We are in the door less than 10 minutes when the young man approaches me. It's still early - about 10 p.m. -and only a few people are dancing. The rest are milling about, waiting for the party to get going. I can only assume that's why the kid - a soccer player, maybe, judging by his build - taps me on the shoulder.
"You got any acid?" he asks.
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His friend, a little taller and apparently the wiser of the pair, promptly shoves him, hard, in the chest. For a brief moment I figure I'm found out, that the tall kid is going to chastise the short one for soliciting drugs from someone who clearly doesn't belong.
But I'm wrong.
"Dude," he yells in his friend's face. "I already got you some acid."
Over the next few hours, we will see teenagers using not only the hallucinatory drug LSD, but other so-called "club drugs" like Ecstasy. They are kids who on another night might be starring in the high school play or making your drink at Starbucks - primarily white, middle- to upper-class teenagers who borrowed their parents' cars to drive to this "teen party" on Aurora's east side, less than a mile from its border with Naperville.
Kicking off at 9 p.m., this rave starts relatively early, and ends even earlier, coming to a close around 3 a.m. (most raves start closer to midnight and last until dawn, sometimes even continuing into the next day).
The owner of the club will tell me later he was happy with how the party turned out. There were no fights, he says, and the party itself was "pretty much drug-free."
Still, we see plenty of evidence the event isn't completely clean.
We learned about the particulars of this rave in much the same way most teens learn of similar parties - on the Internet. Entire chat rooms are dedicated to the events. They list the date, time and approximate location, then give a telephone number for attendees to call the night of the party for specific directions.
Almost all of the postings - and posters and postcards we will find for other raves - warn that alcohol and drugs will not be allowed. Those warnings almost always are untrue, an area police sergeant will tell me later, and serve only to appease parents who may be nervous about their children attending parties where either drugs or alcohol are present.
This particular rave is organized by a young Chicago-area promoter who has rented out a local teen club for an event billed as a "fully themed party."
In a rare move for a rave, the promoter also has sponsored a food drive, offering a discount on the $15 admission to anyone who brings canned food. He says it is his attempt to keep the event on the up and up. (The promoter could not be reached for comment for this story).
The club is known for its laser tag, games and teen dance parties, and is generally considered a safe place for teens. Its owners pride themselves on providing a drug-free environment, and while they admit it can be hard to keep kids who have used drugs out of the club, they believe they do a better job than most.
A look at security
At least three security guards are working either inside the building or at the door when we arrive. They are swiftly patting down people, then waving a metal-detecting wand up and down their bodies. But they make no attempt to search the backpacks that about half the teens are carrying, and even when the wand beeps, they let people by without stopping to determine the cause.
Inside, the club is dark and smoky. Throughout the night, different deejays will take turns spinning techno music on a stage located toward the back of the large room.
To the side of where the deejays stand and on the floor in front of them are a stage and a dance floor where teenagers dance, some of them waving glow sticks. Some dance in groups with friends, stopping occasionally to hug a new arrival. Others dance alone, seemingly entranced by the music and the lights around them.
A room off the main room is marked for "VIPs." The door is kept closed, but there is a steady stream of people going in and out. In another side room, the nonprofit group DanceSafe has set up a table with literature about drugs and safe sex. The organization, whose goal is to reduce risks to recreational drug users, also markets a testing kit that is supposed to help users determine if their pills are pure Ecstasy. The group says the kits prevent users from accidentally taking PMA, Ecstasy's more-lethal look-alike, or other drugs that may be passed off as Ecstasy (many drug educatorsand police, however, say the kits are ineffective).
Upstairs, another room is set up as a kind of maze. Used during regular business hours for laser tag, the area on this Friday night becomes an ideal place to buy and take drugs. At about 1 a.m., the owners close down the upstairs. They later will say they don't remember why.
With the upstairs closed, young people flood the first floor.
Signs of abuse
It's impossible to tell how many of the hundreds of young people in the room are on drugs. As the owner warns later, adults cannot assume a teen is using drugs simply because he or she is lying on the floor or behaving strangely.
"I hate to say it, but some of these kids are just plain weird," he says.
There are a good number, however, who leave little doubt.
Though it's slightly warm inside the club, several of the young people on the dance floor are sweating profusely and drinking copious amounts of water - both signs of Ecstasy use.
One girl, clearly "rolling" on Ecstasy, lies flat on her back off to the side of the dance floor. One of her friends leans over her, waving glow sticks in her face. (Ecstasy users are fascinated by lights and the small glow sticks, which can be carried, attached to the tongue, or worn as jewelry).
In a circle on the floor sits a group of four teenagers. One of the girls is lying across a young man's lap. He is rubbing her back, a sign that the girl is either experiencing the muscle tension that accompanies Ecstasy use or the drowsiness that comes after taking the club drug GHB, a depressant usually taken in liquid form.
Eventually the girl sits up, and another friend takes hold of both sides of her face, pulling her toward him. The guy has a Vicks vapo-inhaler in his mouth, and is blowing it into the girl's face and eyes.
Ecstasy opens bronchial passages, making inhaling Vapo-Rub a very pleasurable experience for users. Some users smear the medicine inside surgical or gas masks, making the experience all the more intense.
When we spot a young man wearing a gas mask, however, he appears to be having a few problems. Two of his friends are holding the young man up and helping him walk across the room. They carry him into the DanceSafe room, where the young man falls to the floor. Those who notice him begin to laugh. After sitting on the floor for a while, he takes off the mask, gets up, and staggers back to the area near the dance floor where his friends are gathered.
Back in the main room, a man suspected of selling Ecstasy settles down next to the Vapo-Rub kids, pulls out some tablets, and hands them to one of the guys.
Just then, a security guard walks by. And keeps walking.
Shortly before 2 a.m., the owners begin trying to thin out the crowd. But the final deejay - the one many of the teens have been waiting for - has finally taken the stage, and most of the audience has no intention of leaving.
A short while later two Aurora police officers, noticing the more than 100 cars still in the parking lot, pull up outside the building. One of the owners of the club walks out to talk to them. According to the officers, the owner tells them everything is under control and that the party is breaking up.
As they leave to respond to a traffic accident, the officers say they had no idea there was a rave planned for the club that night.
Nor did they suspect what was happening inside.