Welcome to the third installment in the series A Clean Guide to Camping at Coachella. Three years ago, I attended Coachella for the first time. And because I am a stage-twelve, borderline-obsessive planner, I started researching how to Coachella about four months before we actually went to Coachella. As a result of what I found and didn’t find, I decided to write my own How to Coachella Guide. Ultimately, it could be How to Music Festival, but not all music festivals are held in Satan’s asshole, so this really only applies to music festivals in the desert during hotter months. This guide is also for the clean freaks attending music festivals or those who don’t wish to die of dysentery.
In Part One, we talked about how to set up camp for a successful Coachella Car Camping experience. Part Two focused on how to survive once you’re there. And this, Part Three, is about our second Coachella attempt this year— three years after the first— in which I put my Coachella smarts to the test.
We’ll talk about what I learned from the first two posts and how I implemented the things that went well, to truly craft an awesome second attempt. And don’t worry, we’re going back again next year. Because Beyoncé.
Because I am a stage-twelve borderline-obsessive planner, I studied for several months before my first Coachella. I can confidently say I was much more relaxed in my planning this time around. Maybe because I’d done it before. Maybe because I’m more financially stable now than I was three years ago. Whatever the case may be, I was much more relaxed about it. And we still had an incredible time. I also went with a group that had their own ideas and strategies from their previous Coachella attempts. Their plans exposed me to things I never would have tried or thought of myself, so now I have some opinions about different plans and recommendations for you, future Coachella goers.
In my first Coachella experience, we arrived late at night on Thursday and had to set up camp in the dark. This year, the people I went with wanted to be some of the first people there to ensure we got a really great camping position. So here’s the thing about that. We arrived in Indio at 5:45am on Thursday morning. We all met at a Walmart that didn’t exist the last time I went. It also didn’t open until 6am. The campground does not open until 9am. You are also not allowed to line up at the campground before 9 so as not to impede the normal everyday Indio traffic.
Why the fuck were we there so early, you may ask. Beats fucking me.
Traffic cops do not begin directing this massive clusterfuck until 0900, so it was a nightmare to even try to get ourselves in position to funnel into the campground. In 5 hours, we drove 9.9 miles and still had not made it inside the campground. Arriving first is the worst possible idea. Our friends who showed up around 1pm made it through security quickly and they landed a better camping zone than we did. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t plan to arrive before noon. Let them clear out everyone else that creates the clusterfuck traffic jam, then go. Or go at night. Setting up camp in the dark is not bad at all. There is absolutely no reason to get there at 9am. You will thank me later.
The only downside to showing up late at night is they had fewer security lanes open at night, so a team of security personnel ripped my vehicle to shreds. Arriving earlier in the day, all lanes are open and there’s one to two security officials per vehicle. We had an older gentleman who couldn’t have given two shits about what I was bringing into the festival. After he didn’t really search my Jeep at all, he felt it appropriate to tell us a joke: “What’s the difference between a battery and a woman?” No idea. “A battery has a positive side.” I drove away quickly because I could hear my girlfriend filling her lungs to lay into this dude. Let’s get away before he actually searches the car, please.
“Why would he say that? Why would he pick that joke of all jokes?” She was livid.
“I don’t know babe. He probably misgendered me and felt safe, like, ‘This poor schmuck drove all the way from New Mexico in a car full of women.'” #lesbochella2017
Tensions were high as we were running on little sleep, inappropriately-directed-misogynistic jokes, and the most insane traffic, so my girlfriend asked me not to pick up recyclables as we were in line. I tied off garbage bags on both mirrors and had my latex gloves on, but she was embarrassed so I stopped. She changed her mind about this once we were surrendering our collected items to the recycling center inside. You may remember there were girls combing through the garbage for recyclables the first time I went. At Coachella, you get points for the number of aluminum and plastic containers you recycle. These points can be redeemed for cold bottles of water, merchandise, raffle tickets, VIP upgrades, and future Coachella passes. But there’s a catch. There are recycling centers at the campground and inside the venue. Your points do not transfer from one to the other. They are separate entities. The recycling center in the campground closes around 3pm on Sunday. So if you want VIP upgrades, you need to enter with about 1500 points early enough in the festival for it to be worth it. The schwag goes quickly, so you need to be on it. We turned in 142 recyclables in a half-assed attempt. We decided on 5 raffle tickets and one bottle of cold water because pickins were slim by this point. As we walked away from the recycling center, my girlfriend agreed we need to get on this next year. Another benefit for going later in the day: you’ll find more recyclables in the gigantic tailgate party that is the security line.
