I Went To A Socially Distanced Drive-In Rave, And It Was A Depressing Dystopian Nightmare

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I went to my first drive-in rave last weekend. After eight months of lockdowns with no live music, no live shows, and no camaraderie of the annual festival season, I expected the event to be a refreshing escape from the pandemic suppression of nearly everything that made life exciting in my early 20s.

I wanted a one-night departure from the drudgery of a fundamentally different world stricken with death, disease, and division driven worse under draconian lockdowns stripping freedoms from a public all-too-eager to hand them over under the guise of safety. A one-night celebration of what things were like in our pre-pandemic lives before being wrecked by a foreign virus bringing the world to its knees. A one-night return to “normalcy.”

There were a lot of reasons why the show failed to meet the expectations I just outlined. The stage was small, the music wasn’t as loud as before, the staff was rude, and the energy present featured a bizarre mix of nostalgia and paranoia complemented by an underlying frustration of what used to be.

In the end however, it was the penetrating reminder that things aren’t normal, and won’t be for quite some time. 

The night started with all the fanfare of a typical evening preparing for the main event. I hopped in the car of some people I met on the Radiate app in Denver, a social media platform that combines the likes of Tinder and Facebook for festival-goers. We left by 6 p.m., and arrived at the racetrack near Colorado Springs soon after 8 p.m. where we then joined a seemingly endless line of cars waiting to get in moving at a snail’s pace. Each time we got out of the car to stretch out legs in line, event staff driving up and down the cars screamed at people get back in. It ultimately took our car two hours to reach the entrance, which at that point gave us merely two hours until the entire show was over.

When we finally got inside, the group wanted to meet up with people from two other cars we traveled with who were mistakenly taken to the VIP section of the parking lot closest to the stage. We snuck in fine even though we weren’t supposed to when several people with loose wristbands handed them off by the general concessions.

Once we got inside however, security was even tighter than it was in the general car lot checking wristbands and yelling at individuals who were dancing too close to other cars. I was eventually kicked out with another person who was in the group since we had given our wristbands back to the people who passed them to us. Other entire groups were bumped from their front-row spot because they weren’t distancing to security’s standards.

On our way to the back of the car lot, people who had been dancing in the open spaces had been cleared out back to their cars. Security in flood lights on the perimeters of the infield were also ensuring there was no crowding anywhere in the entire site. It’s hard to “let go” when big brother is over your shoulder the entire time. Yet no one seemed to care about lines at the concession stands, begging one to ask, what’s even the point? And masks? Mandatory, no matter how many people puffed on one of the same same joints, Juuls, or cigarettes being passed around.

Under all the circumstances, there were still a few moments of a deceptive bliss. Deceptive because each moment left me feeling emptier than before, as if I had been teased with a window into what things used to be.

I spent the whole show not embracing what little was in front of me, but rather pretending I was somewhere else, imagining all the shows I had gone to in the past reminding me of just how important the festivals had become in coping with the challenges of the last two years, especially the Bassnectar shows, because nothing ever compared to a Bassnectar show. There were times this weekend that I found myself just staring at the lights when a certain beat would trigger flashbacks of serotonin flooding my brain at the right drop transporting me into an intimate multi-dimensional experience. Because that’s the cliché open secret about festivals. You’re not paying for three nights of music. You’re buying a lifetime of memories, memories that don’t remind you of what you saw but remind you of exactly, and I mean exactly how you felt. 

I was warned about this predicament. In fact, I played a role in warning others about this predicament.

When reporting on the mental health impact of lockdowns in April, I interviewed East Tennessee therapist Allysen Efferson on the consequences they may have in exacerbating an already existing crisis:

Efferson warned that Americans need to be prepared for life to be different even after states begin to reopen.

‘There is a whole new level of reality out there that’s about to hit people,’ Efferson told The Federalist, pointing out that since we’ve been sheltered in our homes, most people haven’t seen the outside damage that has been done and things won’t return to normal even once stay-home orders are lifted. Their favorite restaurants might be closed for good. Big events such as concerts and sports won’t come back for quite some time, and people’s behavior might remain distant.

‘We don’t know what we’re going to see.’

I’m not sure I should have attended Friday’s drive-in, because I wasn’t prepared.

For all that’s been lost amid the pandemic, it’s these fundamental years that can’t be replaced which have cut deeper than anything else. I turned 23 in June, who knows if we have a vaccine by 24. Even then, I woke up Sunday morning to find a piece in the Washington Examiner quoting health experts saying the U.S. won’t return to “normal” until late 2021 or early 2022.

“Some experts won’t put an actual date to their predictions,” the Examiner reported. “In September, Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine, said, “The old normal? I don’t know when that day will be, but it will be in the great and distant future.”

A second wave of lockdowns is already on its way, which runs the risk of being even tighter pending the results of Tuesday’s election. Even if we do get a vaccine by the year’s end, we’ll still be locked down given its likely failure to achieve all that we hope. Americans can still party for sure, if they shell out $1,000 on a trip to Mexico, which is exactly what many of my friends on the East Coast plan to do for New Years. That’s lost cash that could go to desperately struggling businesses here at home.

I’m not blind to the fact tht more than 230,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. I’m also not blind to the fact that we still don’t have a vaccine for many other viruses, and the CDC’s “current best-estimate” for the COVID survival rate is at least 99.98 percent for a majority of the population, while lockdowns and hysteria destroy the nation’s psyche and wreak havoc on immunization rates against diseases we do have vaccines against.

Surely there are better ways to handle the coronavirus, and maybe I’ll spend 24 being 24, but probably not.

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