Tuesday, September 18, 2007

San Diego

12:50 PM

Somewhere past Yuma, now just across the California border. Everything looks like another planet. Hoth perhaps? Billy quipped, “Is that a banther? Are those sand people- OHHH-OHHH!” Sand dunes the color of skin span the horizon on every side below a sky the color of quartz. On either side of us are these walls of dunes, with Mexico somewhere looming to the left. We drove through the inspection station earlier. Matt exclaimed in a panic, “Everyone, throw out your fruit! Throw out your fruit!” He scrambled through his bag of goodies, sifting through bags of food hunting for these illegal foodstuffs on par with illicit narcotics or unlicensed/un-social security card-holding brown people. Then we saw the digital sign, telling us: “No Inspections Today.” Matt breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

MUSIC IN VAN TODAY: Peachcake, Ethel Meserve, Dakota to Dakota, Venetian Snares, Slowdive, Biggie Smalls, Fugazi, Panthers, Bright Calm Blue, Black Flag….

1:41 PM

As we drive through this constantly changing geography, I’m reminded of some car-racing game I played ages ago on Nintendo. You drove through all sorts of regions and climates. Most of us live through video games and television and the internet. I am happy actually out here and not in a box.

This is serious desert now, with olive and coal-colored mountains all around us. Green shrubs sprout like Chia pets all over the ground; sharp, thick, thin-leaved bushes. I see the occasional abandoned house with no windows like a corpse with eyeless eye sockets. What happened to its inhabitants? What took its life? The highway twists and turns inexorably towards San Diego. Back in Louisiana, 10 went for dozens of miles on pillars built upon water and swamp. How long must it have taken to construct these roadways?

I look out now to see hills of giant boulders, some as tall as skyscrapers. How did they get here? I know there are snakes, Gila monsters and lizards slithering upon these stones and upon this sand. This is a brutal ecosystem.

1:50 PM

On the drive to Phoenix last evening, I saw two rainbows. I haven’t seen a rainbow since I was a tyke. I hope that’s a good omen. We passed a road called Bloody Basin Road, then “Horse Thief National Park.” Arizona. It looks like Mars outside.

2:23 PM

70 miles from San Diego. Stopped at a gas station in Jacumba. I watched a family feed the prairie dogs or sand squirrels or whatever small, rodent beasts they were. The creatures crept warily to the fence, snatched a French fry and sprinted to the nearest brush of sticks. Some approached me hungrily, sniffed and scampered towards other food-bearing humans when they realized forlornly that I had nothing to offer. I said to Matt, “Maybe we should feed them Billy’s nuts.” We’ve filled the tank twice since Phoenix- that’s over $60 on gas for a five-hour drive. Absurd. Oil is thicker than blood. It is the fuel of our civilization. And it’s running on empty.

7:55 PM

Writing in the dark outside the Che Café here in San Diego. Lots of really young kids; that seems to be the age group we attract now. It makes me feel ancient. No one here is anywhere near 28 years old, not even the people working this place. They’re 18, 19, maybe 20. So it goes. We play loud agitated guitar-driven rock music. Some claim the upside of this equation is that these children possess disposable income to purchase our products, which of course enables us to survive while on the road. None of us is independently wealthy and thus our personal bank accounts could never subsidize 40+ days of travel. Maybe that is selling out. Maybe that’s real life.

San Diego is beautiful. We dined at Pokez, me wolfing down in orgiastic bliss a divine vegan and bean chorizo. I felt my body absorb not only the flavor but also the bounty of nutrition wrapped within. We then made our way to the beach. The Pacific, as mesmerizing as always. I stood on the jetty over the ocean, the waves crashing all around me. The sun set, falling into the sea. I felt calm and at peace. It was as if my body had a chance to breathe easy, if only for an hour.

The last time we were here, I trekked to the shore with a gaggle of dudes in the wee hours of the morn. They passed a spliff while I gazed off into the dark ocean, my first time seeing the Pacific. We saw various colors sparking in the waves, blue, red, orange. Someone later explained that this was due to algae. Yet no one believed them when they described this the next day. They relied on me as definitive proof: “He saw it. And he wasn’t high!”

