fbpx

News

No sleep till Brooklyn

Sunday, June 11–Western Nebraska

I open my eyes and it’s light out. Check the clock, 5:30. On cue, the cop cruises by, pauses, and for some reason keeps going. We’re pulling out right as he circles back around. Communion missed.

We have eight hours of driving to do. We’ve driven ten hours each of the last two days. We have just slept under two hours. This is going to be very painful.

I love early morning, and despite the botched plans, I am grateful to be up at 5:30, to watch the sun rising. Fingers of fog stretch along the plains, enveloping cows, and the light is pink on our faces.

As soon as we cross into Nebraska, I am happy in a special way I am only happy here. The cottonwoods make my heart swell.


We switch driving every ninety minutes, because that is the longest one of us can safely drive in our current state. During the switch-off, the new driver does jumping jacks before taking the wheel.

Finally, the State Capitol juts above the horizon. It is a thick tower with a golden dome, atop which a statue called The Sower tosses seeds from a basket; hence its nickname, The Penis of the Plains. Seeing it means we are almost home—home in the homeland sense at least.

We suspect we that we smell quite bad but that our ability to smell ourselves is impaired by our proximity. This idea seems scarily large–resonant and deep–a nightmare metaphor for our mission out here, on the road.

The long and winding road

Saturday, June 10–Denver

We go to Bella’s, which is, in fact, a “Gentlemen’s” club that also serves espresso. It seems likely that, at some point during the day, one can see naked women and drink espresso at the same time, as the latte, priced at $4, obviously includes some sort of vice tax. A memorabilia case shows that Bella’s was, in fact, a full-on whorehouse in recent history, but they seem to have dialed it back a bit. Now, they have loose tea and flavored coffee syrups and joke books for sale.

The drive is surreal, very Wild West. Over the Great Salt Lake, a haze of salt evaporation hovers in a band across the horizon. We cross the continental divide at 4:30. I don’t know what it means, but it seems worth noting.

All day, we can’t believe how slow the miles are passing, and fret about being late. Finally, I call the Hi-Dive to say we’re tardy. The sad thing is that in this sort of band situation, calling to say you’re late is much lamer than actually being late. Once there, the person with whom I make initial contact is jovial and watching South Park on a giant screen. He tells me over the high volume that we’ll be playing with a band called Lion Thighs. Across the street we get a slice of pizza and three girls in outfits constructed solely of duct tape walk in. I hear them tell an employee that it’s too bad he’ll miss “the show.” Could this be Lion Thighs in the flesh? Just before we go on, I notice “Lion Size” written on a bass drum by the stage. And they’re three guys, sans duct tape.

The show itself is really fun. We’re more confident than in San Francisco—or at least I am, and people seem to like our band. Lion Size rocks hard, the bass player doing Van Halen leaps, and then another band takes the stage, playing Lion Size’s already set up instruments. They too rock, and the person standing next to me says, “This is Bananas.” Bananas, I think, what a brilliant name; I’m mad I didn’t think of it myself. Then they introduce themselves as Cowboy Curse and I understand that the “bananas” was misinterpreted. Everyone at the club is friendly and fun, and we leave feeling once again lucky to have had such a warm reception. We hope to return to the Hi-Dive soon.

Afterwards, it’s late, but driving a ways seems like a good idea, to get a head start on Omaha and to avoid the expense of a downtown hotel room. We are both exhausted and talking insistently about nothing, in order to stay awake. We don’t even notice the gas tank is low until it’s almost empty. At the gas station, it’s 2:00 AM and the only other patrons are a van full of black haired, black tshirt boys. . .wait. . .a band. I go inside to buy a snack and two of them are chatting up the clerk. Clutching my “burnt” peanuts (the carcinogenic red candied kind) I eavesdrop as they tell her how they’re playing Omaha tomorrow night. I raise my eyebrows. One of them nods in my direction and tells the clerk, “She hates us.” “Me?” I say, stunned. Then I tell them we’re playing Omaha too. They get all excited about the coincidence and ask our band’s name. For once, they get it first thing (yes i know we made our bed), repeating the name perfectly. Jack tells me his band’s name is “Baysuh.” It sounds like a fancy multisyllabic way of pronouncing “bass” and I think, hmm they don’t look like a funk band. I ask him to repeat himself and he says, more clearly,“Bayside.” I appear to be experiencing auditory hallucinations. We chat some more and they accompany me to the car to meet Nick, like goodwill ambassadors from the professional rock van. We wave goodbye loopily.

