The first fun thing The Observer did during this year's Riverfest was try and extricate my car Friday afternoon from behind the layers upon layers of near-impenetrable barricades in the River Market district that looked perfectly appropriate for a war zone. I had made the mistake of parking downtown that morning and walking to work. It was the mistake of a tourist, or a masochist. The Riverfest team had swooped in that morning and assembled a replica of the Baghdad Green Zone. I should have seen it coming, but I didn't.
I walked past thick concrete barriers and white plastic railings and enormous, sickening lines of traffic. I entertained myself by imagining I was an extra in a Roland Emmerich film. A few small groups of festivalgoers were spread out on the sidewalks in semicircles to study their maps. It was strangely peaceful, the quiet before a hurricane. Riverfest personnel were stationed at each intersection with the primary goal, apparently, of accepting the verbal abuse of drivers outraged about their typical routes home being diverted. I squinted up at the 14-story First Security Bank building and noticed a woman rappelling down the side of it — this was a new activity this year. A Riverfest employee in an official blue festival T-shirt told me it cost "about a thousand dollars." I asked if he'd help me get my car out. He looked confused and a little wounded, as if to say, "Why would you ever want to leave?"
The second really fun thing I did during this year's Riverfest was buy some apples and breakfast cereal and a couple of those brand-new Lost Forty six-packs, one pilsner and one pale ale, and head home. I had heard, earlier that afternoon, about a Sheryl Crow sighting at Iriana's Pizza, and I thought about it on the drive. I remembered hearing Sheryl Crow songs about 700 times between 2001 and 2004. The interesting thing about this is that it was entirely involuntary, every single time. I have never pressed "play" on a Sheryl Crow CD. I don't say this to insult or complain, only to marvel at the lost, shared monoculture of my youth. I can't remember the last time I heard whole songs I didn't want to hear. It's just too easy, these days, to check out. I don't consider this a relief; I consider it alienating. A vague sensation of loss, linked to fading memories of the VH1 music video countdown.
That night I watched something on Netflix and fed my cat and called it a night. I turned out all the lights and stood at the window — I live downtown — and looked out at the sky for suggestions of fireworks or fun or any sign at all of mass activity. I couldn't see anything over the trees. I remembered the Sheryl Crow song "Soak Up the Sun," which had been stuck in my head all day, bleakly.
"I'm stuck here watching TV," she sings. "I don't have diddly squat." I pulled up the song on YouTube and it all came back to me, like she was speaking to me directly: "It's not having what you want, it's wanting what you've got."
The third really fun thing I did during this year's Riverfest was buy a used armchair Saturday afternoon at the Savers in North Little Rock. It cost $17. I borrowed a friend's jeep to get it home — I'll spare you the details. I planned on heading over to the festival after that but got sidetracked by a sudden urge for tamales. You know how you sometimes get the most specific cravings and nothing else will do? It was one of those.
The band 311 was scheduled to play Riverfest that night, which inevitably reminded me of a summer camp I once attended on the North Carolina-Georgia border. There was a kid in my cabin — I think his name was Wayne — who worshipped 311. He was the only kid smart enough to pack his CD collection, so he was the DJ all week. We played Korn, the "Mission: Impossible II" soundtrack (featuring Limp Bizkit's take on the iconic theme music) and, of course, 311. I remember one night it rained and we all took shelter in a boat-house on the dock. Wayne brought his CDs and we all listened — all of us together — to whatever he played. We didn't think about whether we enjoyed it or not. We just thought about the rain.