A tall girl clutching a few sheets of stapled paper picked up her longboard and waved to us to follow her. It was humid and a handful of us followed her closely through the crowd and into the gates to the Gexa Energy Pavilion in Dallas for the third stop of Vans Warped Tour.
Every once in a while, she’d point to a colorful tent and a few volunteers would walk to their designated tent. I was the last one to find my tent. We stepped over power cables and weaved around rolling carts of merchandise. As we walked, she started talking about how awesome HeartSupport was, but I was half-listening. I was nervous.
The crowd outside was rambunctious, and it was only 9:30 a.m. I couldn’t believe the noise already. Inside, sound checks went on and off on some of the stages, squealing the speakers to life. I saw T-shirts and signs that shocked me and there was so much colored hair. This was not me, I thought. This was stepping way outside of my comfort zone, and I grew more and more anxious.
My guide pointed to the HeartSupport tent and I took a seat under the shade. No one was there yet, and I squirmed on the bar stool. I love taking people to lunch. I love buying someone a cup of coffee, but standing in the middle of thousands of people, sweating in the Dallas sun and trying to have a conversation over crunching guitars seemed impossible for me.
I’ve covered music festivals, parades and motorcycle rallies in the past for newspaper coverage. I’ve met a lot of different people at all kinds of events, but I’ve never been this nervous. I wasn’t worried about talking with strangers. I’ve given speeches and led discussions and my years of reporting have stamped out that fear. I was worried about you— the people I’d be talking to. I was worried you wouldn’t think I was cool enough because I’m 26 and hadn’t heard of most of the bands playing that day. I’m married and I have a mortgage, and there’s no way you’d want to listen to me.
I was thinking about all this when Nate and Ryan arrived. They walked me through what we’d be doing, and then a few minutes later, a rush of teenagers and young people ran through the gates, clinging to their backpacks and bottled water. A metal band took the stage nearest to us and blared loudly.
“Go on. Step out of your comfort zone,” Ryan said, waving me outside the tent.
It was the last thing I wanted to hear.
I took a deep breath and stepped out into the sun and onto the sidewalk. But here’s the thing: You surprised me. You were polite and excited and you listened. Some of you told me your stories and shook my hand.
And I won’t forget that.
Because this world is wrong about you. You aren’t misguided or selfish. You are smart. You ask hard questions. You are energetic. You get excited about a yellow HeartSupport sticker. And you are valued. To this 26-year-old married woman, you are valued.
That afternoon, I popped two Tylenol to nurse a headache from the heat and music and went to bed early. No, I’m not cool. But you guys, you were, and for that, thank you.