Occasionally you will read about someone running into a burning building to save someone or something from perishing in the fire. When asked later what was going through their mind at the time the person usually says that they didn’t really think about it, they were just acting on impulse.
The night I jumped into the bonfire I knew why it had to be done. There was a definite ethos in place shaped by an evening’s worth of heavy drunken philosophy fueled by apple wine, Irish whiskey and a type of fusion that is the result of D.B. Rouse and myself interacting in close proximity.
It’s the beginning of autumn 2008. I’m still living in Fish Creek, Wisconsin. I’m still hooked on the idea that I’ll carve out some sort of career as a musician. I drag my wife and my guitar down to the weekly “Songwriter Showcase” aka open mic in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.
I walk into the cramped cafe where the music has already begun. I’m late again. This scruffy looking tall and lanky kid is folking it up to the rafters over in the little corner that serves as the stage. There’s no list. There’s never a list because it’s usually the same ten to twelve people playing the same three to four songs. The guy who hosts it just throws you up whenever he thinks would be appropriate.
I settle in toward the back and buy a beer at the counter while exchanging nods with a few friends. Silent hellos as to not interrupt whoever’s fifteen minutes of whatever this is we’re doing. At this point in my music career I’ve started tuning most everything out and just waiting my turn, like the embittered and self-indulgent little bastard I’d become. I don’t have any frame of reference when the woman who owns the building and frequents this event, Christie, walks up to me and says “This guy’s really good. You two should write something together. I think you’d work well together.”
I say something agreeable and generic like “Cool.” or the equally ubiquitous “Okay.” My internal response is “Don’t tell me who I’d get along with. You don’t know my process. Who the hell is this guy anyway? I’ve never seen him before. You guys are all just excited because it’s finally a new voice at this Groundhog’s Day of a music night.”
My wife interrupts the vicious cycle in my head. Perhaps the most helpful thing she does without knowing it is to knock the angry little rat in my brain off of the hamster wheel of bitterness and self hate from time to time. “I think I went to highschool with this guy.” she tells me.
Great. Now I’m going to have to hang out with someone neither of us really like all that much just because they grew up in the same school district. How much longer is he going to be up there? When will it be my turn so I can self-righteously plow through three songs and get back to being disengaged?
Before his last song the new guy starts telling a story. I love this kind of thing when John Prine or Arlo Guthrie do it. It’s not that surprising that I put music way up on a back shelf to pursue comedy when you consider how much more I was engaged by the songwriters I idolized telling funny stories than I was by their songs.
Usually when someone less seasoned than say Guy Clark or Townes Van Zandt does it I end up shaking my head at a poorly related anecdote. Or worse yet is the lengthy explanation of what the lyrics of the song you’re about to play would relate had they been written properly.
Instead this guy weaves a tale about a drowning in the river near the college town of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. In Wisconsin there are at least three universities I can think of that are situated near rivers. College kids are notorious drunks, Wisconsinites are professional alcoholics, college kids in Wisconsin are a walking mess. Add to that night swimming in a river with heavy currents and you get a fair amount of drowning incidents. It’s a common story, but his angle on it was that before this guy drown he ended up getting in a fight and hanging out with him all night. The song played after that approached the subject from a different view. So we got the real story followed by the heightened meaning ascribe to it by art.
I paid attention to that last song and it was good., real good. After his set Christie introduced us and reiterated her spiel about us collaborating. My wife confirmed that they both did in fact attend the same high school. He gave us some CD’s and mentioned that he was staying in a house just down the street from us while working at a restaurant in Fish Creek for the remainder of the tourist season. “We’re having a big bonfire tomorrow night. You should come by. Last one we had got the fire chief called on us.”
The next night I hiked up the road balancing out my load with a guitar and a bottle of whiskey. I get to the dilapidated staff house where D.B. is staying with his girlfriend at the time and a few other itinerant workers. We plunk out some tunes around the fire while passing around wine. I keep taking pulls off the whiskey I brought and offering it to anyone else but they all decline. Throughout the course of the night I finish the bottle on my own.
At some point we all get too drunk to play guitar. D.B.’s girlfriend goes inside to sleep. There’s still four of us sitting around the fire. Me, D.B., some drug obsessed hippy who’s living there and his friend in a Karl Marx t-shirt.
We get into some heated and hazily informed discussion about politics, the then very fresh economic crisis and the system. Whatever that is. The guy in the Karl Marx shirt is standing next to me while I sit on a stump. I can barely hold my head up I’m so drunk. All I can see is Karl Marx staring back at me while this guy goes on about socialism and economic disbursement. In my head Karl is talking to me and things are getting heavy.
Conspiracy theories come up courtesy of the resident hippy and pretty soon we’re staring at the moon and wondering if we ever even really got there. Opinion is divided on the matter. I think we did and so does Rouse. Karl Marx and his hippy pal aren’t convinced. I offer up a sentiment we can all agree on. “I tell ya what. If we did fake the moon landing and psych the Russian’s out that’s the most badass thing this country has ever done. Winning the space race and the cold war from a picture studio without even firing a shot!”
D.B. proclaims my statement to be the best thing he’s heard all night and gives me a dollar from his wallet. I look at the bill for a minute and decide it would be fun to burn it. “In protest of this bullshit economy that’s backed up by nothing I’m going to burn your dollar” I say. I throw the dollar into the fire. I don’t know if it’s because we were all wasted or if there was something special about that dollar or the fire, but it it was gone almost as soon as it went in. Just a bright orange flash and then poof, nothing left. Then the hippy drops one of the best little quips that’s ever slipped off a hippy’s tongue. “See man, I don’t trust anything that burns that easily.”
Those were the magic words. After that we collectively burned all the cash we had on us; about eight dollars total. We became kinetic, jumping up and down around the fire laughing and screaming. We were like the monkeys from the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The fire was our monolith.
Rouse grabbed a wooden adirondack lounger from another part of the lawn and started smashing the boards of it with his foot. “And fuck this chair!” he screamed before hurling it into the fire. About that time the Marxist sentiment of a man’s worth measured by his labor bubbled up in me. I grabbed D.B. by his shirt and looked him right in the eyes and said “You can’t burn that. That’s someone’s workmanship.” Then I took off my shirt and jumped into the fire.
I have no idea why I took my shirt off. All I can think of is that it’s one of my favorite shirts and I didn’t want it to burn. What it did provide though was the visual of someone preparing to jump into flames to save a burning chair in the same way someone might prepare to jump into a lake to save a drowning person. I’m sure it looked either very surreal or very insane, possibly both.
I somehow managed to drag the chair out of the fire and onto the lawn without getting hurt. Karl Marx and the hippy were still prancing around with delight. I stood beaming with pride next to the workmanship I had rescued from destruction. Rescued from destruction except for the fact that it was still engulfed in flames in the middle of the lawn.
Now Rouse grabbed me by the shirt and stared into my eyes and said “Listen man. That chair had it coming.” He said it with such conviction that you would have believed that chair had done him a serious wrong in the past. I let the words sink in then looked over at the flaming wreck and said “You’re right.” Together we kicked the crumbling remains of the thing back into the bonfire and watched it burn. We all settled down as it slowly turned into ash.
After the bonfire incident I finally got to bed around three or four in the morning. At five thirty a.m. my boss called to ask if I could come in and cover for someone who called in sick. In a haze I mistook his asking for demanding and rushed in to work at six.
