I got on stage, appeared on TV in Iowa, nearly got arrested in Vegas and finally made it to Oakland. This is the story of a dream I've had since I was 12 years old.
My Rage, My Love, My Life #4: Champaign to Vegas
Flight DY7015 touched down in New York on March 25, 2017.
It had been six years, but the airport still looked exactly the same. There were still only three people manning passport control. My mum, Joy, still got dragged off into a side room for no apparent reason.
We waited an hour in the cold for a shuttle bus that never came; ended up getting in someone else’s bus and paying the driver to take a detour. Police were arresting someone in the motel reception as we arrived, and the air was thick with the smell of weed. This was a quick stop before we headed to Champaign, because it was cheaper that way, but I’ll take any excuse to see my favourite city again.
So the next day we took the subway into Manhattan, where someone had done two huge turds that sent everyone running out and into the next carriage. We followed, only to end up opposite the culprit. My rage, my love, some faeces.
Google Maps had sent us miles out of the way. We didn’t want to pay for the subway again, so we decided to walk and saw the 9/11 memorials, then accidentally found Brooklyn Bridge before walking back and on to Times Square.
As I looked out over the skyline that evening, my feet already aching, I had a feeling these were going to be the best three weeks ever.
The foggy skyline
I wanted to take this photo since I was a kid with a cheap camera, looking at pretty night shots and wondering if I’d ever see that view with my own eyes
The St. James Theatre, six years after Green Day’s American Idiot closed on Broadway there
My imagination runs away, on this 8th Avenue Serenade 🎶
New York streets
A bus dropped us on a curb in Champaign, Illinois. Dim streetlights were reflected on the damp pavements as it began to rain. The transport Google Maps brought up in the warmth of my home was absent now. Apparently it was a two mile walk. We walked five times that in New York, so we began dragging my mum’s suitcase through blocks of telegraph poles, neon fast food signs, gas stations and not much else.
Rainy streets in Champaign, Illinois
When we arrived at our hotel I unpacked my camping gear, ready to head to the State Farm Center. Before I could even use the toilet it flooded the room. I frantically grabbed my belongings, shoving them back in, then escaped with my underwear on a luggage trolley. By the time I unpacked it in the new room, it was clear I had food poisoning and wouldn’t be camping any time soon. Reluctantly I went to bed, hoping to sleep it off and setting my alarm for 5am.
Not feeling much better when I woke up, I skipped breakfast and hurried to the venue, where I was #34 in line.
Champaign line, late morning: the first tent had apparently been there since noon the previous day
I met old friends I’d made on the 2013 tour and new friends too. Caitlin from Indiana offered heart grenade cookies she baked for the show. I’m still sad I couldn’t try one, because the two of us ended that night being connected in a way neither of us could ever have imagined.
From left to right: Traci, Caitlin and Jen from Indiana, Nikki from Chicago, me, Nikki’s sister Jena (behind the pillar) and Fran from England. Lisa from Missouri is wrapped in the duvet.
Caitlin, who I first met at a show in Rosemont, IL in 2013, with the cookies she painstakingly bakes for every show she attends
My mum joined me later in the day. It was her birthday and I’d done something I swore I wouldn’t do: I’d bought the VIP package for her. Believe it or not, she’d seen Green Day, in Illinois, on her birthday once before and it went horribly wrong. Since then she’d become disabled and this may well have been her last tour in the pit. So I swallowed my hatred of the VIP concept and shelled out purely for the early entry, barely eating for a month afterwards as my bank balance recovered. She was led inside an hour or so before us. I texted her to ask if she’d got her spot, but I didn’t hear anything back.
When doors opened for us, the line turned to chaos. People who’d just arrived rushed the doors. There were elbows in my back and arms. As soon as security let me go I sprinted off into the stampede that led down the steps and onto the floor. I spotted my mum’s leopard print scarf in her favourite spot and crashed into her with such relief I could have cried. $400 well spent; even more so when the VIP next to her told me with a smile that she was going to find her son and offered me her spot. Others led me to expect the VIPs to be rude, entitled and unreasonably rich, but none were. I’m forever grateful to that lady and I wish I’d got her name so I could thank her properly.
We made friends with Scott, the security guy manning our area of the barrier, who was both confused and amused by these English girls who’d come to Champaign, Illinois to see a band.
It was another dream of mine to see one of my ‘second favourite’ bands open for Green Day, but I’d always figured it’d never happen. Now I was there, in America, watching Against Me! open for them. I’d partially lost my voice before Green Day even took the stage.
When the Drunk Bunny stumbles offstage and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is playing, and I know I am about to see Green Day again, it’s like the butterflies of first love. I feel sick and giddy and my heart is pounding all at once. Billie Joe ran onstage first, running to and fro, then Tré pirouetting by his kit, then Mike Dirnt. Billie stood atop the amps, drawing roars from the crowd with flicks of his wrists. Then he was yelling ‘Champaign, Illinois!’ and Tré began playing Know Your Enemy.
