part one: USPS to the Rescue or Ronnie Was a Prick
i wake up as the van is rocketing down a congested state route at around 80 miles an hour. wiping the sleep from my eyes i say “be careful”. i hear an unfamiliar voice coming from the driver’s seat saying “get out of the way! i have no brakes!” now my eyes are open enough to see a man in an gray oil-stained hooded sweatshirt at the wheel, weaving through cars. one by one the other guys pop up from their seats. the stranger is honking the horn furiously, using all his strengh to make turns, saying “i didn’t expect to get a workout today”. i ask brian our bassist “what’s going on?”
there are a few reasons to join a band. the most obvious of course is music. but near the top is adventure. i love having adventures. when i was young i would often tell my mom “i’m going exploring” and walk out the backdoor with some kind of indiana jones accessory, often a hat or a whip. “where’s your sense of adventure?” has become the catch phrase of this tour.
on thursday night it was raining in philadelphia. it was 3am by the time we were finished loading our gear out of the grape street, one of our favorite venues. we closed and locked the trailer door and piled in the van. this was one of seven shows in the last ten days or so. we had played a decent set, ate an italian dinner at a little restaurant up the street, and had a couple drinks with friends, fans, and other bands. we hit the road with a collective satisfaction and the smell of cigarette smoke in the air. T was driving down I-495, everyone was making jokes about the details of the night as the lights on the dash began to dim. the windsheild wipers slowed to a crawl. the headlights went out. there was a moment of calm before T said “i have no power steering”, and began slowing and exiting. he pulled into a seven 11 and shut off the van.
“i guess we call tripple-a?” somebody said. without saying anything T put it in park, got out of the driver’s seat and went to the back of the van to lay down.
“they can’t tow a trailer. only a van,” i said. “There is no sense in having them tow it now anyway. nobody will be open to fix it until tomorrow. even if we get it towed we’ll still have to sleep in the van. we might as well sleep here with the trailer attached so nothing happens to it” brian was on the phone with aaa giving them location and card number when this sank in. he cancelled the call.
“what about the post office?” our sound guy jerry offered.
“there’s a post office right across the street. a lot of these places have mechanics on duty to work on their trucks.”
i looked out across the street and saw fifty mail trucks all lined up and figured he was right. jerry and i got out in the rain and walked across the street and up onto a loading dock. jerry is a little older than me so i let him go first and do the talking. we stood there for just a few seconds before we were noticed by two men holding envelopes and pushing carts.
“what do you need?” one man huffed. jerry explained our situation and asked if there was a mechanic on duty.
“that would be ronnie but he doesn’t get in until 7:30. besides, Ronnie’s a real prick. he probably wouldn’t help you.”
“Ronnie’s a prick?” Jerry echoed as we tried to stifle our laughter.
“yeah. we’ll ask him when he gets in but he’s a prick”
“okay well thanks for your help.”
as we walked back to the van jerry guessed those guys had been working that shift for twenty years. i agreed.
jerry crawled under the engine and discovered we were missing the sepentine belt, but without tools and parts there was nothing he could do. i laid down in the the first bench seat and first noticed the cold. i covered up with my leather jacket and put a shirt around my knees to stay warm. i fell asleep immediately. brian sat in the drivers seat all night, wide-awake staring out at passing cars. the next thing i remember is rocketing down a congested state route at around 80 miles an hour, wiping the sleep from my eyes. as the van pulled into a mechanic’s garage the whole picture came into view. the post office had called an auto shop up the street and sent them to our rescue. as it was less than a mile away, they opted to save money and time by not involving a tow truck. instead, the mechanic would drive the van from the seven 11 to the garage without the serpentine belt as fast as he possibly could to avoid damage to the engine. with no brakes and no steering in the rain with us still asleep inside.