I was working in a senior care facility aka the old folks home. I was in the dietary department. That’s the end of the deal you want to be on when it comes to caring for the elderly. Food in, not food out.
That day my job was to walk around the dining room and take all the geezers breakfast orders. Most of them didn’t even know what year it was let alone how they wanted their eggs. As far as I was concerned their eggs were all scrambled.
I looked closer to death than any of them that morning. It was rough but I somehow made it through and felt pretty good about it too. I would have just spent the day half asleep nursing a hangover but instead I made like a hundred bucks.
Rouse and I hung out and played some gigs around the county in the few months he was there before he took off for something else. Not long after they left the county his girlfriend left him. He’s got a track record of losing women to his itinerant behavior.
Next I heard he’d gotten a job playing on the Carnival Triumph; a cruise ship that would break down and seep shit through the floors years after he got off it. While he was on the boat we’d conspire about music via email. Rouse was recording an album in his tiny cabin on the ship and I was recording one in my tiny cabin in the sticks. I ended up doing the art for the record he recorded on that boat.
After the cruise singer gig D.B. hit the road on what he likes to refer to as a hobo death trip. This involves driving his minivan from town to town across the middle of nowhere and popping in to diners and dives asking to play for tips and maybe a free meal. It’s worked out surprisingly well for him. He even wrote a book about it that you can pick up here.
Occasionally he’d wind up camping out in my yard for a few days at a time. We’d mostly play our new songs for each other and get shitfaced. I’d been getting into home recording and would start pestering him about letting me record his next record. The trouble was getting him to sit still long enough to do it and it seemed like the opportunity would never materialize.
For my birthday in 2010 My wife, my mom, my step-dad and I all went up to my grandparents little house on Washington Island in Lake Michigan. D.B. met us up there and we did manage to hastily record a musical comedy album of sorts while downing T.G.I. Friday’s premixed white russians. They had this great label on the necks of them that just said “VODKA IS IN IT!” We were sold.
A year later he happened to be back in town during my next birthday. My friend Lauren drove up from Sturgeon Bay with a trunk full of Gideon’s Bibles from the hotel she worked at and D.B., my wife, Lauren and I sat around the fire pit burning bibles and tossing entire bags of assorted fireworks in. The Bibles burned slower than the money did but I still don’t trust either.
Rouse eventually landed in Austin on a somewhat permanent basis working and residing at campground for horse riders. That August Lauren and her girlfriend moved to Chicago. Four months after the Bible birthday my wife and I packed up all of our shit and moved to Los Angeles. We were fed up with living in a town with an average age of 65 and nothing much to do. I had started doing stand up a little over a year before that and she always wanted to live in California so we just decided to go for it before we reached the average age for the town we were living in and ended up living at the dead end job I where was working and giving our senile breakfast orders to some hungover punk.
I hadn’t done much with music for the first year I lived in Los Angeles but near the end of 2012 after the apocalypse didn’t pan out, I got to talking with D.B. about the possibility of working on a record together. He just wanted a new sound, something more rock oriented. He didn’t really have enough new material written to record anything anytime soon so we planned on picking out ten of the best candidates from his back catalog for rearranging.
I started pre-production work in January and we would email ideas back and forth. In March I flew out to Austin where we hung for a few days before heading out on a hobo death trip that would lead us through Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and California where we would finish the record.
HOBO DEATH TRIPPING
Our last night in Austin I had a spot on a comedy show. We packed everything up before heading into town for the show and afterward we drove off into the night before stopping and sleeping at a rest stop for a couple of hours.
Rouse pilots the minivan around a flipped semi somewhere in Texas.
Early the next afternoon we drove through a small town with a promising looking diner. It was a little place so we decided that D.B. would go in alone and give his sales pitch. If he didn’t come back out within fifteen minutes or so I would come in with our other traveling companion Blake.
Twenty minutes later Blake and I were ordering a couple of burgers while Rouse raked in the tips. The plan was to make it look like we weren’t together so that the locals didn’t feel like they’d been hustled. One scrawny musician scraping by alone is an easier story to sell than three buddies on some sort of road trip paid for by the people who never got out of this town.
Blake reads the menu. Rouse reads the room.
Before we made it out of there clean and easy Blake made it nice and strange by blowing our cover and acting well, strange. That was the first sign that D.B. and I had a different mindset about all of this than our cohort. Blake was hoping for this to be a “legitimate” tour, still fancying the notion of himself as an indie rockstar.
Later that night we’d made it out of Texas and into Clayton, a town just on the New Mexico border. The highway going through town was desolate. Nothing but empty motor inn after empty motor inn. We had planned on camping that night to the west of the town but the temperature dropped and it started snowing.
We stopped at a run down motel at the far side of town but the place was abandoned so we made another pass along the highway. “Hey what about this place” D.B. shouted as he turned down a side street. He stopped the van in front of a big old saloon. Like a real old timey Western looking joint. A big sign hanging over the boardwalk just said “EAT DRINK.” A man in a ten gallon hat sat in the plate glass window enjoying his meal.
We sat in the van and debated what we should do. Camping was out of the question and even with the money from the diner we could still stand to fill our pockets a little more just to keep the gas tank full. The place didn’t have many people in it and we still weren’t comfortable with the idea of all three of us strolling in together and trying to run the busker racquet as a team. So we hemmed and hawed for about fifteen minutes. It started to look like this trip might be doomed and the sun had barely set on day one.
“Fuck it! Come with me.” I got out of the van and headed for the entrance to the building. “Don’t we need our guitars?” Rouse called after me. Blake trailed behind. “No” I started, “We’ll just walk in and check it out first.” Rouse likes the cap in hand, put yourself at the mercy of the owner approach and it’s worked for him repeatedly. He likes to come in with the guitar ready to go. He’s practically attached at the hip to the thing anyway. I like a more obnoxious approach.
We walked right up to the bar where a young girl was washing glasses.
“You guys have a band tonight?” I asked her. “No. Not tonight.” “Well ya do now. I’m Rick and these two fellas are Blake and D.B. and we’re your band for the evening.” It was a bit forward but I’d seen this sort of attitude pay off for Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop one and two so I decided to give it a try. “Let me talk to my manager. She loves shit like this.” The girl walked out from behind the bar and across the dining room where she consulted with a woman probably in her 50s.
The manager came over and said we were welcome to play but that it hadn’t been a busy night and there weren’t many people in the bar. We didn’t care. Even if we didn’t make any tips we needed the moral victory of walking into a joint together and getting the okay.
We set up in the corner and started to shuffle through a few tunes. I played this giant heavy acoustic bass and the other two played their guitars. We all sang, Rouse mostly doing the lead but Blake and I harmonized, sort of.
The manager offered us all a free meal and a pitcher of beer. So we each ordered something off of the menu and took a little break when it came out of the kitchen. “I wish you boys had told us you were coming. We could have advertised and got more people out to see you. I sent a Facebook message to everyone and made some calls. Maybe some people will come down here.” The manager said to us when she brought our food.
More people showed up and we got back to pickin’ and a grinnin’. The locals really were into it. I imagine they don’t get a whole lot of entertainment passing through. The guitar case kept filling up with money and we were starting to get a lot of requests.
Between D.B. and myself we knew quite a few songs. He knew the bulk of them but every once in awhile I’d be able to tackle a more obscure request from out of left field. Like when the cook finished his shift and sat down to watch us then asked if we could play “Shelter From the Storm” by Bob Dylan.
