Road head

Tuesday, June 13–St. Paul

It takes us forever to get out of town, predictably. I realize I’ve lost my sweatshirt and my jeans, two essential items. My brother Mike is leaving to move to San Francisco this morning, in order to do a film internship, so farewells abound. My dad helps us strap the luggage carrier to the roof of the car, loans us some sleeping bags.

Outside of Avoca, Iowa, a car with Nevada plates keeps weaving over the lines. As I pass him, Nick tells me the driver looks really out of it, with his mouth hanging open and head lolling back. I want to urge him to pull over for a nap. Until, in the rearview mirror, we see a woman’s head pop up. Road head! After the shock wears off, Nick asks me if I saw the child in the back seat. Hours later, he admits he was joking about that part.

When we pull in St. Paul, home of Nick’s college alma mater and Husker Du, the booker/sound person meets us in the parking lot and says, “Uh, yeah. Tonight’s fucked.” He explains that the bill has been switched last minute, but that he got a local band to open up first, and they’ll bring, like 10 people with them. Turns out the local band has been called an hour earlier, and have valiantly shown up to Save the Night. They rip into a set of high-speed punk, including a rollicking cover of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” The lead singer introduces one song thusly: “This one is for the babies with the big breasts and the beavers. It’s called ‘Cleavage to Beaver.’” They give 100% and are one of the more entertaining bands I’ve seen in a while. Their ten friends, as promised, sing along and fist pump. Someone out of sight keeps screaming at them, “You’re fat!” On my way to the bar, and older gentleman motions to me. His forearms are full of blurred Navy tattoos. He introduces himself as Rocky and gestures for me to sit on his lap. I keep walking.

Afterwards the singer introduces himself as Leo. He then accuses Mike of calling him “Leah.” “No. Like Leo the Lion” he says.

The farther east we go, the more people ask if we know the Dandy Warhols, which is an interesting gauge of a) their popularity or b) the regional perceptions of the “Portland Scene”

We have a very fun show. The punks yell when I introduce a Zombies cover as a Rob Zombie cover. A man in a cowboy hat, dreadlocks, and a POW MIA tshirt tells us he “really appreciates” our music. He seems like he means it, and Nick and he are locked in a handshake staredown for almost a minute. Nick says, “Thanks. We appreciate that.” Stare. The man says, “Well, you should.”

The third band never shows. We unwind with a local beer, a treasure called Premium, or as Brian the other band’s drummer informs us, “Primo.” Mike realizes he has been gauchely ordering it as “Grain Belt” all night, when that’s actually the subtitle–like requesting King of Beers instead of Bud. A man who says he is from Somalia randomly joins our group of friends. At one point he holds a finger aloft and says, “I know one thing. One thing. We are together now, but we will never see each other again.” Everyone pauses to process that in his or her own way, and then we toast in silence. The first band kindly donates their door money to us. They truly are the heroes of the night.

We can’t find a hotel and our friends Jake and Meghan volunteer their place. When we pull up, it’s an enormous castle of a house. Jake says the elderly packrat landlords bought it from the City for $40,000 in the 70’s, with the promise to fix it up. It seems they’ve reneged on the promise. We stay in the top floor, across the street from the St. Paul Cathedral. I go to sleep grateful that we don’t have enough money or success for a pre-arranged hotel, as hanging out with people, strangers and friends alike, is surprisingly the best part of all of this. Money is insulation, and for now, we’re better off without it. The last thing Jake says before he retires, is “Don’t worry—there are no ghosts.”

We wake up as a handsome, shirtless guy comes in, introduces himself as Justin and says he’s the roommate. He is incredibly friendly, not at all put off by the mounds of luggage and gear in his living room. He tells us St. Paul was a notorious gangster enclave, and this very house was a “safe house”, now haunted by the ghost of Mary the prostitute, a woman who saw too much. On the way out we see the landlord’s son, who is drinking beer in a beater pickup parked in the sizeable driveway. He asks if we’re “rocking out” and I spot another man fully passed out behind the steering wheel. It’s just before ten AM. A street cleaner swerves around our Subaru as we pile in for Chicago, leaving us a dry island on a wet street. We’re off.


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