Saturday, 4:55 PM Call me Happy Meal®. As sudden late afternoon rains swirl and eddy overhead, we’ve been evacuated from Union Park, and the dozens of us gathered at the McDonald’s on Lake Street have the shivery, put-upon look common to dogs given an unwelcome bath. The plebes are all wet.
For me, though, this Saturday at the Pitchfork Music Festival has been a failure in ways unrelated to the weather. In seeking perfect corporate hospitality, partaking eagerly of every sponsored shenanigan on the grounds, I’ve ignored the live music all around me, my devoted friends, and the warnings of Mother Nature herself. I’ve tried to give away childish things but been embarrassed by a temper tantrum. I’ve tried to engage with a new sense of vision for my life and thus undergo a great transition, but only danced like a fool. To approach an inner peace that ruthlessly eludes me, I have invited skilled practitioners of alternative medicine to put crystals in my ears and massage me with precious oils, yet my nerves still jangle. I have taken to drink. But most appallingly, the glistening Chase Sapphire Lounge is still beyond my reach! And so, I’ve come out of the rain to seek a child’s hastily prepared boxed dinner.
Perhaps I should start at the beginning.
Saturday, 1:05 PM I remember an interview in which Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker talked about the conundrum of the VIP section: after social climbing through level after level after level, ultimate victory means finding yourself in a brightly lit closet eating cake off a paper plate with Simon LeBon.
Like many journalists, I’ve gotten my filthy mitts on VIP passes for music festivals in the past. Sadly, the VIP experience at Pitchfork consists largely of endlessly scanning an enclosed swath of park perhaps 500 feet on a side and feeling a needling sense of disappointment that so many people you respect (and quite a few you don’t) perform similarly unimportant tasks but are obviously far better compensated for it than you. In past years, my typical response has been to sate this melancholy with Kind bars and tiny artisanal tacos. Now, my plan is to flee this nest of vipers for a wonderland whose existence I discovered only yesterday—the Chase Sapphire Lounge. Rumors abound: Blue macarons in clear boxes. A tower of antipasto that brushes the clouds. Folding fans, like the kind you see old ladies snapping and waving in Baptist churches, free for the taking. And jugs of iced tea! I must enter this realm of riches, but I have heard that the gatekeepers are merciless.
Saturday, 1:15 PM Such ambitions call for a drink or two. Luckily, the Pitchfork quest I have set myself—to engage with as many corporate sponsors as humanly possible in one day—includes sallying forth to purveyors of alcohol. Away from the shade of VIP, among the masses who are watching bands and dancing, the day is scalding hot. Friends have cautioned me that booze can foul up the body’s natural response to overheating, and I’m out of practice when it comes to evaluating the seriousness of such warnings—despite partying through my 20s and early 30s like I had a death wish, I now very rarely partake of the devil’s amber. But the gent minding the kiosk for Singleton Single Malt Scotch Whisky wears no judgment on his face, gifting me a branded pair of sunglasses and a bag of Swedish Fish to go along with my vaguely watermelon-flavored cocktail. I pretend I’m getting another Singleton Scottish Cooler for a friend, and double fist for bravery.
Saturday, 1:35 PM I’ve reached my most desired destination, the Chase Sapphire Lounge, where a personable young lady with an iPad informs me that I can’t, in fact, come in. I must have a Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. I have a Chase Freedom Unlimited® Card, and I’ve maintained an account with Chase since its merger with Bank One, which if I recall correctly was sometime during the Nixon administration—but this lounge is exclusively for bearers of the Sapphire Preferred® Card. Before retreating, I stand on tippy-toes to look past the iPad woman and see what might very well be a tower of sweaty, delicious salami.
Saturday, 1:55 PM Tim Nagle, the photographer assigned to document my quest, is plainly embarrassed for me. At the Marine Layer trailer, I’m supposed to be trading in five old T-shirts for cash toward a new one. Marine Layer shirts are great, with stylish designs and finely woven cotton, and my old band T-shirts are not great—their florid yellow pit stains are almost painterly in their abstract intensity. Last week I spent hours carefully selecting the most disposable five from my vast collection, but after I hand over the first three, my old punk soul recoils. I tangle with the Marine Layer collection guy over an Iceage shirt, but he wins out. Into the bin it goes. In anguish, I bury my face in my beloved Screaming Females tee.
