Fear and Loathing and Punk Rock Bowling

Fear and Loathing and Punk Rock Bowling

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Tuesday, 12 July 2016
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fearandloathing
I’m at the lobby of a hotel waiting in line to speak to someone at the front desk. It’s brunch time and surprisingly not that busy, but nonetheless there is a lady ahead of me taking her time. I don’t mind — I’m on vacation and so is she. I just want to know why the wifi isn’t working. The lady ahead of me is inquiring about what shows are going on in the area. She’s holding a pamphlet going through the shows one by one with the receptionist to ensure she makes the right choice.

“What about this one?” she points at one of the highlights on the pamphlet.
“That’s a good one, yes! It’s a love story so there’s a lot of fighting,” answers the receptionist.
She nods pensively.
“Do you have anything with lions?”
You see, the thing is I’m in Vegas — for the first time in my life. It’s Punk Rock Bowling. And I’m not sure I want to be here.

I used to live in San Diego, and one of the joys of living there, besides the excellent Mexican food, was that I met people that would become some of my best friends. I haven’t lived there in 11 years, but our friendship has endured. Sure they’re bros (they love Tosh.0, drink beer our of pitchers, and quote Caddyshack), but they’re the good kind, you know? Smart, funny, and deeply loyal. I got my chops in America with these guys (because I’m a foreigner), and I owe them a depth of gratitude. The thing is, I haven’t been the best friend to them over the years.

I’ve moved several times since leaving San Diego in 2005. First to Hershey Pennsylvania and now to Boston Massachusetts. I have been visited by several of my San Diegan friends over the years who make an effort to stay in touch and fly across the continent for me. I, on the other hand, go to San Diego every couple years to spend mandatory Christmas and New years with my family and I share my time with both these groups. Sure, I’m still flying across the US and frankly try to prioritize them ahead of my family sometimes, but the give and take isn’t the same. I have business to conduct in San Diego with my family. There’s no one on the east coast they want to see besides me. So when I realized last year that some solidarity with my friends might be nice, I decided to actually put in some effort and return the favor.

These guys go to Punk Rock Bowling every year, and they always have a great time, and they always invite me, and I never go. I don’t even consider it. It’s just out of the question. Just the whole idea of it, you know? Las Vegas? That’s the lowest common denominator for fun — drinking and strippers. And bowling? I bowled every week for a year and my average score actually went down as a result. I’m a terrible bowler and have grown to hate the sport. A punk festival? Please, don’t make me laugh. Is a festival any way to respectably see good music? You know how we complain that the Warped Tour sucks nowadays? That’s because it took us several years to realize that FESTIVALS SUCK. We were young and stupid. We’re older now and know better.

So let’s be clear on why I’m in Vegas right now, what actually brings me to town: my friends. That’s the actual highlight of the weekend for me. If there’s some boozing, some late nights, good food and coffee, and some punk rock while I’m at it, then even better.

I arrive on a Friday having flown an airline I’ve never flown before: Spirit Airlines. A budget airline who balances their low prices by charging you a fee for just about anything. Lucky for me, I did my research for this trip, searched online for food, drinks, and sight recommendations that didn’t involve nipple tassels, and on how to beat Spirit at their own game. In short, I was in search of the classy cultural Vegas, and wasn’t going to start this voyage on the wrong foot. With a little bit of luck, and some foresight, I could potentially pull this off.

After taking a cab from the airport to the Golden Nugget, my friend Matt meets me in the lobby and shows me the room we’ll be sharing for the weekend. Everyone who came along for the trip (about 13 people or so) was already out at a bar waiting for us. Off we went, on foot, through the casino (because in Vegas you exit and enter hotels through the casino). The Griffin bar was just a few blocks away, and Matt takes this opportunity to fill me in on exactly what to expect this weekend and who exactly came along for the trip.

It’s one thing to see Vegas in the movies or TV and another thing altogether to actually walk through the maze of lights and distractions. When you’re watching a screen, you can always look away. When you’re actually there, you’re going to see Vegas no matter where you look. Bright lights, neon signs, almost-naked street performers, shops dedicated to selling you shit you don’t need, all with layers upon layers of manufactured glitz and glamour painted over the wear and tear of the buildings and people.

When we arrive at the Griffin it’s literally the best case scenario, except for the goddamn indoor smoking. Side note: all that bullshit faux-class Vegas has adopted for its personality, I can accept and overlook. But nothing serves to distract and pollute a night out than having that fucking exhaust blowing in your face. I will forgive all your crimes, Vegas, but you gotta meet me in the middle here and join us in the twenty first century.

