t even realize how fucking insane they look on television.
And for a while that night, I was really into it. Like I always am, actually. No matter many times I’d seen the Biscuits at that point, (let’s say fifty), I was always still game for more. This was my favorite flavor of cacophony, my auditory poison of choice. My favorite band.
Throughout high school I feasted on these types of experiences as if seated at a great table adorned with every delicacy and pleasure a man could desire. I drank in live music every weekend like a venomous and mind expanding wine, letting the flavors ruminate in my mind and run afoul with my thoughts and ambitions. Music was powerful, religious, and like any good drug, easily available. Something as trivial as schooling wasn’t going to get in the way of a good time.
My high school (essentially a republican thought-prison run by millionaire wasps and their polo-clad brood), was merely a distraction from my various and increasing musical excursions. I was following the Biscuits to the frayed corners of the earth back then, letting them alter the course of my genetic and biological destiny. Whatever I, or my parents, had planned for me before I began with the Biscuits was to be diverted to a neon future of electronic dreams and nightmares, lights and visions, drums and black magic.
This was the summer of my senior year of high school and my creative juices were pumping in thick torrents. I was buzzing after having successfully run an underground newspaper exposing the fallacies and general thick-headed nature of my seemingly Orwellian private school. That year I had finished a full length screen play that I was very proud of (in retrospect it was incredibly derivative, unseasoned and laughably involved a twist where the majority of the story took place in the main character’s mind), and also enjoyed moderate success with a garage band (who’s name was stupid enough to redact from this final draft). While my writing was undoubtedly my paramount skill, the pervasive influence of electronic music and live concerts polluted my thought process into following a different path entirely. I began considering drumming as a viable future, and nearly a decade of practice was a good head start (as if the hard work was already done, so why not?). Like many decisions I had made in my life, the temptation to run off the beaten path was too great and too easy, and so drumming became my main squeeze.
Alas, now college loomed ahead. In my several years as a “blooming intellectual” (directly from my senior year English class report card) in my time before Biscuits, I must have laid some pretty convincing groundwork that I was going to be a serious filmmaker and writer for my adult career. My parents were buying it and I kinda was too, but by the time all of my essays and applications began to be shipped off to colleges, my brain was being shipped off to planet Bisco. So while ‘Before Biscuits Daniel’ got into college, got straight A’s, and kicked general mental ass, DBD (‘During Biscuits Daniel’) was the one who actually had to go to college for something other than drums and lasers. And DBD was pretty damn scared. In fact, as the fates began to align and his future began to map itself out, DBD was starting to see how being a maniacal live music super-hero might not be a sustainable hobby of a respectable collegiate scholar and filmmaker. No greater conflict in scheduling could exemplify this impending life paradigm better than the weekend of Camp Bisco V.
The festival took place on top Hunter Mountain in Upstate NY, and as the mountains of trash and emptied baggies were scheduled to be cleaned off the mountain come that Sunday morning, I was scheduled to meet my parents at College for Freshman move-in on Sunday night. Not to be needlessly foreboding here, but for a little while I really thought I was going to pull it off.
Abruptly it came to me: these familiar, fuzzy and humid smelling shapes in the lodge were human beings. The theoretical camera zoomed out to reveal me standing in a lodge full of sleeping patrons. A range of emotions churned inside of me, from disgust to confusion. Why were these people–this many people–so unprepared for this event that they ended up seeking such meager shelter? Many of them were devoid of any creature comforts, sleeping on the hard floor without even a blanket. Going to a festival already involved reducing your living standard down to that of a war-torn desert village, but this was like some sort of real life refugee camp you’d see on CNN.
Next to me I could make out a couple huddled together sharing some kind of ragged gypsy pashmina as a blanket. They had constructed some sort of rudimentary bed out two flattened cardboard boxes. Despite all of my “Peace and Love” training from Live Music Community 101, there was still a part of me that was tainted by my privileged and egalitarian upbringing, leading my thoughts to judgmental places. Could this man and woman have possibly invested in a bit of forethought to prevent this situation? How do you even end up like this? I wanted to laugh, but I couldn’t. I tend not to laugh very often when no one is around to hear it. I imagined that in the morning I would tell my friends about how I had stumbled onto some kind of morose hippie flophouse, but as for now it was time to call it a night.
I strode back to the exit of the lodge, being purposefully clunky as I prepared to head back outside. At this point I didn’t give a damn whether or not I woke any of these weirdos up. If you can’t prepare yourself properly for something like this, expect a little hassle. Thus far in my life I was always prepared. Prepared to lie at a moments notice, prepared to bullshit an essay to further my academic endeavors, prepared to take it all in stride because worries just weren’t something I realistically possessed. In a day’s time I would be starting college, lighting the fuse on my scintillating future of drumming and writing and all other golden opportunities. I would never be these destitute, directionless Lodge-sleepers. I was simply meant for more.