we rolled out of the van and into the garage severely disoritned and disheveled. we went through a door into an office–the kind of office you find in a garage. there we met Homer the owner and shop foreman, a kind grandfatherly man. Homer had owned the place for 30 years. in his youth he did a lot of the labor; now two men work for him and he mostly just sits at a desk smoking cigarettes and making jokes. we were all in our rocker leather jackets feeling a little out of place huddled around his desk in the little office full of collectible toy cars the ones you see that say NAPA or STP on them, with no where else to go as it was still raining and we had no vehicle. homer sent one guy out to get us all coffee, everyone orders cream and sugar except me decaf black, which is what homer drinks too. inevitably cream and sugar turned into sexual innuendo, to the delight of homer and his right hand man. quickly we relaxed and talked through the morning. homer told us about his wife and his second home in rehoboth beach, we told him about doing shows at the rusty rudder just down the road. he told us his friends at the post office had been working there for over twenty years. and that ronnie was indeed a prick.
for auto service in the Wilmington, DE area, we proudly recommend
Albright & Son Triangle Service, Inc.
308 Edgemoor Rd.
photos by katie from the grape street
from the italian restaurant
* * *
part 2: Coyote Strangely or Lincoln Like A God or What Do Those Flashing Lights Mean?
with the belt fixed we drove on to our hotel in baltimore, killed some time until they had clean rooms, and checked in. we finally showered and slept from 3pm to 6pm. this was a light sleep, as there were children scremaing the whole time, and some intense vacuuming happening in the room directly above us.
that night we had a nice dinner with our friend sara and T’s sister, then played a show in washington DC. T and i had not been to DC since the sniper shootings. then, we were instructed to walk in zig-zag lines. also on that trip the vallet ripped the side door off the van, and it hasn’t worked quite the same since. but THIS time in DC would be different–uneventful. maybe.
the club we played at, the RnR bar used to be a Coyote Ugly until very recently. in fact the bartender working was a coyote ugly girl, a leftover from the coyote days if i may use the word leftover to describe an attractive girl dancing on the bar and singing terrible songs very loudly between bands. this was kind of strange. very strange actually. she had a nice enough voice it was just strange and loud. later we agreed that the place should have just stayed a coyote ugly as it wasn’t really set up for bands. the small mixer and awkward stage forced us to play a scaled-down acoustic set, which was fine. except we were so tired from the van incident that all the songs were really slow and i kept losing my fingering on the keyboard. ack. the other band chance gardener, who had invited us down to do the show, was good and were nice enough to stay with a lot of their fans to see us play.
after the show i cut open my finger falling on a fence in the back alley. fortunately it was my right hand. we were all struck by the amount of rats in the alley. all the reincarnated politicians i guess. after we were in the van i insisted that we drive a few blocks and see the lincoln memorial. i have been to dc before but never seen it. so it was 3 or 4 in the morning, we had loaded out of the RnR bar in DC and we are tired as hell heading toward the lincoln memorial. brain kept saying “i am just going to sleep in the van.”
“where’s your sense of adventure?” i challenged repeatedly, knowing he hadn’t slept in two days.
all my life i have wanted to see this lincoln thing. i’ve seen it on TV and in movies, at historic moments in our nations history like martin luther king’s speech about dreaming. my dad was an attorney and a lincoln historian. images of lincoln hung all over his office. busts and paintings and things. i guess he’s one of the family heroes, up there with st. mary
jerry took these:
as the lincoln memorial came into view we were immediately taken aback by its sheer size and magesty. fog rolled across the reflecting pool and there was a stillness all around. no tourists. just a single security guy and a few kids, maybe high school kids on some kind of trip. i felt like this was really our moment, something we could own. it wasn’t part of a crowd or a long line of people waiting to experience something. i don’t think any of us really expected that. even brian who i convinced to accompany us.
i have always had a soft spot for large columns. these are in the doric style. all the credit goes to the greeks for creating the blueprint for a structure which would inspire such a deep respect. lincoln himself looks like a god, stoic and pensive, gazing out at the obelisk in the distance. the things he has seen.
on the way out of the city we were pulled over and surrounded by police.
“everybody out!” yelled the officer. he was a black man in his fifties and was severely unhappy. he took one look at everybody and told the other guys to get back in the van. i had to come with him.
“did you not see the flashing lights?” he asked me again.
“i’m sorry i–”
“what do those flashing lights mean?”