Anyway…

This small obstacle aside, the fact that we were all there, happy to be together, catching each other up and meeting new friends was probably the highlight of the trip for me. We were all a group, having different interactions in the same space, but still part of a cohesive unit. A sense of warmth was evident, and no it wasn’t the goddamn cigarette smoke. We parted ways late into the evening (but not Vegas-late by any standards), and grabbed pizza on the way back. The Griffin and Pizza Rock (so the pizza shop was called) were on my list and could be crossed off mere hours into the trip.

The next day was all about punk rock bowling for me. Matt and I got a decent night’s sleep and the plan was simple: we would go to punk rock bowling (the reason why we’re all “technically” in Vegas) and everything else was secondary. Early enough, we were at the lobby waiting for the rest of our group. We were split up into teams in order to maximize our chances of winning. I, like several other people who enjoy these fine folks’ company, came along to be a cheerleader. I had heard speak of this bowling of punks for years and wanted to experience it firsthand.

As we were waiting in the lobby I couldn’t help but people watch, because I am a hopeless fan of punk rock and I can recognize punk celebrities when I see them. Case in point: Scott Reynolds of ALL. There he goes, looking exactly like he does on my computer screen. He’s nice enough and takes a selfie with me. I don’t really want this selfie with him, but I love ALL and I’m hoping the few seconds it takes us to pose for a photo a good question would pop into my head. It halfway does.

“So why are you in town? Are you playing a secret ALL show?”

“No, I’m just hanging out. No secret shows planned.”
As Matt and I are waiting downstairs, several people from our party stop by, touch base with us, and head upstairs to get their bowling gear. My friends take this shit seriously: they have their own shoes and balls and have made uniforms for themselves. They’ve been bowling relentlessly for months, scheduling practice sessions, posting their bowling scores and discussing where they need work in their technique. That’s why I’m a little surprised to see that everyone has already had drinks (we’re just barely into the double digits of the AM) and are causally tossing back their Bloody Mary. Some of us have even had some hefty Denny’s for breakfast. Matt and I had to really struggle to find fruit at the Golden Nugget. You know, something light and nutritious. We find bananas at Starbucks or all places and it’s the cheapest thing to eat in a mile’s radius.

“How much for a bottled water?” I ask the employee.

He cringes his faces and says, “$4.50” Himself in disbelief. “But don’t worry, I can just get you cup of iced water instead for free.”

As we’re standing within eye distance of the pool, I can’t help but notice the rows upon rows of pool beds and blackjack tables by the pool. The dealers are women in bikinis and the pool goers are in bikinis.

“There’s a lot of beauties out there,” Matt laughs.

“What I’m seeing is more wear and tear,” I respond.

On the shuttle to the bowling alley my group is in excellent spirits, befriending new bowlers, reconnecting with players they recognize from years before, and of course, drinking. And why not? Vegas is the only place I’ve been to where it’s BYOB life. You carry your drinks on your person and deploy them as you see fit. That Bloody Mary you got at the hotel? Bring that with you! Have a beer in your cargo pocket? Don’t see why you wouldn’t. I do too! I always wondered what cargo pockets were actually for!

The good vibes would carry on all the way to the bowling alley which was only 15minutes away. As we step out of the bus, my friend exclaims.
“I’m ready to roll my way into the semis!”

If there’s a definite highlight to Punk Rock Bowling it’s how absolutely fun the actual bowling experience is, to both players and onlookers. The atmosphere was friendly, encouraging, engaging, and everyone was ready to make new friends. It was like 100 cult members bowling together, with punk rock music blasting, drinking PBR on discount, and eating a fair amount of unhealthy greasy delicious food. Are you a stranger bowling next to us that got a strike? You’re getting a high five from us. Did you pick a spare? High five! Miss a spare? Also a high five, and have one of our beers! You’ll do better next round. My friends were separated into two groups, on opposite sides of the bowling alley. For the next few hours I would go back and forth between groups, filling them on the other groups while catching up with old friends and making better friends out of casual ones.
Matt’s team was bowling next to devil worshippers and I’ll be damned if they weren’t the nicest devil worshippers we’d ever had the pleasure of meeting. They even created a special celebratory gesture with us whenever our teams had a good roll. And even though sometimes they came on a little strong, we weren’t about to antagonize them in any way. After all, we didn’t want them to put a curse on us.