The second I began to push the metal door open to the outside, the wind caught it and yanked it from my grip. I was ejected from the lodge and instantly enveloped by the elements. I was shocked to find that in the fleeting moments I had spent indoors, the tempest had increased tenfold. Rain horizontally sliced through the towers of fog above me, slamming down on my back like lashes. Any warmth or regeneration I gained from the lodge was turned upside down, and my brain instantly went into a fever. I had to get back to my tent as soon as humanly possible. The line of people ascending to the summit had completely scattered, reacting to the increase of inclement weather. The main path up the hill to where my tent was had been trampled down into a foot-thick paste of mud. My feet immediately sunk and froze and for a moment I considered dropping flat to the ground and creating a makeshift mud igloo for the night. I shook my head as if to wake myself up and felt my eyes bounce around in their sockets. The mud gripped at my feet like clawed traps, each step bringing me closer to the darkness.
I tried cutting through the row of vending tents beside me to find a walkway with surer footing. This path involved weaving in between tents and hop-skipping over ropes and tentpoles that were barely visible in black of night. After trudging up the hill this way for a little while, I cross-sectioned back to the main path. With visibility being less than a couple feet in front of me, I realized instantly that I was lost. Unable to judge any sort of distance up or down the hill, I froze in place no longer had a grip on my location. I was soaked, but also sweating, the humidity steadily overwhelming me. Again my glasses fogged over. I popped them off to wipe the lenses and in my deteriorated state I fumbled them, feeling them slip through my fingers and drop into the mud at my feet with a “plop.”
I pulled my glasses from the tar pit and began cleaning them again. I wiped the mud directly on my jacket, assuming it would wash off as it was being bashed by rain. With my glasses back on again, I could see a man in effective rain gear striding up the path in front of me. Possibility of hope, or direction, increased.
“Excuse me…do you….where are we exactly?”
“Do you have a map or something?” I said.
He fuddled into his knapsack for a map but ended up bringing out a little metal flashlight which he stuck between his teeth with a clink. Now with both hands he rustled through his pack, unearthing a map as I was starting to become impatient. He unfolded it and pondered over it with an outstretched finger like a wizard reading from an ancient grimoire.
“Ah yes,” he said as if finding the correct incantation. “Here we are.”
I looked at the map and tried to pretend like it was any help at all. I just think at this point I needed someone to talk to. When I used to work at Blockbuster Video (before getting fired for hurling DVD’s across the store to my coworker while stoned on highschool-quality weed) I would get so bored that I would talk to anyone who listened. (“Oh, you like “You’ve Got Mail” with Meg Ryan? Let’s talk about it until my lunch break!”) I tried extending our conversation, but as the rain ceased it’s downward spiral he landed a hand of comfort on my shoulder and then folded the map back up, giddily gliding away from me as I sunk back down into the earth. I was fucked. I closed my eyes and pondered how I had gotten into such a sad state, and so quickly. For a moment I daydreamed of being back in the lodge, warm and asleep on a piece of cardboard or two.
After a bit of dumb luck and the recognition of a row of trees, I finally found my tent– and it looked like a collapsed umbrella tossed in smashed shit. It was evident that my friends and neighbors had buckled down for the long haul and were probably still asleep from the night before. I had traveled out to the late night options for the festival after the Biscuits had finished, leaving my sleepier friends behind. After all, what’s another couple hours to a professional like me? I thought I could handle it.
I began pulling my tent back into a less two dimensional shape, snapping my poles back into the chewy, chocolatey earth. I was eventually able to get inside and strip my wet clothes off. I fumbled around in my tent, waiting for my fingers to regain feeling. As I sloshed my hands around my air mattress, I realized that there was at least a couple inches of water in my tent. I went into a panic again, but this time in a more subdued haze brought on by the various violations I’d already experienced that night. As I bailed water out of my tent out with a bucket like a raft in a cartoon, I could see the light of the sun cresting on the horizon. The fun from the night before had began drifting away from me like a wave being sucked back into the sea by the tide. My feet were soggy, my bones chilled, and at around five am I finally found some way to lay down. My air mattress was equally defeated as well, progressively leaking air with every uncomfortable twist and turn in my quivering half-sleep. When dreams finally took me I was soaked to the bone, twisted in a wet knot and shivering. I sporadically woke up and saw the glow of my tent increasing tangentially with the rising sun. Despite being apoplectic and nearly paralyzed, I managed to drift off to an opiated state that semi-resembled true rest. I found myself strangely eased by the rhythmic slosh of water in my tent as my belongings traveled around my air mattress like lost buoys. I had to go to my first day of college tomo–well, today, but my night had been stolen from me and replaced with some sort of meteorological purgatory.
