Although I’ve lived in The States for 20 years, I will always be a Cape Bretoner. My family still lives there, and most of my friends are scattered throughout the Maritimes. I left to satisfy a need to experience New York City and try to be like my heroes in the fashion world. At the time, I was 5’8, 125 pounds, and 21 years old so I figured I had a shot. After being turned down by 3 legit modeling agencies and ripped off by many fakes, I admitted I’d never do a cover shoot with Cindy Crawford or appear in the Victoria’s Secret catalog. Now that I think about it, I was a prime candidate for human traffickers and scam artists in those days. I seceded to my “day career”, in which I remain. When people ask me how I ended up in Pennsylvania, I get as far as “well, I wanted to be a model in New York City” and laughter stops the conversation. Hey, just because I’m 30 pounds heavier and look like the average Kmart shopper doesn’t mean I wasn’t ever….forget it.
But I digress. When my aunt told me U2 was coming to Nova Scotia, I cracked up laughing. Really?? As if!!! I tried to think about where they could set up The Claw: Archibald Field? Big Pond? There was no location that could accommodate both an audience of 100,000 and that stage. No way. Not possible.
Then I remembered Magnetic Hill in Moncton, where the Stones and Bon Jovi played the past few summers. I checked the discussion boards on U2.com and, sure enough, the Moncton rumor was flying around. Then the official announcement came. I couldn’t believe it! How cool that U2 would hold their final 360 show amidst the culture of my youth (even if not Cape Breton)? I got a GA ticket.
The chance of actually getting there was pretty slim. I used a lot of vacation time and cash on the Denver, Philly, and Pittsburgh shows. An airline which I’ll call “The Fleecing of Maritimers” charges the same fare from Harrisburg to Moncton as most airlines do from here to Japan (this is not an exaggeration, I checked it on Expedia. Can you say “righteous anger”?). This meant driving 1800 miles alone in a car that has over 130,000 miles on it. I made that hell drive enough times that the thought of it makes me want to puke. My phobia of big rigs and I-95 is borne of experience. Add to that the miles from Pittsburgh and the Pennsylvania turnpike only days before. I triggered panic writing this section. Excuse me while I get a Xanax.
Anyway, I booked a hotel in Fredericton, souped up the car, renewed my AAA membership, faced my fears, and hit the road. 14 hours after leaving Pennsylvania, I was in my room at Lakewood Suites. The plan for concert day was to relax. I reserved a seat on a charter bus so I could catch up on much needed rest en route to Moncton. It would save me four hours of driving and spare me the hassle of parking.
When I arrived at the passenger pickup site the following day, rain was coming down heavily. Two luxurious motorcoaches with the charter company’s name on the sides parked beside Tim Horton’s, and there wasn’t much of a crowd. I grabbed a sandwich, coffee, and a donut then tried unsuccessfully to board. What? These buses are not for us? What gives? People gradually gathered in the parking lot, each group following the same order of getting a coffee and donut, trying to board the motorcoaches, then stomping away with looks of dismay (or, in some cases, anger). Six orange school buses entered the parking lot. Okay, I thought, whatever.
While waiting to board, people started talking to me, including a group of guys in their early 20s. One of them, dressed in rubber boots and overalls, pointed to my old running shoes and said “That right there, eh, is the worst choice of footwear I ever seen!” Why, I asked. He said “You obviously never been there, right?” Then I saw everyone was wearing boots.
Once on the bus, I quickly realized most people were not on board to avoid traffic or parking hassles. They were there because they planned to get wasted. The group of boys brought a “keg” of gin mixed with pink juice on board along with a few six packs of beer. A group of middle aged women older than me were doing shots they bought at the liquor store across the street. Both groups were already drunk. Sandwiched between them, and in spite of their friendliness and generosity, I was terrified. I made excuses like being pregnant so they’d stop offering me booze (I didn’t want to offend anyone). The debauchery was loud. There were only a few other sober dorks like me scattered far apart from one another. I later learned we wanted each other’s mental support, but it was geographically impossible.
I had to remind myself that when I lived in Cape Breton, my friends and I were totally into this behavior. In those days I’d have looked forward to a bus ride like this. I wouldn’t have considered doing it sober. Profane jokes would spill from my mouth, always eliciting laughter and accolades. I didn’t quit drinking intentionally. Time and social isolation extricated me from it and probably saved me from rehab or a liver transplant. Yet all I could think about was enduring two hours of rainy highway with these people. Worse, I was in the wheel seat. I shuddered at the thought of the trip back.
The young guys professed allegiance to Arcade Fire, stating their parents bought the tickets and were the real U2 fans. Their parents were also going to be at the show. My mother would have killed me if I showed up in that condition. We weren’t even out of town before Rubber Overalls decided he had to pee. Lamenting because the first stop was over an hour away, he tried to go in an empty beer can. I didn’t dare turn my head to see this. When we hit a bump, he went airborne and landed in the aisle beside me, beer can still in hand. His friends nearly died laughing. Time and time again, he repeated this sequence. He’d apparently set himself up and be dismantled by a pothole, rock, or bridge joint. To make matters worse for him, rain leaked through the ceiling in a steady stream. The middle aged women started cracking up. Finally, the boy pleaded with the bus driver to pull over. The two buses behind us followed suit. I wiped the fog off my window and saw 10 guys lined up facing the woods. A few women ducked into the bushes. All I could think was “why the heck did I do this to myself?”