‘I need some help! Who knows the lyrics to the song? Who knows the lyrics? Who knows it?’
I don’t know what made me raise my hand. I’d never wanted to go up and lose my spot in the first song, and Billie wouldn’t pick me anyway – he’d tried several times in the past and I’d chickened out and changed my mind. He glanced at me, pointed and walked off again. When he came back, he pointed at Lindsey, a lady my mum queued with, then me.
‘She knows it?’
Maybe I was overtired, or maybe it was just time.
‘Alright, get your ass up here! C’mon!’
Video by David Hardy
I heard my mum shouting ‘oh my God!’ and Billie was grinning as Scott and Arturo, one of Green Day’s crew, hauled me over the barrier. Arturo lifted me onto the catwalk. I thought Billie was on the main stage. I stepped up and my legs immediately gave way. Only I could get on stage and fall over. I’d figured by then that Billie was actually on the catwalk. When I was back on my feet he beckoned. His face lit up with a grin as I ran and he held out his arms to hug me. It was one of the warmest hugs anyone has given me. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that.
Then I was standing in front of 16,000 people in Champaign, Illinois, barely noticing the pyros exploding as I screamed ‘gimme gimme REVOLUTION!’ in an incredibly English accent; wearing a shirt from a Manchester show in 2009 with my coat still tied around my waist.
I walked back up the catwalk, knowing I had to stage dive. Billie was gesturing to the crowd to make sure they caught me. I could see Eddie and Arturo holding out their arms in case I didn’t jump far enough. Fear paralysed me and it crossed my mind to tell Billie I couldn’t do it… but I ran. I jumped.
Photo by Kelly Griglione
Illinois caught me. It wasn’t scary. Crowd surfing was fun. I told my mum afterwards ‘I could sleep well in that position.’People high-fived and congratulated me as my feet hit the floor. It was packed and I didn’t want to be push after I’d been on stage, so I went to the side. Someone took a selfie with me and another guy bought me a beer.
I must have relived it a hundred times over in my head as I sang along and Billie yelled ‘Thank God for Champaign, Illinois!’ over and over and I thought, yes, thank God for Champaign, Illinois. Then in Knowledge, he pulled Caitlin up to play guitar! I was screaming so loud for her! Some guy was telling me ‘that sure beats what you did!’ and I was just shouting ‘that’s my friend Caitlin!’ She was amazing and now we’re forever stage sisters.
Once the show was over I rushed to find my mum and my friends again. As we walked out, several people grabbed me to ask what Billie smelled like. Then my mum realised she’d forgotten to pick up the crap that came with her VIP ticket and ran off in a panic to find it. In the meantime I bumped into Scott and he hugged and congratulated me. Outside, we said goodbye to Fran before going our separate ways to sleep before our journey to Green Bay tomorrow.
Putting my hand up to sing with Green Day that night was, without a doubt, one of the best decisions I have ever made. Over the last seven years Billie has made me feel so welcome as he’s smiled with me, laughed with (or at) me and always remembered me, and I have no doubt that he knew what it meant to me. For that, for everything, I cannot thank him, Mike and Tré enough.
I once was scared to death to live. Now I am afraid of nothing.
Being candid in Champaign-Urbana Bus Station, though the guy behind us wins the candid award
On the Greyhound to Chicago
Chicago from the Greyhound
If you want an authentic Greyhound experience, Chicago Greyhound Station is the place to go. All Greyhound stations are a bit weird, but none of them are quite like Chicago. When we got off the bus, a lady was struggling to carry a large stereo and wasn’t sure if she could even take it on the next bus. I ended up helping her carry it into a back room. The staff said she’d have to pay $40 to have it on the next bus, so she told them they could just keep it and they eventually let her off. We really bonded over the experience. She met my mum and we agreed we’d go to Haiti together one day.
Searching for Mexican food during our next layover in Milwaukee, WI
‘Let’s take a photo with the skyline to remember that time we went looking for Mexican food in Wisconsin’
Our next transfer was in Milwaukee, where we had a while to wait for our last bus to Green Bay. None of us had eaten, so Fran and I went in search of cheap Mexican food. Google Maps directed us to Conejito’s. We hoped it would be a cheap takeaway, but it was a proper restaurant. What a let down Conejito was. We wandered down increasingly dodgy streets until we came to Food Mart. A sign on the door told us only three students were allowed inside at one time. There were only two of us, so we went in. Fran bought their last loaf of bread and I stocked up on their three for 50¢ honey buns. Mission complete.