I went through a period where I was obsessed with Blood On The Tracks and learned every song on the record. My uncle had turned me onto Dylan with that album. Dylan and John Prine were two of my biggest and earliest musical influences due to that same uncle. So I knew a lot of songs from both of their catalogs.
Unfortunately I was a little rusty about the lyrics. Fortunately I had just upgraded from a flip phone to an iPhone and had the internet in my pocket. So I looked up the words and struggled through the song while reading the off my phone.
I really felt like I was butchering it and killing our momentum. I could hear the energy in the room die down. I couldn’t see what was happening because I had to keep looking at the screen. Once I’d finally finished I looked up to apologize to the cook for doing such a bad job with his request, but when I finally got my eye off the phone I could see him sitting there at the table with his face buried in his giant hands as his body heaved while he sobbed.
This was a big guy. He was like John Goodman big. Just a wall of a man. He looked tough, like he’d seen some shit. He’d probably been a cook at all types of seedy establishments and here he was weeping openly in a bar full of people. It wasn’t cause I played “Shelter From The Storm” so good, cause I didn’t. It didn’t have a thing to do with me. It hardly had a thing to do with Bob Dylan.
There was something in this guys life nestled amongst all the shit he’s seen and the song was just tied to for whatever reason. Me playing it, jarred it lose for him. I don’t think he was embarrassed to cry. I don’t think anyone was judging him. Right at that moment I think everyone understood. There was something magic about waiting out the snow in that saloon full of strangers, taking requests.
Your ego isn’t served when you play other peoples songs. You start doing it to serve your wallet. A good cover band makes way more than an unknown band of guys playing originals. But that night it felt great to be providing that service and the money was nice too.
There was something else though. Those people could have used the very same phone I used to look up the lyrics to that Dylan tune and just played the original version on the speakers for free. It would have been a far better rendition than what I came out with, but instead they just kept asking us to play these stripped down skeletons of their favorite songs. Songs tied to experiences from all throughout their lives. It was like the days before recorded music when the only way to get it was from a live band. Somehow we’d time traveled to a place before karaoke and DJs had diminished the thrill of live music.
This slightly older couple of women who had walked in behind us came in and sat down. It turns out that this place was also a hotel. Just like one of those old timey joints where a cowboy would get a whiskey and a woman all in one stop. They had just finished checking in and came down to have a few drinks and see what the excitement was about.
I have a certain admiration for old couples that seem like they’ve been together a long time. Even more so when it’s a same sex couple. There’s a lot of pressure generated inside of a relationship that makes it hard to keep things together add to that not being fully accepted by the bulk of society and now there’s a lot of pressure from the outside too. But these ladies seemed to be doing quite well and really enjoying their life together. It was inspirational no matter what your preference.
Sometimes people have a bond so strong that the only thing all that pressure from the outside can accomplish is to compress their love down into a perfect little diamond. A perfect little diamond that can’t be broken. It just sits and shines like a beacon for anyone else who wants to believe in true love. The kind of love that has no need to do any conquering because it knows it’s the kind of love that can’t be conquered. That’s what I imagine these silver haired women shared between each other.
They kept on requesting John Prine songs and John Prine songs are just about the only songs I ever bothered to learn. It helps that they’re all pretty much the same three or four chords and all you have to remember are the words. Even when you can’t, someone else is usually singing along and they’ve got you covered.
Playing those tunes for that couple set me to thinking of my friend Lauren. She loved John Prine and she had one lovely lady of her own back in Chicago where they lived. A handful of cherished evenings had been spent sitting around Lauren and Jillian’s kitchen table drinking beers while I plunked out some tunes on Jillian’s guitar. Usually John Prine.
After a few hours we’d filled our bellies with beer and food from the saloon and our guitar cases up with loose bills. Things were coming up roses and to top it off that lovely older couple paid for us to stay in the hotel at a generously discounted rate provided by the proprietors.
We fetched our clothes from the now snow covered van along with a few bottles of wine and headed up to our room to count the money and celebrate.
We’d pulled in nearly two hundred dollars. Not too shabby. We did forget the corkscrew for the wine but I managed to get all three bottles open using D.B.’s boot knife.
The next morning we ate breakfast downstairs with several of the people that sat and listened to us the night before. Then we thanked the owners and packed everything and ourselves back into the van as we headed out towards Taos, New Mexico.
After a wildly successful first day on the road we continued onward into New Mexico. Taking in the scenery and looking for any place that might be good for picking up a few bucks and maybe a sandwich.
The Southwest is my favorite part of the country. It looks like you’re on another planet half of the time and the rest of the time it’s irrefutably breathtaking. There’s a weird quasi mystic vibe hanging around the region. You get the impression that if God exists then this is where he likes to spend his free time. Which he apparently has a lot of.
We were making our way to Taos because we heard there’s a mysterious hum that people hear there and no one can trace the source of. Also it’s the most substantial concentration of little towns in the area from looking at the map. We have a paper road atlas in the van, as one of the rules is no GPS. No Interstates either. We go old school and pick our routes out based on looking at the spiderweb of roads and trying to summon some intuition over where we can make money. Sometimes we just pick a route based on a mystic hum that’s existence is disputed.
As we approach Taos the chatter in the van quiets down and we strain to hear the hum. I think it’s starting up before realizing it’s just the fan belt. No one else can hear it either.
We get into town and park the van in a little main street touristy area. The town has the aesthetic of an old Western movie, boardwalk and all. I love Western stuff so it suits me.
One of the stores on the boardwalk is a sort of cowboy antique and gift shop. They’ve got a bunch of overpriced knick knacks and a couple buckets of cheap little trinkets like button covers and old pins. A friend of mine we’ll be seeing in Portland makes jewelry out of old coins and other round metal things so I grab handfuls of the stuff to bring to her.
The guy who runs the place is a wiry old fellow dressed up like he’s headed out to see a rodeo. Hat, boots and the whole nine yards. A family comes in and starts to poke around. They have a little girl with them. She’s looks to be about seven or eight years old. Lesley, the wiry cowboy who runs the joint, offers the little girl her pick of a free prize from one of two display cases. “Or” he says as he swivels in his chair to pull a small blue suitcase out from under a desk, “you can pick from the mystery box.” The has a big stylish question mark painted on it’s side. The little girl can’t resist the draw of the unknown and goes for door number three.
Lesley opens up the suitcase revealing a treasure trove of stuff. Just all kinds of stuff. Shiny stuff, dull stuff, new stuff, old stuff, mostly old stuff, most of it cool stuff. The little girl is overwhelmed. She freezes up and stares. “Well come on now, you can pick anything you want.” Lesley encourages her. “Come one honey. Do you see anything you like?” her mother chimes in. The girl just stares in awe and indecision. “Thirty seconds.” Lesley announces as he begins to count down. The girl sways back and forth and peers at the contents of the case. She’s still undecided when Lesley’s countdown reaches zero. “You better hurry up and pick something.” her dad says. “I’m going to start to close it.” The cowboy threatens emptily. Then something catches her eye and a tiny hand darts closing its fist around whatever it was. I don’t remember what she grabbed. I was mostly interested in the spectacle of this guy and his mystery suitcase.
