If, on the afternoon of June 26, a visitor to Los Angeles from some foreign land had been standing on the corner of Figueroa Street and Exposition Boulevard, he would have beheld a curious tableau: Moving south along the sidewalks on Figueroa were great throngs of strangely and in many cases minimally attired young people, nearly all of them in their teens and early twenties. The southbound traffic lanes were likewise chockablock with cars loaded with similarly costumed young revelers.
Meanwhile, heading north, and with an alarming degree of regularity, was a great fleet of ambulances, their red lights ablaze, their sirens wailing, each one apparently bearing some casualty from whatever spectacle was taking place down the street that all those strangely and minimally attired young people seemed so eager to get to.
The visitor no doubt would have asked himself why, in the face of such clear evidence of imminent peril as presented by the speeding ambulances, all those young people continued to flock southward, not only in blithe denial of the danger but even ecstatic at the prospect of participating in it.
And if that visitor had allowed his curiosity to overcome his better judgment and so proceeded into the pulsing vortex of what was occurring just down Figueroa Street, he might have soon left Los Angeles with his hearing forever damaged and his hope for America’s future forever dashed.
On June 25 and 26, something called the Electric Daisy Carnival was once again held in and around the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the site of two Olympic Games but lately reduced to hosting less noble entertainment. Billed as an “electronic dance festival,” the EDC is in reality an enormous outdoor orgy of drug use set to the incessant beat of music which, if it were employed in the service of discomfiting captured al-Qaeda terrorists, would bring threats of sanctions from the United Nations. And it all took place in a publicly owned facility and under the watchful but largely impotent eye of the Los Angeles Police Department.
When I say “strangely and in many cases minimally attired young people,” it’s an expression that scarcely does justice to the collection of humanity that pressed together over those two days at the Coliseum. Indeed, the old adage about a picture being worth a thousand words is in the present circumstances apt. I could ladle out the adjectives by the bucketful and never come within a mile of describing it accurately, so I invite you at this point to click over to the slideshow at the L.A. Weekly website for a representative sample. (Some of the photos might be considered unsafe for work.)
And now that you’ve clicked over, some of you for longer than you’d care to admit, you know I wasn’t exaggerating in my description of those in attendance. My colleagues made about 120 arrests at the EDC, most for possession of ecstasy or other drugs. Given that the crowd was estimated at over 180,000 over the two days, 120 arrests might seem a trivial figure. But we made arrests in only the most blatant cases. LAPD Deputy Chief Pat Gannon told the Los Angeles Times he had assigned 40 undercover narcotics officers to the event, but that “if I had 1,000 I would have made 1,000 arrests it was so packed with drugs.” Gannon’s assessment was an understatement.
If we had arrested everyone we could have for drug possession, there would have been no cops left to deal with the mobs of gate crashers that cropped up from time to time at the various entrances to the venue. No sooner did we chase a crowd away from one gate than we saw them appear at another. Deputy Chief Gannon himself broke two fingers while dealing with a mob seeking to enter without having gone through the customary formality of buying tickets.
And the arrests were by far the least of the blemishes on the event. Sasha Rodriguez, a 15-year-old high school student, died of an apparent overdose of ecstasy after attending the EDC on Saturday. She was one of the more than 100 people taken by ambulance to local hospitals, where the staffs have come to regard the EDC as a “mass-casualty event,” planning for it as they would if they had advance warning of a train derailment.
But the death of one girl and the injuries to so many others in attendance are of little consequence to some, like those who commented on an L.A. Times story about injuries at the event. “What a great success!” wrote one. “Considering the number of people total, that’s a very good ratio.” Call it the Ted Kennedy school of merrymaking: We mustn’t let the occasional cost of a young woman’s life stand in the way of having a good time.
Which brings up a few questions some are now asking: Is it appropriate for such an event to take place at a publicly owned venue? The Coliseum is jointly managed by the state of California and the city and county of Los Angeles, each of which no doubt profited handsomely when the promoter kicked in for whatever permits were required. But even if the event provided a welcome boost for the cash-strapped city, county, and state, should they be in the business of hosting such a bacchanalia? And should so many police officers and firefighters be diverted from parts of town far more deserving of their services merely to accommodate this odd rabble’s diseased sense of the amusing?
There will be much hand-wringing and earnest talk about making next year’s Electric Daisy Carnival “safer,” but any attempts to ban it will almost certainly be blunted by considerations of the bottom line. The event produces revenue, of which the concerned governments are much in need. Come the last weekend in June next year, the EDC will surely be right back at the Coliseum, bigger and messier than ever.
Granted, the EDC was something of a welcome departure from my normal duties, but as fond as I might be of being in the titillating proximity of thousands of half-naked women — and getting paid for it– all things considered I hope to avoid it like poison next year.