As I was walking home through the clouds of industrial smoke this evening, I was reminded for some reason of one particularly wild evening in Quintana Roo, Mexico, a few years back.
We’d been hired, Greg and I, to do the sound and lights for a party, a big one, that was being held in ‘a barn’ in Tulum, a couple of hours south of Cancun. Tulum the town, which is a nondescript collection of buildings on a crossroads on the highway, not Tulum the gorgeous Mayan ruins nearby, which are, you know, gorgeous. And ruined.
We took the 3 ton cube van down, loaded with gear, made it through the army checkpoints (we always sweated a bit with them, carrying pyrotechnics as we usually were) and found the place in the early afternoon. It was a concrete shell, barn-sized all right, and it didn’t have a roof. Great. But we took it in our stride, in true make-the-best-of-it Mexican style, and had a beer while we figured out how we were going to set up. Manuel, the young Mexican guy who worked with us (and spent a great deal of his time shaking his head in bemusement at the antics of the crazy longhaired gringos) came back with some bad news : the building was connected to the grid, but that was it. No internal wiring at all.
Greg, who was the guy who actually knew how to do sh-t, after conferring with the promoters, told him to wire us up to the main circuit box. Manuel looked a bit doubtful, but after being reassured that everything was fine, he wandered off to start juryrigging sh-t together. It was the usual modus operandi - improvise, make do, and make it work.
We started setting up the triangle truss sections, the Par64 fixtures and their gels (sprinkled with sand from the last beach party a couple of days ago) and the amp racks and speaker enclosures, and 6 or 8 beers later, as if by magic, the sun was beginning to go down, and we had everything set up. There were a few more people hanging around, smoking dope, drinking, watching lazily as we tested the audio and lights. This was always my favorite part of a gig – finished the hard work for the moment, and relaxing before the party geared up. Leaving all the decisions and troubleshooting to Greg meant that I could enjoy as many beverages as I felt appropriate. The one exception had been when we’d done the indoor fireworks for New Year’s Eve at Senor Frog’s back in Cancun, but considering that we had blown off several thousand dollars worth of pyro inside a bar with sawdust on the floors, that had probably been wise.
Just as the last of the light was fading, it began to rain. The music had started, though, and people were arriving in droves, and they didn’t seem to mind. It was a flash crowd, and soon our roofless concrete barn was packed with wet bodies, dancing under sheets of hard rain and the intermittent flashes of lightning. We put up some tarps over the audio equipment and the dj, and let it go. The rain didn’t let up, but no one seemed to care. There was a weird earth-magicky kind of vibe happening, and the harder people danced, the harder it seemed to rain. Huge, warm drops grown fat in the wet air out over the Caribbean, hammering down like a waterfall.
The hippies and tourists just danced harder.
Manuel sidled over to us about half an hour after the rain really started coming down, looking terrified. Greg followed him outside, and came back a few minutes later, looking disturbed, which for him was a bit unusual. I arched my eyebrows in inquiry; he shrugged and handed me a beer.
Later that evening, things started to get bad crazy. Greg’s girlfriend arrived, and Manuel found himself a peasant-skirted girlfriend from Bolivia, who lived here in Tulum, and she had a large quantity of acid. Driven by the strange, powerful feelings I was getting from the storm and the crowd, I danced like a maniac in the warm rain, and swallowed everything anyone handed to me. The promoter was thrilled at the crowds, and kept us in drinks. Even if we refused tokes, the air was thick enough with the smoke to bring on a deeper appreciation of the reggae.
I don’t remember the party winding up, or loading the gear back into the truck. I do remember Greg, who despite being gloriously stoned was as usual the one experiencing the fewest visual anomalies, driving us at a snail’s pace down the jungle road to the sea side cabanas where we were staying. The rain was still pounding down, there were no lights on the road, and the truck’s lights weren’t working. We couldn’t see a damn thing out the windshield. I made Greg stop, got out of the truck, climbed up on the bumper and leaned back against the cab window, facing forward, arms spread out as if I’d been crucified, like a huge hairy moth that had been splattered on the windshield, and alternately pointed left or right as he drove. He drove totally blind, guided only by my frantic pointing as he edged toward one ditch or another, while Manuel and his new Bolivian girlfriend made out on the passenger side of the bench seat.
It worked pretty well, except when we hit speedbumps.
We made it to the place we were staying, eventually, wired tight, but couldn’t handle it indoors in our thatched huts, and spent the rest of the night on the beach, watching the waves and the sparkle of phosphorescence as the raindrops struck the sea. All except Manuel and his girl, whose enthusiastic grunts and squeals we could hear in the distance, over the rain and surf.
The next day Greg told me that Manuel had “wired us straight into the mains. No breaker, no ground, no nothing.” I didn’t see how that had been such a bad thing, but then I made the connection to the fact that the dancers out on the concrete floor, myself included, had been frolicking in water that by midnight was about ankle deep, sliding on their bellies like seals, doing rain dances, inches from the wiring that was feeding power to the audio and lights. Greg had wanted to shut it down, but the promoter was adamant, and in the way of connected men in Mexico, was not a man that one could say no to, and stay in the area for long. We got lucky, as usual.
The Bolivian girl disappeared before Manuel woke up. Through some strange coincidence, his wallet had disappeared as well. The drive back to Cancun was a quiet one.