Two hundred and fifty teams played that day and both our groups did extremely well. We were relaxed and happy and ready to go back to the hotel and celebrate. It was only 4 PM!
We all had different ways of unwinding and as soon as we got back to the hotel, our friend group fragmented into different parties. A phenomenon that would usurp this weekend more often than not. Some people wanted food right away and ate in the lobby, some wanted to check out the pool, some wanted to wait and get a steak dinner later that night. Some wanted to take a nap. But the unanimous agreement was that everyone was tired. Everyone but me that is. I realized that if I was going to see anything that Vegas had to offer that it would be up to me. So when everyone passed on my plans to go check out some local sights, I decided to go on my own. There were more items I wanted to see on my checklist. But first, this “pool” business.

The pool area is divided into three levels at the Golden Nugget, and sure enough, a portion of my friends were congregated at the top floor. As I went through the different levels, I can’t help but people watch. There are old people with leathery skin, punks, sexy-looking people, and sexy punks, like you would see on Suicide Girls: terribly alternative and trite at the same time. We’re talking tiny bikinis, unfinished back and chest pieces that look like rejected Rancid album covers, and giant mohawks… like you would see on a Rancid album cover. Yes, it’s interesting at first but grows redundant very quickly. I can only imagine what the average clientele staying at this hotel for the first time is thinking (“Golly, there sure a lot of these goths and punks in Las Vegas, aren’t there? This must be where Hot Topic is so successful).

After a half hour of this shit show I’m ready to hit the streets.

Now, when I moved to the US in 1999 and started going to punk shows, it took me a while to get used to the idea of punk culture in public. Up to that point I had only seen it on the internet (and 90s internet at that) and on CD sleeves. But, I could safely say that I had gotten to the point where the sight of studs and a mohawk only generated a smile at this point, not an obsessive fixation. I was used to what “punks” looked like when they were all laced up. But there is a point where you reach a sensory overload, and I was NOT prepared for what I was going to see on the streets of Las Vegas: a veritable infestation of punks to the point where it looked like they had taken over the city.
This weekend, punks became the norm, not the counterculture.

I had anticipated that every punk shirt ever designed was going to be on display this weekend, so I packed properly: a plain black shirt, a Flipsides shirt, and a Minutemen shirt. At least that way someone could pick me out from the pack. There was no way in hell I was going to wear my Ramones shirt. It simply didn’t mean anything here. It felt like a museum of band logos. Of course I saw all my shirts worn by someone else. And who knew Leftover Crack was so popular? That Black Flag logo has been parodied on everything from cats to bowling pins. More disturbingly, it seems like the Milo face parody has become the new punk meme. That thing was on every fucking shirt I saw pimping out everyone from Manic Hispanic to festivals gone by to Wisconsin sports. Fittingly, it made me want a coffee more than anything. A fucking iced coffee, at that.

Past the madness of Fairmont street is an area called the Container Park: an outdoor mall-type area with upscaled containers arranged around a playground. Right at the entrance there’s a nice non-Starbucks coffee shop that also doubles as a hot dog restaurant. I’m immediately sold.
Checking out the Container Park as the iced coffee soothes my soul, I can hear church-like prayers. I can see in the distance on a stage that a couple is getting married and they are saying their vows on loudspeakers for everyone to hear, including all the strangers who happened to be here. Looking around the container park at its fancy boutiques and children playing I can could safely say that the Container Park was a welcome distraction from everything that was happening outside. People here were actually smiling. Another sight checked off my list I decided to head over to the art district. On foot.

Walking through the neighborhoods in Las Vegas I’m surprised by how much it resembles San Diego. It’s not that San Diego is so unique in the way its neighborhoods and houses are arranged, but since I used to live in San Diego, the neatly-segmented adobo-styled houses remind me of my old home. In San Diego, this is where well-to-do people would live. I suspect here it’s the same.
I’m in for a 30 minute walk before I hit the next target on my list for a quick snack: a supposedly-great taco shop. It’s 90 degrees out and I’m making sure I’m staying in the shade during my excursion, making sure not to hurry. After 15 minutes of this leisurely stroll, I come upon a strange house, with white and pink decorations and a bay window with a driveway. The driveway goes straight to the bay window and a closer inspection reveals this is to be a drive-through wedding chapel, complete with an order window where you can pick the different details of your special day. “A Special Memory” as the place is called offers a variety of options. Do you want the Breakfast special which includes wedding music, ceremony, rose presentation, commemorative photo, and 3 post cards? Well that will only be $55. A bargain in any state, even though the irony is that this is the only state that offers this option. Of course you can also pick the details of your “special memory” such as a novelty license plate for $9 or a wedding ring for just $39.

As I walk by thoroughly charmed by this chapel, I see a car parked across the street. A buxom gal is leaning over the passenger side talking to the driver. “Are they getting married?” I wonder. Then I hear a voice behind me. An elderly gentleman says hello to me and I back to him.