It’s a smart way to encourage people to pick up garbage and recycle; it’s also an easy way to lose faith in humanity as you look at the destruction of Coachella. We clearly didn’t all learn the same “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” song when we were in elementary school. I seem to remember it to the same tune as “Grandma Got Run-Over By a Reindeer” (R-E-C-Y-C-L-E Recycle…) but I don’t think that’s right now that I read it in front of me.
We met our whole group in the waiting area and then drove in together. We ended up in camping zone 4 which takes the red path to get to the festival ground. My first year we were in zone 10, which takes the green path. As you may guess, the green path is a nice grassy walk to the festival. The red path is dirt. It is windy at Coachella. The red path shredded the hell out of my throat to the point where I am still hoarse two weeks later. In 2014, I had a coworker who went first weekend and I went second weekend. When he came back he warned me about how the dust totally destroyed his throat. I thought he was a big fat liar just trying to cover up his excessive drug use over the weekend. Nope. He was probably just on the red path. I know this now. I’m an asshole for judging you, Tim.
This camping experience led me to come up with the ultimate camping plan for next year. Third time’s a charm, am I right?
I haven’t figured out the appropriate ratio of people per camping space. We had 4 spaces and 16 people this year. It made for a decent living area between two spaces, but the tents weren’t positioned for optimum shade and airflow. However, the most important thing is to make a decent hangout space for you and all of your party people because you will not be sleeping much. Coachella is a marathon, not a sprint.
We had the worst neighbors this year. They were loud, inconsiderate, bigoted douchebags. They had 7 spaces and made an enormous hangout area—which was truly impressive. But the one thing I still find absolutely mind-blowing is they left most of their shit because they were too hungover to care about deconstructing their tents. They left several brand new Coleman tents. They left camping chairs. They left coolers. Full cases of Red Bull and other sodas. Not to mention their garbage they didn’t bother picking up. Pairs of shoes. Brand new battery-operated camping fans. Their entire custom-made PVC-pipe shade contraption.
So we yard-saled that shit. If it wasn’t broken or barfed on, we claimed everything we could fit in our vehicles and drove around the camp neighborhood yelling, “Yard sale on 408th and Broadway,” so others could claim what we had left behind. Fuck those people.
One morning, as I began my day with my usual 7:30 breakfast beer our neighbor bros had an existential conversation about the rap airhorn sound.
“I can’t hear that sound and not make it,” one bro pondered, “It’s like something instinctual. Like it’s embedded in my DNA. I hear it and I just have to make the sound.”
“Like a mating call?”
“Dude. Yeah. It’s like a mating call. But like, to find other bros,” he paused, “Wait. But like. If this is a mating call, does that make us gay?”
“No bro, we are totally not gay.”
“No, but like animal gay. Like if we’re using a mating call to find other bros would that make us animal gay? Like if we were in the animal kingdom, we’d be like animal gay, right?”
“No dude. That’s not how that works. We’re not gay.”
I was definitely staring at them for this whole conversation and drinking my beer in disbelief. But there was also this part of me that hoped they’d explore new depths of their own sexualities and have a really incredible and eye-opening Brochella experience. MAKE OUT WITH EACH OTHER ALREADY. Jesus.
This year, the Coachella people decided to try something really progressive— not actually at all and I will explain why— and have gender neutral bathrooms.
