Well, Little League was no fun that’s for sure. It was great getting out into the world and off that Walmart shelf – jeez, it’s boring in there, if I was a real sports bag I’d be in Dick’s or even the big show Sports Authority. But, anyway, this kid’s parents bought me and stuffed me full of bats and gloves, brought me out to the field one Saturday and I ended up getting kicked around by a lot of fifth graders. At the end of the day, we’re back home, some dump called Catskill and the boy was just writing his name on me with a white marker when his Dad said “Stop! That bag’s a piece of shit, Timmy – we’re taking it back to Walmart right now.”
Okay, so I’m sitting there all quiet again on the Walmart shelf with those sad waist pouches and the rolling suitcases who think they’re something and a tired-looking lady comes by with a guitar stand. She pulls me down off the shelf and tries me out. Seems like the stand fits okay cause next thing I know we’re out of there.
At first I was thinking my new life was going to be a piece of cake – just this chick, a guitar stand, probably some clothes and other girly stuff, maybe a few CDs and some lame coffeehouses every night (how does a Walmart nylon sports bag know this stuff? We hang out sometimes, me and the CD selection, and I hear stories – I know what’s what). Anyways, I figure I’m set, probably get to hit a few festivals, breathe some fresh air, hang out with the Martins and Taylors – you know, a higher class of case.
But then I see him – what, this broad’s married? And he’s packing up equipment: six guitars, two amps, a laptop, keyboard, pedals, cables. I start worrying and then here it comes, he picks me up and asks the tired lady “Is this the best you could find?” She says I was the biggest one she could find and I puff up with pride but he says, “Looks like a piece of crap to me.” “I know,” she says. “It even looks used – see, there’s a kid’s name half-written here.” He harumphs and starts loading me up with guitar stands and hardware until I’m straining at the seams. This is not going to be an easy ride.
First night: Asbury Park – I knew that’s where we were headed cause these two clowns kept talking about “the Boss” the whole van ride. First though they drove to Philadelphia – I heard swearing and shouting about wrong turns and stupid one way streets. They left me and the heavy stuff in the van when they went into a radio station there (but the precious guitars all got brought in, seems they’re too valuable to be left sitting in a Philly parking lot) and when they came back kept talking about Ian Hunter and how they’d chatted with him and what a nice guy and then they were listening to a radio show they’d taped and this other nice guy Dan Reed who’d interviewed them and was playing songs from their new album. The signal faded out and then they were dragging me across a sidewalk and into a rock club. I think things went well, they were in high spirits when they left, though apparently “the Boss” didn’t show up.
Second night: Philadelphia – I knew we were back there cause they kept cursing about wrong turns and stupid one way streets and traffic. The load in was horrific, a narrow very steep set of stairs, I was sure they’d drop me as they heaved all this stuff up from the alleyway. I nestled in the dressing room next to a strange double bed – you don’t see that too often apparently – and they squeezed into some polyester stage clothes and played an energetic early set. An ill-tempered roadie started shoving things around after they’d packed up, seems there was a late show of some dude from the 80’s and 90’s and his crew of one was apopletic about the stairs and the load in. The lady and guy worked like a couple of navvies hiking me and all their other stuff out of there, still wearing their fancy clothes. They’d had such a nice time playing they didn’t even seem to mind that much.
Third night: Boston – Man it was a long drive today and the lady and guy were cursing Mapquest and saying how they had to get GPS like they’d had in Europe. But we got there and they really hustled getting everything into this bar/club/restaurant and set up for another early show. I got stuck back in the kitchen during the show but I heard a lot of laughing and clapping and some good loud guitar music. I felt happy for “the kids” as I’m starting to think of them. They had friends there who helped load up the van.
Fourth night: Cape Cod – A sunny Sept. day from what I could see and high spirits all around. We drove over a big bridge out to Cape Cod, the lady kept saying “I never knew how beautiful it was!” There was an old beach mansion with grey shingles and some nice people roasting a pig and making toasts while kids ran around, reminding me I could be spending the weekend in a sandlot somewhere. I felt pretty darn lucky, and after they played a set in the drawing room with people sitting on fancy antique chairs and clapping and drinking wine, I got to sleep on the drawing room floor in the beach mansion which was a change from being cooped up in the van over night.