“Are you doing alright?” he asks me.
“Yeah, I’m good.”
“Well, that’s good. A young man like yourself is supposed to be doing good.”

As I contemplate this man and his statement, the lady across the street talking to the gentleman in the car, the drive-through wedding chapel, and that the blocks are starting to include more and more bail bonds store, I realize that I just might have walked past that well-to-do neighborhood. My leisurely stroll now becomes a brisk walk. I’ve never wanted those tacos more in my life.

Lucky for me, the tacos at El Sombrero don’t disappoint. I unfortunately ordered a dinner plate of two tacos (fish and carne asada) and a side of rice and beans at a place that’s a little more sit-down than I expected. I’m caught a little by surprise as there are slightly-dressy people coming in and asking the hostess for a table while I sit in the corner waiting for my order to be ready to “take-out.” But goddammit I braved the streets of Las Vegas in the ungodly heat to eat some tacos and that was what I intended to do.

As my order is being finished I use my phone and El Sombrero’s wi-fi to figure out which destinations in the art district to check out. Sombero’s and all of Las Vegas’ wifi sucks as it happens and I’m stuck using my precious precious data. There’s an antiques place, a record store, a coffee shop (and let me tell you, nighttime is the 420 of coffee drinking in my book), a vintage guitar shop, and some art galleries around the area that sound great. The bad news: they are all closed, because for some baffling reason, anything that doesn’t involve titties and booze doesn’t stay open after 6 in Las Vegas. Did I mention that it’s a fucking Saturday on a holiday weekend? At this point I’m annoyed to the point that the only thing that’s going to make me feel better is, you guessed it, tacos…

I angrily eat these delicious tacos standing right outside of El Sombrero in their parking lot, because I’m too embarrassed to eat them inside in a Styrofoam take-out container. Pondering just what in the fuck I’m going to do next, I get a call from Matt who has awoken from his slumber.

“I’m up for hanging out. What are you up to?” he asks me.

I explain to him how all the places I wanted to check out in the art district are closed. Except for a bar called the Velveteen Rabbit. Remember what I said earlier about store hours in Vegas for things involving titties and booze.

“Where’s everyone else?” I ask him.
“Kind of scattered I think. Some people are getting steak, some people are out here drinking, and some people I have no clue. Let’s meet at that bar. I’ll leave right now.”
With a belly full of taco I make my way down main street through a lively and fun-looking neighborhood, past all the shops I wanted to go to and right to the Velveteen Rabbit.

As I sit down and order my drink, the bartender and I chat and I find out that he’s actually from New England and moved to Vegas a few years ago.

“Yeah, I have no idea why all the places here close down so early, and on a weekend. It’s one of the weirdest things I’ve had to get used to when I moved here. But hey, it got you here.”

The Velveteen Rabbit is a cozy dark bar, playing good music, and serving good beer. It’s not that busy yet so I’m certainly satisfied having a beer and looking up Simpsons memes on my phone until Matt shows up. He does so within minutes and I catch him up on my fallen-through plans.

“Everyone else is hanging out close to the hotel, drinking and gambling,” he informs me.

Catching up with Matt, talking what our lives have become, and where we’re expecting to go is definitely another highlight of the trip. We are equally inquisitive talking about our relationships — me having just gotten married and he soon to be. We quickly toss back our drinks and head over to the Hop Nuts brewery right down the street and continue the conversation over some in-house beers.

After an hour or so, we’re on the streets, walking back to our hotel where most of our group is congregated. It’s a dark neighborhood we’re walking through and we’ve been assured it’s perfectly safe for two adult gentlemen at this hour. Either way, the lights of the Golden Nugget are directing us like some star of David.

Sure enough we find them at a nearby casino, by the smoky slots, having drinks. Not gambling mind you, just drinking. It takes little convincing that this is completely lame and we should go some place else. I have several other places on my list a couple blocks away I’d love to hit up.
Unfortunately, Vegas has other plans for me, as the streets are so crowded at this point with a notable mix of punks, “punks,” and partygoers that it’s almost impossible to get in anywhere. But luckily enough, we find a nice bar around the corner called La Comida where we can comfortably sit and talk about the bowling past and the bowling yet-to-come. It’s there that we’re hit with conflicting news, which is that only one of our teams (Matt’s) has qualified for the finals.