You don’t see anything like that in a chain store, you hardly see anything like that in a mom and pop shop. This was like something out of an episode of Leave It To Beaver or The Twilight Zone. Maybe the girl got a keychain that predicts the future, who knows. Whatever it was sure seemed to make her happy. The whole family thanked Lesley and left grinning ear to ear. He was grinning to. He didn’t even seem to care that they didn’t buy anything.
“So where you boys from?” he asked us. “We’re just a couple of traveling musicians passing through trying to play for gas money.” Blake eagerly told him. Blake would say that at least a dozen more times during the course of our travels and for some reason it would irritate the hell out of me everytime. He was right, that’s what we were doing, but the way he said it annoyed me for some reason. Then he would usually tell all our whole convoluted story. It started to wear on mine and D.B.’s nerves. It wasn’t really Blake’s fault he was just excited, and I think part of the reason we didn’t like it was because it soured the fantasy Rouse and I had about being strange drifters with no past blowing into town like we were Clint Eastwood.
“Musicians eh?” Lesley’s interest was piqued. “Yeah, you know anywhere we could play?” Blake continued on. “Well you could try the coffee shop over there across the street and the Taos Inn around the corner has an open mic tonight. What kind of music do you boys play?” “All kinds. Country, Blues, Classic rock.” D.B. chimed in. “Guess who my favorite musician is?” Lesley asked us. After his earlier display I thought that we might have a chance to win a prize. The other two must have sensed that as well. We all sat there thinking for a moment before Lesley broke the silence. “Don’t let my looks and age fool ya now.” Against his advice Rouse guessed Johnny Cash or something like that. Maybe it was Hank Williams, I’m not sure but either way he was wrong. “Nope” Lesley said, “It’s Jack White. I love him!”
Well there you have it folks. If you’re ever in Taos stop at the strange antique store and see if Lesley will let you guess his favorite musician and maybe you can win something. Unless of course he’s moved onto The Black Keys or something.
Ben went and got a copy of his book and some CDs out of the van to give to Lesley. Lesley put the CD in the stereo right away. He liked it and said we could have whatever we wanted in the store. I have no clue how this guy stays in business. I didn’t want to get greedy so I just took the ten bucks worth of cheap trinkets for Adrienne and thanked the funniest little cowboy. Blake got some sort of weird old wooden bottle and D.B. didn’t find anything he wanted taking up space in his van.
After we left Lesley we checked out the coffee shop he recommended. The only people in the place were working, so there wouldn’t be any playing. They were nice though. The guy running the register was a big time hippy. He looked like he did a lot of mushrooms. A LOT. Then Rouse gave him a free copy of his book and the hippy revealed that the owner of the place had also written a book and it was right over there on the shelf. We walked over to check it out and it turns out it was a book about the influence of psilocybin mushrooms on religious imagery from around the globe. My biggest regret of the trip was not asking that hippy for drugs but at the time I thought Seattle would be a sure fire place to score.
Before we left, the counter hippy told us about a massive gorge we should see. We drove out to the gorge, found a rest area and made some tacos with the camp stove. It was worth the detour. Thanks hippy.
After lunch we went to check out the only other attraction in Taos, the Pueblo Village. For eight bucks you can walk around a neighborhood of adobe houses that are over 1,000 years old and have been continuously inhabited by the indigenous Pueblo Indians. It sounded like the kind of mystical experience we’d missed out on by not hearing that hum, but once we got in there it was more strange and less mystical.
Stray dogs roamed around as rusted out trucks and cars drove in and out of the place. A woman stopped and told us we could take a puppy that had been following us around. We declined and she cackled as her old Chevy Suburban rattled away.
The buildings were impressive and the fact that they had survived so long was inspiring, but other than that it was just strange white tourists wandering around some ancient neighborhood where some pretty average people lived. There weren’t any kind of ancient rituals or old traditions in progress. Maybe they keep that stuff a secret, I would. You can’t get everything for eight bucks. White tourists already took enough.
After the Pueblo village, Blake and I tried to play in this giant microbrewery bar inside an old airport hanger while D.B. took a nap. After a few songs, that no one could hear us play because it was so damn noisy, we got the axe. But we did make twelve dollars.
From a financial standpoint, Taos was turning out to be a total bust. We spent eighteen dollars to get into the Pueblo village and only made twelve at the brewery, but we did get free shit from Lesley so I guess it evens out.
We decided to check out the open mic before leaving town. The Taos Inn was packed, we couldn’t even get on the list. We did sit and watch a few acts while we downed a couple of beers. First up were a few shaky guys with guitars followed by a few more shaky guys with guitars. And then there was a poet.
It was a woman doing what she called feminist poetry with interpretative dance. I’m not saying that feminist poetry is bad and I’m not saying that interpretive dance is bad, but in this case they were both pretty awful. It wasn’t the feminism, it was the poetry and the dancing that set my feet to dragging my ass out the door. My traveling companions weren’t far behind.
I was glad everyone at the open mic found a place to express themselves no matter how terribly and I’m glad that there were plenty of people there to see it so that nobody felt bad or even noticed when we all left.
On the way to the van we saw a woman with an arm full of groceries heading to her car. For some reason I’ll never quite understand, Blake stopped her and gave the whole traveling musicians spiel and asked if she had any ideas as to somewhere we could try to play. She politely told him she didn’t know of anywhere besides the Inn and headed to her car.
D.B. and I had already hid in the van out of embarrassment. Then we hear Blake say “Fuck you” to the woman as he gets in the van and slams the door. I want to make it clear that we didn’t miss anything the woman said between “Try the Inn” and Blake’s “Fuck you.” I drive us out of Taos in dead silence. Outside of town D.B. turns around in his seat and says “Blake, what the hell was that about?” “What” he answered cluelessly.
You guys see where this is going?
We pulled out of Taos as the sun began to set and drove on into the night. D.B. drove while I thumbed the atlas and Blake dozed off in the back. We joked about the possibility of coming across a flying saucer. A bunch of the highway signs indicating cattle crossing had been augmented with a UFO graphic by some clever prankster.
Eventually we came to a town that Rouse recognized from a road trip he took back in college. The place looked pretty desolate but we decided to give the local bar a go.
It was empty except for the middle-aged woman working at it. According to her there wouldn’t be anybody around town until tourism season picked up in a couple of months. The town’s big attraction lay in the fact that it sat along the tracks of one of the last coal powered steam trains still in operation. Apparently that draws a crowd.
D.B. and the bartender smoked cigarettes and chit chatted while Blake and I took turns besting each other in a few rounds of pool. After a two hours of that we decided to pack it in for the night and see about finding a motel. Seeing as it was the off-season we thought rates would be low. We thought wrong. Either the price of a room in that town is sky-high midsummer or the proprietors don’t budge year round.
I was still wide awake and I’d hardly had anything to drink so I volunteered to drive us into the next promising town and see if we could find a cheap chain motel there. That way we’d just wake up in the town we’d play the lunch shift in and could sleep in.
D.B. polished off a bottle of wine on the passenger side while we all shot the shit about this and that. Swapping stories and cracking jokes. That’s the kind of thing I live for, hanging out and talking with friends. I love to run my mouth and listen to another chatterbox run theirs. There’s something cathartic about it. We played each other’s albums on the iPod and I endured the sound of my own voice caterwauling over guitar for a few songs. We asked each other about our lyrics and ideas, all while driving through a gorgeous moonlit landscape. New Mexico was really living up to its title of “the land of enchantment.”
