Bonnaroo or Bust(ed)
We saved a lot of money. We went over the route repeatedly. We packed well. And we were only doing 7 mph over the speed limit. The summer was shaping up nicely, too. We were headed to Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee, then Chicago and back home. We left Boulder in the early morning in a borrowed car loaded with camping gear, a cooler, a trunk full of nourishment and a few tasty brews. There was also a stash of mind-altering substances, ensuring Bonnaroo would be a trip we’d never forget. We stayed the night at a KOA outside of Kansas City, splitting a Xanex and half of the beers. We woke the next morning rested and clear headed.
The day was sunny, though some cloud coverage broke the direct heat. We were excited to be back on the road, headed that night for a friend’s house in Tennessee where we planned to spit watermelon seeds off of his front porch while watching the fireflies illuminate the country-dark night. He lived an hour from the festival grounds, which meant we could get an early start the next morning and attempt to avoid a long line of cars.
The agreement before we left Colorado was to drive the speed limit and not smoke weed while in the car driving. We didn’t want our car to be the one everyone drove by saying, “Ouch, that sucks.”
Toward the end of the day, we exited the highway and turned onto the road leading to our destination. I was reading Vonnegut in the passenger seat. I looked up from my book and saw a car pulled over, a clutch of cop cars behind it. “Ouch, that sucks,” I said under my breath.
I finished the sentence I was reading, looked into the rear view mirror and saw blazing lights coming up fast behind us.
“He can’t be pulling us over, right?” I said.
He was pulling us over. I glanced repeatedly in the rear view mirror, thinking about my hair that was at an odd stage of growth, resembling Robert DeNiro’s mohawk in “Taxi Driver.” The officer took an excruciating amount of time approaching the driver’s-side window. He told us we were speeding; apparently we both missed the sign that would’ve slowed us down. No doubt our out-of-state plates didn’t help.
Of no further assistance to our dilemma was an unopened bottle of Appleton Estate Jamaican Rum nestled in the car’s console, a celebratory treat to be opened on arrival at our friend’s house.
“What’s that?” the officer asked.
At this point two other cop cars had arrived. We were of legal drinking age and the bottle was unopened, but the officer at the window still needed us to “step out of the car.” I begin putting on my shoes, asking what the problem was. He repeated himself. We got out of the car and were separated; we both gave up our licenses and were questioned by different officers.
The first officer said to me: “So, ya’ll are from Boulder, huh?” I was leaning on the car with my arms crossed. “Isn’t that where that Jon Benét girl got kilt?”
My friend, I find out later, was being asked much different questions, more along the lines of, “Where ya’ll headed to? Got any meth in the car? Heroin? PCP? Then you wouldn’t mind if we took a look, would ya?”
With the option of letting them take a look or waiting for the drug dog to arrive, my friend gave them permission. They soon pulled from the car my black, goodie-filled backpack, which contained five hits of LSD, two grams of cocaine, four ecstasy pills, six Xanex bars and a half ounce of weed.
As the two of us sat in the back of the patrol car heading for jail, hands cuffed behind our backs, only the engine and the occasional turn signal broke the silence. We passed a 45-mph road sign, perhaps the one we missed. I turned my head and watched it grow dim in the fading sunlight.
The jail was surrounded by a tall, barbed-wire fence. We were put in a holding cell, fingerprinted, asked general questions about our health, made to stand for our mug shots. The officer who was writing out the report was trying to spell the word schedule, as in Schedule I controlled substance. As in, we were fucked.
“S-C-E-D-O-U-L? No, that’s not right. S-C-H-E-D-U-E-L?” The other officers were chuckling, but it took a team effort to get it right. So now we know how many Tennessee police officers it takes to spell “schedule.”
Three hours later, we were formally charged. My bail was set at $147,000, and a bondsman needed 10 percent up front. I didn’t have it, and I sure as hell was not going to ask anyone I knew for $14,700.
In the morning, we headed to arraignment where they presented our charges and set a court date. Though we only walked 30 feet from our holding cell, we were fully cuffed, wrists to ankles—“standard operating procedure,” the officer told us. We were presented to a videophone setup in which the judge was shown in his quaint office on the other end. We were told it would be eight days until our court date.
We were given bright orange jumpsuits, a bar of soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a towel, a sheet and a mat to sleep on. There was also a comb, deodorant and a bottle of clear liquid claiming to be “all-in-one: shave, shower and shampoo.”
Pod F was our home for eight days. A pod is a large open room in which inmates’ cells are located. In this particular pod, there were eight cells, four on the second floor up about 15 steps, four on the bottom floor. Each cell contained two bunks to place a mat on. The bunks were either one above the other or on opposite sides of the cell. The living/dining room outside of the cells had four tables with four attached seats. So, in an ideal living situation, the cells held two inmates comfortably.
