September 19, 2012

Reporter’s Notebook: A Bleary, Bon Iver Bus Odyssey

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COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — There weren’t enough seats.

Throw down 10 bucks and hop on Dan Small’s Bon Iver Bus. But run a little late and school bus #1216 is guaranteed to be running low on seats.

The bus to Bon Iver’s concert at Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, N.Y. was the brainchild of Dan Smalls Presents and the Cornell Concert Commission. Show up at the Schwartz Center at 5 p.m. Bring some cash. Bring some friends. Bring some booze.

This reporter was set to drive six friends to the concert Monday night, but, not wanting them to die at the hands of a notoriously awful driver, signed up for the bus.

Winded from a walk from North Campus, the group showed up to find a school bus full of plaid — a strange assortment of overgrown elementary school kids.

The head count was 45 and these heads were squashed in every crevice of the bus. Depending on size and stature, three to a seat was not impossible. But an unlucky few were destined to spend the three-hour journey precariously balancing a quarter of their buttocks on the vinyl benches. The lowliest of passengers — including this reporter — were banished to the floor of the aisle.

The bus ride would not have been complete without the diverse array of picnic cuisine. The classier attendees munched on Manchego cheese and sipped riesling; the rest relied on Pabst Blue Ribbon in Nalgene bottles and peanut butter and jelly on hamburger buns.

The bus never broke 40 m.p.h. It creeped to Cooperstown, prompting tired haikus from the weary passengers.

“This looks like a town

There are no lines in the roads

We must be in hell,” several passengers recited.

During one of the two emergency bathroom stops, the bus driver Pat began grumbling under his breath to a few students who were complaining about their 8:40 a.m. classes the next morning.

Pat grew up in Groton, N.Y., and has been driving what can best be described as “super-size vehicles” since 1972. He gets up at 4:50 a.m. every morning, and rather than crane his neck to catch Justin Vernon sweetly swaying on stage, was hoping the setlist was long enough to allow him to take a reasonable nap. For someone who had every right to despise his mildly inebriated cargo, he was patient and kind.

About an hour and a half into the trip, the truth came out about the bus’ maximum capacity.

“It’s about 66 people,” he said. “Well … 66 first graders.”

Then, finally, release: Brewery Ommegang, a clearing in the woods with a stage, a brewery and the hipster masses snuggling with one another under blankets. It was altogether a wholesome affair; one winces at the differences between this crowd and the one that will descend upon Barton Hall come Saturday’s Avicii extravaganza. Once Bon Iver hit the stage, it was all adoring silence, hushed singing and awkward couple dancing. James Rainis ’14 gave you all of the details.

Depending on one’s state of mind, the journey back to Ithaca was peaceful or infuriating. Sleep on a friend’s shoulder and the time flew by; get stuck behind freshmen listing all of the concerts they have ever seen and you might as well bang your head against the window for three hours.

At one point many passengers were woken from their crunched, half-asleep states to a plea for the second emergency bathroom stop.

“It’s 10 minutes to the nearest gas station,” Pat told a girl who was nearly in tears.

This, however, would not do.

“Can’t you just pull over here?” she wailed. Turning to the girl behind her she continued, “I know I don’t know you, but will you please come with me?”

Pat willingly obliged and a few passengers descended into the woods, along a vacant backcountry road, in Middle-of-Nowhere, New York.

Having formed new friendships, sustained potential kidney damage and blissfully swayed to Vernon’s croon, the passengers finally arrived outside the Schwartz Center at a quarter past 2 a.m. It is difficult to say what the rest of the night had in store for the Bon Iver Bus passengers; this bleary-eyed reporter headed home to catch a few Z’s before her 8:40 a.m. class.

Original Author: Liz Camuti