Now it is back to the screamy, noisy routine. Maybe I’m getting too old for it. I crave catharsis. But what about the musical aspect? I don’t know. This is what I do. Some people paint. Some people build houses, others fix cars. I play guitar and jump around. I’ve done it since I was 16. I will probably do it when I am 60 (which shall be a sight to behold).

Everyone’s getting tense in their own ways. It has been two weeks. But man, every time I come out here, I fall more in love with it. I don’t know, I am a Jersey boy at heart, a man of the northeast. This seems like never, never land.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


10:28 AM

Cactus land and azure sky. We’re on Rt. 8 cruising to San Diego by way of Phoenix. I enjoyed myself last night, which was welcome relief after the miserable night in Oklahoma. Phoenix is beautiful, warm, sunny and relatively clean. We had a great show, with kids having fun. We stayed at a girl’s house, which wound up being an adventure. We could not find her house forever. When we reached her street, she said it was the house with the pick-up truck out front. Every house on the block boasted a pick-up truck out front. We drove slowly, peering into each houses’ front window, looking for any sign of friendly life. As we rolled slowly, silently down the quiet suburban street, we noticed a smaller house lit inside by a dim orange light. Two pointy-eared Chihuahuas stood sentry in the front window. We let out a collective yell upon seeing this sepulchral image, the darkened outline of the devil dogs in the eerie orange glow. They in turn exploded in a loud volley of shrill barking.

Soon we found her house and went inside to enjoy a nightcap of Del Taco. Her roommate, a seemingly nice enough chap, began talking endlessly about sundry topics as if we pulled the string in his back that stretched to Atlanta. He argued with Greg about the futility of learning other languages and ancient history. Obviously Greg took great umbrage at such remarks, since Greg received a Bachelors degree in those subjects. He went on to make vague comments about being an environmentalist and about how he did hard time for his activist activities.

The last time we visited Phoenix, we stayed with this girl at her parent’s home. When we pulled up, a kid from the show approached and warned us, “Her older brother is here and he is being really obnoxious.” He added, ominously, “And threatening.” Great, just what we look forward to after our first show of tour, a surly sibling in a strange town. We went inside and there he was, a mammoth loudmouthed drunk ape.

“You guys bring the bitches?” he bellowed as we ambled inside. “You guys all in a band?” Some half-hearted ‘yeahs’ followed. “Then where are all the sluts motherfuckers? Where be them slut pigs?” The situation was growing awkward. “I get to fuck ‘em first motherfuckers, I get to fuck ‘em first!” He chortled heartily at these statements. Some of my mentally swifter associates and I quickly fled to set up camp in a small bedroom. He continued to harass the unfortunate few who remained until his girlfriends arrived. “Alright faggots, my bitches is here. I thought I’d have to slap ‘em around if they got here any later.” Everyone ignored him, not even attempting to placate him with feeble smiles or nervous chuckles. “I’m gonna pork slam them tonight, woo-hoo fuck yeah!” He bid us adieu, “So long homos!”

This, after playing the show an hour after flying in from Newark, New Jersey and traveling to the show from the airport in Phoenix via limousine. It was the only transportation available. We rolled up in front of the venue like we were Styx or something. A dozen kids loitering outside saw who we were, and applauded as we exited the limo.

We’ve just hit an oasis of strip malls on this desert highway. Are we in Yucca? Palm trees line the street. It is warm and gorgeous today.

10:58 AM

Believe it or not, I wanted to go to the party last night. Half our crew wound up at a house stocked full of alcoholic beverages, narcotics and avid intakers of all of the above. Ordinarily, I enjoy such “parties” about as much as I enjoy dental work. But I felt like going last night and observing the melee as it unfolded. Way back in the dark annals of our history, we stopped in at a party in Blacksburg, Virginia. That was after the seventh show of the tour. A crew of kids from the show threw a booze-soaked fiesta in their apartment. We stayed for all of five minutes, leaving our intoxicated singer to fend for himself.

We went back to the house we intended to stay at. One of its inhabitants explained to us, “There’s a girl who lives here. She likes band guys. Maybe one of you all can KGB your way into her panties.” We all looked at each other. “KGB?” When Josh and I watched in disgust as the dog shat on the carpet and Greg witnessed the horror growing inside the tub, we made a quick getaway to a nearby hotel.