At one point we pulled off to the side of the road to water some plants and D.B. wandered to far off the shoulder and got caught in some barbed wire. It was a good thing he’d drank all that wine and was numbed to the pain of it. Although it was probably because of the effects of the wine that he stumbled into barbed wire in the first place.
Blake fell asleep soon after we got back on the road. Up front Rouse and I talked some more. I’d tell him crazy stories about growing up and all the places I’ve lived and weird shit that’s happened. Talked about my parents and how they split up and what they were like after that. We’d known each other for years and this was all subject matter I’d never discussed. Not that any of it was too terrible, it just never came up.
As we drove on we started to see more and more elk along the side of the road. Pretty soon we’d see twenty to thirty at a time. Then they were in the road and we had to take it really slow. Once in a while I’d stop the van right next to a really big one and roll down the window to get a very close look. Eventually we started pulling up to the big ones like that and yelling out the window at them. I don’t know why we found it so amusing, but we did. You could put “rude to wildlife in New Mexico” on a list of things I enjoyed but am not particularly proud of. The list would be mainly that and a number of times that I masturbated. Not all of them but enough of them.
We finally came across a small city with a Motel 8. We decided to try talking them down since it was already 2 a.m. This very nice older woman was working the at the front desk. We asked about the rates and then told her that we’d probably just keep driving unless she could get it a little lower. She seemed just a little desperate to make a sale so she hooked us up with whatever discounts she could. We had to say we were truckers. It was the fun kind of lie where the person tells you to do it in a not subtle way.
Then we snuck Blake in the side door and into the room. He was grumpy about the cost of the room. He was also grumpy about camping and sleeping in the van so we made him sleep on the floor and told him he could pay less than us. At some point D.B. got up to use the bathroom and passed out next to the toilet. So they both spent the night on the floor. I got my money’s worth in a big comfortable bed.
In the morning we did laundry before heading out to find a place to run the busker racket. While Blake sat with the washer and dryer, Rouse and I took the van to a car wash. Once we had clean clothes and a clean ride we went in search of somewhere we could clean up financially.
The town we woke up shot us down at every location so we moved a little further on down the road. We wound up in Farmington, New Mexico. Rouse went in solo and cleaned up in a fancy restaurant. While he was doing that Blake and I split up to scout the town for other locations. After Rouse got all he could out of the lunch crowd where he was at I took his guitar down to a small diner up the street and made a few bucks in there, while Blake tried a place called 3 Rivers micro brewery where he made five bucks and a friend, a local guitar player name Bo.
Bo was around our age and had similar tastes in music. He bought us a round of beers and we all got to talking. It turns out that he worked at the fancy restaurant across the street where D.B. had played earlier and he was in the kitchen during that. Then he got off work and came over to 3 Rivers for a beer where he met Blake. That town had been swarmed with guitar bums that day.
A bunch of Bo’s friends came down to the bar and we all sat out on the back patio taking turns with the guitars and getting to know some of the locals. They offered to put us up for the night. It was nice mixing with the people and hearing about their lives, but there was also the call of the road. Rouse and I were more anxious to get back out on it than Blake. He was really enjoying meeting people, but it was still early in the day and D.B. and I still wanted to get one more stop in. So we thanked everybody for their hospitality, said or goodbyes and we left.
From there we drove into Southeast Colorado. Along the way we got to see Shiprock.
Just as it got to be diner time we came across this big Italian restaurant with a packed parking lot on the side of the road. We pulled in grabbed the guitars and went to meet the manager. The place was slammed, there was a line out the door. We could hardly get anyone’s attention to ask about playing. Eventually we did get to talk to the manager, a frazzled woman in her late thirties. She heard us out and despite already having a lot on her plate agreed to let us stand in the corner and do our thing.
Once we got going it caught on. The dinner crowd enjoyed it and we even did happy birthday a few times throughout the night. By the third time we were so excited that we’d finally gotten it down we forgot to ask the name of the birthday girl. It made for an awkward third line of the song. After we’d run through our repertoire the manager offered us something to eat.
The restaurant was still packed. Everyone working their looked pretty stressed. Our waitress revealed to us that they were under staffed due to unforseen circumstances and this was the busiest night they’d ever had. And then we showed up, which turned out to be a good thing. We gave all the anxious people waiting for a table something to do besides just sit there.
While we sat and ate our pizza people leaving would stop by and thank us for playing. The whole trip people seemed genuinely interested in what it was we were up to. They loved the idea of three scruffy kids rambling around the country with no clear plans besides get to Seattle in time for some show. Some people seemed concerned for our well-being and continuously told us to be careful. No one we met was very mean. Except maybe the guy who owned the bar in the old airplane hangar back in Taos but he was just more of a douchey bar owner than he was mean.
That night we stayed at a campground across the street from Mesa Verde National Park. We decided we would take a little detour to go see the Pueblo cliff dwellings. Pueblo dwellings were becoming a theme. That night at the campground D.B. and I wrote a parody of “The Big Rock Candy Mountain” called “The Crack Rock Candy Mountain.” We were pretty proud of it. I sang in the voice of a weird character named Carl, I’d been doing for our amusement since the trip started. I didn’t think it was worth mentioning but now that there’s recorded evidence I might as well mention it.
In the morning we got up and drove into the park. From the main entrance to the dwellings was a long scenic drive up the spine of some really tall mountains. There were falling rocks and cliffs and sharp turns abound. As we approached the highest point in the park the vans gas light came on. We hadn’t paid attention to how far in we’d have to drive and how little gas we had left going in. Now we were forced to pay attention.
Using the map the rangers gave us and some math based on previous fuel stops I determined that there was no way we’d make it to the cliff dwellings and back out. In fact it seemed very likely at this point that even if we turned around now we wouldn’t have enough to make it back to the closest gas station which was located just outside of the park and right next to the campground we stayed at. Panic slowly began to set in as we turned the van around and set to finding out just how far what little gas we had would take us.
“HAIRPIN TURN! HAIRPIN TURN!” I’m screaming at Rouse like he doesn’t see it coming. The seat belt is wrapped around my hand, up where it connects to the van, in lieu of an “oh shit” handle to grab onto.
A little ways back I suggested that D.B. lay off the brakes so we could maintain the maximum amount of momentum for the little uphill sections. He took the advice and ran with it.
A couple of miles back we realized that we didn’t have enough gas to make it to the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park. We weren’t even sure we had enough gas to leave the park to go get enough gas.
When we turned around we were at the highest point of the road. This gave us the confidence that gravity would do all the work getting us down the mountain and we could just coast out of the park and into the gas station on our downhill momentum.
There were still a handful of uphill sections to get through and the needle was starting to dip below the red. The road was just big enough for two vehicles and at times dropped off to the valley below on both sides. With nowhere to pull over we’d have to go down backwards if the gas ran out.
Just at the crest of the last hill the van sputtered. I started rocking back and forth like a madman trying to get the rear wheels over the top of the hill. We all started rocking like some sort of degenerate bobsled team. “I can feel it working!” Rouse yelled out. As soon as we cleared the hill he threw the van in neutral to save what little gas might be left.
Initially it was exciting as the van careened around corners and weaved its way down mountains. The prospect of another uphill section loomed over us but we were fairly confident that is was all downhill from here. But to be safe I suggested we try to maintain the highest speed we could. Then we shot through a series of really tight curves. One of them a hairpin turn situated on the edge of a cliff.
