By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
They love rave, these 10 teens at Irving Mall's food court. Seated with them around some tables, "party kid" Trey Mosmeyer is talking about starting a local chapter of DanceSafe, an organization based in Berkeley, California. He's seen ravers get too loaded at parties and agrees with DanceSafe's tactics: providing leaflets on drug information at raves and, for those interested users, having ecstasy tested to make sure it's not laced with something more dangerous, like speed.
"DanceSafe doesn't condemn drug use," Mosmeyer says, his wrists and neck adorned with colorful beads, "the candy" of a typical raver. "If you know all the facts, then you can make your experience as safe as possible."
The media's got it all wrong, he tells me. Raves aren't about in-your-face drug use. They're about "family," about PLUR: Peace. Love. Unity. Respect.
A "safe" rave's coming up, just two days away, he says. And he and his group plan on being there, clean and sober, to show you that to rave you don't have to buzz.
There's no sense in ruining a good party, after all.
On this Saturday morning--July 29--one of them, an 18-year-old, has a pill tester, obtained from DanceSafe. (The 18-year-old is quick to point out that he is not a member of DanceSafe, which has eight chapters nationwide.) Two drug dealers are with him, one also 18, a Plano kid who works at the shop. The other--a 23-year-old Pentecostal Christian--tells me he can't in good conscience sell ecstasy to his fellow ravers unless he knows it's the real thing. So they go to the back of the shop to test the loot. With a knife, one of them scrapes some shavings from a pill, a Green Monster, into a bowl that he got from his mother's kitchen. He then takes a small, brown vial of liquefied chemicals and drops some over the powder. Seconds pass. It turns black, but not as fast as it should have. Still, he concludes it's pure ecstasy.
Just then, a middle-aged woman--an elementary-school teacher who's friends with the boss--comes in. She sees the bowl and the black residue but is oblivious to what's going on. Does she know what they're doing? I ask her. "I don't know," she says, smiling, and leaves.
(For clueless adults, a lesson: Ecstasy's the top drug choice among ravers. As for the rave scene, the word "raving" comes from black British dance culture.)
"So these are all good and everything?" asks the 23-year-old, a tall man looking conservative in his khaki pants and button-down shirt. He says he earns $400 to $600 a week selling the drug.
"See, this is my professional appearance," says the man whose "real job" is in the pharmaceutical industry. "No one would ever guess, and that's the way I want it."
It's 8 p.m. The crowd won't arrive for another hour, but they're expected in the thousands, enough to fill the lower floor's 30,000 square feet to capacity.
Amid the sounds of a DJ revving out a drum-and-bass beat, Mosmeyer and his team set up a booth overlooking the dance floor. This former punk rocker bonded with rave the moment he walked into a club this May and a total stranger hugged him. Acceptance, that's what he felt--something he never encountered at his Catholic prep school. His parents don't understand the rave scene. They don't even know he's used ecstasy.
Earlier in the day, when I stopped by this teen's middle-class Lake Highlands home, I asked his mother about rave. "Which we know so little about," she said, chuckling.
"I hope he's on the good end of it, helping kids," said his 49-year-old father. "I just hope this ecstasy thing isn't as harmful as some articles say it is."
Chronic abuse of ecstasy appears to damage the brain's ability to think and to regulate emotion, memory, sleep, and pain. And it's a felony for anyone caught with even one pill in his possession.
Tonight, at this rave, Laura Fagerstone of Mosmeyer's group is wearing loose-fitting, "phat" pants emblazoned with the letters "XTC" on her back pocket. She's loaned her tent for the night and, with oscillating fans to the side, the shelter will serve as an indoor refuge for those clubgoers who may get too hot amid all the sweaty bodies and the non-stop geometric trance-dancing that ecstasy fuels in users. In worst cases, users--"rolling" and too buzzed to come down--raise their temperatures as high as 108 degrees, causing any number of mishaps: dehydration, blood clotting, heatstroke. Death.
Even though Mosmeyer says that 75 percent of these DanceSafe wannabes use recreational drugs, they're all clean and sober tonight.