Celebrating the acquisition of Pan o Gold bread in Milwaukee Bus Station
We arrived to another damp night in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The venue was down the road from Lambeau Field. Green Bay Packers signs were everywhere. Our Uber driver told us that earlier he’d given rides to the ladies who prepared Green Day’s hotel rooms. My mum asked him if Green Bay has a city centre or anything else to see and he said no, there’s just the Green Bay Packers. I was really getting into the Packers. Partly to annoy my fiancée, since they’re a huge Oakland Las Vegas Raiders fan and hate the Pack. Also partly because when I was looking for cheap accommodation in Green Bay, all I got were photos of people in cheese hats. Now I was also in Green Bay to see Green Day, so why not? It was contagious. Fran was getting into them too. Go Pack Go.
First in line was Josh from Chicago, who’d also been to Champaign. He was 100% prepared with a huge tent and camping gear, but he didn’t want to set it all up just for himself, so our arrival was perfect. He definitely saved us from freezing to death, because it continued to rain and eventually snowed. Instead of dying we just chilled out in The Tent.
In The Tent with Josh from Chicago, who we’d just met (note the Packers sign in the top right corner)
In my bivvy bag in The Tent
Tents in Green Bay, WI
The snow was falling at full force in the morning. Our tent appeared on TV while we stayed inside as long as we could, before taking a brief trip to Taco Bell and Walmart. Neither me nor Fran had ever been to a Walmart before. What an experience.
Walmart in Green Bay: full of glorious Packers merchandise
I picked up my tickets when we got back. This was the first time I’d done will call and when I passed the lady my burgundy passport, her jaw dropped and with a grin she asked if I’d really come from the UK just for a band. I said yes and she grabbed at her colleagues, shouting ‘she’s come all the way from the UK just for this show!’ before she laughed and wished me a wonderful night.
The tent was stowed away, thermals were removed and we were lined up inside shortly before doors. It was a reasonably short run to the pit. GO! YOU PACKERS! GO! We made front row in the spots we wanted, in front of Mike. Seeing Against Me! open for Green Day was perhaps even more exciting and emotional than it was in Champaign. It was surreal – I was there, one of my favourite bands was opening for Green Day and at that moment, nothing could have made me any happier.
The novelty of Green Day in Green Bay wasn’t lost on the band. Billie repeatedly announced that this was Green Day’s first time in Green Bay. They registered with wide eyes, as surprised as us, that this was one of their loudest crowds yet. The roar of the 7,797 fans in attendance rivalled a stadium and it fed back to the band, who played even more passionately than usual.
‘Rise up, Wisconsin! Wisconsin! America! America!’ Billie yelled, clutching the American flag as the lights cut out. I should have been at uni in England. Instead I was in Green Bay, Wisconsin, watching Billie Joe hold up the stars and stripes, alight under the spotlight. I don’t know what that meant to American fans, but to me, it was the realisation of a dream I’d had since I was 12 years old.
The lack of cameras pleased him – a rare occurrence – as he exclaimed he couldn’t see any, and ‘we all need to rub up against each other and throw up in the taxi home.’ As we yelled approval for ‘she’s the cedar in the trees of WISCONSIN!’ we were all the same, from Wisconsin or England. I’d been smiling like a twat since Champaign, but Billie just smiled back with the same enthusiasm. In Still Breathing, he took a studded denim jacket from the crowd and wore it for the rest of the show.
From that crowd to the editing of the Green Day sign so it said Green Bay, this was one of my favourite shows ever. The only disappointment was that no-one threw a Cheesehead on stage.
Green Bay the next day
We couldn’t get tickets to the St. Paul show, so my mum and I had two days in Green Bay. Fran and Josh asked what the hell we were going to do. I wasn’t entirely sure. My mum knew there was a river somewhere and thought that would be a good destination, so we embarked upon a mission to find that and pasta, walking through endless streets that looked like the one above. Lots of Packers flags – beautiful. Of course, the snow had disappeared completely now we weren’t lining up for Green Day.
We accidentally found the National Railroad Museum, which made me think of my grandpa who was a train driver and passed away the previous year. I was too cheap to go in, of course, but I hoped he was nodding appreciatively at this museum in Wisconsin. Eventually we found the river by walking into someone’s backyard without realising, but it wasn’t much of a view…
Phone pic ft. distant river, because this was apparently the only one I took
Having truly experienced the height of tourism, we set a new course to Target, where we could find pasta. We’d walked past the same guy, enjoying beers in the sun for what was apparently his birthday, twice and the third time, he invited us to join him. Sadly, we were tired and hungry so we left our new friend behind. I hope he enjoyed his birthday.
