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The UCSD Guardian

The Student News Site of University of California - San Diego

The UCSD Guardian

The Student News Site of University of California - San Diego

The UCSD Guardian

Storm Drain on a Halloweekend Night

Storm+Drain+on+a+Halloweekend+Night
Photo by Jamie Miller/ UCSD Guardian

We were about to enter the storm drain when my roommate stopped. 

“Nope,” he shook his head. “Nuh-uh. I am not going in there.”

At this point, we had come all the way and paid $30 for entry into this godforsaken tunnel. It was dark, damp, covered in graffiti, and nowhere near pleasant. I replied with some mix of gibberish and anger, smoking and swearing as the pressure mounted more and more until he couldn’t bear to be anywhere but in the hole. He continued to hiss in fear as we hunched down and went underground. 

The underground rave scene has been “popping up all over San Diego,” according to Ariana Drehsler from Voice of San Diego. Four have apparently been shut down this year, yet they show no sign of stopping. What kind of people party under a highway? Better question yet: Who parties inside a storm drain?

“I can’t see my [f——] hands,” our mutual friend swore and fumbled with his phone. “Where the hell are we going?” His flashlight revealed more endless tunnel. There was paint on the walls, it smelled like cigarettes, and I could not remember how I ended up so far from home. The three of us proceeded to move forward, laughing and joking to hide the fact that we all felt like tennis balls in a can. There was screaming ahead, but no one mentioned it so I thought I was missing out on some big joke. Maybe it was just me.

Finally, the tunnel widened into a larger channel. Flashlights and faces materialized out of the gloom. “Tickets?” the first man asked, and I plugged my mouth with my joint, fiddling through my email so he could scan my QR code. A second man looked through my bag — and finding nothing of issue — returned it to me. I had forgotten the spliff between my lips and realized I had clamped down on it so hard that I forgot to open my mouth to breathe. My lungs hurt and all that was left of it was ash. I spit it out and lit a new one.

Raves hold a reputation for illegality, and this one was no different. We had only learned of the location two hours before, and two more before that, we were worried we were scammed. The instructions finally came in a link through an email to a site with a code. “Do not draw unnecessary attention, it read. “There is a retired policeman who lives nearby who has called the police on us before.” It included a screenshot of Google Maps, with a red circle and arrow leading to the drain pipe. We exhaled with relief when we saw it, knowing we weren’t out thirty bucks and what we took wouldn’t go to waste. 

Unsanctioned underground raves like this have been around for decades, with a variety of different styles of music. However, in recent years, clubs and venues have started their own, more legal, rave nights and parties. Most people, including myself, would categorize all rave music as EDM — but this was drum and bass. Do I know anything about it? No. And yet I still went, because it was a Saturday night on Halloweekend, and I’d rather be crawling through a drain pipe than doing nothing on campus.

As we entered the last series of tunnels, the paved cylindrical floor gave way into a slightly larger rectangular passageway blanketed by gravel. We passed a homeless man selling eggs for $5, and the fire drew long shadows across the walls and his face. My hands were balled up into fists, not because I was afraid, but because I could not eat. None of us said a word as we walked past.

We saw more tents from the people who lived down here as we continued forward, and I wondered what happened when it rained. Did they move? I turned back and looked at the mouth that we were getting further and further away from. I imagined a deluge of water flooding in, slamming against the sides of the tunnel like some angry beast hell-bent on chasing us out the other side, spitting us out as you would the seeds of a grape. Or maybe it wouldn’t carry us, animal as it was, and the very first wave that touched us would crush and splatter us against the walls until we were only recognizable as smeared red paint.

I turned back around and both of my companions’ faces’ were twisted in horror. 

“Jesus,” my roommate began.

 “Why would you say that?” our friend finished. I hadn’t remembered saying anything out loud. What the f— was in the chocolate bar I ate before? 

I shrugged. It was the best and least taxing response I could form. I was in a haze, plodding forward with only oblivion in sight. My roommate was getting nervous again, but there was nowhere else to go but through, so we continued, on and on into the darkness until finally, after an eternity, there was light. Scrambling over the last few loose stones, the passage twisted into a large outlet hundreds of feet long with dozens of pillars on each side supporting a low ceiling. There was already a crowd, a hundred-something people clustered in the center around a makeshift stage. An elaborate series of lasers and lights spun tapestries of light on the ceiling, shooting and spinning across the room. The DJ was bumping his music, heavy bass and synths pulsating out loud and hard. I could feel my teeth loose in my gums and throbbing in my skull. I could no longer hear any screaming.

I began blabbering to the other two, pointing and gesticulating towards the lights and stage. We walked forward into clouds of smoke and hard-edged smiles briefly revealed by stray laser beams. Past the right side of the stage were glimpses of flame, where there were fire dancers of all different looks. From scantily-clad, tattooed women to drug-rug-wearing hipsters, each danced methodically with the pounding music, throwing and catching flaming batons with precision we could not believe we were seeing. I blinked, and the fire felt predetermined — arcing from hand to hand, side to side, cutting through swaths of darkness as the afterimage kept the gloom at bay.

My mouth felt dry, and I left my two friends who were still transfixed by the fire, mouths agape, and I drifted back in and out of the main crowd. I was a passenger in my own mind, backseat to my body as I drifted through the thick air. It was hot and humid, with smoke, ash, sweat, and noise choking up a maze of people. I inhaled the last of my joint and my hands moved before my mind realized I was lighting another one.

There were hardly any faces, only figures. Men in hockey masks, women in face paint — all made into sharp edges and hard angles by the dim neon lighting. Everyone was here to move, to dance and shout and scream and rage against everything that was wrong until all they could do was go back home and lay down. I was no different, except that I felt like I did not have a mouth. What the f— was in that chocolate bar?

I danced, eyes closed and head down as the drum and bass pierced through my ears, and I could not remember anytime before now. I moved and shook and twisted and turned with people who I didn’t know, couldn’t talk to, and didn’t ask for names. There were all kinds here — from teenagers to forty-somethings to nobodies to me. I would leave to find my friends but always came back, to the center of it all, a stretched rubber band snapping back into place.

I wandered to each side of the giant room, where couples were born in dark corners and strangers laid against one another, silhouettes behind pillars snorting lines off keys who dove back into the dance floor. There was a clown handing out balloons that he filled from a nitrous canister, which people huffed then smiled and floated away into brief peace that bled away once the sun rose and the music stopped. I walked past and through them, transfixed on lights and sights blindingly masking what we all knew was temporary. I was a Boy Scout again, I was having heat stroke, my brain was fried and all I could do was keep moving, dancing, floating adrift in an open sea where each crashing wave came transient and terrible.

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