Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Tour Story to End All Tour Stories (Gullible No. 26 - 2005)

We didn't stay in Salt Lake City because there was no reason to stay in Salt Lake City. Being neither great nor a lake, the Great Salt Lake had been a sham. It turned out to be a pit full of triple-briny water pockmarked by floating dead birds with excess corpses marooned on the surrounding rocks, like stray noodles on the side of a day-old soup bowl. As we approached in the van, we were wondering what the smell was (yes, this was coming from six guys who had been traveling in a van for three weeks), and hoping that it would subside by the time we reached where we were going to be swimming. Joke was on us - the place where we thought we'd be swimming was the source of the smell. The Salt Lake expanded, stinking, into the horizon, laying in the dead heat and touching the dome of tangible blue sky. Like the lake, the roads in SLC are wide too, and after the show, we hit them like the crack of a goddamned bat. With only two bands and no one to talk to, the show had flown by. The only people at the show were the other band. They sounded like John Cougar Mellancamp, and sat down while we played, then slowly filed out. It was June, approaching the longest day of the year, and barely even dusk when we left Salt Lake City.
We stopped the van in southern Wyoming and woke up in a cowboy motel. Dusty ground, huge fucking sky and awesome old Native American patterns painted on the outside of the motel. We slept until fifteen minutes before checkout, the last guests to leave, stealing to the van in groups of two, passing impatient cleaning ladies, missing last call for fast-food breakfast and settling for those awful veggie burgers at Burger King.
On blacktop, in a metal box, under the sun, the heat will consume you. Get used to it; there is nothing else to do. Complaining will only further agitate those around you, so just ditch the t-shirt, get down to your boxers or your Daisy Dude cut-off Dickies, and put your feet up on the dash. Let that breeze get up there.
As we got through Colorado, the songs on the radio got better. The airwaves were blessed with consistently good classic rock that everyone could agree on; we heard plenty of CCR, while Free and America were but a distant memory. The people of Colorado are probably sick of "Lodi," but that's not the one that they play on the radio where I'm from, and you'll probably never have to hear that .38 Special song where even the guitar solo has a Southern accent.
We got to Denver in the middle of rush hour. The show was at the High Life House in Colorado Springs, about an hour away, and we hoped for it to be a bit of a taste of home. In Richmond, a forty of High Life is $1.59, and the punks save their pennies accordingly. I remember taking my skateboard on a beer run for a bunch of guys and wheeling nine forties of The Champagne of Beers up to the gas station counter saying “I suuure am thirsty!” to a cheering crowd of ghetto dwellers, scratch-off lovers and rent-a-cops, then wheeling the hooch around the corner to a porch full of psyched-up underage house-show goers. And so things often went in Richmond, on the weekend or on either of the days in between. The most you would be getting done was seeing how loud your voice echoed when you screamed into your own void of alcohol and apathy, but damn if it wasn't fun.

Colorado is distinct, a beautiful state, and moods were high, despite the heat. The stop and go traffic was going to lead us somewhere good, as long as that crazy-looking burly trucker with the flatbed full of barrels didn't kill us.
Why was he inching forward in the next lane, grinning at us behind those shades? Could he see into the van? Was he making eye contact?
"What are you guys doing?"
Mike was riding shottie.
"We're on tour. We're from Virginia."
"No kiddin'. How many guys you got in there?"
Traffic began to move a little. The flatbed fell back as our lane sped up. Soon the truck was back next to us. You could see industrial Denver through the cab’s windows and the slatted walls on the bed of the truck.
"Six. We got six guys."
"You guys must be some hot cookies!"
Eww! I knew he had some sort of a look on his face. But Mike was nodding and craning his neck while his jaw hung a little loose, looking like a baby bird about to be fed.
Pot cookies. The trucker was offering us pot cookies.
"Well, pull closer!"
The flatbed lurched left at our red van, a sunburned bear's paw full of cookies hanging out of the window. Traffic began to move again and Mike yelled "Quick! Hold me out the window!" to everyone in the back seat. Kirby and Neil pointed Mike the baby bird at the approaching truck while the van rocked. Evan was holding the wheel, watching the road and trying to calculate the distance to the truck.
"Thanks, man!"
The van flew forward, and cookies were distributed among our group. The taste of ginger, brown sugar and finely ground marijuana glowed in my mouth and the cookie was down the hatch before the trucker caught up again. We all waved and grinned at this guy that looked like Santa Claus after one too many journeys down ZZ Top road.
"Have a nice trip! Har har har har!"
The truck passed and the lane next to us was clear.
"What the fuck did he just say? Have a nice TRIP?"
"Well, it just tastes like weed."
"I don't know about this."
Jeff's half-chewed cookie was in his palm. Me and Neil picked it in two and gobbled the softened food, like baby birds would do.
When you eat weed, it takes about an hour to kick in. When it does, you're fucked for the rest of the day. At least. It takes an hour to drive from Denver to Colorado Springs. We parked the van by a large house on an orderly tree-lined suburban street. I opened the side door and went to put my foot down on the curb, but, as I watched, the curb kept getting farther and farther away.
