“Yippee! I’m on the road!” I want to shout as I pull out of the driveway and head along dark country roads to the NY State Thruway and down to Newark Airport. I’ve booked a small run of shows, shipped merchandise, practiced, packed two guitars and clothes. I’ve said goodbye to Eric, covered my shifts at the bookstore/bar. This is what it’s all about I think. It’s five in the morning and I’m on the road – yippee.
Holy shit I’m on the road, I think as I sit in truck traffic on I-95 trying to get to Newark Airport. Why didn’t I leave at 4 AM to get to Newark? I had to stop and pull over to tape up the passenger side window of the Yukon – it’s been slipping down into the door panel and I haven’t had time to get it fixed. Be calm.
I’m tuned in to WFMU and I hear a young guy singing who sounds an awful lot like Eric. Huh – I’ll have to tell Eric, I think. Then it feels like Eric is in the truck with me and I realize this is one of Eric’s records. It makes me cry to hear a twenty-something Eric sing a song I don’t think I’ve ever heard before as the sun comes up over the semi tractor-trailers and fuel tanks and New York City in the distance. I’m on the road.
Things are heightened out here. “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road,” said everybody’s traveling buddy Jack Kerouac.
I land in Chicago and it dawns on me as it always dawns on me around about the time I pick up a rental car the crazy freedom afforded to anyone walking around with a credit card and driver’s license. I go up and down rows of brand new cars in a deserted parking garage at Midway Airport, looking for a Ford Fiesta. The hardest part of doing this job as a person over fifty-something is: I can’t see half the time. Reading stuff, finding stuff – it’s on and off with the glasses, constantly. The thought that I can be hurtling through the streets of Chicago in a brand new car if only I can find it is a bracing one. So much responsibility.
And then there’s the discs that will sit in boxes at home if I don’t go out and play. Fingers crossed my merchandise showed up at the friend’s office I shipped to. When I reconnect with those records with my picture on the cover, my songs, my words, i will be…whole? I don’t know how people take vacations in strange lands, I only go places where I’m waiting for me at the other end.
I drive up one of those endless Chicago streets to Oak Park – I’ve always heard of the Write Inn as a cool place to stay so I’ve decided to check in there for the night. First I find an incredible Vietnamese place to eat lunch – the spring rolls seem like the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. I love all the Oak Park architecture and it’s a warm, sunny day – in other words I wonder why I’ve never seriously considered living here. (in the recesses of my mind is the coldest day/night of my life catching a bus on Fullerton in sub-sub-zero temperature, then trying to sleep in my daughter’s apartment that didn’t feel much warmer – that forever puts paid to any real possibility of a life in Chicago).
The Write Inn doesn’t have my reservation & it takes a while to check in. Kind of old-fashioned, a fax machine is even mentioned and then actually used. I find a pick for my show in the local weekly Chicago Reader, still in print, a stack of them in the lobby – I want to hold up my picture and say “but, but I’m in the paper!” I manage to get checked in and take a nap. Then I pick up my merch and borrow an amp from Rob Brookman who brought me to the city last August for the Bucktown Arts Fest. I have so many angels in Chicago, people who look out for me. It has always felt like one of my places.
The show at Burlington Bar is late, but the bartender is nice & so’s the soundman. The room sounds really good and people are there for me. I alternate between oh my god do I remember how to do this onstage & blissful moments. Afterwards I hang out with friends and then set off for Oak Park, realizing half the way there that I’ve left my box of merch at the bar. Turn around and drive back, happy I had my wits about me enough to not completely forget as they don’t open unti seven PM and I’ll be in Rockford tomorrow. A lot to keep track of all alone – two months off and i feel like an amateur again, making amateur mistakes…
Rockford isn’t far so I get to stop off along the way and check out a thrift store and huge deli. I’ve learned on the road to just enjoy eating when there’s time because there’s never time when you’re supposed to be eating (ie dinner time). That’s when you’ll be lucky to be eating cheese cubes and trying not to choke on handfuls of tortilla chips.
I came to Rockford to play a gig in October 2016 that so happened to be on the night of a key Cubs in the World Series game. I liked the town so much though, and it was sweet of Michael Whyte who set up the last show to arrange a house concert this time so I could play for people. He got Dean from the Waco Brothers to open and it was a swell night. I knew there was a lot to appreciate about this town and I will be back!
Went to drive off in the rental car at 8 AM next morning and realized I’d left my phone behind. Like I said, amateur mistakes. Got the phone and drove back to Midway in Chicago, The rental return woman said “Come see me in the blue kiosk for your receipt” after checking the car in. Blue kiosk, blue kiosk – I’m dragging two guitars and a suitcase around the parking garage again! I ask a mechanic for help – I could just give up on getting a receipt but…we find a minivan (blue) idling in a parking space, the window rolls down and the rental return woman is lounging in the back seat talking on the phone – “here you go!” She hands me the receipt through the minivan window. Is Kiosk the name of a minivan I wonder? Ah, it’s a mobile kiosk I say and we all laugh.