A few miles, a hill and lots more Packers flags later, we located Target and acquired pasta. More importantly, though, I was sure there must be Packers merch somewhere in this store. After wandering for a while and getting lost in the kids’ section, we found a small selection. I weighed up the prices and how awful it was, planning to take the ugliest shirt imaginable back to England, but alas, I was swayed by the lower price of a glittery NFL Teens shirt. Who cares? I had a Packers shirt! From Green Bay!
Walking back via Lambeau Field
Green Day confetti outside Lambeau Field, two days after the show
Before we left the next day we went to Lambeau Field, where everyone thought we’d come from England just to see Lambeau Field. We had our photo taken with cheese, got certificates commemorating our first visit and overall, experienced true Packers bliss. No, seriously – I could not have been any happier than I was wandering the streets of Green Bay with my best friend and accidentally getting into an American football team, having slept in the snow and seen my favourite band.
This is my town, this is my city, this is my life?
Waiting at Green Bay Bus Station, where there was a huge argument in the office, for our Indian Trailways bus back to Milwaukee
It was about 15 hours to Des Moines, with transfers in Milwaukee and Chicago. The last bus, an overnight Burlington Trailways one, was going to Omaha. We had an interesting driver, who kept shouting ‘thaaaaank you for travelling with Buuuuurlington Traaaaaailways’ and gave out free water. On the way we passed the Iowa 80 Truck Stop, which is apparently the biggest in the world. People think I’m seeing the sights they’ve always dreamed of. I’m not quite sure they understand.
It was about 6am when we arrived at Des Moines Bus Station, which was basically a hut in a parking lot. Neither of us had slept and our Airbnb was miles away, so we called an Uber. The parking lot emptied as we waited. Eventually a pickup truck pulled up and I realised that was the Uber. Wow, now we were getting in a pickup truck. The driver asked where we were going to check we weren’t ‘going to Ames or anything, because people pull that all the time.’ I had no idea what he was talking about, and was thinking that I once took an Uber from Kraków to Prague… but I was pretty sure we weren’t going to Ames, so I went with it.
This was my first Airbnb. The street was still dark when we tried to go in the wrong door and then got in at the back. I felt like an inefficient burglar. Everything was silent inside. I wasn’t sure which room was ours, and after almost walking in on someone snoring, we decided to sit on the sofa and wait for our host to let us know.
One of my favourite tour photos: trying to sleep on a couch in Iowa
He woke up quite soon and honestly, I had no idea what to expect from an Airbnb, but Tony was the best. He made us feel so welcome. After getting 89¢ pasta in the store he recommended, I went for a nap because I wasn’t feeling great. I woke up with a dog on top of me at one point, which really improves the story, then my mum came to get me because Tony’s girlfriend was cooking and invited us to join them. I’m sad I still felt ill so I never got to try any of it, but at least my mum was having fun down there.
Later Tony drove us to the Pappajohn Sculpture Park, so we could see that and then walk to the Wells Fargo Arena. We passed Green Day’s buses on the way. Didn’t bother them, obviously, but maybe I should have poked my head in and said ‘hi guys, just about to go and sleep on the street for you.’
A Packers hat, Sonic leggings, the Des Moines skyline and the venue Green Day played in one photo. What more could you want?
The Wells Fargo Arena
Outside the arena
#3 in line, Des Moines, Iowa
We were 3 and 4 in line, behind Shannon from Iowa City and her son Levi. An hour or so later Fran arrived with Sara from Spain, who’d come on the Greyhound from Chicago with pizza. She offered me a slice so I took it. Of course, I’m lactose intolerant, so that really wasn’t a good idea. Me and Fran eventually decided to go in search of toilets. We were heading for the Holiday Inn we could see in the distance, but ended up at the Mercy Hospital instead. What would happen if we went into a hospital at midnight to use the toilet? We were about to try it when we saw a sign on the door saying only patients could enter after visiting hours. SAD. Next up was McDonald’s, which was closed. We considered another entrance to Mercy and then we saw it – a gas station called Quiktrip! Outside a policeman was clicking his gun and staring at us as we approached. Our experience became ever more American. The toilets were just open! I love Quiktrip. I recommend a visit if you’re ever in Des Moines.
We got lost on our way back, walking into a dead end that we realised afterwards said ‘NO ENTRY’ but we eventually made it. Rain was beginning to fall, so we arranged umbrellas donated by Tony to cover us. The pizza was still tormenting me, but I was so tired I pretty much passed out and I actually slept nice and cosy in my bivvy bag.
Despite the bivvy bag, though, I was still soaked when I woke up. Me and Fran made another Quiktrip to our favourite gas station to get food and use the best toilets, then went to get our tickets. In the line we met J’net from Oklahoma, who I first met in Costa Rica in 2010. We found out she was the original owner of my Brussels ticket and Fran’s Amsterdam ticket, and there we were meeting in Iowa.
