Searching for Peace While Drug-Addled and Coachella-Adjacent

Can we relax on the outskirts of the beast?

It was nearly one in the morning and my good friend Carl and I were driving west toward the Coachella Valley, Cathedral City specifically. It was the second weekend of the most agitated and frenzied Molly-water-soaked festival of the year. Carl and I are squarely not Coachella people. The house we were driving to was filled with 14 of them. The calm desert air felt a bit sinister.

“I’m telling you, man, I’m really trying to focus on relaxing,” Carl says. Becoming less tense might sound like an obvious goal, but it’s so often trampled in the active itinerary vacations organically provide. We’re both in need of a brief escape. Some definite specters are trailing us: Career exhaustion, city fatigue, psychological woe, emotional stress, all stretch back in the light pollution of Los Angeles as we cut toward the windmills.

If a quiet, reflective respite was our mission, why did we go to the desert during its most obnoxious weekend? As with most things, there was a deal, and a slight catch. And a Nutri-Grain box full of psilocybin mushrooms.

All we had to do was drive them to the shuttle stop five miles away each morning and pick them up at night. Relaxation was on the horizon, and so welcome. 

Our friend Sam and 13 of his friends who we’d never met are a huge Coachella group. Same people, year after year, drugs and music and friendship. They were renting an AirBnB in Cat City. Carl and I were allowed to stay there and have free reign over it and its pool while the 14 roll their faces off on the Polo Fields. All we had to do was drive them to the shuttle stop five miles away each morning and pick them up at night. Relaxation was on the horizon, and so welcome. We had both entered the valley in odd moods.

Hours before leaving, I had to cover a show at Soho House for work. As I’m the kind of gremlin who scoffs at institutions like that, while secretly, mole-like and red-eyed, want to be included, I figured the best way to experience it for the first time was to crack open that box of mushrooms. Everything was gaudy, everyone propped up by their clothes and demons, hand-ticklers and machine gun smizes, each and every bald man in a suit, flanked by faceless sequins, looked exactly like Lex Luthor. A Lucifer and an Ursula on the balcony told a young virgin he would be the next Matt Damon. I had to get out of there. We had to get on the road.

Carl had a much heavier rider on his trail: He’d just learned of a death in the family.

We entered the compound rattled, but the symphonic winds and desert ambience shook our leaves. We’d jumped into the pool, metaphorically, and it felt fine. Literally, we dangled our feet in the hot tub and watched shooting stars as the rest of the house slept. We had a long weekend ahead of us.

Friday morning we met the rest of Sam’s crew. They were all supremely friendly, riding high on ritual and the precipice of a three-day party, and so welcoming of our presence. We were glad to be there. After they donned their outfits and hid their drugs, we dropped them at the shuttle stop and returned to a beautifully quiet house, the pool gleaming and beckoning. 

We ate an appropriate amount of mushrooms for the inanimate things to start breathing, for the clouds and hues of blue in the sky to mingle around with each other and shift, for the hot sun and occasionally rude gust of wind to feel natural and comforting. We made up games with the pool toys and the water beading down our faces looked beautiful and hilarious. I was giggling at the smallest of splashes. They had truly Kicked In and it was Good.

As the trip started to taper, a friend of ours drove down from the city to join us for the evening. We figured that if we were going to drive into Palm Springs and investigate the scene there, Friday night would be best to do it, before we, and the other tourists, were too tired to explore and mingle. The sun began to set, and the sky lit up in dim neon tones. We tossed a couple more caps down our throats and drove toward the glistening beast of millennial desert congregation: the Ace Hotel.

The drugs took notice, and things went dark. I needed a change. I wanted to go outside; I wanted to act out.

For some reason, if I’m not in nature, on hallucinogens I like to gawk at weird scenes. The Ace seemed perfect. I was fully immersed in the psilocybin when we entered, but the crowd was thin, tired. A few groups huddled near the pool, two couples ate dinner in the Amigo Room, and then: I remembered the last time I had been in that room. I was with my ex. An ex I still have hard, complicated feelings about. The drugs took notice, and things went dark. I needed a change. I wanted to go outside; I wanted to act out. Sometimes you have to steer your trip.

We went to the patio, and the rough patch of emotional turmoil subsided. We drank slushy alcoholic drinks. I decided to find some drunk marks to unload a bit of our excess mushrooms on. We truly were flush with the stinky, psychedelic things. After a couple of failed attempts, I met some inebriated bros playing ping-pong and sold them less than an eighth for $50. It was a great deal. But we were too out in the open about it. What can I say, I was tripping heavily. And that’s how, politely, I was kicked out of the Ace Hotel.

We retreated to the house. Many, many hours later, the Coachella attendees were ready to be picked up. The whole bunch was still wired and ready to elongate their celebration well into the night. Someone handed me a molly pill and sat in the hot tub then got out of the hot tub, on repeat, for what felt like hours. Eventually a smaller sect sat around the table, doing the coke talk thing, making plans to hang out in our respective neighborhoods when we went back to Los Angeles. Suddenly, the sun was up.

It was cliché and positive.

But was it relaxing? No. It was partying. Comfortable and soothing partying, but partying nonetheless. It stretched on into Saturday as more friends joined while the Coachella crew went back to Indio. A cavalcade of more shrooms and molly and suddenly my vision went fuzzy and red-tinged. I was Mr. Krabs. Then I was staring down at landscaped rocks wondering, “Is that my vomit? How did that come out of me? Make a mental note to clean that up later.”

On into the evening, I was on another plane, as they say, and remember patches of swirling sky and lit pool shining over my friends’ smiling faces. I woke up, and it was Sunday.

Coachella, from the outside, is a gargantuan, ugly dust devil. 

Exhausted, Carl and I planned to curl up in blankets and watch movies, smoke pot, and eat snacks. A recharge. But one couple in the Coachella group didn’t want to go back to the festival until the middle of the day. We waited on the two. The fatigue of desert and drugs was clearly weighing on them as well. They asked us to drive them all the way to the festival, maybe 15 miles further than the shuttle stop. After a polite decline, in the car, they asked again, and we acquiesced.

Coachella, from the outside, is a gargantuan, ugly dust devil. The closer you get, the thicker its tendrils of traffic and orange vests become. We had gone too deep and were stuck. The couple we were with, now drugged and panicked, made us drop them off in a very clearly marked non-pedestrian zone. A cliché-as-they-come bike cop stopped us as we left and made us go back and collect them. This made no one happy. We sat in dry, hot traffic, waiting to lighten our load.

Our Sunday was spent. We wanted to turn off. There was a movie theater nearby; so we nibbled a few stems and watched Criminal starring Kevin Costner. The film was, as we should have known, a bad choice. But the theater was dark and comfortable and distracting.

We shuttled the 14 back the last time and passed the fuck out. In the morning, we packed the rest of our things, cleaned our room, and were on the road before anyone else lifted an eyelid. It felt good to be heading home.

On the drive back to Los Angeles, it began to rain and it felt good. Our jobs and obligations awaited us. I wondered if we had really escaped them for a bit, if this druggy, more eventful than expected trip was the relaxation we wanted. Carl looked happy. I felt happy. I thought: Maybe that’s what’s peaceful. Maybe that’s what is relaxing about doing these silly things—two friends, both in flux, both in visible stages of growth, parallel, together. There’s extreme comfort in that. There’s comfort in seeing that these shifts continue throughout your life. There are plenty of ways to remind yourself of that, doing heavy hallucinogens in the shadow of a big, messy music festival isn’t the worst one.