Wondering About Nocturnal

Notes on a discarded dust mask

Photo by Jack GouldA 12-hour timetable of the Nocturnal Wonderland rave—the largest ever, according to some reports—held at the Empire Polo Field in Indio on Sept. 2 and 3:

5:15 p.m. Arrival. A big-ass ticket-pickup line. See members of a band I've scrawled nice things about working the press list. Cut to the front. They notice me and hand me my VIP pass. Sweet! Note to self: be nicer to more local bands.

5:22 p.m. Enter fest field. Hit vendor booths. Pacifiers, whistles, candy, portable massagers, candy, cheap plastic jewelry, candy, glowsticks and candy. Think about going up to vendor and asking in loud smart-ass voice, "CAN I BUY ECSTASY HERE?" Opt not to.

5:57 p.m. Find outdoor VIP area. Free Subway sandwiches have been laid out. Flies have found them first, though. Off in a quiet corner: long, comfy couches. These will come in handy later.

6:16 p.m. No schedules around, so no clue as to who's playing where or even where "where" is. Find a single performer list posted on a board, which people gather around to copy. Seeing my notebook, everybody hits me up for paper. Consider scalping notebook paper for $5 per sheet. Opt not to.

6:19:00 p.m. Discover Long Beach's Ugly Duckling is playing! Sweet!

6:19:03 p.m. Discover Ugly Duckling doesn't go on until 4:15 a.m. Sour!

7:20 p.m. Music in full effect on all nine stages—trance, hardcore, happy hardcore, hip-hop, techno, jungle, house, hard house, ambient and probably something else. Getting more crowded by the second. As night falls, lights go on, slowly turning field into world's largest gay disco. Or a Grateful Dead show, only without the Grateful Dead.

8:10 p.m. Observe with profound admiration as a DJ crosses "Genie in a Bottle" with "Back in Black."

8:40 p.m. Dinner in the VIP tent. Sandwiches are long gone—so are the flies. Left to feast on corn chips, chocolate bars and cherry cola.

9:07 p.m. The glowstick/tracer crews are going all out, gyrating like blissed-out dervishes. And people think Deadheads were drug-addled hippie-dippies?

9:10 p.m. Verdict on candy ravers: kill 'em all. Let God sort 'em out.

9:19 p.m. Somewhere, a DJ is making house samples out of Steely Dan's "Peg."

9:25 p.m. Chillin' in the ambient tent. Lie down on dirty, hard concrete surface and gaze up at psychedelicized visions of Disney's Alice in Wonderland as ultramellow music quietly wafts through the air.

9:33 p.m. Terrifying fashion statement: men who wander around with butterfly wings on their backs. But I am not on drugs.

10:03 p.m. At one booth, people gather around a big-screen TV to watch video of June's Electric Daisy Carnival rave, which is like bringing a TV to a ball game to watch the game you're already at.

10:50 p.m. Grab fistful of M&Ms in the VIP tent and pop them into mouth. They turn out to be Skittles. But I am not on drugs.

10:55 p.m. Someone somewhere is playing a trance mix of Abba's "Lay All Your Love on Me."

11:30 p.m. Feeling woozy from sensory overload. Find empty couch in VIP area. Attempt to nap.

11:40 p.m. Candy raver: "Hey, can you scoot over?" Me: "No. Go away."

11:41 p.m. Candy raver: "Hey, can you scoot down?" Me: "No. Go away."

11:42 p.m. Candy raver: "Hey, can you scoot over?" Me: "No. Go away."

11:43 p.m. Candy raver: "Hey, can you scoot down?" Me: "No. Go away."

11:45 p.m. Candy raver: "Hey, can you scoot over?" Me (feigning an I-am-about-to-puke-on-your-shoes tone of voice): "Nugh-nuh. I'm comin' dowwwn. I can't moove." Candy raver: "Oh, that's cool. Sorry—I know how that is."

12:17 a.m. Cop, shining bright flashlight into my eyes and waking me up: "Hey, are you okay?" Me: "Um, yes, sir, quite all right—just taking it easy. Thanks for asking!"

1 a.m. A fire-dance troupe from Arizona perform in a circled ring in middle of field. Were I 7 years old and/or on X, this would be really, really entertaining.

1:35 a.m. The costumed, comic-book strangeness of Rabbit in the Moon at the breaks/techno/hard house stage. Or is it the hard house/ breaks/techno stage?

1:50 a.m. The funky freshness of Dilated Peoples on the hip-hop stage. They do a rap where they spell out their name ("To the D to the I to the L to the . . ."). The second they finish, guy standing in front of me turns to his friend and asks, "Is this Dilated Peoples?"

2:30 a.m. Return to VIP tent and watch Alan, the World's Fastest Painter. Asian girl gets flirty with me. Hands me bracelet with NOCTURNAL spelled out in beads. Quickly escape while girl latches on to someone else. Feast on what's left of free buffet: broken potato chips, warm bottled water.

3:12 a.m. Make another go-round of the stages, just to keep active. Exhaustion setting in. Must. Fight. Must. Rave. Onward.

3:20 a.m. Another fire show begins. Sit down on cold, moist grass and watch, trying not to fall asleep.

4:30 a.m. Wake up. I am not on drugs.

4:32 a.m. Got munchies. I am not on drugs. Think about asking cop if he knows where they're selling Ecstasy Burgers. Opt not to.

4:40 a.m. Ugly Duckling on the hip-hop stage. They all look kinda tired—could it possibly be because IT'S 4:40 IN THE FRICKIN' MORNING?!?

5:16 a.m. A penlight has never come in handier than in the past few hours. Have found $2.55 in misplaced change.

5:47 a.m. First glow of morning sun peeks from behind desert mountains. On way out, notice mound of trash and cardboard by an exit gate. Turns out to be a body, all curled up fetal-like. Hope it's not still there.

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