As you approach it looks like the road is going to shoot you right off the side of a giant mountain and you’ll go out like Thelma and Louise. Rouse didn’t show any signs of slowing down. That’s when I started to scream. “HAIRPIN TURN!”
My voice came out in the stupid Carl character I’d been doing on the trip. You might remember it from “Crack Rock Candy Mountain” in part 5. Maybe my subconscious mind wanted Carl to do my dying for me, or maybe I just thought it’d be a fun way to go.
The van screeched around the turn without turning over. All four tires spitting gravel from the road. It was some real Dukes of Hazzard bullshit. Now we were flying down the mountain. Everything felt out of control. The possibility of or demise sank in. We had also just cheated death on that last turn so it picked a weird moment to try to convince us to take it seriously. I was conflicted.
It started at a nervous giggle but within a minute I was laughing maniacally on the passenger side. Soon both Rouse and myself were cackling like a couple of mad scientist on the way to certain doom. Blake read a magazine.
A few turns later and we could see the home stretch. We relaxed knowing that even if we broke down now that it would be on flat ground we were within walking distance to the gas station.
We made it, with the van, to the fuel station and managed to put more gasoline in the tank than what the owner’s manual said the tank could hold. Then we turned around and headed for the what we came to see.
We’d brought a CD of Jimi Hendrix playing the Star Spangled Banner that we put on during special occasions. Anytime we crossed state lines or raced a train and won, we’d blast that CD.
I felt it was suitable to play as we reentered the park. I also felt it was my duty to unpin the American flag from the ceiling and hang out the window with it. Additionally I saw fit to shake up a bottle of cheap champagne we’d been saving and shoot that out the window, all over the side of the van and the highway. Day four and the trip had finally been christened.
Mesa Verde is an amazing place. The landscape alone is phenomenal and the cliff dwellings are beyond impressive. We enjoyed taking the half day off from cruising for diners and cruised the park instead. I made Hawaiian sandwiches for lunch. Fried Spam and a pineapple ring on a King’s Hawaiian roll. Rouse and Blake liked it. I hated it. It was my idea so I got what I deserved.
At one of the many scenic overlooks we ran into a family of three from the Italian restaurant we played the night before. They wanted a picture with us and we obliged.
From Mesa Verde we made our way into Southeastern Utah. Moab was our destination. It would be pretty busy this time of year with all of the off-road vehicle enthusiasts prowling the desert in search of rocks to drive on.
We passed through a couple of po’ dunk towns along the way. No where that looked good for stopping, but I did manage to get my favorite picture of the trip while hanging out the side of the van.
The Southern part of Utah is packed with geological features you don’t really see anywhere else. All that sandstone has worn away in arches and monoliths that dot the arid, inhospitable landscape. It has that same otherworldly feel as New Mexico but with a touch of majesty.
Just outside of Moab we came upon a tourist trap called Hole N” The Rock. Some guy had built an entire home inside of the sandstone and now it was a gift shop that gave tours of the living quarters. I think it’s for sale right now if you’ve got 3 million dollars. The parking area around Hole N” The Rock had some other weird stuff to check out. We took the tour, took some photos and stretched out legs before high tailing it to Moab.
In Moab we met some street kids begging for change. Scruffy dreadlocked hippies lazing away their early 20s in Moab. Looked fun, and dirty.
Then we tried to play in this roadhouse looking joint. They had a stage but no PA. The owner seemed skeptical. After talking with the street kids earlier I felt it was important to emphasize that we weren’t hippies. I somehow convinced her to turn off the jukebox and let us give it a go. It turned out the owner knew her bar pretty well and we only lasted a couple of songs before the jukebox was back to blaring Nirvana. They were used to rock bands and we didn’t cut it. Cool bar though and the owner gave us twenty bucks before suggesting a restaurant up the road.
We hoofed a block back to the restaurant that we’d been told about. I met with the manager and decided to tell her we were playing rather than ask. “Hi, we’re the band.” I told her. Usually people get confused when you show up unannounced. She didn’t even blink. “Okay. Did we book you?” “Well not exactly. We’re sort of just passing through.” “Alright then. What we usually do when this happens is to just have you set up over here on the patio. I’ll bring out the tip jar and when you’re done we’ll get you some burgers and a pitcher of beer.” The place had a protocol for the cacamimi horsecrap we’d been up to. How perfect.
We played a long and fun set all three of us together. It was the most fun we’d had actually playing since that night in New Mexico. Afterward we chatted with some of the customers before heading inside to get fed.
After dinner we loaded up the guitars and rambled out of town. There was a Big Rock Candy Mountain on the atlas and we were tempted to go there but ultimately decided against it. Too far out of the way and the description of it on the internet didn’t make any mention of a whiskey lake or cigarette trees.
Utah was where we broke the no interstates rule. Because most of Utah is vast and uninhabitable wasteland. Since I lived up around SLC for a few years I took over driving duties. Blake fell asleep in the back while I regaled Rouse with tales of the years I spent living there. I was in the Air Force for most of the time and dating a mormon on her sexual rebellion for the remainder. Both engagements ended up sour.
Going over the story of me and that girl humanized the memory I had of her and wised me up to the idea that maybe I shared more blame than I’d been taking credit for. The whole drive up I-15 was a trek down memory lane for me and it left me exhausted in a mental and emotional sort of way.
Eventually D.B. passed out and I drove on alone with my thoughts. As soon as we got outside of Utah I was ready to call it a night. We’d decided on bypassing all of that state after Moab and seeing what Idaho had in store.
I pulled into a rest stop and went to bed. Only to wake up the next morning and realize that we were in my old flame’s hometown. I decided to make a sign out of it and sent her an email apologizing for being a burden at best and a beast at worse. I also made sure she knew that I didn’t want to get back in contact because the underlying reason for all of our problems was that we have nothing in common and shouldn’t be talking to each other.
The story of what happened with her could take up a few posts of its own so we’ll just leave at this for now.
Onward, upward, into the North. Up through Idaho. Up through nothing at all. Up through flats and rises, fields and trees. Through upside-down suburban smiles and sprawl.
On the interstate everything looks the same. Corporate America doesn’t have a personality. It’s an amalgamation of traitlessness designed specifically to be inoffensive. I find it offensive as hell. I’d rather buy a bucket of baby hearts from Pol Pot than another bucket of the Colonels greasy chicken.
We stopped in Twin Falls. We stopped in Boise. I couldn’t pick either of them out of a line up. We were a far cry from the dingy dives of Texas and New Mexico. Places so far out on the dusty roads that lead to nowhere anyone wants to be that Pepsi and Coke forgot to swoop in and take over.
Everything around us now was run by underpaid managers without an owner in sight. If you somehow worked your way up the chain to get a meeting with the owner you’d find yourself dealing with a board of monkeys and countless faceless shareholders.
It started sinking in, the realization that Weird Old America might be behind us on the trip. We were headed to Seattle where it’s all but guaranteed to be thoroughly uptight and cosmopolitan tech boomers in Subarus. But we’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.
Right now we had to get the hell off of this interstate highway system. We had to get away from McDonald’s and Burger King, Subway and Quiznos, Popeyes and KFC, Pepsi and Coke, Taco Bell and Del Taco, Starbucks and Coffee Bean, Pep Boys and Jiffy Lube, Target and Walmart. In America we have choices.