In the airport I pass through security and go to put on my glasses to look for somewhere to eat before my flight to Minneapolis and remember I left them in the ladies room. Back out and through security again. I would’ve driven to MN but the cost of returning the car there was prohibitively expensive…and that drive takes forever without Nash Kato along (see previous post). I didn’t lose my glasses and Southwest doesn’t charge for that second bag so now I’m turning a profit is how I have to look at these things.
Dylan Hicks picks me up at the airport in Minn. He’s hosting a house concert at his place and playing a set too – I really like Dylan’s music so it’s a treat. It’s a cool old house just like you want to see in the land of the Mary Tyler Moore show – I always forget how much I like this town until I’m actually in it. We do a slightly awkward version of the Deal with Dylan on piano and me holding the mic – I might be looking for a way to not lug guitars around but the truth is I love them and don’t feel like myself on stage without one. I finish with American Girl cause it’s Tom Petty’s birthday even though I’ve never played the song solo before, Dylan helps by strumming another guitar. It was really a fun night and I enjoyed seeing old friends and confirming there are people in this town who like my stuff, it just takes work to smoke them out.
Nothing goes wrong on the next flight, to Winnipeg, in fact the Delta flight attendants were wonderful (“We want to make this your best flight EVER!” made me laugh out loud) and I was enthralled by an Andre Leon Talley documentary in the inflight entertainment. I was on a travel high – a night off in a nice hotel after three good shows with one more show coming – until I realized my Gibson J45 acoustic guitar had been very badly damaged in transit. Like somebody stomped on it or took a claw hammer to the sides. It’s sickening to see – this guitar is like a third arm or something to me, I mean I have spent so much time with it and haven’t played a gig without it since…2004? And here I was enjoying Winnipeg and being in Canada so much.
The Canadians were nothing but kind to me – from the couple of luthiers I called in desperation to the Long & McQuade staff who helped set me up with a loaner J45. Stu Reid, my house concert host, put up with my ravings and fretting (not the fingers-on kind but mental) while he chopped vegetables for the snack table – I can’t get over the generosity of people hosting music in their own homes but then we’ve done it ourselves too and part of the joy is seeing your home turned into a club for a few hours: seeing people hanging out, taking their seats, clapping and singing along and discovering a new song or artist and you feel like you helped make that happen – it’s something positive you can do in the world that brings people together. Thank you all my hosts/hostesses!
A nice guy named John McKinnon opened the show and played the sweetest song called University of Song inspired by the show Eric and I played in this same living room five years ago. I was able to forget about my guitar woes most of the time and left Winnipeg early the next morning thinking Canadians are just the best. Decency and good manners go a long way – now more than ever.
I watched the Robin Williams documentary on the flight to Newark – one of those “you had to be there” comics I couldn’t explain to Eric so I knew I’d never watch the movie at home. The film just got sadder and sadder as it went along. I’d gone through immigration changing planes in Toronto so it was quick getting to baggage claim in Newark. I stood by the carousel and watched an Air Canada employee delicately carrying my acoustic guitar (I’d had no choice but to check it again – I was carrying on the 12 string in a soft case). He set it down so gently and I thanked him. “Of course, of course!” he said. “My nephew plays. Very important.” He would’ve been the ninth or tenth Canadian I hugged in the last twenty four hours but I didn’t want to frighten him.
Now I’m home getting ready to go away again in a few days. The Gibson is on the top of a mountain near Woodstock, being repaired by an acoustic instrument whiz. He thinks it will recover but it might take a while. I picked up a budget acoustic guitar – something I can bear slinging around on a flight or two or twenty if it works out okay. A Godin – It’s made in…Canada.
PS – I just heard that I will be reimbursed for the guitar that was badly damaged on my flight to Winnipeg! Seems that:
When any portion of a passenger's journey involves international travel, liability for loss is governed by an International Treaty known as the Montreal Convention and is applicable to the airlines of those countries that have ratified it.
In a few days I’ll be at a song camp in Michigan, and then a few days after that playing in the UK. Yeah, on the road again! Good lord, on the left side of the road. To be extra uncool, I’ll quote ole Jean-Louis Kérouac again: “I have nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.”
Bring your confusion to match.
- Thu – Sun Nov 1 – 4 Harbor Springs MI Springfed Arts songwriting retreat
- Sat 10 Nov Cromer UK Community Center tix
- Wed 14 Nov Manchester UK Gullivers tickets
- Thu 15 Nov Glasgow UK The Hug & Pint tickets
- Fri 16 Nov Edinburgh UK Speakeasy at the Voodoo Rooms tix
- Sat 17 Nov Durham UK Old Cinema Launderette tix
- Sun 18 Nov Hull UK St. John’s Hotel tickets
- Thu 22 Nov Worcester UK Marrs Bar tickets
- Fri 23 Nov London UK Betsey Trotwood tix
- Sat 24 Nov Chichester UK Emsworth Sport & Social Club tickets
- Sun 25 Nov Folkestone UK Lime Bar Cafe tickets