The next hotel possibility is much farther than we thought. We finally pull into Ft Morgan at 3:30 AM, and guess who’s right behind us, the only other car on the highway? Bayside! We are cracking up and so are they. We beat them to Days Inn, which has no rooms. Then we go to Super 8: no rooms. Each place, they pull in behind and we gesture: don’t bother. We spot the Best Western: no rooms again. Now, we’re driving erratically, in panicked circles. At some point we lose Bayside and I’m kind of sad. The fact that they are in the identical ridiculous, ill-conceived situation, makes me feel close to them, bonded. It’s one of my favorite things about being in a band—there’s a whole small world of people, playing similar clubs, meeting similar people, eating the same bad food, sharing the same travails. Obviously, Bayside is a different sort of band, on a different scale, but they’re just as screwed as we are right now. We decide pressing on toward the next town is inconceivable; we’re just too exhausted, so we end up parking in front of the city park. We cram the seats back a few inches and try to sleep for a bit, so that we can drive to Omaha. I am sure we will be awakened soon by a cop knocking on the window, and I’m actually kind of looking forward to it, sharing our desperation with a stranger. I am sure I can make him pity us, even root for us. He will be a hard-ass at first, which will only make the eventual conversion all the more satisfying. The cruiser light will flash silently as he escorts us to the one secret remaining hotel room in town. Imagining it, my eyes flutter close.

Wild Wild West

Friday, June 9 (part 2) – Nevada

A couple of hours outside of San Francisco, I make a bunch of phone calls and keep telling everyone, “Nevada, I’m in Nevada!!” in the same incredulous inflection people use when they utter the word “Nebraska,” my home state. Just another example of what pop psychologists call the cycle of abuse. Who do Nevadans deride?

Three hours later, we see a sign that says, “Welcome To Nevada,” marking (obviously) the actual beginning of the state. I’m disappointed and a little embarrassed, but I’m used to being wrong. I just make things up sometimes, convinced of their truth. At Yoshi’s house, I was recounting how Nick was at Candlestick Park during the World Series earthquake. Nick walks in to inform me I’m completely wrong. I had been so sure. . .

More bad food—this time we try Subway and regret it. I am a Subway virgin, and wonder aloud how “Jared” pulled off his diet. Nick tells me this particular Subway is sub-par, even for Subway.

Later, we pull off to get a beverage at a single building in the middle of nowhere, designated as “Gas Station/Mini Mart/Bar/US Post Office.” Suddenly, the driveway pavement gives way to a minefield of foot-deep potholes. But the only vehicles in the lot are mud-splattered monster trucks, so the holes must be an entry initiation. Above the entrance to the “bar” section of the building, a sign warns, “You must be 21 to enter. You must act 21 to stay.” The unmistakable riff of Fortunate Son ushers a stumbling man into the vague delineation between bar and mini mart. He holds a fist aloft and slurs, “I dedicate this fuckin song to every fuckin kid in Nevada!”

This snaps me out of my slow, baffled progression through the store. I scurry for the counter with a canned Starbucks “double shot,” and the clerk tells me how much she loves them. We bond over our shared taste in drinks. The moment is a comfort, as the vibe is pretty dicey in the bar, and the action keeps spilling over to where we are. Shit will definitely be started at some point this evening—maybe every evening–but we’ll be long gone by then.

In the car, Nick wonders aloud if Starbucks ever thought in their wildest dreams that a woman at a roadhouse in desolate Nevada would be endorsing their pre-packaged drinks.

A while down the road we get delirious with giggles, and Nick tells me in all sincerity that he now understands the term “natural high” because he feels really stoned, except that he has a secondary, more sober consciousness that is fully aware he’s laughing at stupid shit, but is nonetheless powerless to stop it. The Doves song “Black and White Town” comes on, and in that stoner way we just go nuts, philosophizing. Nick asserts that it is the sonic embodiment of an Industrial UK town (Nick lived in a “Ned” neighborhood in Glasgow for a while). The high hats are unrelenting for the whole song, like a locomotive crashing through the neighborhood. If you haven’t heard it, you should go listen.

We give up in Wells, NV because the bug guts are so thick that oncoming headlights are turned into pulsing slashes, something straight out of Star Trek. We find a hotel and head towards a café that the desk person recommends. By recommend, I mean she vouches that it would be open. I relay to Nick that it’s called, er, “The Three-Way.”