Now, I came to Las Vegas to see friends and possibly see some bands, and even though the bowling side of it was more fun than I had imagined, I had absolutely no clue how the triaging process works. I still don’t. All I know is that both “our” teams bowled exceptionally well. As we all sit, discuss, explain, congratulate, and sympathize with each other, we take the conversation to the Container Park next door then start heading back to the Golden Nuggett. But before I get to my hotel i run into Chris Shary and Karl Alvarez of the Descendents. “What the hell,” I say to myself. “I have nothing to lose.” And I promptly hug them both and tell them I love them. I’m sure this happens to Karl Alvarez more often, but for Chris Shary this might be one of those moments that make his day. Anyway, I am a punk rock wildlife expert and I came to interact with my favorite species in the wild.

The next morning, Matt wakes up extra early and hits the streets in search of a breakfast that isn’t named after a sports play, and I head straight to the Beat Coffeeshop on Fremont to get my coffee and banana (what I’m beginning to call my “Las Vegas breakfast”) and head straight back to the Golden Nugget to catch the shuttle which is taking the bowlers to the venue. Our entire friend group — qualifiers and non-qualifiers — are coming to show support for our team, and because honestly, it’s a fun place to hang out.

Sam’s bowling is where the final competition happens. The remaining teams face each other single round elimination style all the way until there are just two teams left to battle it out for the championship. It’s apparent walking though the hotel or resort or whatever you wanna call it that Sam’s bowling is in a sweet ass swanky hotel. As we walk through the jungle-themed lobby with its waterfalls and mechanical animals, we discuss the triaging process with the other teams. It turns out that teams qualify based on their handicap which is affected by how well they did the year before. So if you did extremely well last year and do even better this year, chances are low that you’ll qualify to the final round. On the other hand, if you did OK last year, but terrible this year, you’ll qualify with an immense handicap. The trick to qualifying in as honest a way as possible is to do well, but not too well. That way, you quality and have a bit of handicap to help you out. But you can also purposely do terrible and hope to get a massive handicap if you qualify for the next round. If it sounds confusing, you’re not alone. No one likes this system.

“Unless of course, one of us wins the tournament” I add.

“Oh yeah,” they reply. “Then the handicap system works PERFECT.”

As I’m checking out our bowling digs, it’s apparent that Sam’s bowling is a top notch quality bowling establishment and is by far the nicest bowling alley I’ve ever seen. Also there are far more bowling teams with punks I recognize from bands. “That’s because they were all here yesterday,” says Matt. “They put the ‘famous’ people in the nice bowling alley so they can bowl together.” I am annoyed and disgusted at this display of elitism. But then there’s Greg Hetson from the Circle Jerks/Bad Religion and all of a sudden I’m not so bothered by it all.

When I look around the alley at the different scoreboards to scope out the competition I notice just how much the handicap is going to be factor today. Some teams have a handicap of as high as 400 which means that this number is going to be added to their final score. Miraculously of course, all the teams with these high handicaps are doing remarkably well today. It must have been a fluke yesterday. I run into the devil worshippers from the day before and wish them luck.

The actual bowling event, with its loud music and pleasant musings is as much fun as it was the day before. We have a good time cheering our team on, even though the air is a little more tense this time around. The stakes are higher after all. And while there is a fair amount of drinking, I am fueled solely by my iced coffee and sour patches. High fives abound and we keep calculating and recalculating in our heads just what needs to happen for our team to win. Matt is almost carrying the team singlehandedly as their handicap isn’t exactly as high as we had hoped. But, with the pressure on, it gets inside our team’s head, and we just barely miss qualifying into the next round. We’re disappointed of course, but as I tell the other members of the group, “We should either go all the way or get disqualified right away so we have more of the day to enjoy.” I get more than a few affirmations.

As we’re walking back through the jungle lobby and animatronic cats, the team is visibly disappointed. My understanding was that we thought we were going to win this year. “

I can’t believe one of us bowled a 120. That’s it. I’m retiring,” says Matt.

Matt says that every year, apparently.

Once we Uber our way back to the hotel (the shuttle accommodations were a bit lacking this year) we immediately start planning the rest of our evening, and much to my dismay, the fragmentation is happening again to our group. We’re all going to the music festival tonight, but there are disagreements as to how we want to spend the next several hours. Some group members have disappeared, others want to stay in their rooms, and other bafflingly want to go to the pool again. I, on the other hand, want to check out this Neon Sign Museum where they keep all the old signs from buildings and hotels. Matt, being the trooper that he is, wants to tag along and while he’s getting his business in order I head to the pool to at least touch base with the rest of the group. Sure enough, the Suicide Girls wannabes (or maybe official members) are there as well, and my friends are perfectly content spending their time in the pool, with loud dance music, having drinks, and renting out a cushion to sit on for $150. Me — I’m outtie.

