Friday, July 6, 2012

Dark Country

The muffled bars of Childish Gambino’s “Lights Turned On” broke me from the blackness of unfiltered sleep, and into the bright, balmy late-morning air that filled my bedroom last Saturday.

2:30 and we still makin’ progress,
Talkin’ on Twitter to see where to go next…

My phone vibrated near my outstretched right hand. I picked it up and forced my eyes to focus on the screen. I didn’t recognize the number, so I hit ignore. I glanced over at the clock. 11:02 a.m. My phone buzzed with a new message; it was a text from the same number that had just called. “Hey are you down here for the tailgate?”

“Wait…” I said, picking my head up off the pillow. “I’m supposed to be at a country music tailgate right now…”

A little over a week before that, my friend Bill was once again attempting to persuade me to come to the tailgate party he and his boys throw each year for the Kenny Chesney concert. The show is a huge event in Pittsburgh every summer, and it brings in country music fans from as far away as western New York and Michigan. Bill, Steph, and others had petitioned me for years to come to the party. I flatly refused each and every time, usually countering by naming another activity I’d rather do than sit through a country music concert. Like…solder my tongue to a bus.

As we sat in Bossa Nova at a friend’s birthday party [Note: Their caipirinhas are still magical.] that Friday night, Bill finally won me over with a simple clarification. When I reminded him that I love nothing less than country music, he laughed it off. “I hate it too! I don’t actually go into the concert; I just go to McFadden’s once everyone else goes to the show.” Now he had my ear. And so, when he then reminded me—for the 5,309th time—that the tailgate is always packed with scantily-clad tail, I finally saw the wisdom in exploring this local tradition. You know, for the blog. Yup. *sips drink*

As the week had went on, Dupa and Jay Swag were convinced to join me. Armo decided to have a pool party that same Saturday, and the forecast of temps in the mid-90s indicated that making our way to his place to end the day would be in our best interest. I made preliminary plans to meet up with Dupa and Swag on Mt. Washington around 11 a.m…

…Well, that part was going to have to be amended. I climbed out of bed, exchanging texts with each of them as I looked for my phone charger. My Droid's battery was at less than 20%; which, for a smartphone, means it was running on fumes. When my charger wasn’t in its usual place, I remembered having put it in the gym bag I’d taken with me the night before—I had gone to Dupa’s to pregame by his pool before catching “Ted” on its opening night [absolutely hilarious film, by the way]. And my bag, more than likely, was still in the trunk of my car. I grabbed my keys and stumbled out to my garage, hitting the trunk button along the way. When I didn’t hear the normal sound of the trunk unlocking, I looked up: My garage was empty. What…the…fuuuuuuccccccccckkkkkkkkkkkkk?…

11:21 a.m. text to Swag and Dupa: “Ok, got a whole new problem. My car is missing.”

Part of me felt I should call the police. Another, much more logical part of me felt that my propensity for drunken foolishness may be a more likely culprit than a thief. I threw on a shirt and some sneakers, grabbed a bottle of Gatorade, and trudged up the sidewalk. I could only guess that maybe I had, for whatever reason, parked on the street instead the night before. Then, about halfway up my block, a memory jolted awake inside of me: On my way home from Dupa’s place, I had met up with Pakistanimal at Shady Grove. And I had parked near the bar. It seemed probable, then, that I had never moved my car from that spot. The fact that I had no clue if I had, indeed, left my car at the bar—and barely remembered being at the bar at all—made me all the more thankful that this scenario was the most likely one. I found my Bavarian chariot exactly where I had parked it the night before, now with a fresh parking ticket tucked under one of the wipers.

By 1:10 p.m. I was at the Wendy’s drive-thru, picking up some spicy chicken fortitude and receiving confirmation from Dupa that my sunglasses weren’t at his place, which meant I had, indeed, lost them the night before. The very same sunglasses that I’d bought less than two weeks before, to replace the pair I’d ruined at the Furry Safari. Which were purchased in March to replace a pair Dupa stole from me the day after the Super Bowl…

There’s a reason I buy my shades at Target.

I met up with Dupa at his place, parked my car in his apartment building’s garage for safekeeping (I wasn’t going to risk losing it again), and rode with him to Swag’s house. Once Swag had made some quick modifications to his facial hair (see right) and we’d done a shot of Dr. McGillicuddy’s Mentholmint, the three of us set off for the nearby T station. Dupa had brought half a case of Miller Lite with him, but by the time we were boarding the train there were only three cans left. And since Swag is continuing to obey the open container laws while on probation, that damage was done entirely by Dupa and me.