In this feverish floating nightmare, I could see my bright future beginning to crumble in front of me in blazing conflagrations. Whatever rest I was getting was only making me feel worse. Days of staying up and partying without end began cataclysmically folding down on my psyche. My plan of meeting my parents for move-in day began to literally haunt me like a specter of responsibility . Cold tears winced from my eyes and cascaded into the water covering the tent floor. I couldn’t believe that in a few meager hours I would be leaving my old life behind for the next chapter of my existence. Not like this. Not in this pain.
I popped back into my tent and pulled my cellphone out of my backpack to check the time, but it was dead. I had to get to my car, and I had to get out of here, regardless of time. My parents would be hitting the road to meet me at my dorm-room by six o’clock, and I had to get there before them so I could re-arrange my entire brain and life. But first; the drive.
I whirled around to see a nude woman standing in front of me with strawberry-blonde hair. Radiant and welcoming, she smiled and outstretched her arms to me. Floating on air I approached her, my senses becoming heightened and titillated as our bodies moved closer. Before our lips met I caught a glimpse of her eyes. They were black as oil. Suddenly smelled a foul and familiar scent. I looked down at my surroundings to find that my room had been overrun with massive, sleeping hippies, piled atop one another in an orgy of sweat and grime. They began to toss and turn and unfurl from their greasy piles like worms and snakes. They began reaching for my ankles to drag me down. I whipped my body around to try to—
—my car swerved over the yellow line, cascading at full speed into oncoming traffic. The sight itself didn’t register with the rest of my senses, but all at once I realized the nature of my situation and my body jolted straight up like a shot of adrenaline had been spiked into my cerebellum. I gripped the steering wheel and instead of trying to head back into my lane, I pulled as hard as I could to cross the opposing two lanes of traffic that I was flying blindly into. Thanks to fate, or that God I had mentioned, there were no oncoming cars. With a certain level of finesse my car flew off of highway, slamming nose-first into a thick plateau of mud in a ditch below. I’m sure from a birds eye view my crash landing was only seconds long and quite graceful, but to me if felt like being in a rocket ship with no safety-belt.
After the impact into the mud I literally fell out of my car crying and heaving and touching myself all over to make sure I was still truly alive. I realized that I couldn’t have driven more than twenty minutes away from the Camp Bisco grounds before falling asleep at the wheel. The ditch I had careened into from the highway made it possible for my car to be hidden from the sight of the main highway above.
I spent the next ten or so minutes pulling chunks of mud out of the front grill of my car and unblocking my wheel-well so I could drive out of this fresh hell that I had landed in. I vigilantly checked the hillside every other second to make sure that no one was stopping to help me, or worse, to call help. After a lot of digging and a little bit of pushing, the car was ready to roll. I sat in the driver’s seat for a moment and calmed my nerves. I think I may have even let out a maniacal chuckle at this point. My car lurched back onto the road over the skid tracks that I had left on my way into the ditch. I could hear clumps of mud and earth rattling out of the undercarriage of my car, sounding like bags of spilling rocks under my tires for the first mile of the drive. The further I got from the grounds of Camp Bisco, the further I felt my past, my old life, my old everything just drift away.
At long last, around 7 pm, I arrived at my dorm-room in Hilliard Hall. I smelled of death and twice-baked festival sweat. My parents had occupied themselves at a nearby hotel until my arrival so I could at least check into my room unmolested. My dorm was a shivery cement box with nothing but a plastic desk and a faux-wood bed frame. I dropped my belongings in a clumpy heap onto the ground and finally took a moment to breathe. I looked around at the cold, barren walls of my surroundings and felt reality start to seep in. I sat at my desk, reeling from a day that I had barely survived. In my room there was an overwhelming quiet, much like that of the lodge the night before. Only twenty four hours ago I had scoffed at the idea of such rough living, of such putrid smells, of such a lonely and bizarre environment. Now I stunk of shit and mud, with no love or friends by my side, no place to call my own besides half of a cement cell. Clouding my thoughts was ever-present fear that in the morning, my college experience was going to begin with or without my brain intact. Because I wasn’t a music major and wasn’t allowed access to the practice room for my drums, days later I had constructed a makeshift drum-set out of, you guessed it, used cardboard boxes. Like a sort of grim poetry I was forced to recall the boxes I had seen used as beds by hippies whose decisions I questioned and lives I had mentally mocked.
While all of this pain and mud and a near-death experience seemed to stem from my insistent need to go to Camp to see the Biscuits for the second turbulent year in a row, the first thing I did after settling in to my room was crack open my laptop, close my eyes, and begin blasting the music of the Disco Biscuits loud enough for the whole hall to hear. The sound echoed off my cool brick walls and reached no one but me as the music ricocheted back into my ears and fed straight into my brain. I gathered my thoughts and readied myself for another chapter, and on and on toward the future.