When we got back to the line a TV crew was freaking out over my mum, trying to attach a mic to her coat so they could interview her. A 58 year-old English lady who’d come to Iowa to see Green Day! They took a photo and filmed us too, so now I can say I’ve been on TV in Costa Rica and Iowa. Life goals = achieved?
A rainy afternoon in Des Moines, ft. Tony’s umbrella, a bivvy bag, camping chair and English people
Before doors, Shannon kindly let us dry off, get changed and store Tony’s umbrella’s in her room at the Holiday Inn we couldn’t find before. When they opened the doors and held us at the turnstiles, the staff were – as usual – confused by why we were so nervous. The way to the pit was unclear and they’d opened multiple entrances. Once I was on the floor, though, I spotted Sara in front of Mike and crashed onto the barrier next to her. J’net was nice enough to let my mum in later and I swapped with Fran so I could be next to her. Sleeping in the rain = success.
I stole this photo from Sara
Des Moines was probably where Against Me! got the best reception. One of the VIPs was actually singing every word along with me. I was so thrilled they were playing Dead Friend every night and that I got to scream along to I Was A Teenage Anarchist before Green Day. I never got bored of hearing Laura Jane Grace tell her story about how Green Day had influenced her as a child. It was the most sincere and real speech I’d ever heard from a support band.
I ached a bit, had snuffles, was still calming down from the entry process and my socks were most likely wet again. The only thing that mattered, though, was singing my heart out, raising my arms up ‘to testify’ in Revolution Radio, beside my best friend with a passionate crowd behind me.
I remember having both arms in the air, singing ‘are we, we are, the waiting unknown / this dirty town is burning down in my dreams / the lost and found city bound in my dreams.’ The first time that line really resonated with me was when I saw American Idiot on Broadway – I felt like Johnny, Will and Tunny, a life I wanted to escape burning down in my dreams, searching for the city of my dreams. I could still recall that but it was different now. That city could have been Des Moines, it could have been Kraków, but I had found it: it existed for two and a half hours in a packed room, the phone screens and lighters that illuminated the arena were as bright and beautiful as any city lights. I opened my eyes and saw Billie and Mike laughing. It’s OK, guys, I knew I looked like the woman at that Jesse Malin show who pushed to the front just to dramatically sing two lines of Lucinda.
In King for a Day Billie announced ‘oh, I need a cigarette.’ Then in Still Breathing he reappeared in a personalised version of the jacket he took (and had to give back) in Green Bay. I am quite honoured to have witnessed the rise of the Forever Now Jacket.
I found this compilation video from Des Moines and it really hits me like a punch in the gut, seeing myself on the front row, singing all night with the 16,000 people behind me. It’s still hard to believe any of this actually happened, but I guess that lost and found city really isn’t just in my dreams, not anymore.
After the show, my phone had died so we couldn’t call an Uber, but we didn’t know the way back to Tony’s house. I tried waving at approaching cars and eventually one stopped. When the lady heard our accents, she launched into a rant about how there are too many Muslims in London. She had never been to London. I’m still quite surprised we got back to Tony’s alive. At 4am, Fran messaged me to let me know my mum was on TV in Des Moines Bus Station.
The ultimate in life goals achieved: Joy on TV in Des Moines Bus Station (iconic photo by Fran)
Me and Sara at Des Moines Airport
The next day, Tony kindly drove us to Des Moines Airport and we said goodbye. I felt like I had a home to return to in Iowa. If you’re ever in Des Moines, you need to stay with Tony.
Sara was also on our Frontier flight to Denver, which was a few hours delayed. Some people said it was bad weather, others said it’s always delayed. When we finally arrived in Denver, we got so lost looking for the airport bus that we considered an Uber. Eventually a guy from Idaho (I think?) saved us. Snow was falling, in piles all around us and the ground was icy when we got off the bus in Broomfield. We were planning to camp, but we didn’t know if there was room for us in the tents, and it was unlikely many people would show up until the morning. We decided to sit this one out and just went to our Airbnb.
At 7am we headed back out. The line was a little longer; I think we were 11, 12 and 13. We met a couple we’d met before, at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in 2010. Sara tried to sleep on her air mattress while I chatted to George from Colorado, about video games and what songs we’d like to see most. Soon the staff put up barriers and moved us into four lines.
Fan art on the pavement before the show in Broomfield, CO
The line in Colorado
The 1stBank Center, Broomfield, CO
I made it to the barrier on Jason’s side and managed to save spots for my mum and George (that was my best barrier spread of all time, actually). It wasn’t long until the whole room reeked of weed. We were getting the full Colorado experience.