Saturday, 2:45 PM It’s almost time to make another run at the Sapphire gatekeeper, but on the way I spot a giant, Airstream-trailer-size Svedka Vodka bottle on its side, filled with people drinking pink, boozy slushies. The slushies aren’t cheap, but I buy two and slam them.
Saturday, 3:05 PM Tim humors me with an idea. Perhaps the Chase Sapphire Lounge will let him take some photos? He’s more charming than I am, I admit, but he gets nowhere. I tell the young lady with the iPad that I used to caddy for Chase CEO Jamie Dimon when I was in high school (I’m lying, but my actual high school experience was sufficiently strange that I don’t feel like I am). She stands firm, though, and points to a swinging bench outside the lounge, offering me a seat.
Saturday, 3:35 PM I mosey over to the Virtue Cider Farmhouse, near the festival entrance, which is smaller and looks more portable than most real farmhouses I’ve seen. The delicious, wholesome smell of apples is undercut by my drink, which tastes more like an appalling Honeycrisp nougat. I slam it and buy another—I think my taste buds are failing, but I want to make sure.
Saturday, 4:10 PM My vision has been suffering in middle age, and in the past half hour or so it’s gotten suddenly much more blurry. Thankfully, the folks representing Acuvue (specifically, their Oasys lenses with Transition Light Intelligent Technology) seem to think they can help. They ask if I have an optometrist. I ask if they can put their contact lenses on me, since I’m too afraid to touch my own eyes. They politely refuse, and instead offer me the chance to make a music video in their semiprofessional studio. I dance wildly, borrowing what choreography I can remember from Madonna’s “Vogue,” and because there is no actual music playing, I hear Tim taking photos and laughing. I don’t care. Afterward, an Acuvue staff member helps me e-mail the video to myself.
Saturday, 4:35 PM I’m back in the VIP section, visiting the Equinox Luxury Fitness Club Tent. An acupuncturist has already glued jewels on the pressure points in my ears to relieve stress, but I’ve come for a massage. Everyone here has suspiciously good posture and really tight abs. I comment to one of Equinox’s helpful associates about this, and as she drapes a cold eucalyptus towel over my neck, she asks if I’ve thought about improving my own core strength. I explain that when it comes to core strength, my mascot is Twinkie the Kid (and we both look good in a cowboy hat).
I ask her if she’s tried Bulleit Bourbon’s Kentucky Mule, which as far as I can recall consists of rye, ginger beer, and lime juice. It’s sublime! In the strictest confidence, I whisper that I’ve had three of them today. She looks at me with sympathy. Naturally, ten minutes later, during the first professionally administered massage of my adult life, the park is evacuated due to a dangerous storm.
Saturday, 6:25 PM Union Park has finally reopened, and I see a young man drifting along on a Onewheel, which looks like a skateboard with one giant wheel sticking up through the middle. I wonder how he got into the festival with such a device, but he looks like Jesus—that is, both the Lamb of God and the character on The Walking Dead—so I assume he has special privileges. Maybe I shouldn’t have had that last CBD soda from Bangers & Lace on my way back from the portable toilets? Jesus seems to be glowing.
I’ve been seeing fresh-faced Gen Z types riding around on Onewheels for months, and a thought occurs to me: that while young people have been deftly guiding me through the ins and outs of product tie-ins and free swag all day, very few seem interested in claiming any for themselves. Generation Z apparently regards corporate gibberish as deeply out of style. I ask Jesus if he’s made it into the Chase Sapphire Lounge, and what wonders it might contain. He laughs and replies, “No way, man. But can’t you get in with your press pass?”
Saturday, 7:45 PM Finally, I am safely ensconced in the Chase Sapphire Lounge. Jesus was right, and my press pass has indeed worked like magic. I don’t know why I didn’t try that before. I’ve heard via Twitter that the Chase Sapphire Lounge didn’t even let people in during the nasty weather, but now that the skies have cleared, here I am, my Baptist church fan and intricately boxed macarons in hand. I’m at peace. I’ve already sampled the cheese and salami cubes, and they taste like victory. The ceiling in here looks like something out of a Bing Crosby-Bob Hope road movie, where they’re hanging out in an oasis under the canopy of a luxurious tent. Home sweet home! Tim snaps a photo or two of me and leaves, on to more interesting subjects. Over my shoulder, I hear the Isley Brothers fire up a set of state-fair classics, and I bounce my head along to “Twist and Shout.” Until they decide to kick me out, this definitely seems like the place to be. v