"Heh. Hey guys, I think those cookies are working."
These were still the beginning stages, and we couldn't tell if we were just loopy from spending the afternoon in a hot van. Two minutes later found us sitting in the front reading room of an enormous, well-kept house. I was trying to focus my eyes on a collection of Daniel Pinkwater novels. Chris, the guy who did the show, was at the end of an Alice in Wonderland-style hall that twisted a little as the walls and floor bucked and swayed. He was standing in the kitchen and his voice sounded funny, kinda like the boombox in my old kitchen that played tapes at whatever speed it pleased.
"You guys want some spaghetti?" modulated down the hallway.
Six heads nodded in unison to a guy who seemed to be intent on making us dinner before his batteries ran out.
"So, you guys are on Level-Plane?"
Still slow. Another minute to register.
A couple of months beforehand, we had agreed to do a record with a buzzworthy label. We had nothing to show for it except the adoration of smarmy, messy-haired punk rock hipsters. It was awesome to have more people at our shows, but I couldn't shake the feeling that these were a new generation of the same kids who had made me feel so alienated a couple of years earlier when I didn't have a band.
I was in the sort of spirit where I was able to read people's auras, and I didn't get that kind of feeling from Chris at the High Life House. I liked him from the start, plus he was making us spaghetti. I still couldn't read the Daniel Pinkwater book.
The food did a disappearing trick, and we could hardly wait for round two to boil. Pasta rocks firmly planted in stomach, we filed into the wide, humped street and began hitting a wiffle ball around as cars full of punk rockers arrived and parked, cutting into our playing field and covering second base. Soon there were enough people for a Virginia versus Colorado game, which was a good match even though we couldn't throw the ball straight and Neil ran clear into the curb, landing in the patch of grass by the sidewalk.
In due time, everyone was thirsty, and a beer run was in order. Following my "see as much of each city as possible" policy, I tagged along, hopping in the hatchback of one of the local kids. I had about fifty dollars in my hand from bandmates, show-goers and someone's Dad who had asked for a sixer of something called "Fat Tire."
The liquor store was in the middle of a stretch of low buildings and was staffed by two women. One woman was in her forties, the other well into her sixties, and they were both drunk on the job. When we walked in, the younger woman was screeching something at a guy who was on his way out, with a bulky brown bag tucked under his arm. The older woman stood beyond her, behind the counter and quiet. The store had a low ceiling, musty lights and wood paneling. It was like stepping out of the clear day and into a teenage stoner's basement rec-room. Both clerks wielded brownish, creamy cocktails, complete with ice cubes.
I've been in my fair share of liquor stores across the forty-eight contiguous, but I can't say that I've ever dealt with a visibly drunk liquor store clerk. You'd think that the job would lend itself to this kind of behavior, but maybe I'm projecting. One of the regulars at my old job worked in the ABC store up the street. She quit after a few months, saying that it was just too depressing seeing the same people in there every day. Maybe the job would act as a deterrent, kind of like how the food from my old bakery job turns my stomach. I dunno, but I'm pretty sure that if I also had worked at a liquor store and you put a cinnamon roll and a pint of bourbon in front of me and said I'd have to do without one or the other for the rest of my life, I'd tell the pastry to take a hike.
I perused the aisles of the store, checking forties off of my list of requests from the folks at the show, and checking out the local cheap beer options. Every city has a cheap forty, and it's the touring band's responsibility to seek out and sample these beers each and every night. Colorado Springs had no Genesee Cream Ale, no Ballantine's. I had six packs, twelve packs and forties under my arm and hitched on my hip like a baby, and I nudged it all onto the counter. I was only halfway through the list.
"Hold on, there's more coming."
"That's what all you men say!"
That would be the younger clerk. Liquor breath confirmed.
"Well then, I'll call you tomorrow, baby."
I turned around and refilled my arms with beer. Wound up spending $43 at that liquor store.
Funny how numbers wind up sticking with you. I remember not being sure of how well we had played and asking Jeff how we had done. He said that it had sounded fine, and that we had sold eight LPs, a solid number for a basement show where at least half of the audience was young enough to not have a record player at home.
Why do I remember $43 and eight LPs and not remember the time leading up to when we played, or even really playing for that matter? I suppose that the only things I could count before we played were the number of beers that I drank, or the number of trips we took to the van to smoke weed. And, if you ask me, if you say you got wrecked and you know exactly how many drinks you had, then you weren't really wrecked.
All that I remember of playing was the little nook to the right of the drum set where the house's boiler was. Chris from the house stood over there along with one or two other kids. Out of the corner of my eye, I could always see the light hitting the tentacles of the boiler that went into the walls and across the ceiling.
It's not unusual to not remember playing, booze or none. Unless something really drastic happens, or, like the Salt Lake City show, the situation is really awkward, I just find myself checking out during the songs, concentrating on the music and going into my own little world.