2000 Light Years Away was one of my favourite songs to see on this tour. I’d been in a long distance relationship for six years (seven now) and not going to lie, every time I would sing ‘I hold her malachite so tight, I’ll never let go, ‘cause she’s 6000 light years away.’ Billie often caught my eye, smiled and sang with me. Of course he had no clue about my thoughts, nor me of his, but it was wonderful to share that regardless. He is not just talking crap in his speeches about how music brings people together. I remember singing along to Waiting and it occurring to me that I, and hundreds of others there I’m sure, had waited a long time for this moment to come; and Billie singing those lyrics back at me too. I had woken up and thanked my lucky stars and I was living my dream.
Being an English kid singing American Idiot in America is a strange feeling. Like I don’t really belong there, but also like I’m part of something completely alien to me at the same time. Green Day have that effect.
George loved the show too and was glad we went for the front row rather than the catwalk. We said goodbye and went back to our Airbnb, before our flight to Vegas for our final show.
The bus stop in Broomfield
Las Vegas from the plane
It was dark when we took off from Denver. The Las Vegas strip was a ribbon of light below as the plane descended. I had never wanted to go to Vegas, so of course I ended up there for Green Day. There was a long walk through a casino and food court to reach the MGM Grand Garden Arena. So far, Vegas was very strange. When we finally found it, we met Cheryl from Australia who we’d previously met in Costa Rica and New York, and we were back with Sara and Fran.
The casino we had to walk through to find the line
A security guy soon told us we had to leave. He insisted we had no idea what shows in Vegas were like and that people came from all around the world (apparently he didn’t notice that we had, but I’m not sure what the relevance was anyway), then eventually that we could gather in the food court and line up outside at 7:30am. First we wandered outside and I don’t remember this, but Sara says she went to speak to some prostitutes thinking they were homeless and might know where we could sleep, and I tried to stop her but it was Too Late. It looked like the food court was the only option. I considered sleeping in a toilet cubicle and Sara went for it, but I didn’t want to risk the guy finding me and throwing me out for good, so the rest of us went to the food court.
Me and Fran in the food court
I was exhausted and fell asleep without even realising. I woke to screaming in my ear that I was going to be arrested. A woman claiming to be a manager was yelling and waving her arms. Apparently we’d all be arrested if we didn’t move. Sara’s pillow was on the table and she was pointing at me and screaming ‘that girl even has a pillow!’ We tried to explain that the other guy told us it was the only place we could line up, and eventually she agreed we could stay as long as we were awake. If we fell asleep, the cops were coming. Sara eventually reappeared, having had a mediocre nap in the cubicle. Katy Perry’s Roar was playing over and over on the speakers. This was bad. The others remember a constant stream of Johnny B. Goode but all I remember is Roar. I have nothing against you, Katy, but please never roar within a 10 mile radius of me, ever again. In the end I must have fallen asleep for another 15 minutes and when I woke up, Yaz and Becky from England had arrived. A while later, Traci who we’d met in Champaign joined us, too. At 7am we decided to live on the edge and go outside 30 minutes early.
The line in Vegas, 8am
The road back to the venue when I went to find (reasonably priced) food
Green Day poster in the MGM Grand, where we first tried to line up and got kicked out
After going to find food that wasn’t $30 for a small portion, my mum and I were taking photos of the Green Day posters on our way back when we found lizziebix and her husband. We first met her at a show in Rosemont in 2013 after knowing her for a while on GDC, and were reunited in Vegas with big hugs.
Back at the line, the British crew was joined by GDC's Second Favourite Son. There were now six of us and a flag. I guess it’s not untrue that people come to Vegas from around the world for shows…
The British Crew from left to right: Becky, Yaz, Fran, Second Favourite Son, me and Joy (photo by Second Favourite Son’s dad)
The line in Vegas: getting longer
Joy and Fran in the line
Everyone, as known on GDC: Lauren, lizziebix, sara_gd, BeachBum, Dirty Rotten Bastard, Yaz., basketcase4933, solongfromthestars, Second Favourite Son and finally, Taylor and Becky who I don't believe are on GDC (photo also by Second Favourite Son’s dad)
Last photo of the line before I took my camera back
We were lined up beside the VIPs an hour before doors. VIP was sold out here, which meant 100 people in front of us. We weren’t sure how this would work out and watched them running in nervously. Our security friend from the previous night said hello, then a guy called Bill made a speech about how he understood how long we’d been there, and would be making sure we were let in fairly. Doors opened and I expected a stampede, but Bill really did stop it as best as he could. I was in and ran for my life. I ducked and dodged security and other fans and ran and ran until I was spread over the barrier in front of Mike. My fellow Europeans followed in a row. Maybe some of the VIPs didn’t show up, but who cares, we got amazing spots. Despite the food court experience, I was genuinely impressed with the staff at doors.
