I'm sorry to even mention it in print, but until last week when the season ended, there was a wonderful place where people could dance all night in the forest right under the Toronto skyline. I'm talking about the warm-weather happenings at a semi-secret glade near a treed part of Cherry Beach. On any given night on our abandoned waterfront, there were several dances going at the same time, some with massive projection screens and lighting effects and the cops drive by and smile.
To understand how miraculous this actually was, click onto the widely circulated video of a horrendous bust of a rave on private property in a scenic Utah canyon just weeks ago. (Google "Utah" and "bust.")
Although there have been a few crackdowns over the years, our party scene, according to veterans, has gradually stabilized. And the beach dances have flourished. The stunning enclosure of sumac, majestic old trees and giant rusting oil towers seems to keep the sound in, so dancers can carry on all night under the stars without being too much of a nuisance. Sometimes it's just one guy with a small boom box, but often it's much larger. DJs bring generators to power a growing range of events: reggae, house, black light, jungle and various kinds of electronica.
Participants quickly clue in to the "respect" ethos. People clean up after themselves, altercations are rare, and on a beautiful day the place is simply idyllic, with kids and dogs playing everywhere. Some blow bubbles, others lie on blankets to listen to the music by the lake and the police glide gently by.
Yes, there are probably some substances being consumed, but the weirdest behaviour I've seen was some bad dancing and clumps of people lying on top of each other laughing.
As a contrast to this joyful fun-fest, take a look at the Utah video, nicknamed Iraq In Utah, featuring a police commando raid.
Because Utah is a conservative state, the organizers took extra care to make sure all permits were in order, hiring security, trucking in toilets and even having emergency medical personnel on hand, not to mention a $2 million insurance policy.
The first thing you see is DJs milling around the turntables. The DJs then look up as they're lit by a high-powered helicopter searchlight shining directly at them.
For a second, they look amazed, as if they're thinking, "Hey, this party is even wilder than I thought!"
A soldier in elaborate combat gear walks into frame, and then others. They're SWAT team officers with various state police agencies, wearing flak jackets and goggles and toting massive assault rifles. One of them shouts at the bewildered DJ to cut the sound or "I'll take your ass straight to jail," then shuts down the sound system.
Armed groups of men wrestle with shadowy forms. There's pandemonium as people run in every direction and helicopter searchlights pan the crowd. Over 60 arrests are made, and eyewitness reports say partiers were traumatized by the over-the-top violence of the raid. The police would later portray the event as a giant pot and ecstasy extravanza.
Compare this to the crackdown I witnessed, also in August. Picture the scene. At the beach, two parties are going on: one, called Shift, playing house music, the other psi-trance. About 150 partiers roam between them.
More partiers arrive. People in white begin to glow under the black lights. The organizers here have no permits, no insurance and no emergency personnel standing by. And they don't have security. They do have a lot of people lying around on the grass smiling.
Suddenly, the DJ dips the music. A cruiser has stopped at the edge of the glade; two officers calmly walk over, met by a couple of the organizers. There are a few anxious looks as police scan the scene: the generator-powered DJ booth, the dancers, a few people lying together on a blanket.
As one of the organizers, Marc Roy, tells me later, "The police exercised excellent judgment. They made sure no one was really drunk, they checked that we knew to clean up and suggested we not raise the volume late at night. We concurred."
Soon the fuzz get back in their cruiser. As the DJ raises the volume of the music, the officers sound their siren to the beat. It's an amazing gesture. The crowd roars.
If the police only knew of the wave of goodwill directed at them at that moment. Forgive my dime-store psychologizing, but people want to be given a chance to love the police or at least respect them, and will do so in an instant when they see them behaving decently, reasonably and especially with humour.
Then there's Utah: party-pooperdom on a mass scale, a gargantuan waste of taxpayers' money, hundreds of young people endangered and traumatized for no good reason, the state made to look like it's run by bullies playing commando.
If Utah's drug hounds were to be deployed anywhere along the lake Ontario coastline on a sunny summer day, their heads would probably explode.
But, hey, this is another country.