Fifth night: Home – I’m a little worried. I’ve heard them talking about replacing me, or at least shortening my straps. Apparently I’m making the load out more difficult. They’re home for a day repairing things, restocking with merchandise, booking other shows. At one point I heard them say they were going over to Walmart to pick up some phones with GPS – “We’ve got to do it,” they said. I sat real quiet with the stands inside me, looking like the best bag I could be, praying they wouldn’t take me back there.
Sixth night: DC – The weather was windy and threatening big storms further south; it was pouring when the guy and lady were putting everything back in the van. They were looking forward to playing in DC, the club is one they like a lot, the Black Cat. You could tell it was a good place cause people who worked there even came out to help us and the equipment onto the stage. I sat in the freight elevator with some old monitor wedges during the show: they told me this was one of those big mythical-type rock clubs you only hear about but rarely see in these days of house concerts and playing in restaurants. The turnout was a little slimmer than other times the couple played there, maybe the threat of tornadoes, and the lady seemed a little down. Seems her older brother used to live in Virginia and he’d never missed a DC show, from the time she was back in a group…but they’d played pretty well and the Black Cat people were super-professional and the soundman had been great and the hug from John who’d done their album cover design had sure helped.
Seventh night – Raleigh. Flagging a little now, those two. He’s feeling under the weather and her back is killing her from the hotel bed. We get a late start and they spend most of the drive respectively trying to figure out their new phones. At one point they put on their album and I think they must be pretty full of themselves but they start talking about parts of this song and that and how they could play them better. Huh. The record sounds pretty good to me, even while I’m lying in the back seat up against a tub of merchandise. I recognize the tub from Aisle 6, but she acts like we never met. The GPS comes on but the battery dies just as they’re navigating rush hour traffic and much cursing ensues.
The club smells like a sewer and the soundman, who remembers them from last time and says how happy he is to see them, stands there cheerily leaning against a wall while they carry armload after load of equipment down a long hallway. They had a good time there two years ago and a decent crowd but this time it’s a pretty sorry turnout, in spite of numerous emails and messages they’d had from people who were “really looking forward to it” . They have friends to stay with, leave the precious guitars with us lowly cases out in the van in the driveway overnight and drive off from Raleigh vowing not to bother coming back. In fact they swear it’s the last time they’re going south of Washington DC. That makes me a little sad because I’ve always heard about barbq and was looking forward to at least getting to smell the smoke and see the signs.
Seventh night – Columbia, SC. They keep saying they don’t know what to expect, but when they arrive at the club that looks like a concrete bunker from outside two nice men come out and help carry me and everything else in the van in. The lady and guy relax a little and Woody, who convinced them to come play in the town, makes them feel like it was worthwhile even if he is the only one to show up for the gig.
But as they sit outside eating big sandwiches all kinds of people start arriving: young ones with beards and glasses and older ones with beards and glasses and even some women. I’m inside the office but I hear a big loud voice shout “Amy!” Seems the lady’s brother moved from Virginia to Charleston, South Carolina and he’s come for the gig so they know everything’s going to be fine. And it is – afterwards, there’s a whole crowd helping to load up the van and they’re exchanging albums and high-fiving and hugging and Amy and Eric (I’ve finally figured out there names by this point) celebrate by going to a Waffle House. I see the sign from down on the van floor and think I must be in heaven.
The whole way “back home” they play stuff they bought at the record store where Woody works: Lynyrd Skynyrd and Guess Who, The Mamas and Papas, Tom Petty and a Destroyer album that doesn’t make the cut. It’s a long drive but morale is good. They unload the van and I’m thinking how great it’s going to be on the next leg of the tour, when we all go out wes-
Wait, what’s going on? He’s taking all the stands out. She’s saying she thinks she can fold me up just like when she bought me and “where’s that *#&ing receipt?” take me back to Walmart. Seems they’ve decided I’m just not good enough for their little two-bit circus. She shoves me in a plastic bag and without even a thank you or it’s been fun, hands me to the clerk in Walmart Customer Service.
“Didn’t work out for you?” the clerk asks, smiling.
“This bag’s just too big to carry!” the lady Amy says with a fake grin. I want to scream that I can’t go back out on the shelf, that I’ve seen things out there, but next thing I know I’m sitting alongside the lowly shaving kits and holdalls. A knapsack smirks knowingly.
Still, I wish them well, those kids. They work hard. They make people happy. They’re okay, those two, even if they dumped me.
Now I better try to make myself disappear into this shelf. Hockey season’s gonna be starting soon.