I just got done with Lollapalooza this weekend and am exhausted. BUT, before you think I am some hip rock’n’roll mama, let me clarify: I was on a clean up crew.
Actually Saturday started out like any other weekend—a little bit of relaxing and a little bit of catching up. I was just taking a pie out of the oven when some people staying in our building said they needed 3 more people to fill out a clean up crew for Lollapalooza. I asked how much they were paying and thought they said $10 an hour, which sounded about right. The shift was 2 pm until midnight. I wasn’t doing anything else that couldn’t be done Sunday, so within ten minutes I was in the back of a van and being shuttled downtown. It felt a little bit like human trafficking—though I haven’t had any first-hand experience (up to this point, I mean.)
We were escorted quickly through a staff gate and wristbanded. The guys in the grey shirts were our bosses and they divided us up into crews. I had someone looking out for me and he said she needs to go backstage. I was about to protest—I mean I have run marathons and bike everywhere—but hey! I’ll go back stage. I was told to get into a golf cart—that was after a guy in a grey shirt said, “If you see movie stars, do not act all goofy or ask for autographs and shit.” Okay, I thought. Groovy!
I was whisked into the VIPest of all VIP lounges. (Apparently the expensive cost of attending Lolla is nothing compared to the upgrades one can purchase. Access is just a matter of how much you’re willing to spend—and for some people that’s plenty.) Some of the guys were taken to an artist backstage area, while I was told to wait under a tree. Dang, I thought. I wanted to work backstage, but then in minutes we were moving again through a maze of chainlink fences and areas guarded by tight security—and of course, we wound our way through beautiful people, people who in heat and humidity still look good. I on the other hand had on a Hello! Kitty bucket hat to keep the sun off and Smurf blue gloves because I thought I’d be picking up trash and a fanny pack for my coldpack water bottle and granola bars—haha, no need, I was taken into the land of frozen Daiquiri’s and gourmet finger foods.
There were enough workers that I mostly stood inconspicuously in a corner and only emerged to clear up a table. The catered and drink-filled venue provided its members (Really, how do you become a member because it certainly wasn’t because you were wearing a lot of clothes, bra and panties seemed the only requirements, and I’m not sure even those were necessary.) There was fancy mac n cheese and kibble mixes, up-scale mini baked potatoes with bacon bits and melted cheese, kale chips!, and a s’more dessert in miniature glass jars (those mothers were hell to clean out because I was savin’ them jars). In fact I saved the glasses that were supposed to be disposable. I gladly “cleared” the cups where the drinks were chilled with some kind of alcohol-laced popscicle upside down in it. By the end of the evening I had a blue bag full of them.
So while the beautiful people were listening to Foster the People and Outkast I had a side gig goin’ on collecting glasses for the shelter. It was a ballet of balance to scoot through the crowds to toss empties and those little food boats. One lady who was obviously drunk came up and said, I love your hat! Another person said, “It’s so great that you’re doing this.” I wasn’t sure what they actually meant—was it great that workers cleaned up after them or what I think they were saying was that someone my age was hangin’ out in the Samsung Galaxy VIP lounge. I smiled as if to say, I know, crazy!
Meanwhile, my daughter was at Lollapalooza, attending. She was one of the disgusting masses, one of the peons in the open-air fields with the sun and dust pouring down on them. I could observe them up on the shaded terrace from the best seat in the house. I texted her—come see me, after Fitz and Tantrums. What!? she replied. I’m on a deck above the field. Get out!? But, I couldn’t get her back with me. Unfortunately the guys at the gate said no way, no black wristband, no entrance. Every once in a while I’d sneak her out a hot dog on artesian bread. She was desperate for a bathroom. I told her we had deluxe bathrooms where you actually felt okay touching the walls and I could off-load my fanny pack onto the floor while in progress—something you wouldn’t even think of doing at the event portos. She begged me to get her backstage like a bathroom groupie. Nothing doin’. She hated me for my privilege and because I was using a fanny pack.
Everything was hunky dory until the last band—after that, we went into high-speed clearing the lounge, then we got pulled into cleaning a place one step down, a mid-VIP place and definitely a lower-class crowd who’d never heard of garbage cans, but still nothing like the fields which, now devoid of crowds, were knee-deep in litter.
With that done we had less than an hour until we clocked out. It took us ten minutes to get across the fields to HQ where I stowed my bags of cups I’d collected. We picked up little brooms and dustpans and went out on the sidewalks in front of vendor stands to do itty-bitty when a woman named Angel descended upon us. She was no Angel. She made us get in the cart against our protests. We only had half an hour left. She countered that she wouldn’t take us far, but she needed more workers in a field. Then she drove us almost to Indiana, for real? I thought, what am I getting into. Under haze-filled lights I observed the inner-circle if Lollapalooza hell. I wasn’t even sure there was terra firma beneath the top layer of trash. Angel asked us to pick it up. With what? I asked. With this little broom? I had no idea she wasn’t used to people asking her these kinds of questions.
So with a child-size broom I started pushing plastic bottles, cigarette packs, shoes (Don’t you need these?), and socks, and all sorts of random refuse. It was like using a spoon to empty the ocean. Angel drove around the field in her golf cart shouting orders like a Nazi kapo—what are you doing? It’s not break time. Get moving! I immediately began to devise a plan to sneak away. I tried to fake-work toward the shadows.
I felt bad for the workers I saw laboring under the dim lights. They were just starting their shift and didn’t have the language skills to stand up to Angel and her absurd demands. It was a job for a machine, not humans. For all of Outkast’s outspokenness—André 3000 wore a jumpsuit embossed with the statement that across all cultures dark people suffer the most—I’m not sure the message was working. Before my eyes like some bleary nightmare, I saw these tiny migrant women clearing a field heaped with crap with little brooms.
There needs to be a Lollapalooza union advocating for the clean up crews—who, by the way, aren't making $10 an hour. It averaged out to less than minimum wage, less than $7.25 an hour.