I was never so happy to see Moncton as I was that afternoon and bolted for the parking lot as soon as the driver opened the door. I didn’t care about the rain.
I found a hot dog stand and desperately texted my Canadian friends :” Thank Heaven I’m off that bus! You should have seen it!” Greg responded with “Remember that time we all went to Ingonish Beach?” Enough said. I’m a hypocrite. As I tell this story now I have to admit the charter bus to Moncton was pretty darn funny.
My friends and I had trouble finding one another thanks to the predicted cell tower overload. A piece of text from Trina came through, something about being on the highway with Edge in a black SUV right in front of her and a motorcade. No way!! What, she gets close to U2 at her very first show without even trying? Not fair!
After several more failed connections and misunderstandings, we found one another. How awesome to see my home girls! How awesome too that they were sober and brought their families! This took an enormous amount of peer pressure off me to drink. We embraced, told each other how good we looked, and then entered the gates.
It was then I understood Rubber Overalls’ comment about my footwear. I immediately sank an inch into the mud and my shoes almost came off. About ten feet inside, mud stains were up to my knees. Greg nearly wiped out as hundreds of others around us did. Some people looked like zombies, caked in mud from head to toe, hair messy, eyes glowing white or red depending on degree of intoxication. We carefully made our way to the T shirt stand, where I found the Achtung Baby era shirt Michele couldn’t find in Pittsburgh. It was white. Since The Claw was located at the bottom of a steep hill of quicksand, I tied the shirt around my neck. Carrying it guaranteed exposure to mud, so putting it around my neck and trusting others not to strangle me was risk management.
My friends had seats in the grandstand behind the stage and I had a GA ticket, so when Arcade Fire took the stage we hugged again and parted ways. I started my tedious descent/slide towards the Claw and miraculously made it to the thick crowd and more solid ground. For a late comer, I managed to get pretty close to the stage. After being bumped by numerous people claiming to be returning to the rail or inner circle, where their spouses or friends supposedly were, I learned I could inch my way forward by telling people I was looking for my husband, or latching onto the end of a “train” of people (thanks to Ruthann in Philly for showing me this “standard concert procedure”). I figured out how to do this without actually touching the shoulder of the last person. The moment I spotted a fan with a number on his or her hand/arm, however, I stopped. Getting ahead of those people is a rule of U2 fan culture I refuse to break. They were the people who may have been waiting in line possibly for more than a day.
The rain stopped and Arcade Fire rocked! I could see my friends behind the stage. They were in a position to see the bands entering and leaving, closer to the stage than any of the more expensive tickets. You should see their pictures! Arcade Fire proved the best of all of U2’s opening acts on the tour. Although I initially was not too impressed with their CD, seeing them live was the clincher. They are totally wild onstage, and I loved every minute of it. Hopefully they will come to Pennsylvania so I can see them do an entire show of their own.
During the intermission, I was moved to tears when Canadian fighter jets flew overhead. U2 crashed into the crowd with their first song, “Even Better Than The Real Thing”, while the eager crowd went insane. Bono said “Moncton…Moncton….Mucktown“. U2 only arrived in Moncton a few hours before the show, however “muck” was everywhere, and they probably had to muddle through some of it themselves as they entered the grounds. The show was a treasure, especially when Bono reworded “Stay” to reflect the final performance, when they did the full version of “40” at the end, and when Bono sang “Springhill Mining Disaster”. How cool it was to hear the B man singing one of “our” folk songs! It was also cool to remember how culturally unique the Maritimes are compared to everywhere else I’ve lived. To quote Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home”.
The end wasn’t as dramatic as it was in Pittsburgh, where a margarita “enhanced” my experience, but it was a nice farewell. I took a photo during “Out of Control”, which I now have enlarged to 11 x 14 and framed along with the city and date on my wall. I took it from halfway up the hill. When I snapped the shot I felt a little disturbed, because “Out of Control” was the song that got U2’s foot in the door, and now they were ending the last show with it. I wondered if it symbolized retirement. But I didn’t allow that thought to upset me. My experiences in Pittsburgh and Moncton gave me a sense of “satisfied enoughness”. If U2 does retire, I can say I was there for the last show and all that went with it. Over the music, Edwin McCain’s “I Could Not Ask For More” floated into my awareness. “These are the moments I thank God that I’m alive”. “These are the moments I’ll remember all my life”. “These are the moments I know Heaven must exist”. Then I stood silent during “40” and listened to the crowd chant. I stayed there until the band disappeared from sight. It was all totally worth it.
I could not ask for more!!
The bus back to Fredericton wasn’t nearly as bad since everyone was either passed out or asleep. I too huddled as much as I could in my wheel seat and drifted off. I awoke once to see The Big Dipper , a sight obscured by city light in Pennsylvania. I forget how brilliant the stars are back home.
The drive to Pennsylvania was white knuckled and harrowing….much more so than the drive north…but I made it. I tapped my car when I got back and said “Nice work, old gal”. My cats greeted me happily at the door. That night I listened to Jonny Lang’s “The Last Goodbye” and reminisced about the past two years. Mission accomplished, I fell asleep.