By Madison Hu and Miska Lewis
My roommate Lila is drunk in the corner mumbling the classic will.i.am lyric about “screaming and shouting” while her boyfriend James consoles her, as always. Kyle and Maya tripped up the stairs to the pregame spot, my fourth-floor walk-up apartment, sending our tools for the day (beers, umbrellas, extra socks, blow-up hippopotamus suit) flying. The air is vibrating with anticipation for the biggest event in recent memory (Eras and Renaissance Tours be damned): will.i.am’s solo show in Central Park as a part of the Summer Concert series. “It’s the Big Day!” James consoles Lila, but the only thing that dries her drunk tears is will.i.am’s voice cutting through the pregame: “Bring the action,” he demands. Lila jumps up and James is freed; he gets up to put on a party fedora, the sparkly kind, the signature will.i.am headwear. Her phone lights up with an alert from the AXS app: 3 hours left until your will.i.am concert, the man that has contributed to literally every pop hit of the 2010’s. Get ready for The Night that Makes Everything Right. I feel a rush of adrenaline. Goosebumps sprinkle my arms. I begin to salivate.
I’m trying to stick a lime in a bottle of Corona when Lila takes it straight from my hand. “Tequila shots?” Maya takes out a handle of Tito’s, conjuring an empty milk jug. “will.i.borg?” she says, scrawling the words in pink Sharpie. She adds a heart instead of a dot to finish up the question mark. I don’t think will.i.am, mirrored-ski-visor-sunglasses extraordinaire, would approve of the half-baked borg name, but I find it amusing. James turns up the music, and the familiar thumping bass and high snares tickle my ears. I can almost feel the skater skirts and combat boots. Lila has somehow found a cowboy hat and exclaims through the hum of the shot-taking, “I hope he does his hits from the Madagascar movies!” I understand now why Kyle and Maya have somehow stuffed an arm and leg each into a blow-up hippopotamus suit, paying homage to will.i.am’s legendary role as Moto Moto, the anti-hero of Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.
Dark clouds pull over the 4 p.m. sun, covering the already shafted apartment in their shadow. What would usually be a bad omen for an outdoor concert is overlooked due to yet another one of will.i.am’s bangers filling all of our ears, courtesy of Lila’s monstrosity of a Bluetooth speaker.
My head spins. I’m feeling my unforgiving breakfast combination come back for revenge: orange-flavored liquid IV, one and a half chocolate croissants, and too many shots of watered-down vodka. I push through the nausea and keep high spirits as I mumble to no one in particular, “Look. I don’t care that he hasn’t released an album in ten years. I don’t care that he hasn’t been on Broadway. I don’t care that he’s never stepped foot on a television set. will.i.am is entitled to an EGOT.”
Across the room, Maya tries and fails to file proof of sobriety: “When I was abroad in Sevilla,” she says, pronouncing it like vanilla, “this much alcohol would have been three and a half dollars, tops. I can’t believe we pay so much in this country for so little. Europe does it better.” Cue the hair toss.
Two hours! the AXS app reminds us, lighting up our phones in unison like a beacon calling out to a faraway ship. It’s go time. I give myself one last look in the mirror, adding some sunglasses to my outfit to channel the iconic smoldering look of will.i.am as Britney Spears’ guest on the 2013 season of X Factor Teens.
As soon as we walk out the door, Maya and Kyle take a crazy tumble, clearing all four flights of stairs in one go. The hippo suit lays deflated over their dejected bodies. Embarrassed but unscathed, they peel off the Lycra suit to reveal three beers they tried to hide in the arms, miraculously unbroken. They put the suit back on and it sags against their bodies. Grunts of effort echo down the hall.
Lila runs out the door. She immediately comes back in, whimpering, “Why is it raining?” James tries to console her. “It’s ok! I’m, like, pretty sure it’ll be, like, you know, like, the concert can still happen, it’s a little drizzle, just a little sprinkle.” As if on cue, the door flies open and our neighbor runs in drenched. “It’s POURING out there, oh me, oh my!” Lila cries harder while Maya exclaims with joy, “This reminds me of the one time it rained in Sevilla!” Pronounced, again, like vanilla. Lila sniffles and steps outside, but she doesn’t get too far out of the building before 60 miles per hour winds knock her off her feet. The last thing I see are the soles of her platform low-rise shoes, disappearing down the avenue. James runs after her, wailing and waving his arms like those inflatable guys outside car dealerships.
Unwilling to move, I check their locations as we wait for the Uber. Their floating faces move down the avenue with incredible speed.
Two will.i.am enthusiasts down from our group already, James and Maya have unwavering confidence that will.i.am will happen; I can’t be so sure, but I don’t vocalize it, partly because I need to see how the hippo suit will withstand the wind–will it inflate? Will it make odd noises? Will it pop?
The suit flaps wildly, sounding like a broken firecracker as the pair fight their way into the Uber.
There is loaded silence in the car once we’re all in.
“How are you today?” our driver tries to make conversation.
“Sooooo good!” Maya yells over the crinkle of her suit.
I peek at the GPS: A whole hour to go ten blocks. We may not make it, I think to myself.
“We will make it,” our driver proclaims, as if reading my mind, “you girls off to the will.i.am Summer Stage concert?!” he asks. “I heard he might be releasing an album just for you guys.” I feel myself start to tear up. My chest gets tight. I can almost see the EGOT.
Kyle answers. “Yaaaas! Are you a fan?”
“Are fedoras his forte?!”
We all high-five in agreement. I see James and Lila on Find My Friends. They are somehow in New Jersey, speeding down I-80. Our phones buzz in unison from an email, echoing through the car. I check it first: WILL.I.AM CONCERT MOVED TO COVERED VENUE AND ALSO AN HOUR EARLIER (IT’S ALMOST DONE NOW, AND IF YOU ARE TAKING 1 HOUR TO GO 10 BLOCKS, YOU WILL NOT MAKE IT). It feels targeted.
Maya lets out a yelp.
I decide to save the day:
“Guys. We can run.”
We thank the driver, pay our fees, and clamber out.
Ten blocks is not a lot to the average person, but to three drunk young adults pawing their way into Central Park without WiFi, two-thirds of whom are in a hippo suit, it may as well be the equivalent of doing Iron Man with no training.
People spill out of the train station adjacent to the park like lemmings.
We all know that this is our Everest.
will.i.am’s voice blares towards us, reminding us that our childhood hero is LIVE at the end of the torrential tunnel. With nine blocks to go, we can just faintly make out “It’s will.i.am and BRITNEY BITCH!” At one point, all I hear is beatboxing. Maya claims Justin Bieber is out there with him for “#thatPOWER.” “I think they’re doing the moonwalk,” Kyle says, face twisted, hair stuck to his forehead.
“WE WILL MAKE IT!” I scream, catching glimpses of His fedora over the sea of heads leaving the station.
Like an immediate curse, will.i.am says “Thank You!” in beautiful autotuned speech, and disappears into the night, taking his Top 100 hits with him.
We all fall to our knees.