Mosmeyer tells me it's because he wants to present a good image to ravers who may not know the risks of careless ecstasy use. And in a few weeks, a member of DanceSafe will come to town, see Mosmeyer's group in action at a rave, and possibly give the go-ahead to start an official chapter here. As of now, Mosmeyer and the others have been at about five parties spreading DanceSafe's message of "harm reduction."
Tonight, they have a cooler of water on hand for ravers who get dangerously overheated and can't afford the $2 for bottled water or juice. DanceSafe leaflets on drugs fill a table next to the booth: LSD. Speed. Ketamine. Coke. Ecstasy, or E.
Whatever kids want to know, Mosmeyer and his crew will tell. No condemnation. No retribution. "No b.s.," reads one note, "just straight facts from people who care."
"Standing outside oneself," that's the Greek root of the word ecstasy. It's a dead-on description. The drug's been hailed as the "penicillin of the psyche," a "stabilizer" that triggers dopamine and seratonin to flood the nervous system and create a "warm glow," a sense of childlike amazement at the here and now that hushes the neurotic self.
With E, there is no "I," only "we"; it unites the "family" of ravers, melting away the inhibitions, the Ego. The "love drug" sparks the urge to merge into a cuddle-puddle. Any raver on E also feels a unique interaction with the club music, especially its repetitive, uptempo beats that seem to caress the skin.
Recent research suggests that the drug stimulates a particular brain receptor, which encourages repetitive behavior. Go to any rave, and the pulsating music never dies; it stays in rapt suspension, one loop melting into another that locks ravers into a groove.
Tonight, at Eddie Deen's, ravers will get lost in the music courtesy of local DJs Don and Roland, DJ Rectangle, and Chaos. Above the DJs' booth, a screen hangs. In this dark club, multicolored, fluorescent strobe lights ("eye candy" for ravers, just like the glowsticks with which they dance) interrupt the darkness. On the screen flash images from Disney's Alice in Wonderland. Soon, "trip video" appears, of psychedelic, gyrating designs that would make Jefferson Airplane proud.
Nearby, a girl from Mosmeyer's group posts a sign on the wall across from the booth for the aspiring DanceSafe chapter. "Remember why we started going to parties?" it reads. "The music is the drug. Everyone here is your friend. Feel the vibe and the love. Dance the night away." (By the night's end, a raver scratches out the word "dance" with a red marker, replacing it with "sweat.")
Tonight's rave comes courtesy of Jeremy Word, a 23-year-old party promoter whose production company, Prototype Industries, has put on eight Dallas-area parties in the last year. This rave is a three-way effort, organized by Word as well as the Houston-based Motivation Productions and Dallas' Urban Mass Syndicate. All companies, owned by men in their early 20s, paid $8,000 to rent this space tonight. "There's no place for drugs in the rave scene" says Word, countering a common view that raves are nothing but drug fests. Word's a wiry, short man whose dark eyebrows stand out amid his bleached blond hair, cut so that he has long sidelocks that make him look like a Hassidic Jew. I ask whether he uses drugs. "I do not do drugs," he answers simply.
For $20 a pop, hordes of Dallas-area suburban, mostly white teens enter now. And several drag queens--Travis Technicolor, Felicia Fondel, Jessee!--check their tickets. Party rules: No one under 17 is allowed. Three security teams walk the grounds, inside and out. An ambulance is at one entrance, just in case some kid gets too loaded. And about five Dallas cops are here to make arrests, if need be.
The presence of authority doesn't stop the crowds from creating their own inner sanctum closed off to grown-ups. Inside, they hit the floors where they'll sweat buckets tonight, with trance music (and in many cases E) propelling them to generate enough heat to make the air conditioner and fans useless. The energy is key, driving ravers--until the party shuts down at 5 a.m.--to create their own unique realm of hippiedom.
So what's a rave's appeal, I later ask those lined up outside. "Isn't it obvious?" says 18-year-old Grant Isaacs, a blond-haired teen from Corinth, Texas, snickering at my question. "It's a big, bad-ass time."
Twenty-one-year-old Chris rode six hours from Houston with his friends to be here. "I'm not taking no drugs tonight," he tells me, while we sit on the back of a pickup truck surrounded by some of his friends. "I'm trying to watch how much I spend. I'm on a budget."
