Ruminations, etc..

Musings, rantings, and pie.

Punk Rock Bowling: The Dreaded Line.

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Over Memorial Day weekend, I attended the 13th Annual Punk Rock Bowling festival in Las Vegas.  And by “attended” I mean I saw three bands on the second day. But the bands I saw were pretty awesome: Bouncing Souls, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, and the mighty Descendents.

How could I not go to a festival with a logo like that...

I’ll have more on the actual music part of the festival either tomorrow or four years from now, but first I wanted to share with you all the little slice of heaven I went through to pick up my tickets.

The promoters sent out emails suggesting that if you were attending the festival, and were in town the Friday night before the festival started, you should get your tickets then.  It sounded good to me. It also made the plan for Friday night simple: pick up the tickets and go drink.  We had purchased the tickets months ago and all that stood in the way of us getting stupid drunk was a Will Call line, and how bad could that be?

Really fucking bad, as it turns out.

Picking up tickets from a Will Call window is normally an easy endeavor.  You show up, wait in line, show a person distributing the tickets your I.D., and they hand over the tickets.  Easy, right?  If you get multiple people distributing the tickets from a central location it shouldn’t take more than 3-5 minutes a person, even if a signature is required from the person picking up the tickets.

I thought that would be the case, and man, was I wrong. I was in line for five hours. Apparently, what was complicating matters was the festival promoters were also selling tickets for a club show that evening.

Of course, I didn’t know that walking into the El Cortez casino, where the promoters were distributing tickets.

The El Cortez is located in the old section of Vegas.  Fremont and Sixth to be specific.  This casino is so old it was around when Bugsy Malone ran Vegas.  That’s old, if you don’t know Vegas history.  And like most of the old casinos, it has that sleazy, old-school Vegas vibe: it’s filled with smoke, desperation and sweat.

The place was built when Vegas was all about gambling, not expensive stage shows, celebrity chefs, or museums. As such, the place looks run down and smells like failure and cheap liquor.  It’s not a place I’d want to spend five hours or any kind of time at all.  It’s like someone took a small dive bar in New York, blew it up, and put slot machines and cheap prime rib in it.

In other words, the place was icky.

It just looks inviting, doesn't it?

I arrived at 5:00, when the promoter’s email said tickets would be distributed.  We parked in the El Cortez parking structure and walked through the casino to the Fiesta room, where the email said the tickets would be handed out.  After going through the rows of slot machines and table games, I saw a line of people in front of a table that was just inside the Fiesta room (which didn’t look all that Fiesta-y).  The line was long — about 40 people I estimated — but manageable.  I got at the end and prepared myself for a bit of a wait.

“Sir?”  I turned around a saw a chubby Latino guy in a security guard uniform.  “The line starts outside,” he said gesturing with his thumb to the glass doors behind him.  I looked and I saw a bunch of people huddled at the door looking inside.  I shrugged.  How long could it be, right?

I went outside.  There was a mass of people in one of those thick, bulging, disordered lines, where clumps of people congregated together in a sequence, not a nice, clean, single file line.   This group of people stretched all the way down the block, around the corner, and almost down the rest of that block.

Still, this was the Will Call line.  How long could it take?

Like I wrote above, five hours.  And since they would only let in small numbers of people at a time, I would stand in one place for 30 minutes, usually longer, not moving.  That made it even worse.  Long lines are tolerable if you’re moving constantly.  That’s what a place like Disneyland does.  The lines there are long, but they’re snaked around enough so that even if one person moves the rest of the lines moves.  It feels like progress is being made.  Disneyland lines are also in dark places where there are interesting things to look at or interact with.  Here there was nothing to do but stand in place for a long time and drink.  A dangerous combination.

The crowd had all the ingredients for a full scale-riot: they had been waiting in line for hours for something that should have taken minutes, they were being dicked around by uniformed authority figures, and they were bored. Most of them had also spent the day getting wasted.  The situation was tenuous at best. All it would take is one misunderstood shove or some guy oogling another guy’s retro/punk girlfriend a little too long.

Some trouble started when an overweight hermaphroditic security guard came out and told the front of the line that he/she was taking 10 people inside to buy tickets for that night’s show, regardless of where they were in line. A guy behind me in Black Flag hat yelled “Bullshit!” at the security guard and others followed suit.

The crowd yelled and chanted.  I wondered what it would be like to actually be in a riot and looked around planning my escape.  I was also, after four hours, in front of the line. Believe it or not, I was conflicted. What to do? Tickets or safety? Tickets or safety? Tickets or safety?

I made my decision. Personal safety schmafety — I wanted my goddamned tickets.  Then, behind me, I heard the slightly metallic link of a beer bottle shattering — the seemingly universal kick-off sound to every riot in a movie.  This crowd was degenerating by the moment.

Thankfully, the guard backed off letting people in and left.  Cooler heads prevailed and the crowd calmed down a bit.  The weather helped too, I’m sure.  That weekend, Las Vegas was in the middle of an unseasonably cool bit of weather.  Had it be normal temperatures — somewhere in the mid 90s — I’m sure there would’ve been a riot.  Hot, drunk, and angry people do not play well with others.

As I stood by the glass doors waiting for my turn to go stand in another line inside the casino, I felt a hand on top of my head.  I turned around quickly and saw a guy with a shaved head looking at me.  His idiot’s grin and his dull, lagging eyes indicated that he was drunk.  Possibly really drunk.  He smiled at me and said, “Heeey….another bald guy!”  I smiled at him and hoped he would go away.  “We got to stick together man,” he said.

“We sure do,” I said and turned around again, hoping this would placate him.

He didn’t like my approach. “Hey man, I’m just trying to be friendly.  What’s up?”

This wasn’t going well.  From my days of being a bouncer, I knew that drunks could go from friendly to violent in a matter of seconds, like any undomesticated beast.  I also knew that you should always be nice, until it’s time to not be nice, but that’s a different story…

Diplomacy was required. “No man, we’re cool.  I’m just tired of waiting, that’s all.”

He bought it.  “Yeah, this is some bull shit, huh.” He turned to the crowd, “LET US IN! LET US IN! LET US IN!”

Some people joined in, but the chant fizzled out.  I breathed easier.  I hoped that I could get inside soon.  My feet hurt, my back hurt, and there was a bald headed lunatic taking an interest in me.   The current state of affairs could get ugly in a hurry.

Finally a security guard with slicked back black hair and the best mustache this side of a Dirty Sanchez came out.  “I’m letting in ten people,” he said.   The front of the line mobbed towards him.  Like some half-assed bouncer at Studio 54, he started separating the worthy from unworthy.  He pointed at people, numbered them, and they went in, visibly elated.  He had gotten to six and that’s when I started worrying.  The line at the door was a mass of people.  There was no way for the guard to know who’s turn it was to go in.

At this point, it had been an hour since the last group had been let in.  My mind reeled at the possibility that I would have to stay outside for another hour. A line from Robert Shaw’s Jaws monologue through my head:  “You know that was the time I was most frightened… waitin’ for my turn.”  Robert Shaw only had to deal with sharks; I was facing the possibility of getting my ass beaten by a drunken punk rocker just because I wasn’t friendly enough — and I doubt anyone would hold my place in line while I was getting beaten, either.

“Eight,” the security guard said and pointed at me.  My heart jumped and adrenaline went through my system.  I had survived the line.  I now had access to the holiest of holies — the Fiesta Room at the El Cortez.

If you don't get this reference, google it.

About 40 minutes later, tickets in hand, with aching back and aching feet, I left the El Cortez.  The group then went to In-n-Out Burger.  A great way to end a shitty evening.

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