Nor do I mind that a plastic cup of water costs $1 ($2 for weak Gatorade). Wow--a couple thousand people at $15 a head, you figure each of them spends an average of at least $5 on drinks. ... My brain's not up to the math right now, but someone's making some serious bank off this thing.
I barely remember gulping down my water, but the glass in my hand is empty and I want more. I buy another cup and hand it to the person behind me in line--it just seems like the thing to do. Then, for myself, I splurge on a Gatorade, which has never tasted better.
My thirst quenched, I zero in on a guy who looks like he just stepped out of a J. Crew ad; he's sitting Buddha-style against the railing opposite me. I decide to play reporter, walk up, ID myself, show him my tape recorder and ask if he'd mind a few questions. He grins and motions for me to take a seat in front of him. (Ravers, as a rule, make good interview subjects.)
I squat down and ask him his name and age. "Chad, the 17-year-old," he says. I ask him if it's obvious that I'm on E--feeling curious, not worried. Chad smiles. "Kind of." I pop the question: "Are you?" He shakes his head and grins wider.
"Once you've done it, you can get there on your own sometimes. You should be able to get there on your own all the time, at least that's the goal. But I know how it feels--when you're dancing, the music and the lights can take you to another level, and I'm not being all cosmic and funky and psychic. Seriously--when you're out there sweating and moving to the beat, you feel exalted.
"I'll take one or two hits of X and dance nonstop from 11 until four or five o'clock in the morning, and when I'm done ... the only thing I can compare it to is what a shaman goes through after he's taken peyote. I have a sense that I've been somewhere else inside myself, and I feel purged.
"X isn't about being numb or hallucinating or just getting fucked up for fucked-up's sake. It plays an integral role in this whole fantasy. And the bottom line is, this is all a fantasy world. A rave is like Disneyland--you take the ride, you see all the funny creatures, and you go home, you feel relaxed, and the next day you go back into reality."
This has become a night of sudden decisions, and I suddenly decide I'm a little too out of it to be tape-recording any conversations, especially one I'm involved in. I thank Chad for his time, and, as I stand up, he hands me a flier for a party on November 17--the weekend after next. I suddenly decide to sit back down and ask him how many raves there are in Phoenix every month.
"Big commercial ones like this, maybe one or two," he says. "But there's deeper underground stuff going on all the time; every weekend there's something somewhere."
I ask Chad what draws the line between commercial and underground. "Basically, it's how widely a party is advertised and what the goal behind it is," he says. "This thing tonight is highly commercial. The promoters wanted to make a lot of money, so they had fliers for it in coffee shops, record stores, everywhere, so you not only get the eight or nine hundred people that are hard-core into the underground, you also get a bunch of people that only come to the commercial raves because that's all they ever know about, plus a bunch of people coming to their first rave ... and a lot of them are just curiosity seekers."
He gestures to a pair of teenage girls gawking with a mixture of awe and disgust at a cuddle-puddle foursome lolling in a concrete corner, oblivious to the attention. "They should take that into the dark, but they also shouldn't get stared at," Chad says. "Also, at a true underground party, no one would be staring."
And how does one get connected to the true underground?
"You just do," he says, shrugging. "Word of mouth. Some of 'em are small, just house parties. Some of 'em are in warehouses, some of 'em are in office buildings someone has a key to. There are full-moon parties out in the desert every month. I went to a party in Tucson last year that was in an airplane graveyard. It was sick, man--they had [the deejays] up in the cockpit of a bomber."