While Bonnaroo was underway, we got used to the rules on the inside. We were locked in our cells a total of 21 hours a day, only being let out for an hour for breakfast at 5 a.m., dinner at 5 p.m., and to take a shower and pace in the living/dining area. There was a recreational area outside, surrounded by tall barbed-wire fences, that we were allowed into with everybody only once during the eight days. A fellow inmate balled up his socks for an attempted game of volleyball, then dodgeball. He then proceeded to get his makeshift ball stuck in the razor wire as he tried to knock a standard-issue orange sandal loose, which he might’ve gotten stuck up there as well.
I had two roommates in my cell, but was forced to bunk with as many as five more—all jammed in the small cell—during Friday night, when the town of Pulaski, Tenn., gets rowdy and too drunk. The guys just in for the night were lucky they didn’t have to force down chow more than once. No matter how much the chow tasted of cardboard, I finished it all every time. It came served on a tray that reminded me of chicken-nugget day in elementary school. I gulped down Kool-Aid—sometimes it was red, sometimes it was purple. We were served baked beans that lacked any sort of seasoning, a hard-boiled egg atop boiled cabbage, mashed potatoes, one piece of cornbread and some chocolate pudding for dessert. Breakfast was no better: apple juice served with scrambled eggs, a dry piece of sausage (which I mistook for chocolate cake), an overly salted hash brown and either biscuits and gravy, or the worst oatmeal I’d ever tasted.
I passed time reading, sleeping and taking in every little detail around me. Time was the biggest concern in jail. There was just so much of it and so little to do occupying it. Inmates constantly wonder what time it is. The cell next to mine had an intercom set up to communicate to the officers. The inmates asked what time it was throughout the day and night, so much so the voice on the other end became irritated and relayed that hostility back through the intercom.
The inmates varied. A mix of white and black, thug and hick. Some looked like the felons they were, while others left me wondering what they did to get in there. One of my cell mates was quite peculiar. He had long, brown, thinning hair with eyes that bulged out of his face. He used his grossly long fingernails to softly scratch his head and tried to make conversation. He told me he was in jail for not paying child support, but I had a sinking suspicion he was only giving me a half truth.
Being locked up is terrible, but there were moments of laughter and fleeting joy. One inmate had the ability to make the whole pod laugh out loud. Singing Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Michael Jackson and Guns ‘n’ Roses, banging on the wall, kicking his cell door, talking shit to other inmates, yelling and keeping people up through the night—it all helped to pass the time.
Our court date arrived, and I tried to be optimistic, but with what inmates had been telling me, I didn’t know if I’d be let out or locked up for the rest of my life. All over some mind-freeing substances. It didn’t make sense, but hey, that’s the South.
Driving through the small town, I didn’t care how nice of a day it was. I focused on the cold metal rubbing the skin off of the backs of my heels. The town was old and historic; I could tell by the homes and buildings that lined the streets.
We arrived at one and met with a public defender who was astonished by what I had in my possession at the time of my arrest. My name was called and I pleaded guilty. This was my first offense, but as I stood before the judge, my mohawk probably had him thinking otherwise. I was told I would be on two years of probation and that I would have to come back into town the next morning to pay fines so I could leave the state. My friend, who was charged with far less (all he had in his backpack was some home-grown boomers and weed), was also set to be released. We were thrilled as we returned to jail.
We gathered our state-issued things from our cells, said our farewells to the surprise of many inmates, and were placed in a holding cell until the paperwork was all finished. I could see the finish line. The holding cell had four people in it, one of which was sick because he was withdrawing from morphine. He was waiting for some sort of medication, but no officer seemed to know what was going on. He talked to just about everybody there and still hadn’t gotten his medication by the time we were freed.
We walked outside in our own clothes, the sun beginning to set. We began the long walk into town with another freed inmate, everyone smiling, enjoying the free air. A van stopped to pick us all up, and we made small talk with the nearly toothless father and his shirtless son as they drove us into town. We had him drop us off at Sonic so we could cram a burger and fries down our throats and wait for our Tennessee friend to come pick us up. We told him what the hell happened as he drove us to the impound lot to retrieve our borrowed car.
The car was trashed. Of course there was nothing else, but they had to try. The inside of the car was muggy and reeked of the rotting food that was decaying in the trunk. The stench lingered as we drove to our original destination; we craned our necks out of the car to avoid gagging. We finally arrived at the dark countryside home and instead of eating watermelon and watching fireflies, we just crawled into a real bed and slept.
The next day, a Friday, we said our goodbyes to our Tennessee friend and his mom, who was disgusted with her local law enforcement for locking up a couple of all right kids. We went back to the courthouse to empty our bank accounts. As we finally finished and headed for the exit, an officer wearing jeans and a polo stopped us. He must’ve recognized my hair.
“Hey guys, no hard feelings, huh?"
This was the same fucking guy who pulled us over for going seven miles over the speed limit and then proceeded to ruin our whole vacation. He offered his hand. I looked at him, said nothing and walked away. No hard feelings?!
Back on the road headed west, we rolled all of the windows down, blasted some Tool—had we really just missed seeing Tool rock out at Bonnaroo?—and made our way back home.