Matt and I start heading out to the Neon Sign Museum but beforehand want to grab some iced coffee and pizza. On our way to Pizza Rock we run into Scott Reynolds yet again, who is on the phone but is nice enough to say hi to us.

“You’re gonna be at the show tonight, right? I’ll be surprised if you don’t come on stage and do some ALL songs with the band.”

“Hey, I’ll do a couple songs! Tell Bill. He’s the one that doesn’t want to!”

So we shake hands once more and I tell Matt as we have pizza that apparently Scott Reynolds is the easiest person to run into at Punk Rock Bowling.

As we make it through the desert in 90+ degree weather, I am eternally grateful for our iced coffee drinks, especially because the Sign Neon Museum is a solid 30 minute walk. We were so happy when we get there (we could see the old signs arranged in a junk-yard type fashion protruding from the back of the entrance) and then immediately disappointed once we stepped inside.

“Are you guys open?”

“Yes and no. We are open but only do guided tours. The next one is at 7 but it’s sold out. The next one is tomorrow.”

“We’re leaving tomorrow. Anyway you guys can make an exception?”

“Sorry,” says the clerk in as friendly a tone as she can. “Safety reasons.”

“We walked all the way here. Can’t we take a quick peek?”

You can guess what she said. Again, Las Vegas is stopping me from enjoying Las Vegas. Why not make us sign a waiver? Or have some form of security person keeping an eye on us. Were we going to try to climb the signs? Of course, but that’s not the point! So, bummed out and apologetically we walk back into town. Our drinks have long melted away, and I tell Matt we should check out this Container Park because he didn’t get to see it when we were there the night before. A hot dog and iced coffee later, Matt and I have perused the shops and did some shopping, and sure enough, it’s time to head back to the hotel to sit down for a second before we catch the shows that night.

Now as strange and out-of-place Punk Rock Bowling can seem, the lineups are pretty stellar. Think of the festival as the Warped Tour with lots of drinking. Surely a recipe for success. The Sunday show had by far the best lineup with the Dwarves, Dillinger Four, Millencolin, Buzzocks and the Descendents.

Now the idea of seeing the Descendents in a festival setting is very unappealing to me. Yes, I said UNAPPEALING. They are my favorite band, but that’s not what I tell people. I tell people the Clash is my favorite band (and they are a very close second), because that’s how private I am about my love for the Descendents. I don’t want to explain myself to anyone. Occasionally I’ll meet someone who loves the band and I can come out to them. But that doesn’t happen often.

Like I was saying, I hate festivals. No one really has fun at a festival. It’s hot, sweaty, and devoid of any personal space that allows you to focus on the bands. I’m a-stand-on-the-sidelines kind of guy at shows who finds a comfortable spot to see the bands. At festival the only comfortable spots are so far back that you might as well turn around and face the exit. The other more important reason I’m not stoked about the Descendents at a festival is that I had seen them almost a year before in Boston at a small venue, and it was, without a doubt, the best show I had been to in my life. All these moving parts had to come together to make that show happen and make it a fun event, and somehow they did. It was the happiest I’ve been at a show, and I was happy to let the memory of seeing the Descendents consist solely of that one experience. So having that memory tainted with an appendix was something I did not want to encourage.

Back at the hotel getting everyone organized proved similar to herding cats. Matt and I sat on our beds, watching TV, waiting for people to text us back so we could leave in a group. We were encouraging everyone to leave NOW because we were going to miss the Dwarves. Sure enough, by the time we get to the festival grounds, we could hear the Dwarves’ set and as we go through the ticketing agents we can hear Dillinger Four starting their set. What can you do at this point? I shrug it off.

It’s interesting walking around the festival grounds just how similar the Punk Rock Bowling atmosphere is to the Warped Tour. There’s a large stage with the band, yes, but in addition there are countless vendors peddling their wares. The band merch booths, food trucks, coffee trucks (my favorite, of course), record labels, clothing vendors, and outfit providers just in case you need hair dye or a Dead Kennedys shirt (I’m sure Jello Biafra who was part of the crowd on stage would appreciate that). Festivals are not an ideal place to see music, so you might as well supplement the experience with some shopping. Also, it’s hot as fuck. Different is the fact that there’s alcohol being served. In either case, I made sure to go to the Fat Wreck booth and show off my Flipsides shirt as a rare unicorn in the sea of Fat Wreck alumni shirts.

