Thursday morning last week, I woke up alone in a two-star hotel by the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere. The hotel was at least superficially aspiring to a third star, but a fresh carpet, a thin coat of paint, and a waffle iron can only hide so much. Its two-star standing was further betrayed by the fact that the previous night’s manager couldn’t tell me the closest cold beer was in a lounge a few hundred yards away. I was fortunate to find a gas station attendant who was better informed.
I rose early, had a waffle for breakfast, and got myself back on the road. I was already about halfway to my destination, a fact I suddenly became acutely aware of as I pulled the car out of the parking lot and realized I had the choice of heading home or continuing on.
Here I was, with a trunk full of camping gear and no guarantee of a campsite that night, heading out on the open road to an event I’d only read about on the internet, organized by someone I’d never met. The event might not even exist. I might be the only one crazy enough to spend four days trying to find it.
At this point, I had a mild panic attack.
To calm myself down, I should have pulled over. Instead, for some reason, I turned in the direction of my destination and considered the worst cases. If the event doesn’t happen, I’ll enjoy a beautiful drive. If the other participants are dangerous, I’ll get in my car and leave. If I can’t find a campsite, I’ll drive an hour to a town with an available hotel room. In short, my only real fear was that I might have allowed myself to be deceived into taking a trip that I might enjoy regardless. That didn’t seem so bad. I started to relax my breathing and pressed on.
When I got to the campground, I asked if there would be any problem staying three days. I was hoping they’d give me some indication of the number of people they were expecting. Instead they looked at me like I had three heads. Cash or credit card was the only concern they had. I saw only three tents in the self-camping area. The privately owned campground had other accommodations on its large property, but there was no way to tell whether they were occupied or empty.
I found a shaded spot for my tent, set up my site, and did nothing but sleep in a hammock for a while. I then decided to walk into town and find a bar. The bar I found had a happy hour and was relatively busy. It was full of people who looked like they weren’t local. How many of them were in town for the same reason, I wondered. It’s not like we had agreed upon colors or could throw up a gang sign. I enjoyed a couple beers and a surprisingly tasty sandwich.
I walked back to the campsite, still alone, relaxed for a while, and then remembered the campground also sold beer. I walked to the office for a beer and noticed a band was setting up for live music on a small stage near the patio. The sun was going down, and it seemed as good a place as any to pass the evening. One beer became two, and two became several. The band came on stage and performed a relatively short set. I was happy. Others had gathered, but at this point I still had no idea who else was present for the event.
Well after dark, as the band was finishing its set, a cowboy showed up with several friends and family members, a bottle of tequila, and a cardboard box full of shot glasses. He poured a shot for anyone who wanted one. When all the glasses were full, he raised his to make the following toast:
His name was Seth Rich.
I knew then I was among kindred spirits. It was the unofficial beginning of an unforgettable weekend.