On the barrier
This was the last time I’d see Against Me! with Green Day – probably the last time I’d ever see one of my second favourite bands open for them. I was so tired I felt like I might melt into the metal of the barrier, but it didn’t stop me screaming I Was A Teenage Anarchist until I could barely breathe. Then they were gone, the Drunk Bunny was on, we were all singing Blitzkrieg Bop; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was playing, Tré was on, then Mike – wearing the Otis jacket – then Billie. I felt like I was still asleep in the food court, dreaming when Billie yelled ‘Las Vegas, Nevada!’ and we all raised our arms in response. My voice was hoarse and my arms ached as I sang along to Revolution Radio. Billie began the Holiday bridge with ‘Nevada, Nevada, place your bets!’ After Youngblood, he reluctantly announced ‘I’m kind of getting used to this Las Vegas Raiders thing’ before adding ‘fuck you I’m from Oakland.’ A permanent smile was plastered on my face at this point, even when he attacked us all with his stupid water hose in 2000 Light Years Away.
I don’t know if it’s inappropriate to bring this up – or to say this at all – but seeing Still Breathing here was incredibly moving, because this was the very same arena where the iHeartRadio meltdown happened. I avoid saying I’m proud of Green Day because I’m not sure if it’s even a fan’s place to be, but I was. It was a metaphor to me even about myself, that I made it through against the odds to experience this wonderful tour and so did my band. We were all the same. If that’s what Billie wanted when he wrote the song – for it to be an anthem that brings us all, from every walk of life, together – he achieved it in my eyes more than I can even explain.
I screamed my heart out to Forever Now with all the love and happiness my heart could hold. It was a thing at this point that no matter where I stood, Billie would sing ‘I want a new conspiracy and the silence of a thousand cries’ at me, and I would scream it back.
Ordinary World resonated with me in a way it hadn’t before. People assume I have it all, because I’ve travelled, as they assume the lines ‘baby I don’t have much / but what we have is more than enough’ are insincere coming from Billie Joe, because he has money and fame. In reality, I have my mother, my fiancée, the adventures I’ve had through Green Day and very little else. None of it is even as perfect as it seems. I don’t know what the future holds, and there will be times I struggle to carry on again. But one thing I knew, then, is that those dreams of a better life – I didn’t need them anymore. Because what I have, these memories that will be with me forever, is more than enough.
As Billie played the first chords of Good Riddance, there were tears streaming down my face. When I stood atop of New York, thinking these would be the best three weeks ever; still that child looking off on the horizon, the son raised without a father aside the mother barely keeping it together, who dreamed an impossible dream of following Green Day across the United States… I had no idea that the realisation of that dream would be as absolutely wonderful and dare I say, life changing, as it was. I can never thank Green Day enough for what they have given me, from inspiration to adventure to happiness I never imagined possible. I love this band and all they have enabled me to do and feel with all my heart. I am not a sappy person and do not express my emotions lightly (believe it or not), and this is the raw truth.
I’m still alive
After the show. Photo stolen from Yaz. I don’t remember who took it (sorry)
Many of our friends were carrying on to the last show in San Diego while we stayed in Vegas. I would have loved to join them, but it just wasn’t financially possible. We said our goodbyes outside and headed back to America’s Best Value Inn for some well-earned rest.
Tour was over, but the adventure wasn’t. To get the cheapest flight home, we were staying in Vegas a few days and then flying to Oakland. Perhaps Vegas and its overpriced food courts were not my dream destination, but I learned to enjoy this place Green Day brought me to as we wandered the streets, into shops where we couldn’t afford anything; found the Vegas sign; discovered ABC Stores, the cheapest place on the strip and most importantly, I may have been too cheap to go inside the Shark Reef Aquarium, but I managed to draw out my bank balance twice (at a store called Super Liquor) in order to buy Vegas the Shark from the gift shop.
Palm trees ft. Super Liquor
Sunset in Vegas
In the Vegas lights, swimming with the SHARKS until we drown (soz that isn’t even Green Day)
On our last day, we escaped Vegas on a bus for $4 and set out on a search for Clark County Wetlands Park. We couldn’t afford any exciting day trips, but I was determined we would see something. It was quite a good idea, actually.
Clark County Wetlands Park
Walking back to the bus stop
We left Vegas early in the morning. Even the airport was Vegassy. What a bizarre place. Anyway, even though Annabelle, my fiancée, is from Oakland I had never been (we met at a Green Day show in Birmingham, apparently thanks to my hair, which was a luminous red frizzball at the time). After six years it was finally my turn to be looking around as I walked out of arrivals before running into their arms.
They took us first to Lake Merritt, while they gave us directions on what to do if someone pushed us in, before a tour of the best places to get shot. A city council guy pulled up on a tractor to ask my mum for a cigarette, we passed a man saying to himself ‘gonna round all the girls like in World War II, then kill ’em all, boom!’ and another passionately singing as he wandered around. Not so different to Nottingham, I guess.