As he talks, a teen with sunken cheeks and dark circles under his eyes walks by. "Do you want some K?" he asks, referring to ketamine, a dissociative anesthetic that can lead to jail time. Chris casually shakes his head no. Still, in between two parked cars, the teen finds a buyer.
A friend of Chris' stands near us, wearing a D.A.R.E. T-shirt.
"That stands for Drugs Are Really Expensive," cracks one teen.
"Have you ever tried ecstasy?" Chris asks me.
"No," I say.
"Go in there and try it. You'll have your story."
They say there's an E-lectric thrill a raver on E gets when he catches the eye of a stranger buzzing off the same drug, that key to collective intimacy. For many, it's an experience worth initiating. I decline. With the bone-shaking music p-p-pounding, you can't hear yourself think. It shakes your gut, as if you're part of a larger organism. The music is the collective heartbeat.
"Let me give you a hug," he says, embracing me. E turns the whole body into an ultrasensitized membrane, a "walking G-spot" as one user calls it.
He takes a seat just a few yards from the DanceSafe booth. "I feel so good," he says, his eyelids drooping. He says he popped a pill a few hours ago. "You wanna give me a back rub?" he shouts above the music. He tells me that his name is John, that he's 18 and from the Duncanville area. He takes off one of the many strings of plastic beads wrapped around his wrist and slips it on mine. "Wear it forever," he says.
As I get up to leave, he stands up and embraces me, firmly rubbing his sweaty palms up and down my back. That's the way to hug someone on E, he tells me. "It feels so good," he says.
Even with the estimated 4,000 people who drop in and out of the rave during the night, there's no sexual vibe. Amid the swirling lights and pulsating beat, throngs of people--like drones in some Night of the Living Dead--walk to and fro across the dance floor, many with pacifiers in their mouths. That's the irritating side effect of E, its tendency to cause teeth-grinding among users. Sucking on pacifiers helps. Others on the floor stay in one place swirling fluorescent glow sticks. Swirl them fast enough, and you create the illusion of a figure eight. For a raver, it's happy "eye candy."
Eighteen-year-old Norman's sitting on the floor near the DanceSafe booth, sucking on a pacifier. "I'm on 'X,'" says this burly, goateed teen, taking out his pacifier to answer my question. A girl's giving him a back rub.
Moments later, a guy with a cigarette in his trembling hand is sitting in a chair, his whole body shaking. His head jerks back and forth. Except for the earring at the tip of his ear, he looks clean-cut; he isn't wearing the "phat" pants of the typical raver. No beads. He took seven hits of acid earlier. Here from California to visit his parents, the 19-year-old tells the girl next to him that he'll take 10 more later and that he hasn't eaten in two days. Acid triggers a lack of appetite.
"Having fun yet?" asks Meredith Brock, 18 and a member of Mosmeyer's entourage, sticking her head in my face. I nod. She walks away with a satisfied grin.
"I can't see more than three feet in front of me," says the guy tripping on acid when I ask how he feels. His eyelids hang low. "I feel numb," he says weakly.
"Why haven't you eaten in two days?" I ask.
"Because I spent my money on other things."
"On other things," he says, lifting his chin defensively.
It's after midnight now, and the rave's at fever pitch. Outside Eddie Deen's Ranch, a young man is being taken into police custody. A cop found him in the men's bathroom selling a raver some green pills--E, by the looks of it.
"Can I ask you to stand over there for extra security?" asks promoter Jeremy Word to the cops, all the while looking unfazed by the bust. He points to the back entrance, where tickets are being taken.
The cops agree.
"Wicked," says Word.
I walk behind the cops. As they go to the back, a long line of people wraps around Eddie Deen's Ranch.
"Do you have any rolls?" I hear a teen ask of some in line.
The cops can't be everywhere, the police later tell me. "These uniforms kind of stand out," says Senior Cpl. Stephen O'Donnell facetiously. "We can't pad everyone down at the door and take the dope out."
"Every generation has to make a name for itself somehow," says another cop, leaning against a truck and shaking his head.
Will he roll tonight? "Yeah," he says, as if it's obvious.