Once we reached the North Shore’s parking lots, where container laws don’t apply, Swag joined us in killing the remaining beers. We waded through thick 95 degree air and thicker swarms of people, many in cowboy hats and little other clothing. The attire for this tailgate has always been described to me as “slutty casual”, and those reports came in years where Pittsburgh wasn’t suffering through a record heat wave. With the sun burning away any fucks that people might otherwise have given, nary a Chesney fan in this land—male or female—hid behind stitched modesty. While surveying this landscape, we walked right into Bill’s party, completely by accident. Even the drunken squirrel finds a nut. They had cornered a large section of Gold Lot 2; here we found music pumping (mostly hip-hop, I believe), kegs tapped, a buffet of food set up, and red plastic cups a-tippin’.

We stopped only briefly, as we each needed to hit an ATM, and had other people we wanted to catch up with first. We walked along the river, taking in the sight of hundreds of boats docked with people partying and dancing everywhere, many of those people being young, tanned women in bikinis. I mentioned I was doing all of this strictly for the blog, right?

Swag broke off to catch up with Belle and her posse, while Dupa and I found Shannon and her girls crowded under a 5’-by-5’ blue canvas tent, tucked in amongst a hundred others like it, a broad ocean of asphalt, sweat, and beer away from Gold Lot 2. They fed us cans of Labatt Blue while we hung out, and we appreciated the cold sustenance and familiar faces.

Occasionally I looked around to find an inquisitive eye staring at me from a pickup truck or tent in the wilds beyond Shannon’s plot of land. Let’s face it, a Kenny Chesney concert tailgate isn’t the well-trodden domain of my people; when I did happen upon a fellow person “of color”, we gave each other knowing nods, as if to say, “The world done changed, homie.” Yet, what struck me more than how many people stared at me, was how many people didn’t stare at me. The overwhelming majority of revelers seemed indifferent to the fact that a 6’6” half-Black man was walking amongst them at a country music concert. The world done changed, homie.

Dupa and I journeyed off to Bill’s party once more. Upon arriving we found Swag, Belle, and the other gals, including Stacks and “AIDS”. [Note: This nickname is real, though it is hardly based in reality. The story, in a nutshell: Upon meeting this cute blonde friend of Belle’s for the first time some years ago, Swag thought it would be charming and/or clever to tell her that she looked like she had AIDS. Needless to say, it didn’t win her heart.] While her girls wore shorts and little t-shirts, AIDS went all-in with a little pink cowgirl hat, a tiny blue bikini, and cowgirl boots. “I told you,” she reminded us, “I don’t really like wearing clothes.”

By around 6 p.m. Dupa, Swag, and I were ready to switch things up, since everyone else (save for Bill and a few of his boys) was heading into the concert. The three of us flagged down a cab, and headed for Diamond Market Bar & Grill in Market Square. I know I ate while we were there, but all I really remember consuming was Moscow Mules. Swag disappeared mid-meal, and was gone a long while. Just when we had begun formulating plans for moving on without him (and eventually exacting revenge upon him for ditching us), he reappeared with a look of pure glee on his face. He had gone outside to smoke a cigarette; while out there, he ran into the ex-WWF wrestler Virgil. Twenty minutes of conversation and an autograph later, Swag was like a kid that had just met Mickey Mouse. He was so giddy, in fact, that he volunteered to pay the bill. All plans for revenge were scrapped.

We caught another cab; Swag, being averse to all things swimming pool, had us drop him off at his second home, Rumshakers. Dupa and I continued to his car on Mt. Washington, and then found our way to Armo’s. My Polish homie was soon snoring from an inflatable raft as the breeze gently pushed it to every corner of the pool. I occupied the rest of my night swimming, eating burgers from the grill, and kicking it with TJ and other party guests. I awoke the next morning to Armo poking my arm, for no other reason than his sheer desire to not be the only one awake. For a solid five minutes I puzzled my mind around how I had even gotten there. A short time later, as Armo drank a Bloody Mary to kick off his Sunday Funday and Dupa moaned like an orgasm-faking porn star from the kitchen for no reason whatsoever, a thought popped into my mind.

“Wait...I was at a country music tailgate yesterday…”

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