We chose some nameless highway that cut through a bunch of nowhere towns and began to feel more relaxed. It didn’t matter that we struck out in every tiny little town. It didn’t matter that we might be starting to drive each other a little crazy. It didn’t matter that Blake kept sneezing on me without covering his mouth. Actually that mattered. Cover your mouth when you sneeze at me. I don’t make the rules. Except that one.
At a pawn shop behind a pizza parlor, that wouldn’t have us, Blake bought a janky little acoustic guitar. Both him and Rouse fawned over it for a bit before Blake eventually ponied up the dough to make it his. If they’d have asked me I’d of told them it was a piece of cheap shit that should stay in that window until the sun dissolved it into dust. But I was busy looking at someone’s old power tools and nobody bothered to get my opinion on the matter.
The flat blandness of Southern Idaho eventually gave way to more scenic rolling hills and snowmelt running down cricks along the highway. Towns were fewer and farther between. We stopped at a bar/restaurant/convenience store to use their toilet and buy some coffee. The owner had moved there a year ago from Hollywood. It turns out I was living about a block away from where he used to. Now he’d just finished renovating this old tavern. The bar top had all sorts of ephemera from the 50s and 60s sealed under polyurethane resin. Apparently it was all stuff he’d found in the place when he bought it. He said a lot of it was in the walls.
Blake got a bag of chips. We hit the road. About two miles further down the road Blake announced that we need to stop at another gas station. There’s not anything for miles. “We just stopped. What do you need?” D.B. inquired. “I need to wash my hands. These chips are greasy.” D.B. sat in confused silence behind the wheel and I spoke up. “We’re not stopping so you can wash your fucking hands. Just wipe ’em on towel or something.” The road isn’t for everyone. You smell bad and you’re uncomfortable.
We were headed up the Western border of the state. Hills and canyons became mainstays out the window. Mountain streams with sandy banks weaved along. Everything was fit to print on a postcard.
The next few hours we rode along in silence. Except for the stereo playing Autopilot Is For Lovers. There were a couple stops for gas and beer. But mostly we enjoyed a scenic drive all the way into Lewiston, Idaho.
The first order of business was to find a place to stay. We decided to give the Siri feature on D.B.’s new iPhone a go. D.B. held the wheel while I negotiated with the machine. “Siri. Find a hotel near me.” “I’ve found three hotels in your area.” Just from riding around town I could tell there was more than three hotels. Siri was only giving me the big expensive places. We wanted someplace cheap but without bed bugs. We’re very demanding. “Godammit Siri. I can see more than three hotels. Give me the full list you piece of shit!” “There’s no need for profanity.” “Don’t you tell me what there’s no need for. I’ll swear as much as I want to. Now where can I find a reasonably priced motel?” “I’ve found three hotels in your area.” “MOTHERFUCKER! Siri I swear to God if you don’t find us a place I’ll kill myself right in front of you! I have a gun! (I didn’t).” “No results for suicide crisis center in your area.” “Ya know what, let’s just cruise around until we see something that looks okay.”
We checked into some motor inn and unloaded our shit. We all took showers and put on clean clothes while ignoring the free HBO. The town of Lewiston was home to one of the smelliest paper mills I’ve ever been around. The stench was pervasive. It seeped into our room and commingled with the smell of industrial strength general purpose cleaner, loneliness, debauchery, marriages on the rocks and desperation. The scent of light prostitution and runaways may have been in the bouquet as well but I still don’t have that refined of a palette.
With lodging secured we went out in search of food and scouted the town for bars that might tolerate our racket. We got ridiculously huge burgers at this place called Effes Tavern. The buns were as big as the plates. They have them custom-made at a local bakery. Blake and Rouse only finished half of theirs. I was a disgusting pig and ate the whole thing. It was a decision I’d regret for the rest of my life. So far.
After Effes we went in search of a place to play. Along the way down the main strip a crazy man on a bicycle decided to befriend us. He was either really drunk or a little drunk and a little insane or sober and totally fucking nuts. He regaled us with a lengthy and never to the point story about Ellen DeGeneres’ little brother who had a great band down in New Orleans that he used to go see before the Army shipped him off and when he got back some other nonsense and whatnot. I may have lost track at Ellen’s brother’s band.
Every bar in Lewiston shut us down but the last place we went had a really friendly and really drunk young owner who gave us all a shot and a beer and told us to try our luck across the bridge in Clarkston at a place called Hogan’s.
We got to Hogan’s and he was friendly. They didn’t have a band that night so he let us use the stage and PA system. Gave us free beers and even offered to feed us. We passed on the food on account of having eaten the biggest burgers we’d ever seen. My stomach was plotting its revenge. My heart is without a doubt in on the scheme.
Hogan’s was full of twenty somethings that surely would have fit right in across the state in Seattle had it been twenty-five years ago. After playing through a handful of Modest Mouse songs and other alt rock hits from the 90s we had made a pretty decent chunk of change and made a few short-term friends. Hogan’s ranks up there with Clayton, and Moab as far as nights we had good times playing as a thrown together band of miscreants.
After a few beers and some socializing we packed it in for the night and headed back to the motel. We took the time to watch crap on TV and organize our bags and all the shit in the van. Rouse and I briefly discussed some ideas for the record we would start work on once we arrived in Los Angeles. The next night we had the only pre-booked gig of the trip in Seattle at Hilliard’s Brewery.
Eastern Washington is nearly a desert. A green desert smothered in tumbleweeds. They pile up along barbed wire fences along the highway. Sometimes we’d see a cow or even more exciting, a grain silo.
Rouse got it into his head that we had to hit a tumbleweed with the van. We kept our eyes peeled but didn’t see any in the road and it wasn’t advisable to turn down into a gully or fence just to accomplish this goal.
Eventually we saw one sitting in the middle of a road off the side of the highway so we turned around. I got out to film the momentous occasion.
As we approached the Cascade Mountain Range the scenery began to improve. We stopped off at a scenic overlook and ate a giant can of baked beans. Rouse ate from the pot, Blake ate from a cat dish we had and I took mine on a frisbee. All in all a good lunch.
After a few more hours of driving we made it into Seattle and found the venue. Hilliard’s Brewery is in a big old metal warehouse. It’s more brewery than pub so I wouldn’t even go as far as to call it a brewpub. It’s a brewery with a small bar and a pool table in it. A half dozen or so wooden cable spools had been repurposed as tables and there was a stage situated in front of the beer making machinery that dominated the space.
The show was set up by Brendan, a friend of Rouse’s who had edited his book “Busker”. We played separate sets of our own music. It was a fun gig. There were plenty of people there. We made a little bit of money, but more importantly we got a lot of free delicious beer that was made right behind where we played.
It was the first night of the trip that I got smashed. I tried all of the beers several times. I stole a couple of glasses. They gave us a couple of flats of tall boys for the road. We left in a drunken mob.
It was suggested we go get something to eat at a bar around the corner and then Brendan would take us to his apartment to crash. We threw our guitars in the van and grabbed our backpacks and sleeping bags before stumbling down the block. All the way to the place I whacked Blake in the head with my sleeping bag. Because I thought it was funny and because I’m an obnoxious drunk. Also it was very cathartic. He fucking sneezed on me.
There were people out in droves, bar hopping and generally hanging out. A crowd formed around a couple of street musicians. Some hipstery looking fellow played banjo while the equally hipstery and waifish young woman next to him played an accordion.