Do I need to explain what transpired on this tour before I began writing? No, I didn’t think so. But I’ll briefly summarize: We played a bunch of states in the northeast and then shot down to New Orleans. We drove from Harrisonburg, Virginia to N’awlins, 4:30 AM to 8:30 or so PM, eastern to central time. It was indeed hellish. The weather was 95% rain and cold until we hit the south. The northeast is boring but I can’t imagine living anywhere else. People grow friendlier the further south and west you journey.

Now I am surrounded by desert. The sun hammers into me. The mountains look like moonscape. This is amazing.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

New Mexico

A towering crucifix stares at me across the flat field that runs hundreds of miles to the south of us. God makes his presence known much more fiercely out here in the West, in the Plains, the non-East of wherever the fuck we are. A crowd of worshippers hovers at the base of the cross, doing god-knows-what. In a minute, they’re gone, the cross, the tiny shapes of bodies, the far away cars and the road shoots onward like a missile, soaring towards an unseen target.

It’s 9:45 in the morning, got up at 7:30 after falling asleep around 3 or so in our motel room. As we drove away from last night’s show (which bares no description- it was unremarkable), I gazed out the window into the void that loomed ominously forever. A cold moon glowered upon whatever out there I could not see. Greg insisted on playing “Televators” over and over, the only track that matters to him on the Mars Volta album. I listen to him argue, “They should have begun the album with this song. I listened to this on repeat for the entirety of my six hour drive home from practice once.” It is a long commute for a trivial band rehearsal. “It was awesome," he concluded.

As I stare into the belly of nothing, I pondered our lackluster show. What are we doing? What am I doing? Is this worth it? But I know this adventure has only just begun and that there is ample time and bountiful opportunity for things to get better, or to get worse.

The more I think about last night’s show, I realize it was a disaster, at least on my end. Technical snafus marred me all night. My new earplugs blocked out too much sound. But whatever, today is another day and tonight is another show. At the end of every show, I’m left feeling ecstatic or despondent. There is no middle ground. The most seemingly insignificant details can tilt the scales one way or the other. No one’s to blame really, well, not always.

I notice the shifts in geography and landscape as we drive deeper into the country. The trees thin out here, giving way to scrub brush and short sticks with tufts of green on top that look like lollipops. The ground still sprouts grass but I know it will soon turn to sand. Are we still in Oklahoma? Texas? New Mexico?

Today is the fourteenth day of tour. Tom asked if anything exciting or fun happened thus far. No one answered because, honestly, nothing exciting has happened. I am not complaining. I’m a person content with the normal, a man chained to routines, someone who seeks solace in the comfort of the expected. As I stared off into that black basket full of silver stars last night, I asked myself if I am happy doing this. Indeed, such ruminations upon great existential questions are not uncommon mental fodder for mercurial, indecisive, constantly doubting 28 year olds such as myself. In four weeks this will be over and then what? Back to the job I hate at the college bookstore, a job that doesn’t pay me enough to survive on? More tours? Should I act my age or live out my dreams? Is this my dream? And what about my girlfriend, will she tolerate me doing such nonsense as traveling across the country with a band that expects no income whatsoever from its work? Will she leave me upon my return? I wouldn’t blame her.

I’m in the backseat of Greg’s minivan as Josh drives. Matt and Greg are asleep and snoring loudly. Our singer Billy travels with the band we are touring with, and who knows where they are. They consist of Alexander, Jamie and Eric. We’re quite the traveling band of malcontents and miscreants.

The terrain grows more desert-like by the minute, more barren by the mile.

I attempted to read Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, yet it made no sense and bored me. You can’t concentrate in this van. I loved Fury. I finished Palahniuk’s Lullaby in three days, but that’s fast food for the mind. Maybe I’m just not that smart, not as bright a bulb as my college degree tells me.

I still await the bull’s eye, the scarlet scourge of Lyme disease. Damn the bloodsuckers, the mini vampires lurking in the bushes and swimming on the wind from the trees. Stay inside, please, I implore you, STAY INSIDE.

