Updated: Feb 14, 2019
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 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.
A bus dropped us on a curb in Champaign, Illinois. Dim streetlights were reflected on the damp pavements as it began to rain. The public transport Google Maps suggested 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 case through blocks of telegraph poles, neon fast food signs, gas stations and not much else.
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. Day 2: a toilet flooded my hotel room, but I made it to the State Farm Center.
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.
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 saw 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 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; and 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. 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 Green Day. True Trans Soul Rebel was my anthem while making my Letters to Max project. 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 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. 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!’
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 spread his arms to hug me. It was one of the warmest hugs anyone has given me. I’ll never forget it.
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.
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 push after being 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 friends 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.
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.
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 from England 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.
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 Annabelle, 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? 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.
Snow was falling at full force in the morning. Our tent appeare on TV while we stayed inside as long as we could, before a brief trip to Taco Bell and Walmart. I had never been to a Walmart before. What an experience.
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 American flag, 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 on each other 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.
We couldn’t get tickets to the St. Paul show, so my mum and I had two days in Green Bay. Other fans 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…
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!
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 mum and accidentally getting into an American football team, having slept in the snow and seen my favourite band.
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 (sorry), we decided to sit on the sofa and wait for our host to let us know.
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.’
We were 3 and 4 in line, behind Shannon from Iowa City and her son Levi. Having later accepted a pizza slice from Sara from Spain, which is never a good idea when you're lactose intolerant, we 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 began 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. We 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 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 59 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?
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 so I could be next to her. Sleeping in the rain = success.
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, I received a text letting me know my mum was on TV in Des Moines Bus Station.
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.