Pot is now flat out legal in Washington. It was strange to see stoners just toking up out of huge bongs and glass pipes right on the sidewalk. I was on a quest for a different substance. I knew that the Pacific Northwest is where the mushrooms come from and that these stoners had them. “HEY! Hey man, hey! Hey you got any mushrooms? I need to get some mushrooms. They grow here ya know.” I’d yell that at anyone who would listen.
I got to bugging these two guys smoking weed out of a dragon about mushrooms. “Hey, you guys got any mushrooms?” “No, man. Want some weed” One of them responded as he offered me the pipe. “No I don’t want any weed. I need mushrooms. I gotta see God. About a thing.” “No, we don’t have any mushrooms man.” The stoners were getting irritated. “But they grow here. They’re all over the place up here!” “They’re not in season man.” “Season? Fungus doesn’t have a season!” All of a sudden I’m an expert. “Yeah it does. It’s in like September man. You go up in the mountains and pick em.” “Well I’m not here in September. So just give them to me now.” At this point these two guys looked like they were ready to hit me. There was a little bit of a chaotic crowd around. My friends could sense that I had sufficiently annoyed these guys. The air grew tense. I could sense it. I was wearing this western style sport coat with a pocket on the inside. I pulled it open just enough to slid my hand in and reach into the pocket. It looked like I was going for a knife, or a gun. The stoners eased back a bit. My hand came back out of the jacket with one of the tall boys from Hilliard’s. I handed it to the stoner closest to me and said “Here. You should have this.”
Their faces immediately lit up. “All right! Thanks man. Hilliard’s, right on.” I turned around and followed my friends into the bar where we sat down and ate french fries and hot wings and stuff like that.
Afterwards Brendan walked us to his apartment that he’d just moved out of but still had the keys to for a few more days. It was empty except for two chairs an air mattress and a guitar. Blake took the air bed while D.B. and I passed out on the floor.
The next day Brendan showed us around Seattle. We got coffee, of course, and checked out this music store that specializes in a acoustic instruments. I played a hammer dulcimer for fifteen minutes while pretending to be Tom Waits.
We walked around an abandoned gas refinery that had been turned into a park. If you’re ever in Seattle check that out. Skip the fish market if you have to.
That night we had dinner with Brendan’s aunt and uncle who live just North of the city. Dinner was followed by an impromptu jam session involving a toy piano, a couple guitars and a clarinet. It was an awful racket. I gave up on pretending to be Tom Waits.
The next morning D.B. and I discussed some more plans for the album and mused about what Blake would do in L.A. He wasn’t working on the record and my tiny apartment would already be cramped with the addition of Rouse’s lanky ass. We decided to leave him in Portland with plenty of money for a plane ticket back. The whole trip Blake had talked with excitement about getting to Portland so maybe he wouldn’t mind.
On the way back into Seattle Rouse broke the news. “Blake it’s been a fun trip but we’re leaving you in Portland. Here’s three hundred dollars for a plane ticket.” Then we rode along in awkward silence. I was ready to get out of Seattle and into Portland and on to the next leg the trip.
Brendan, Rouse and Blake decided on playing at one of Seattle’s farmer’s markets. I opted out of that busking session and roamed the grounds, checking out the booths and sampling wares instead.
After the farmer’s market we packed up and made our way toward Portland. I searched flights for Blake along the way. “So there’s a plane headed back to Austin out of PDX at 6:00.” I mentioned to Blake. “I think I’m just going to take a train.” he responded.
We drove on and after a short time we passed a sign indicating that an AMTRAK station was coming up ahead. I glanced at Rouse. “Hey Blake there’s an AMTRAK station in a couple miles.” he said. “I booked a hostel in Portland. I’m going to stay and look for a job.”
Turns out Blake wasn’t too happy with where he’d been living and he wanted to give Portland a shot. I was impressed by the impulse. I’d have been bent out of shape about getting shipped off but he just turned it into his own crazy adventure. So we left him at the hostel and parted ways.
Rouse and I headed to the Portland street market to meet up with my friend Adrienne who makes awesome jewelry that you can purchase here and makes awesome music that you can hear here.
After picking Adrienne up from the street market we went back to her house where she lives with her boyfriend Paul and hung out for a bit before going to see Paul’s band play a show.
The next day we hung out around Portland, ate some good food, drank some good beer and I bought a cool jacket. Then we went to a comedy open mic. After the open mic we got greasy diner food at Tik-Tok. I don’t even think we were that hungry as much as we just wanted to keep hanging out. I could go into excruciating detail about how nice of a time we had in Portland but this is already part 8 of this tale. Eight parts! You’re still reading along? You know how it ends. With this album that you can gethere.
The drive down the Portland coast was the scenic highlight of the journey. It’s like that last scene in The Goonies as far as the eye can see. We stopped to run around the beach and hit rocks with driftwood.
We didn’t find anyplace to play at lunch time and kept on down the coastal highway. At some point a rock flew off of a truck and put a small crack in the van’s windshield. Eventually that little crack grew into a bigger crack and we stopped to see if it could be repaired. According to the guy at the service station the whole thing would have to be replaced.
We made our way through Oregon and into California We stopped among the giant trees of the Redwood Forest and stayed at a campground for the night. I cooked a cheap steak from the grocery store in some cheaper wine and it raised our spirits a bit. We tried to get a fire going but the camp store was closed and all the lose wood around the campground was too damp. So we just went to bed.
The next morning we got back out on Route 1 and headed south along the ocean. Rouse stopped at a bar to play a few and score a free burger. I slept in the van. The locals in the bar advised that we top for the night or at the very least get off of the coastal highway before dark. We did neither.
The Pacific Coast Highway at night is treacherous. The locals were right and we were out careening through a thick soup of coastal fog. Weaving down twisted roads that drop off into the ocean on one side and dodging all manner of wildlife as we plowed along.
Eventually our pace slowed to a crawl and we were forced to consult the map in an effort to get off of that road. We wound up taking a back road to the US101, The Hollywood Freeway. That led us straight to my block in Los Angeles. Of course we had miles and miles to go before we reached it.
The drive down the 101 was the most deliberate burn of the trip since Utah. I kept the pedal down and we made good time into Hollywood where we stopped at the Denny’s down the street from my apartment to eat before beginning work on the record.
We started that day with basic tracking and continued working in my tiny studio apartment for the next three days, taking occasional breaks to get boozed up at The Frolic Room, before packing up the equipment and driving out to Joshua Tree to finish up a few things and track the vocals.
In Joshua Tree we rented a motel room across the street from The Joshua Tree Inn where Graham Parsons spent his last moments on this Earth. The vocals were finished up in a few hours along with a couple bottles of wine. Before packing everything up we recorded a live take of a song called I-90, drunk and bare bones. It came out great so we threw it on the album.
The next day was spent exploring the park. We climbed on massive piles of rocks and wandered the desert in search of truth or a tolerable sort of boredom. We searched for locations from the film “Seven Psychopaths” but it turns out a lot of iconic scenes were actually filmed up the road in 29 Palms.
We left Joshua Tree with all the tracks we’d need to finish the record. All that was left was for me to mix and master it over the next few weeks. The exciting parts were all over. The roadshow behind us and the playing laid down. The tedious work of knob twisting and listening loomed ahead.
Rouse left a day or two later and over the next month or two I finished mixing the record. Which have I mentioned you can get here.