“stop.” then for a while as they were running my licence he was holding a ticket in his hand, discussing with another cop the distance it took me to stop. “100 yards at least.” the other officer offered. as we came through an intersection a parked police car flashed its lights quickly once. i guess it was some kind of checkpoint but it wasn’t marked. i didn’t understand the signal. the next thing i knew we were surrounded by cop cars masquerading as taxi’s just moments before.
“why didn’t you stop?”
“i just didn’t realize the lights were for me. i mean i didn’t think we were speeding or breaking any–”
“that’s not the point! when you see those lights you stop!”
then his demeanor began to change. one thing that often eases a scolding by an authority figure is “i understand”. when you understand someone else’s point of view, it is very hard for them to continue yelling at you about it. sometimes apologizing works too but apparently not with cops. he decided not to finish writing the ticket and sent us on our way with another officer who escorted us to I-295.
in the van a little shaken up we started to feel cool about having a police escort. i guess they were a little freaked out by a large trailer heading toward the capital building in the middle of the night. understandably. “it’s a good thing brian wasn’t driving,” somebody said. brian was born in Calcutta.
* * *
part 3 the free tie
i am kind of not making chronological sense but i figure it doesn’t matter. moving backwards in time tuesday we played in cambridge at harvard square from some law students at harvard law. one of my very best childhood friends graduated from harvard law. so it was kind of an odd coincidence that we had a show there, as small as the school is. the promoter, a law student and long-time jfk fan named kevin, worked very hard to make this show happen and get some people there on a tuesday night. i can only conclude that we make music for smart people. or conversely and more accurately, some smart people like our music. you are here so you are probably smart. even if you’re not smart enough to get into harvard law, you are reading for fun so that’s something only smart people do. see?
before the show the van battery died just outside the venue. one of the acoustic openers was kind enough to jump it for us after t promised to buy him a beer. i could make a thing out of this but it wasn’t really a big deal. red to red black to ground and vwah lah (voila).
T and i hung out in cambridge a few times on a radio tour a while back. i like it there. everything is pristine and clean and white collar, and multicultural and everything else you would expect. all over they have black iron gates that the campus workers apparently open and close and lock at random times throughout the day, preventing anyone from taking the exact same path too often. this i guess is to provide stumuli for the walking law students whose brains are so large they become ill if they go for a few minutes without a case or puzzle or maze to solve. for me it was only a slight inconvenience on my way to and from the trailer as i had a local guide who was accustomed to navigating these gates.
there are a few stereotypes of the harvard law student and we’ve met some of them. the entire harvard law rugby team was at our show. they wore matching ties, chanting things just like you would see in a coming of age college movie. you might expect them to heckle or be bullies (they would in the movie), but they were all very cool and seemed to enjoy and appreciate our music. it turns out, the hecklers are driving around through harvard sqare.
just as this picture was taken, somebody drove by and yelled “faggot!” his friends in the car laughed. jerry laughed confusedly but i assured him it’s totally normal–this has happened to me all my life. just another drive by “faggot” yelling.
somehow, brian finagled a tie from one of the rugby players. i am quite jealous of this. he wore it for the rest of the trip.
the show was good. we made some new fans and saw some people who we hadn’t seen in years. it had been a long while since we played in the area.
part 4 the shetland piano
monday we played acoustic in new york city at rockwood music hall which is not a music hall at all. rockwood music room or rockwood music bar or place or something would be more accurate as it is quite small. that worked to our advantage as the place was full enough to seem happening enough even as early as we played at 7:30. they had a baby grand on stage, which was fun to play although my long legs did not quite fit comfortably under it. this was the lowest piano i’ve ever played. it was like if a baby grand had a baby. and that baby had a midget baby and then grew up slightly into a midget toddler. i might call this a shetland midget toddler baby grand. probably could do away with the grand completely as there was nothing grand about it. but the action was good and it was in tune, which is all that really matters. i can’t play the piano worth a crap anyway. yet.