On the way there, we pass a place called Bella’s Espresso, whose entire building is outlined in pink neon and glowing hearts. That is a whorehouse, I say. But it says espresso, Nick says. Then he looks again and says, Wait, that does look like a whorehouse.

We find the café—which is actually called The Four-Way (dang!) and is not only a café, it’s a Casino/Truck Stop/Café. These Nevadans are such multi-taskers. Inside, the crowd is completely apeshit. Everyone is drunk and spilling out of their booths, calling to other patrons, staggering around the aisles. Yet incongruously, they’re eating eggs and hashbrowns in full fluorescent light. It’s totally bizarre. I had planned to order a beer, but change my mind; it seems best to keep my faculties fully intact.

After dinner, we use some merch money to play the slots. Total losses: $2.

Then we collapse.

Suggested Nevada State Mottos: 1) We’re rowdy! 2) We heart potholes.

Daily stats:
Times Nick caught Heather looking at her biceps: 16
[Ed. Note—gross exaggeration!]

San Francisco’s siren song

Friday, June 9–San Francisco

We just left San Francisco, which was, all things considered, a coup.

In times like this, I realize I have a birth defect called “high strung personality” and that this quality is in painful and direct opposition to the necessary attitude for tour. To wit: An interviewer calls this morning (before I’ve ingested any caffeine), and right as I answer I hit the speakerphone button. I can’t figure out where to talk into and I completely spazz, turning the phone over and over. I yell in the general direction of the phone asking him to call back in two minutes. Then I spend those two minutes hitting every button on the phone and pleading to Nick (er, yelling) “fix it!!!”. He reminds me that it’s not the end of the world if I have to talk on speakerphone. It’s not? Are you sure?

Anyway, this is my way of introducing the hour and a half spent lost in San Francisco yesterday afternoon. We had hoped for a spot of tea, or a stiff drink, or a nap, but instead we drove around, lost in Golden Gate Park, lost at the top of a terrifying hill, lost in a cul de sac packed with fit singles, as I stared at the map frantically hoping I could conjure the missing streets—the ones that we were driving on but were nowhere on the map. We made it of course, but not before I had declared the tour ruined several times, reflecting on how if only I hadn’t bombed Cell Biology I might have been a doctor golfing in some grassy knoll, rather than driving around lost with the very person whose birth I once believed was a cruel joke inflicted on me. (Hey—I was a kid.) Aww, what am I talking about. Rock rocks.

Anyway, San Francisco was a blast. Our host, Yoshi, was fantastic. The club, The Rickshaw Stop, was one of the nicer clubs I’ve ever been to, let alone played. The sound was excellent and the staff, especially Waldo, who did the sound, were remarkably nice. Our friends came out and hung like troupers. As we are driving out of town, the light is perfect and it’s the most beautiful place in the world. Nick says, I could live here. I completely see what he means. If he does move, I’ll have to follow. Perhaps it’s a fleeting thought; we’ve been seduced by perfect light and it will wear off quickly. Either way, we’ll be in Portland for a while.

Nick can’t drive 55

Thursday, June 8–Oregon

On the way out of town we see a giant Caveman statue and we exchange looks. Nick promptly heads right for it, intuitively, as if we’ve been on Caveman quest all along. At the base of the Caveman, a plaque explains that Grants Pass is famous for a “booster group” from the 1920s called—get this–the Cavemen. They gave themselves names like Big Bone and Fluffy Pelt, wore animal skins, and claimed to be direct descendants from Neanderthals. Supposedly, their activities included appearing at a Broadway show (wha?!?!?), which seems very 2006, Broadway-aesthetic wise. This season, they could open for Menopause: the Musical.

We stop to get an espresso in Yreka, California. It’s a a drive-thru, which sounds fast, but will actually the single slowest coffee experience I’ve ever had, partly because the woman working there is going crazy from being locked up in a box all day. Maybe it is our fault; we walked up to the window. While she’s making our coffee, a man drives up to the window and wants to know the maximum number of espresso shots that could be fit into a coffee drink. She guesses she could cram five into a 20 ounce cup. He then wants to know the most “exciting” drink she could make him with him with these five shots. She keeps describing different drinks and he says “nope, not exciting enough.” This is all while she’s supposed to be making my coffee. Right as she flips the blender on to make his “Crazy Caramel MindFreezer” she informs me, apropos of nothing, that she didn’t care that Kurt Cobain died. Then as if in consolation, she concedes that she really loves tiramisu.

