Monday, August 25, 2008

tour... what goes up must come down...

In Crescent City, we took Uncle Buck into a mechanic shop. On the wall, hanging at a slight angle, dangled a photo calender depicting some partially-nude mechanics holding wrenches, covered in motor oil, each wiping the sweat from their brow. These "mechanics" were of ample bosom, frizzy hair, and big smiles. Our mechanic did not look like this. Main difference here being that our mechanic was not an attractive female wearing a bikini. In fact, he was missing a few front teeth, had two hoop earrrings, and smelled like a dumpster. Not that I could tell what those pin-ups smelled like, but I'm pretty sure they didn't smell like that.

"My name is Bob. How can I help you boys?"

"Our check engine light came on. And there's a horrible rattling sound coming from underneath the car."

We walked outside and he connected a small computer to a hole underneath our steering wheel.

"Hmmm." He shuffled his lips over his gums in a strange sucking maneuver. "Hmmm."

"What's wrong?"

"Looks like your cat's gone."

"My cat?"

"Yeah, your cat."

"I don't own a cat."

"No, your catalytic converter." He paused and huffed. "Are you trying to mess with me?"

"No." At that moment, I noticed a tattoo of a black cat on his left bicep.

Bob moved away from the car. His dumpster stench remained like a sticky yellow cloud.

"That'll cost you.... well..." Again the sucking noise of lips rubbing over toothless gums. "400 dollars, I'll bet."

Well, this was clearly not possible.

"What could we do for twenty dollars?"

He laughed a kind-of disturbing laugh that rattled somewhere deep inside, as if the tar on his lungs were rattling their jail cells and wanted to get coughed up. Right on cue, he lit up a smoke.

"Boys, I'll tell you, when the cat goes, the whole damn thing could just die." He took a drag. "Just sputter off and die."

This presented something of a dilemma. The contract I'd signed with Rent-A-Wreck said we could drive the car no more than 100 miles, and here we were, 1000 miles away, with engine troubles. If anything went wrong, Rent-A-Wreck wouldn't fix it... we'd be on our own.

Bob shrugged and took a drag of his smoke. "If you hear the engine start rattling and screaming, pull over, I guess." And with that sage advice, we headed down the road, speeding onwards, taking the cut-off towards Medford, where we would re-connect with I-5. As the road followed a deep river valley, we had plenty of chances to pull off and dive off cliffs into deep blue river water. The Klamath River I believe? Could be.

Our troubles seemed all behind us. Refreshed and new, we shot northwards, directly into stand-still traffic about an hour South of Portland. After sitting in traffic for an hour or more, pulling our hair and grinding our teeth all the while, we pulled onto some farm roads, taking tips from a gas attendant on the best route to Portland. Using his advice and our own questionable map-reading skills, we crossed into Portland. Several hours to drive 100 miles. Hell, I know people who can run faster than that, while texting and eating a ham sandwich. Ah well, Interstate 5 would prove to be our nemesis later in the trip. But that comes later.

So we pulled into Portland at 11pm, with nowhere to eat but Denny's. We bit the bullet and went there. Maybe a better metaphor would work here? We bit the turd, we bit the stink heap, we bit the bullet while shooting the gun?

One thing I will say about Denny's... they're consistent. I mean, every single piece of food was the same color. Even the vegetables. I have to admire that kind of consistency. It'd be like saying "blah" to every single question during a job interview.

Our waiter was a real hop-to kind of guy, working the graveyard shift at Denny's must've energized him somehow. Either that or he'd taken a handful of speed. He literally hopped around the restaurant, his horn-rimmed glasses slipping down his nose as he zipped about with our glasses of water and metal cups of mayonnaise. Yes, metal cups of mayo. He brought me two of them; nevermind that I hadn't even asked for one. Perhaps he was attempting to underscore the pale pallor-ed grandeur of the place. After all, what better way to garnish a bleached, flavorless meal than with a fistful of mayonnaise?

Aferwards, I felt like somebody had been slapping me for 10 minutes: numb, slightly pained, grimacing. I sat in the backseat while Willis drove.

Next morning, we woke underneath some fantastic Southern Washington forest. Willis had driven us two hours further North while I slept. I must say, waking outdoors to the sunrise... nothing like it. The fresh air soaked my lungs and spilled down my arms and legs. Waking up in the forest, you feel fully energized somehow. Perhaps this only seems remarkable to me because, back at home, simply rising from bed is a half-hour long death struggle involving groans, the snooze button, and a pillow covered in drool.