photos by cat
the set was pretty okay. i made the mistake of taking a short nap in the van right before the show, and didn’t warm up enough to overcome the tired vocal chords. other than that it was okay. i love being in new york anyway so an average set is not going to bum me out for long. we burned through our curvature songs and given the intimate nature of the show started taking requests for older things including float away and even one for gomorra, which we did not attempt.
after we got our gear out of the club i sold a few pieces of art out of the trailer. selling art out of a trailer on a dark new york city street is awesome. that is how i paid for the trip. i left with almost no money and survived by selling prints of my art. how bohemian is that? thanks so much to everyone who bought stuff from me.
that night we went to a cuban restaurant that served plaintains instead of chips. i had a burrito. it was amazing.
part 5 The Craver or We’re Awesome
moving backwards even further in time, last saturday we played at the house of crave in columbus. the weather was beautiful and we spent some time on the sidewalk outside just hanging out. as you might expect if you’ve seen harold and kumar or know anything about “the craver” the house of crave has a white castle inside it.
that’s right, a music venue with a white castle in it. white castle is the worst/best/worst/best again food ever. i had hoped to buy some onion chips after we played but just as i was ready to make my purchase they closed. dejected i made my way out to the van to eat more trail mix. to save money i would eat more trail mix in the next week than at any other time in my life.
we played a solid set here. we’re awesome.
photos by Niles C. Davis
part 6 we stopped in pittsburgh
the other day we had off for travel from baltimore to sandusky so we stopped in pittsburgh.
part 7 A Waterpark for Inmates
sunday we played a breast cancer benefit show in sandusky ohio at the nia center within kalahari resort and indoor waterpark. the place kalahari named after a desert in southern africa and is themed accordingly. when you walk in you are immediately greeted with music that sounds a little like the breakdown in Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long”, one of my favorite songs. there’s something african about it but what is it and what’s the point? what are they saying and why? i don’t know and it’s best not to ask questions. i felt the same way about the resort. i loved the vibe of it but there’s something weird about just putting any random african thing in a place. “here what about these large long masks? they are african. how about some spears and maybe some trees growing up around? they have trees in africa yes. and grass huts. what about girraffes?. and lions. we will need some lions that’s for damn sure.”
the main attraction of kalahari is definitely that it is america’s largest indoor waterpark. i will admit, one of the reasons i took the show was that i was intrigued about the venue. really, indoor waterpark? that sounds awesome! you can play in the water without even having to go outside. we considered driving all the way there on saturday night to enjoy a few hours of waterpark activities before the show. after seeing the place, i am glad we did not. while we really enjoyed the music and the decor and the fake animals and all that, the waterpark was just not right. they gave us a free fifteen minute pass to check it out. jerry put it best saying “it’s like a waterpark for inmates,” meaning people who cannot enjoy the actual sun. instead, they have to stay inside this enormous poorly lit poorly ventilated room and breathe in the toxic chlorine air, trying not to get a headache while they ride waterslides. there were even reclining lawn chairs like you would see at the pool or surf cincinnati, but again, one big thing missing–the sun! what were people doing in these chairs? basking in the greenish glow of the florescent lighting. gross and weird. of course it didn’t help that we had beautiful weather outside that day. with all that said, the kids were having fun and i’m sure some grown ups were too. maybe would be best to have ended all that at my first thought–you can play in the water without even having to go outside.
as for the show, this had to be one of the most thoroughly planned benefit concerts in sandusky. two high school girls put it on. i was really inspired by the amount of work they put into it. sadly, like most benefit conerts it was poorly attended. there are a lot of factors that have to come together to make a benefit show featuring local bands a success from a crowd standpoint. (i am hoping some people show up at our show June 2nd!) at the very least, this show had some corporate sponsors so i think they still made a little bit of money for breast cancer research. i hope anyway. i think everyone had a good time including us.
now my cat cleo is sitting here by me on the desk, writhing around she is so happy i am home. we don’t have anything going on for a week and a half. i’ve come down with a bit of a fever so i can use a little time to relax and catch up on some less adventurous things. thanks to all the nice people we came in contact with on the road for helping us out by taking pictures buying merch fixing our van et cetera. and thank you for reading.