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— For the UCSD rave, the security guards had a different estimate. The university hired Mission Valley-based Staffpro as security for the party. (In a later phone interview, Angie Lopez, a Staffpro spokeswoman said, "We basically... provide security at sporting events, concerts; that's what we're trained to do." Staffpro did security at a rave for 5000 people at the San Diego Sports Arena last month.) I stood on the sidelines, watching the kids bob up and down ("popping" is the name of another dance), when a guard came over to chat.

"About 10:00 you'll really start seeing drugs," he said. Having worked the rave held at the Sports Arena last month, he predicted I would see ravers sucking on pacifiers; by so doing, they're ingesting a liquid form of ecstasy, he said. But unless security sees the ravers actually dipping the pacifiers in ecstasy, the pacifiers can't be confiscated.

He pointed to a young man wearing a mask; the sort you would wear while working with asbestos. The guard said it was likely the mask was smeared with something "mentholated up near his nose to keep his high up.

"I'm 41," this guard went on. "When I was young we went to bars to meet girls, and when we got 'em, we left. This is different."

Different, how?

"This is a drug party."

Sure enough, around 20 minutes to 10:00 I saw my first-ever grown-up guy with a pacifier in his mouth. And another guy was dancing nearby with the sort of energy only released when a mind-altering chemical lifts it out of sobriety's suspension. Five minutes later I saw a girl with a pacifier in her mouth. (Later Eckert, the rational raver, scoffed at the idea that those pacifiers were dripping with ecstasy: "The explanation of the pacifiers is, when you're on X [ecstasy] your teeth grind. It's a return to childhood," he added, when asked why he, while not rolling, nevertheless wore a pacifier. Other ravers said that the pacifier has become a fashion statement.)

When I ask another guard, about half the age of the first (both declined to give names) why they can't confiscate the pacifiers, he explains that they can't do anything "unless we actually see them dipping it in something." Something like "Special-K," which, he says, is "like a liquid ecstasy. It's worse than ecstasy because it gets your heart beating violently." This guard told me to watch for people sweating profusely even though they were sitting down. "You can bet they're on ecstasy," he said.

So what would someone have to do to get thrown out of this party? A fight, for instance, the younger guard replied, adding that it's much less likely to happen at a rave than a hip-hop concert because here "they're all on X [ecstasy]. They're all horny and loving. It's about being peaceful and dancing and having a lot of fun. I know because a lot of my friends are ravers."

While Eckert, the safety raver, challenges the blanket statement that ecstasy is essential to the rave scene, the security guard sums it up thus: "ecstasy to a rave is like alcohol to a frat party."

"If I go to a frat party," said Christina later, "they'll give me shot after shot. They try to fuck me." At a rave, on the other hand, "I don't feel pressured at all." That's a big relief to Christina. "When I was 12 I was doing crystal and dating a drug dealer." But now, at age 17, "I'm not doing drugs," Christina said.

Would you say that the rave scene has helped you to keep off drugs?

Christina hesitated, then nodded yes. "I thought I would be pressured to do E [ecstasy] or something. People approach me and I just say no."

It's not just the privation of pressure but the positive bonding with ravers that keeps her coming back. "I go to the Pacific Church of Religious Science," Christina said. "They taught me about unconditional love." She found it in that church, she says; she found it at the first rave she went to. When ravers bond in a special way, they often exchange bracelets. Christina shows me her PLUR bracelet given to her by one girl. "After I hugged her, she said, 'PLUR all the way!' " Christina smiles as she remembers. "She told me I was a PLUR kid: Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect."

"It's like we're a family," chimes in Angel, who won't give her age but is old enough to hold a Master's degree.

"It's like a family," Christina agrees.

"Only it's a lot less dysfunctional," Angel says.

"I come from a happy home," says Christina. "And my parents have always been there for me. It's so easy to fall in with the wrong crowd."

"And we're the right crowd," Angel says.

"The ravers of today are neo-hippies," Christina says.

If there really is all this love at a rave, and love is that which everyone craves, why isn't the whole world popping and flowing in a blur of PLUR?

"Because the whole world thinks this is about drugs," Angel replies. "That's why I didn't come here for so long."

Eckert had given me the same reason when I asked him a similar question earlier that week, adding that, "First of all, in San Diego, law is a complete problem. First of all, you've got a dance curfew of 10:00 for anyone under 18, and that's every night of the week. I'm saying that this curfew law for one makes it extremely difficult for anyone who wants to get into this acceptance." That's why, he says, he was a senior in high school before he ventured into the rave scene.

And if you don't get into it in high school, you're unlikely to get into it in college?

"Unless you go to UCSD," he replies, smiling.

The other reason is the music. It sounded like a clock-radio alarm buzzer to me, but to Eckert it's a pounding beat, like a heartbeat, that reaches into his soul, grips him, and says, "This is fundamentally you."

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