You wouldn’t even know Oakland is a shithole!
Next up was Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café at the Fox Theater. This was completely surreal. I was in Oakland. Eating at Mike Dirnt’s café.
Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café
The Fox Theater is not just a historic building in Oakland, but a stop on my dream Green Day tour too: it’s where they played the iconic third show of the 21st Century Breakdown Tour, one of the only times they played the album in full. 21st Century Breakdown is my favourite album of all time, containing my favourite song of all time (¡Viva La Gloria!), and the only album I will ever claim changed my life. It was also where February 19th was declared ‘Official Green Day Day’ in Oakland, during a celebration of Dookie in 2016.
The Fox Theater
We walked on up Telegraph Avenue (the Avenue in Stuart & the Ave.) until we came to 40th Street. Broken Guitars, the guitar store Billie Joe co-owns with Bill Schneider is here, along with 1-2-3-4 GO! Records; where Billie Joe built the stage with his son Joey and Green Day played an early show for ¡Uno! ¡Dos! ¡Tré!. It was later where the pop-up shop for their Oakland Coliseum show was. They had Insomniac on cassette and I was tempted to buy it, but I eventually went for a 1-2-3-4 GO! Records shirt instead.
1-2-3-4 GO! Records
We briefly went to see Lake Merritt at night before getting back. Annabelle was pretty sure we were going to get killed. Very romantic. We planned to order pizza, but ended up eating Tostitos instead.
Nightfall in Oakland
Fuck you I’m from
Oakland England. Photo stolen from Annabelle.
West Oakland Station, the station in Welcome to Paradise (‘a gunshot rings out at the station’), from the BART
On our final full day we took the BART to San Francisco. I wanted to see Golden Gate Bridge again and take my Tails action figure to Mission Street before we left. The Bay (80) Bridge is a Green Day sight too – it’s where Billie Joe’s nickname for his wife, 80, comes from and the band have talked about knowing they were home after grueling tours once they saw the bridge.
San Francisco Port Authority
The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge
San Francisco skyline
Golden Gate Bridge as night fell
Oakland lights from San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge at night, another photo I’ve wanted to take since I first picked up a camera
San Francisco at night
Annabelle insisted we had to see their bridge at night too, because it’s prettier than Golden Gate, so we did. I will admit they were right just this once.
The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge at night
We ended up at Lake Merritt one last time before our flight home. It was a beautiful day and we made it even better by stopping off at the dodgiest McDonald’s I’ve ever seen. Annabelle bought me an Oakland A’s shirt and my mum a mug at the airport, before we accidentally got into another baseball team.
Adding Oakland to our trip was pretty much an accident, when flights from Vegas disappeared, but I am so happy we did. Not only did we see a few of the Green Day sights, but there was a time I thought I would never walk those streets with Annabelle. Long story short, they were diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2013 and at one point told they had three weeks to live. I cried until I could no longer feel my hands or head the first time I heard Still Breathing; because hearing ‘my head’s above the rain and roses / making my way to you’ was when it finally sunk in that I was not going to lose my fiancée, that one day we would walk the streets of Oakland together. Without Green Day we would never even have met. Now that dream has come true.
Maybe Oakland is a shithole and I’ll eventually get shot, but it felt like my second home and I can’t wait to go back and see Christie Road, Gilman St. and the other Green Day sights.
Lake Merritt before our flight home
I arrived back in Falmouth from Gatwick Airport in the evening. Nothing had changed; the same broken train still made a stupid noise that kept me awake. The dock horn still went off at exactly 7:30am. The same runners passed me on the pavement. But something was different.
The next day, I sat on a bench on the seafront, overlooking the gentle waves. The sun was shining, and birds were skimming the water below. It was beautiful, tranquil and probably more than I deserved. Because I still found myself longing for those dingy Greyhounds, a tent in Wisconsin, the puddles in my bivvy bag in Des Moines, the streets of Oakland. I knew later I would struggle to sleep in my own bed and, for a few minutes, I genuinely pondered sleeping on the cold metal of that bench.
I didn’t, and I walked away. All my life I’d had this voice in the back of my mind, telling me I want to go home and it was then that I realised it was absent. Because I have found my home in those tightly packed rooms, on those cold streets, wandering Oakland with someone I met through this band, from England to Poland to Champaign to Vegas.
I know I’m irresponsible. I know I’m not normal. I know that the consequences I faced because really, I couldn’t afford this at all and shouldn’t have taken the time off, are my own choices.
But this is my city of shining light in my ordinary world. It is where that I’ll live until I die, and I’ll walk to the end of the earth and afar before I leave this buried treasure behind.
This is my rage.
This is my love.
This is my life.