King of the Road #5: Human Stupidity
“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”
It wasn’t more than two weeks ago that my band and I were to journey to a small town in upstate New York to record a music video. The ride was to take nearly four hours and after picking up the last member in Harlem at 7 a.m., I drove us north along the Palisades Parkway in hopes to arrive at the location by 11 a.m. where the film crew was waiting. About two hours out, due to full bladders and an empty tank, I pulled off the highway at a rest stop. After tending to our duties, we were back on the road; singing along to songs on the radio without a care in the world.
At some point along the ride we crossed a bridge and a voice from the back seat yelled, “I can see the city, shouldn’t we be much further away from it?” Annoyed at having to take a break from singing a chorus of “The Sweater Song”, I replied with something along the lines of, “Nah, the city is huge. Sit back and relax and let the GPS do its thing.” Well, before long we saw a sign saying “Welcome to the Bronx” and it was clear at this point something terribly wrong had occurred.
As it turns out, while at the rest stop I had somehow reversed our direction so that the GPS was navigating us back to Harlem. The only way I can think that this occurred is that I must have hit a button while checking a text message, thus changing the destination. The kicker is that I didn’t recognize we were traveling in the wrong direction until we reached the Bronx. Frustrated beyond belief, I hit the steering wheel and yelled, “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done!” Then a voice inside my head reminded me that this was not the stupidest thing I’ve ever done, in fact it was from it. There and then the inspiration for this month’s post occurred. My friends – I swallow my pride and present to you, idiotic encounters of the road.
Stupid Act #1: God Only Knows, SC
I was on a solo tour of the South and following a show one night I found myself in the living room of a couple who were gracious enough to let me crash on their couch. Like so often the case when crashing at someone’s place, we stayed up late and got drunk. Sometime during the course of our conversation it had come up that some nights when I have no couch to crash on, I sleep in the back of my van. Mortified at this notion, the kind hearted couple pleaded that I get protection! And no, they weren’t talking about contraception. For they felt that sleeping in the van alone without some sort of weapon was very dangerous. Of course, my drunk mind thought, I need a weapon! If a robber were to break into the van at night while I slept how was I to protect myself? With a pellet gun of course! Sound line of reasoning right? Let me just be clear and say this was many years ago, when I was a little less bright.
So the following day I drove to a sporting goods store and bought myself a nice new matte black Colt pellet gun that looked nearly identical to a real firearm. I loaded my gat with the CO2 cartridge and placed it snug in my glove compartment where it would patiently wait until its day of duty. While buying the pellet gun for protection was incredibly stupid in its own right, it is actually not the stupid act I am referring to here in this entry. No, it gets more idiotic.
Fast forward one week. Before a show in Orlando, FL I stopped at the airport to pick up my dear friend Eric, who was to join me for the remainder of the tour playing his own music solo. (He’s got a great band called Fax Holiday, check them out!) We worked our way North playing shows every night. After about a week or so, we had a night off somewhere in South Carolina. Most of the day we spent on a gorgeous beach and as the sun set over the blue waters, we decided to find a Walmart parking lot in which to sleep at for the night (If you recall from a previous post, Walmart is the only place I know of that allows you to park and sleep in your vehicle overnight). Although it was a tight squeeze, Eric and I slept in the back bunk together for most of this tour; a feat you can only endure with your closest and least obnoxious friends.
After finishing off a box of cheap wine we had conveniently bought at Walmart, Eric and I got the grand idea to perform target practice using the pellet gun that had yet to be fired. After flipping a shopping cart on its side, we got some empty beer bottles out of a trash can, lined them up on top of the cart and walked 15 or so paces back. There, under the flicker of the fluorescent street lights, in the middle of a Walmart parking lot somewhere South of North Carolina, we shot at empty beer bottles like two drunken outlaws from a Sergio Leone film while twilight shoppers wheeled their carts to and from the Walmart entrance.
Stupid Act #2: Lincoln, NE
It was during a cross country solo tour the first time I played Lincoln, NE. The show was at a really cool bar called Bodega’s Alley where the legendary blues Harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite got his start. I met many wonderful people that night; the other bands on the bill were great and the overall scene was very welcoming to a stranger like myself. One of the artists who played that night had an ambulance that she had converted into an awesome tour vehicle and after the show about five or six of us sat in the back drinking beer and hanging out. The following morning I was to play a Daytrotter session, a music studio that records bands and then streams the live performances for their listeners, then would continue on to play a show in Chicago later that night.
In preparation for tour, I always have a notebook where I list the itinerary along with the approximate drive time between each city as a means to make sure I allot myself enough time to get from show to show. The address I had written down for Daytrotter required a short one hour drive from where I currently was. My plan was to spend the night in Lincoln, wake up at 9 a.m. and get there in plenty of time for my session at 11 a.m. Easy business. No problem.
While in the back of the ambulance having a great time with my new friends, I got a phone call from the engineer at Daytrotter confirming I’d be ready to rock in the morning. I assured him I’d be ready to go and that I would arrive there 30 minutes prior to my performance. He said that was great and someone would be waiting for me at their studio and then referred to the address. I scratched my head and read to him the address I had written down. With a chuckle he replied, “No, I’m not sure where that is, but I can assure you that’s not where our studio is located.” “Right. See you in the morning!” I replied. After hanging up I quickly checked my GPS to see how long the drive time was to the actual location. My stomach sank. Seven hours!!!! In a frantic rush I said goodbye to my new friends, jumped out of the ambulance, got in my van and drove off. Ok, I thought, It’s now 3 a.m., if I drive straight through the night I will get there on time. So that’s what I did, only stopping for fuel and coffee. I arrived at the Daytrotter studios with 15 minutes to spare. My hands shook as the caffeine battled with the exhaustion in both my head and in my gut. I poured some whiskey into my coffee cup while giving myself a pep talk. You can sleep later, right now you must suck it up, carry yourself up those steps and play your ass off! I sat in the studio chair, drank down the whiskey and played my set exhausted, hung over, buzzed and a bit delirious. (If you feel so inclined, go check the performance out on their site and see if you can tell.) Following the session, I said my goodbyes and found myself a rest stop off the highway, crawled in the back to my bunk and was fast asleep in minutes.
I wish I could say that the list of stupid acts I have committed on tour only consist of the ones I have told here, but sadly this is not true. These are simply the first ones that come to mind. In reality there are many more. Hell, probably enough to fill a whole book and perhaps someday I shall write that book. But for now I’ll look back and laugh at all the screw ups, mistakes and bad choices I’ve made out there on the road and be grateful that I remain intact enough, both in body and in mind, to tell it.