A blonde girl in "phat" pants and a blue Royals shirt walks by, passing out fliers for an upcoming rave in the area. She slips a guy a small packet of ketamine to snort. He hands her $20.
"I'm just helping out a friend," this 17-year-old girl from Fort Worth tells me when I approach her later, once she's farther down the line and several twenties richer. "Why?" she asks. "You want some?"
I walk back into the club. By now, a thin, white mist hangs in the air from all the sweat. The concrete floor's slippery from all the perspiration, all the spilled water from ravers who dished out $2 for water or OJ or cranberry juice at the bar. There's no alcohol here. Party rules, after all. That doesn't hinder the dazed euphoria.
Eighteen-year-old Kendra Nackos and Darrel O'Pry, 21, are working the DanceSafe booth now. "Isn't this great?" shouts Nackos, wearing a black halter top, as she bobs up and down to the beat. O'Pry spritzes water on a needy raver standing before the booth.
Dazed looks abound.
A guy sitting in a high chair next to the booth stares blankly, his mouth gaping open, his cheeks sunken. His head cocks forward. Meredith Brock, her hair blow-dried straight at evening's start but now wavy from tonight's indoor humidity, starts manning the booth. I point him out to her. She snaps her fingers in front of his eyes. No response. She rushes out of the booth. Mosmeyer rushes to her side, grabs the semi-conscious man and, as if he were rescuing a fellow vet in the line of fire, puts his arm over his shoulder and drags him through the club, past the glow sticks, the ravers. Meredith follows.
They're at the back door now, with Mosmeyer furiously trying to get past the crowd. A security guy sees Mosmeyer with the jaded raver.
"Hey, this is for real!" the security man shouts to the crowd, his voice barely audible over the music. "Get the fuck out of the way!"
They're now outside the club, in front of the ambulance, and the raver's coming to his senses. The emergency medical technician has come forward, but Mosmeyer shoos him away with his hand. "It's OK," he tells him. "He'll be fine."
Brock sprinkles the raver with water from a cup. "I'm fine," the man says groggily. "It's just too fucking hot." She pours more water on him.
"I don't want to get my cigarettes wet," he says and gets up. Blinky's his name, says this gaunt, 25-year-old Dallasite who says he downed an ecstasy pill a few hours earlier.
I go to the front door and see more ravers waiting to get in. Some dress in tongue-in-cheek costumes. "Patient #021042," reads the front of one's white shirt. "Psychiatric Ward," reads the back.
"I just got evicted for smoking a J [joint]," a young man outside tells a member of a security team.
"Try to sneak in," says the 25-year-old security guy. "What's better?" he asks me. "To see a drunk on the road or a kid at a rave trying to figure out life?"
I walk over to some of the DanceSafe wannabes who are gathered in the parking lot. "I just saw a girl smoking crack in the bathroom," says Cody Weeks, 18. She catches herself, now regretting that she divulged that bit of news to a Dallas Observer reporter.
"Anywhere you go there will be drugs," she says. "The media chooses one thing to focus on.'" If my article focuses on the drugs, she tells me, "It will totally ruin our scene."
I go inside. Seconds later, a guy approaches me. "Are you rolling?" he asks. "This is the fucking most bad-ass I've ever gotten from one pill." He took a Mickey Mouse, a brand of E.
Near the booth, a shirtless, sweaty guy sitting in a chair leans forward, blowing Vicks VapoRub into the eyes of the guy in front of him. The menthol fumes supposedly intensify the buzz.
Others walk around the place with masks strapped to their faces. They've placed Vicks inhalers inside, for the high.
Later, when I see Mosmeyer outside, he acts nervous. I tell him that an Observer photographer saw him down some pills tonight. Mosmeyer pulls from his pocket some caffeine pills. That's all he took, he tells me.
"It's very easy to get the wrong impression about the whole scene," he says, as we now sit on the grass. "Yeah, there are drugs, and we're not going to deny that. However, the scene is not about the drugs."
It's nearly 5 a.m. now, and Mosmeyer looks forlorn, defeated. So much for a "safe" rave. Still, the after-parties, the ones after this, might cheer him up. He's silent a moment.
"Unless you give it time," he tells me defensively, "you can't know what it's all about."