Let’s pause for a moment and recall what the Coachella bathroom setup is. The Coachella bathrooms (in the campgrounds and some of the ones at the venue) are aisles of port-o-potties behind a chain-link fence separated into male and female restrooms. The chainlink fence serves one obvious purpose and maybe another antiquated purpose. The first being it makes it easier to form a nice single-file line instead of having a line in front of each port-o-potty. The other might be privacy? So spectators don’t see you leave a toilet from afar? I don’t really know.
This year, they added one port-o-potty to the end of each row— outside of the chain link fence— that had a gender-neutral restroom sign on it. At first I was pleased to see this, but my feelings quickly soured. It was clearly an attention grabber for the Coachella team. Look at how inclusive we are; we added a gender neutral bathroom. They’re all fucking gender neutral though. It’s a single occupant bathroom with its own locking door. It has both a urinal and a toilet. It’s already gender neutral. Just remove the male and female signs on both sides of the chainlink fence and voila! They are all gender neutral.
It became a joke. Everywhere we went, douchebags were yelling things like, “You can’t police my gender” and “you mean gender confused.” How do I know this Coachella year was less chill than 2014? I almost fought people every time I went to the bathroom, that’s how.
One morning when they were cleaning and emptying the women’s side, they allowed us to use the men’s side. Later in the day, one of the males in our Lesbochella group was told he had to hold it because they were cleaning and emptying the men’s side. He wasn’t allowed to use the women’s bathrooms, but we were allowed to use the men’s. That isn’t fair. One of our campmates tried to defend them saying guys are gross and pee on the seat. WOMEN DO NOT SIT IN PORT-O-POTTIES. There is piss everywhere. The seat, the floor, you name it: it’s been peed on. If anything, the women’s port-o-potties are probably worse because of one special lovely thing called menstrual blood. Nope. Not just urine. Not just fecal matter. Not just vomit. There’s fucking blood in there.
You’re welcome for that.
In the festival grounds, they expanded the bathrooms with running water. The lines were never ridiculous, so there really is no reason to use the port-o-potties once you’re inside the festival grounds. I also totally recommend using the running-water bathrooms each night before you leave the festival and return to the campgrounds. The fewer times you need to brave the port-o-potties the better, am I right?
My girlfriend also had the really awesome idea to shower at night. I feel like this wasn’t an option the last time I went. The showers have limited hours of operation. This year, the showers were open from 7am-2pm and 7pm-2am with some zones operating limited showers all day. We were fortunate that zone 4 was one of the zones running 24-hour shower options. But we still showered before 2am each night. Showering at night is the way to go. Not only is it super refreshing to fully remove the day’s worth of sunscreen and dirt, but at night you don’t have to worry about the heat nor the lines. These are college dorm showers on wheels. Most of the trailers do not have air conditioning. 10 showers all pumping hot water in a small box with limited ventilation can easily turn into a recipe for fainting. And if there’s one place I absolutely do not want to pass out at Coachella, it’s inside a port-o-potty. But the showers are a close second.
The only thing that truly surprised me in our camping experience this year was the food. In my first Coachella experience, we brought a small propane grill and pre-cooked food items because salmonella is not your friend. We typically ate one meal each day inside the venue and found some pretty inexpensive options. This year, the group of other Coachella veterans explained bringing a grill wasn’t their style. I contemplated bringing one of my own, but I knew exactly how this would turn out: I would cook something for me and my girlfriend, but then I’d be expected to provide for the 14 naysayers too. Sorry, but no.
About a week before Coachella, we received notifications from the Coachella app that all of the vendors would be accepting Apple Pay. Hallelujer. Typically, everything is cash only and pickpockets are rampant at Coachella. In the festival grounds, every vendor had iPads mounted in Square stands with the RFID readers. It was awesome. I still brought some cash just to be safe, but if I had been depending on my math from 2014, I definitely did not have enough cash on hand.
The inexpensive meal options are gone. I paid $15 for a grilled cheese a la carte in the campground city center. I paid $8 for a quesadilla that was literally just melted cheese on a tortilla. Water is still $2 because they don’t want people to die if they don’t bring refillable containers, but if you need a little sugar in your bloodstream, you can pay $5 for a 16oz Powerade or soda.
I’ll be bringing my own food next year, thank you.