The people in the basement were loud, and there was a festive atmosphere in the room. I hate to say it, but fun can be rare at a punk show, where, more often than not, the audience is made up of twenty glum boys with their arms crossed, looking at you like you just took away their internet privileges for a whole week. In Colorado Springs, I got the idea that the kids came to every show just for the fun of going to a show, and made a point to make it a good time for all involved. As far as I could tell, it worked.
They made us play an extra song, then started yelling at us to clear out our equipment and make room for a game of naked four-square. We loaded amps down the gravel and broken glass driveway and into the van. Back in the basement, the kids had lined up along a wall, revealing a ten foot X of dirty duct tape, made across the old carpet that covered the floor.
Every time that you lost a round of kickball, you had to take off an article of clothing and get right back in line. The funniest part was being in line, surrounded by a bunch of half-clothed punks, laughing it up, but trying not to bump into each other as the line jostled forward.
Once we were down to our underwear, Neil and I decided to make a trip to the van and enhance the situation with a little grass. It gets cool in the night during a Colorado summer, and I was very aware of this while I was walking across the driveway, dodging broken bottles and shivering when the wind hit my sides while my arms were out for balance. When we got back inside, the game quickly got to the point where everyone that stuck around was naked, and that signified a kind of a stopping point.
"Naked dance party!"
The party charged up the stairs and into the tranquil first floor of the house. Some latecomers sat on the couches by the bathroom, and Kirby was on a chair by the cellar door, face really close to an acoustic guitar, red eyes squinched up and a perplexed look on the rest of his face. Imagine his surprise when the rest of his band charged up the stairs, buck-ass naked and tailed by the rest of the show, buck-ass naked. He set down the guitar and stayed in his chair as a popular dance-punk CD was put on, and thirty-odd naked bodies began gyrating around him.
In the new setting, folks became a little more conscious of their vulnerable, bare skin, and when I got back downstairs from a bout with the grass pipe in someone's bedroom, the party had started to break up. This was for the better, because I was so high that my vision was blurred, lights blotting into the air like when seen through tears. It must have been two in the morning, not too late for a tour sleep schedule, but it had been a long day.
The foyer of the house had a seven-foot-wide bay window on a landing three steps up the staircase, and that's where I spread out my sleeping bag. Kirby and Jeff were on a fold out sofa in the library room and the other guys were upstairs. I took out my contact lenses and began to drift right off. On tour, nothing is as bipolar as your own sleeping bag. Some nights, it's bottomless, and turns the floor into a mattress of its own. Other nights, it scratches, then tells the breeze to chill the sweat on your back when you lay on top.
I loved the window in which I was laying and was half-asleep when I heard the angry squeal of the bedsprings on the pull-out sofa, followed by the syncopated thump of unsteady feet landing on the floor. Yakking noises followed footsteps barreling across the foyer, stopping when the mystery rager tripped on the bottom step and lay on the landing, head on forearms, quietly puking down the stairs.
It was dark in the house, and my vision without contact lenses is pathetic. I couldn't tell who it was laying there four feet away, puking into the early morning, but my last, relaxing thoughts before leaving the night in a haze of marijuana were "Wow, the puking sounds like a burbling brook."
The next morning, there was a pink film of vomit on the hardwood floor. It had scraps of spaghetti in it, looking like cells in a seventh-grade biology slide. Mike came downstairs. I pointed.
"Watch where you step, man."
"Damn CT, was that you?"
"Naw, I heard someone come off the couch in there, but I couldn't see who."
Enter Jeff. I'm sure I wasn't looking all that dapper, but dude was a sight to be seen. He had red eyes behind crooked glasses and even his stubble had bedhead.
"Jeff, did you puke last night?"
You have to ask these questions quietly. No one should be stuck with the blame for such a thing, then maybe have to clean it up off of a relative stranger's floor.
"No. I just passed out."
I could have sworn that the perpetrator had Jeff's dark hair. We gathered our things and were back on the road in a few minutes. We were officially heading back east. No matter how long a tour is, as soon as you pass the halfway mark and start heading home, you begin counting the days until your first day back. No matter how sick of your job you are, no matter how much you hate your ex-girlfriend, you still wanna get home, even if it is just to be sure that your six roommates haven't gotten you evicted.
Last night's debauchery made me conscious of my road worn body, and with the direction set towards home, we took off to the next show with a certain longing. We'd slept clear through fast-food breakfast time again, and were heading towards another Burger King. My body needed the food, but I was none too happy about it. Jeff was sitting in the middle, getting late-morning sun from all directions except up, and I'm pretty sure that he wasn't awake yet. I went to give him a good tourmate pat on the back, and stopped when I saw the pink stains dried to his navy-blue shirt.
"Jeff, you DID throw up!"
"No I didn't!"
I pointed at his shirt and he looked genuinely surprised. God bless him. Hell, God bless all of us for living through this and enjoying every horrible second of it.

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