Catching the bands I was reminded how important it was to get in the right headspace at festivals. You’re out of your comfort zone, sure, but you’re still seeing some quality music and you owe it to yourself to block out the bad and let in the good. I was quickly able to achieve this mental state and even enjoyed the openers: Dillinger Four knows how to entertain and sound as loud as ever, Millencolin can put on a tight set and knows to focus on their older material since most of us forgot they were still an active band, Buzzcocks have recruited one of the best and tightest drummers around and skillfully played through a wide range of their material in 45 minutes. But now it was time for the Descendents, and sure enough, these guys put on the best show they could considering the circumstances. Yes we got all the hits, yes the band was on point, and yes the crowd was going absolutely bonkers. It took 20 minutes or so to find a safe spot where I didn’t have to push, or dodge a fist or foot or where beer was being splashed. Once the crowd settled into a likeable bunch we all sang along and waved our fists in solidarity. And hey, we even got some new songs out of the experience. After the encore (where they did NOT play Sour Grapes), I looked around me for members of my group I recognized and we slowly reformed. Surprisingly, Matt was nowhere to be found during most of the set.

“It got too crazy out there, I checked out the rest of the set from way back here.”

Sweaty and filthy, we walked through hoards of other sweaty and filthy people back to the Golden Nugget. It was 11 PM and the total amount of people in our group that wanted to go out and have drinks was zero. Everyone was leaving early the next day, driving back to San Diego in the early hours of the morning to avoid traffic. My flight back to Boston was at 11, so I could leave the hotel comfortably around 9. As we’re walking through the lobby again, I’m keeping my eye out for any known punks. Of course I am not disappointed as I run into Dave King from Flogging Molly, and you guessed it, Scott Reynolds. I think we straight up high-fived this time, because as you know, we have built a rapport now.

I’m so glad to be back in my room, bathed, and sitting on a comfortable bed. As we’re packing, Matt and I exchange a couple more words and stories and recap what the weekend has been like. What definitely comes up is whether we’re getting too old for what’s considered a standard Las Vegas trip of drinking and partying. Maybe he IS retiring, after all! And since they’re leaving at 7 in the morning and there was no way in hell I was getting up that early we said our goodbyes, I reminded him to keep it quiet in the morning, and I instantly fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

I have a weird habit of catching up on my Late Night shows as I’m getting ready in the morning. Being in a hotel, alone and half-packed, I found that the local PBS station would be the closest thing to the Daily Show or Late Night. Most mornings I’m being coerced into a waking state by the musings of Colbert, this time it’s the impending wolf problem in New York City. When I take the elevator down to catch my shuttle to the airport I’m excited about the celebrity punk sightings I’m about to experience when I have the mother of them all, and that’s Milo Aukerman of the Descendents, leaning against the wall and checking his phone. Of course I have to drop everything, take off my headphones, set my camera (not my phone, you philistine), and approach him. Thankfully, he’s incredibly nice as I ask him for a photo and briefly tell him how much I love the Descendents.

A bit frazzled, I immediately text my friends about the experience and start to walk the lobby aimlessly to find where exactly this airport shuttle is leaving from. And when I find it, I’m the only one taking it, apparently.. Well, maybe I’m not a cool guy and I’m not taking an Uber to the airport, but you bet your balls I’m living the high life when I get back to Boston and taking a Lyft line home.

As I’m playing through the weekend in my head and weigh the good with the bad I think, “Hey I got to meet Milo Aukerman. That’s not so bad if I do say so myself.”

The shuttle hasn’t left yet, and when I look outside and I see a figure speaking with driver. It’s Milo Aukerman. And he steps into the shuttle and sits in the seat across from mine. And the driver asks us both for $9, because this complimentary shuttle turned out to be not-so-complimentary.

I have a bad habit of speaking and overwhelming band members at shows. I probably did it to Scott Reynolds this whole weekend. I’m like Jojo the idiot circus boy with a pretty new pet. But there was no way in hell I wasn’t at least going to try and talk to him on our ride to the airport.

“You’re trying to catch the plane to Philly?”

Milo looks at me and hesitates, making sure I’m not going to follow him and kill him when he gets to the airport. “Yeah.”

“Cool. Yeah, I’m on that plane too,” I tell him. “I’m headed to Boston. I’m actually in biotech also.”

“Well, I’m not anymore!” he laughs. “I got laid off a few months ago.”