So from our beds on the forest floor, we rose and drove the 100 miles into Seattle. Hard to say much about that city except all the trees seem to be gone. We arrived with the finest weather imaginable... 70 degrees, sunshine, light breeze. I've seen Seattle when the clouds squat low and sweat all over you. That's no fun. This was better.

We drove to KEXP, a well-known and respected radio station, to play live on-air. Set up our projected drummer, our equipment, and played a respectable set. The DJ, Cheryl Walters, said many nice things about the music, and I didn't disagree, not too much.

Afterwards, we drove to Lake Washington and laid on a dock covered in bird shit. It was really much more enjoyable than it sounds.


That evening, our experiment in touring continued. Seeking an alternative to the bland, smelly, often soulless club scene, we'd sought out alternative venues of all sorts. This evening's show was no exception. As part of Seattle's burgeoning DIY scene, New Crompton seemed the perfect venue for our slightly off-kiter stage show.

For weeks, folks had been asking us the address of the venue. Since New Crompton is a house venue, they don't want to give out their address, which poses something of a dilemma for a touring band. Should we ignore their wishes and advertise the show as we would normally? Or keep the address secret and risk not having anybody come to our show? In the end, we didn't advertise the address, and that didn't really work out too well.

Also, we played after 3 different local acts. A curly-haired smiling fellow named Benjamin Blake had biked up from Olympia, just for the show. Kind of impressive.

So we watched the show, and the poor girl who actually lived in New Crompton was yawning the whole time. I don't think she knew there would be a show that night, and she looked like she'd had a very long day.

So the groups played, everyone was really nice and cool. Then our turn... and -- poof -- everybody gone. I guess that's what happens when an unknown touring band plays after 3 local acts. Quick note to bookers, DIY or otherwise... this is not the best way to ensure a warm welcome for a touring band.

We played anyhow, for 3 people. Rough. Benjamin Blake was laying on the floor during our set. He had nice things to say. Almost immediately after we finished, the girl who lived in New Crompton stood and announced she was going to bed.

So we left and stayed with our friend Neil, who runs Unseen Worlds with Tommy. We drank and drank and listened to that David Crosby album, "If I Could Only Remember My Name." The album title felt apt as I drank myself into a stupor, slouching into Neil's couch until my head had fallen between the cushions.

Next morning, woke on Neil's small patch of lawn. I'd somehow made it out back and slept outdoors yet again, drinking in the pacific northwest morning air. Soul food, that air is.

Back into the van and zipped down interstate 5, with smooth driving and only 2 different "check engine" lights flashing. Then Portland again. Traffic came to a complete standstill about an hour north of Portland. We pursued a few alternative routes, Willis and I arguing over the correct course of action. In the end, he was right. We pulled into Portland after a mere 4 hour delay. Stopped for some amazing coffee at Stumptown and a burrito at 11th and Hawthorne. Then further down the road.

That evening, we limped our way across Oregon and slept alongside the (former) Shasta Lake. I say former because, well, it just wasn't there. We pulled to our campsite, eager for a midnight swim under the moon, but the damn lake was completely dry, at least where we were. So I imagined the moonlight glittering off dark waters and fell asleep to the night's gentle hum.

Woke the next morning and found a spot further up the road where we could bathe. A marina set about 200 feet too high on the shore. I suppose water difficulties have hit Shasta in a bad way. We swam and lathered up with our Dr. Bronner's and continued down I-5. After several burritos from Taco Bell and around a gallon of coffee, we pulled into Los Angeles. Success! Our rattling rent-a-wreck, the blue turd, had pulled through. That evening, we feasted on burritos and drank ourselves silly in a swarm of L.A. yuppies at some swank bar where Chris' friend was celebrating her birthday. We drank them down.

Next day, returned the car to rent-a-wreck, careful to get the hell out of there quickly. We had put 3,000 miles on the car and didn't want our asshole-ish desk clerk there to notice. So we drove Uncle Buck (which Chris had been nice enough to pick up for us) and dropped the blue turd and that was that. We played that evening in Chris' backyard after a fabulous day at Manhattan Beach. The show felt good and complete and we played with our new friends in the band called Blanket.

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