For lunch we eat at Burger King. I can’t believe it, but I don’t want to waste time looking for something else. On the Today Show recently, Eric Schlosser said that McDonalds is one of the largest toy retailers in the country. I happen to find kid’s meals perfectly-sized (for me), so now, after two of them in two days, I own a disturbingly “hot” troll-teenager doll and this Bratz thing—a perfume bottle?–that looks like a buttplug.

So, here’s a debate for you. Are fast food places really grosser at gas stations? We keep snubbing the truck stop McDonald’s, as if they’re somehow inferior, like the fries will be cooked in diesel fuel. They’re probably the same, but we just can’t do it.

Nick is wearing an outfit that looks like Larry David. Sorry, that is not grammatically correct. The outfit looks like that of Larry David. Grey slacks and a polo shirt and white tennis shoes. I wish we were driving a Prius—then we could get into a “situation.”

Grand Funk Railroad keeps popping up in the ipod mix. Do you think they really got laid in Omaha? “four chiquitas in Omaha. . .we tore the hotel down.” I’d be pissed if I were those chiquitas and heard about it on the radio. Makes a bathroom wall look discreet, you know?

Fights:
One. Brief. I was working on an article and failed to acknowledge Nick’s celebratory honk as we entered the state of California.

Driving division of labor: Nick 10 hours Heather: 3

Place names that could be euphemisms for sex acts:
1) Balls Ferry
2) Junction City

And…liftoff

Wed. June 7th–Heading South

Early in the drive we pass the 45th parallel, the halfway point between the North Pole and the Equator. Perhaps that explains the Oregonian penchant for equanimity. A couple of hours later we pass a yellowed billboard that screams “Big Mac Attack!” and Nick points out that the slogan hasn’t been in use in twenty years. Perhaps someone left it there that long?

Anyhow, it is an omen, as our first meal is, a bit later, at McDonald’s. I have a feeling I’ll be eating a lot of McDonald’s. After a late night trip to Taco Bell last week, I have exceeded my yearly fast food quota already, with only two visits.

We decide to stop for the night in Grant’s Pass. The name is kind of romantic, as if we’re crossing over a momentous threshold. The first hotel we try, I am in a line behind an amorous teenage couple. They paw each other as they are making the transaction. At first I think they are just dying to have sex but then their friend, a bounding, punky girl, barges in and says, in a very loud kid-whisper, “Get Room 205; we’re all over there.” I immediately walk out and suggest another hotel. The Travelodge is more amenable but the woman who checks us in is clearly in training and the owner is growing frustrated with her. The trainee keeps complaining—as if to explain her difficulty with credit card machine, finding the keys, and the retractable pen– that her glasses are too smudged to see through. This seems strange, because in the time it takes to utter the complaint, it could be fixed. Sort of like saying, “My finger’s in a light socket and it really hurts.” Pull it out, you know? The room mildly smells of fish and urine and we watch a VH1 documentary on heavy metal which details Iron Maiden’s evolution. Bruce Dickinson, who seems oddly like a Christopher Guest character—in a good way—is explaining how he developed these enormous gestures to give the people in back of the arena a sense of proximity. So I’ll be working on that. I’ll let you know what I come up with, once I find a spare appendage. Perhaps my hair can do the talking. Also, Iron Maiden employed a fail safe trick: a mascot, this skull thing. It has a name. Like Curly or something.

California dreamin

Wednesday June 7–At Home

Packing always makes me hysterical. I’m trying not to get hysterical, but I can feel it bubbling up. Nick is trying to calm me down with Dwight Twilley Band. I wish we could bring Smolli the Beagle on tour, but there’s nowhere for her to sit. And she doesn’t really like our music that much. She whispered it in my ear.

The most important item to pack? Emergen-c. It’s like one of those snake oil cure-alls, only it really works.

I’m getting very excited to see all of you. We will be posting photos and anecdotes and perhaps some food descriptions, in homage to the famous Unwound food tour diary. I ate a lot of good food yesterday to store up.

Our record came out yesterday, and I hope that you will check it out. It’s got a lovely interior booklet (designed by Nick) lyrics, etc. And some songs that we wrote.

Next Stop: CALIFORNIA. Time for some Mamas and Papas.

Buckle up camper.