Taken aback, and recognizing an “in” when I see it, I turned on Jojo the idiot circus boy. I’ve known that Milo and I had some things in common: we’re both scientists, we both have our PhD’s, we both worked in industry. So on that shuttle, on the way to the airport I had a protracted conversation with one of my heroes about work, science, school, and even got some good info on this upcoming Descendents record. You have to understand that as a fanboy and frequenter on the Allcentral board (where Descendents/ALL fans congregated back in the day), I knew my Descendents trivia and had lingering questions of my own. I found out that the new album is coming out on Epitaph, that there’s a deluxe edition in the works, and that they’re coming to Boston soon. He also half scares me to death as I had just started my job in biotech and he was coming off a rough ride. Perfectly stunned I was having this conversation, when our shuttle arrived, we walked into the airport still talking and I had to step back and realize that I’m walking next to Milo Aukerman into the airport like we’re chums or something. But of course, I have to turn off Jojo and as soon as we find the American Airlines counter, I made it a point to back off a little. I extended my hand, told him it was great to meet him, and that I might see them in Boston when they come to town.

I purposely took my time and mde sure I couldn’t spot him when I walked to airport security. Still shaken and giddy by what had happened I do a half-assed job of putting my stuff through the X-ray and when I’m about to talk through the metal detector, I realized I still had my shoes on.

“You’re going to have to take those off and put them in a tray,” said the agent.

With a long busy line I was having trouble finding an empty tray, and my stuff had already gone through the X-Ray, and people were waiting on me.

“Just put them here in my tray,” comes a voice from the line parallel.

I look up and see Milo pointing at his tray.

So, there I go, through security, and put my things back on along with Milo.

“You know, I was thinking what advice I could give you, since you’re just starting out at a company and I had been at one for more than 10 years. I guess, just make sure you make as many connections as possible while you’re there.”

“Uh-huh.” I look at him stunned. I don’t remember asking him for advice, but this guy has unknowingly advised me on so much in my life.

“Where’s our gate?” he asks.

Whelp, I guess this is happening. Milo and I are buddying up for our flight.

Walking through the Vegas airport and its many slot machines I ask Milo about the idea of Vegas as a place for a band to play.

“It’s nice to come and play here, but Vegas isn’t really my thing,” he says.

When we find our gate, the truth of the matter is that we’re both feeling chatty, so we’re off to the races.

For the following hours we talk about the details of being a scientist, pros and cons, academia versus industry, being in grad school, our theses, our families, punk rock, touring, the Descendents, the new album and its unpronounceable name, their show in Boston last year (arguably the best show I’ve been to in my life), and the focus on the band for the time being. Turns out they’re playing a bunch of shows this year. I don’t know how much of what he’s telling me I’m privy to or has already leaked onto the internet. While we’re boarding I see that Milo’s got the cardboard Allogistics he brings to shows. It’s ragged and covered in grey duct tape, fitting for a band that chooses a primer color for their gear on stage.

“We always debate if we’re going to play Allogistics because it takes a big part of the set that we could be playing other songs instead.”

“It’s kind of a crowd favorite,” I tell him.

“Yeah, and Bill always wants to play it.”

Bill, again! The one calling all the shots.

And as we’re standing in line I text my friends and tell them what’s been happening.

“If we end up having seats next to each other I’m going to lose it,” I text them.

We do not sit next to each other. Milo’s way in the back. I’m kind of grateful because I’m pretty sure he’s getting pretty Sick-O-Me.

It’s a pretty long flight to Philadelphia, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t play the last 3 hours over and over in my head

I’ve just experienced a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I have to say I took advantage of it. They say never meet your heroes, but most of the ones I’ve met have made a clear impression on me. For the better… I even had the chance to tell him about my band The Ottomans which just put out an album online for free a month or so before. I hope he checks it out and, who knows, maybe he’ll write.

When we get off the plane in Philly, I pretend to check the departure times on the screen as I wait for Milo to get off the plane. What am I trying to do, thank him for talking to me? And there goes a couple dressed in full punk attire, probably coming back from Punk Rock Bowling also, and not even aware that the singer of the Descendents was flying on the same plane as them. Milo is literally the last person off the plane and when I pretend to notice him, I shake his hand and tell him it’s been a pleasure talking to him. I wish him luck (I wish HIM luck!), and told him maybe I’d run into him when they play Boston. He tells me the same. He’s driving the rest of the way to Delaware.

So while I’m sitting at my gate, with a smile on my face, wondering how the fuck that just happened, I also wonder if I’ll ever go back to Punk Rock Bowling. My friends might be all retired from bowling, but I still have a feeling that I could do the trip better now that I’m aware how determined Vegas is to try and stop me from enjoying it. I’ll be wiser and packing black shirts and shorter shorts if I ever go back.

In any case, Scott Reynolds and I would miss each other…

 

Ollie Ottoman is a writer for Ground Control Magazine, draws a webcomic called “Curing Cancer,” and plays in a band called the Ottomans who released their debut album for free this year.

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