The other night I couldn’t sleep. Aside from worrying about the state of the world I wondered what if anything I’d accomplished in the last few months. My life has been in stasis, moving in slow motion. There was sinusitis and tendonitis (the doctor called it tennis elbow but I know the truth – it was the dreaded lesser-known, not-so-glamorous “shoveler”s elbow”.) Waiting and meeting with publishers for my memoir which at this point I really think I’ll likely go ahead and put out myself – hey, at least I’ll get the cover right.
I did a house concert or two, traveled to Canada to be artist in residence at a university. Played songs at some tribute shows: a country show at Kate Jacobs’ bookstore in Hoboken, the Gene Clark show at Cutting Room; said goodbye to Greg Trooper at a memorial at St. Marks Church. Did a benefit concert for the local library at a new cafe in our town. Drank wine, poured beer, listened to other people’s problems across the bar. Helped Eric with some guitar, piano and vocals for his album and made progress on my own record too. Saw Bryan Ferry perform.
But as I sat under a blanket with my notebook and a cup of peppermint tea, it dawned on me that I’ve been operating under a heavy burden, and that nothing would flow, nothing would really progress until I got it over with and moved on.
I need to spend my Southwest Airlines voucher.
It was already stressing me out before the United Airlines fiasco, where a whole planeload of passengers turned their noses up at $800 flight vouchers, preferring to fly to…Kentucky. Free money it’s not. More like an internship for Southwest – as I’ve scoured the flight routes and schedules, looking for the magical getaway that will make me feel like I’ve been sufficiently rewarded for giving up my seat on a flight from San Francisco to New York last May, I’ve practically gained enough knowledge to – if not fly the plane, at least stand at the end of an airstrip in a fluorescent jumpsuit waving a couple of flags – did you know there are no direct flights from our local airport, Albany, to anywhere anyone would ever want to go?
New York City’s LaGuardia is a mere two hours and change away, but a day’s parking is twenty dollars, so that puts the trip over-budget before I’ve even bought a four dollar bottle of water in the airport. Newark has Southwest, and cheap parking, but the direct flights to anywhere except hubs like Baltimore and Chicago are few, and I stopped doing connecting flights years ago, unless they are absolutely necessary and remember – this is supposed to be a fun, free getaway.
Early on in my planning, I promised myself this one had to be a pleasure trip: no gigs. It had to be a trip I wouldn’t usually take. The names of places swam in front of me: Mexico City! New Orleans! Albuquerque? Miami!
But the months went by and I couldn’t commit. I don’t know how to take a vacation. The voucher should come with a personality transplant, one that would let me get a spray tan, squeeze into a cheap sundress and strappy sandals and take off for a weekend in Vegas. Only I’d have to fly through Baltimore to get there.
How about New Orleans? I could almost justify it as musical research – that’s right, I thought, I can see myself making that long-awaited foray into ragtime! Trombone Shorty might have a free afternoon to lay down some horns on a new song or two…or maybe I could soak up the atmosphere that will inspire a musical version of Interview With The Vampire? (Not surprisingly, it already exists – 2006’s Lestat, with words and music by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.)
Mexico City is my dream vacation destination, but did I want to invest the time into figuring out where to stay, what to see and do, and most importantly where to eat? This sort of pressure was taking any aspect of fun away, so even though the airfare was within reach with my voucher, the months went by while I waffled.
Twice I booked flights and cancelled them – that’s the thing about Southwest, they never penalize you for changing your mind. It’s hell for a worried, reluctant spontaneous traveler like me. If I get offered a show in Alaska, I will figure out the logistics, make the plan, rent a vehicle, book rooms and even a dogsled if necessary to go through with it. I can see the point of it, even if it’s just playing songs for a few people in a bar I wouldn’t hang out in as a customer. But to choose a random place for good times sake? Tell me doctor, how do I go to a town that won’t have a poster with my name on it hanging in a darkened corner or behind a smudged window?
Time was running out. I knew Eric was going to the UK in May (Southwest doesn’t fly there). The thought of no gigs was weighing on me almost as much as the voucher. I really want to have a new album out before I do a whole lot of shows but that’s not going to happen until late this year/early next. But – what about Texas? I went last year but haven’t done a little run of my own shows there in a decade. I found out Southwest has two direct flights a day from Newark to Austin. I got in touch with some clubs and booked gigs (I’m making this sound a lot easier than it really was, in the case of Austin at least), with a night or two off to do something fun or spontaneous. I mailed some posters.
I’m almost free.