Touring is a weird trip. It seems to mostly consist of malnutrition, sleep deprivation, frayed nerves and blasting tempers like firecrackers. The band has done considerably well. We pay ourselves $10 per day. Not a king’s ransom (or what the guys in The Strokes or something pay themselves), but better than paying for everything out of our own anorexic wallets. We’ve managed to trick kids into buying our shirts and records.

They were extroverted and gracious to a fault in Texas and New Orleans. They talked my ear off, so much I could barely put it back on later that night. All of this was a nice change from the aloof, disinterested and cold east coast, our home. Yet this is a fickle trade we’ve devoted ourselves to. These kids won’t attend the show if we ever return. We’re onto our fourth record and they want the first. Nature of the Beast.

We stayed at a motel just outside that city along Route 10 that night. A punk at the venue loudly, drunkenly told us, “You ain’t stayin’ here!” I hope he chokes on his vomit in his sleep and dies a slow, painful, suffocating death. I am losing my patience. Billy and Alexander went for a jog around the hotel. They boasted bold plans to exercise and run every day. They got halfway around the block and came back sweating and gasping for air. No sign of physical activity since.

We just drove past a large barn-like building with ADULT ETC
emblazoned above it. XXX was painted on three silos next to it, as tall as the building. Where am I, why am I here?
11:04 AM

We’re driving into a black abyss here in New Mexico. I hope we survive the oncoming storm, which only could have come up from Hades.

11:10 AM

The mouth of the sky swallows us as rain pummels the van. Smiths on the stereo, maybe the last music we hear…we die to a crooning, morose Morrissey. A hearse tows a mashed up car alongside of us. This is New Mexico.

3:00 PM

Passed another car wreck. The rain comes and goes and with it cold and warmth. I saw a car facing the wrong direction in the eastbound lanes of I-40. Its hood was smashed to the windshield, like a crushed can. Then we drove by an SUV flipped on its side and wrecked against the guardrail in our westbound lane. The roof was caved in completely. A Navajo blanket lay near the vehicle’s corpse. I don’t know how anyone could have survived. This is the second serious accident we’ve come upon. The other was in Tennessee or Mississippi or maybe it was Alabama. On I-84 or I-35 two cars sat crunched together with rolls and rolls of toilet paper strewn across the pavement. We noticed people standing at the passenger side window. When we drove past, we saw a figure dressed in white slumped across the driver and passenger seats.

And now the rain roars against the van like wild animals threatening to tear through the roof. Outside is the Painted Desert. This must be what it’s like for people who see the ocean for the first time. This is new to me, sights seen only in textbooks or TV. We’ve gone by ghost towns, burned out abandoned cars and the carcasses of gas stations, convenience stores and auto repair shops. Here near the Arizona border I see scattered tiny homes built by brick and clay, a church nestled in the brick-red cliffs, but no people and no animals, nothing at all alive. This is another planet.

3:11 PM

More weathered, decaying billboards for Indian Trading Posts and Indian Gift Shops. This is the land our white forefathers stole from Mexico and both stole from the indigenous peoples of what we call America. What do the Navajo and the Apache and the Cherokee have to show for this crime today? Their tribal namesakes are used as advertising tools to sell cars. A billboard announces: “NOW IS THE DAY OF SALVATION.” For whom? Back east where the political and economic power is waged from the boardrooms of Washington and New York, no one sees the remains of the conquered, the last vestiges of the destroyed. Like everything else that’s undesirable, they sweep them under the carpet, they being the media, the government, the teachers and the captains of industry. But you can see it, just drive 2,500 miles west and see the beauty of this cemetery, the green, pink, red, orange and yellow cliffs. The Pilot rest stops, the slaughterhouses, the sea of sky swallowing the horizon in every direction. I feel tired and sick, yet I am mystified and humbled by what I see here. And this is just a rock tour.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Oklahoma City

Cramped in the backseat of the van with our luggage. The sun sets softly behind me beyond this Oklahoma wasteland. This is some burb on the outskirts of Oklahoma City. I feel like E.T. in places like this. This is not home. Home is far away. Everything here is flat as a ruler. Beaten looking people cruise past in dilapidated vehicles, eyeing us suspiciously, warily. Who are we, us filthy white kids looking very out of place? I await a sure and not so swift beating. Blame a brief adolescent period of being pursued and beat by minor thug teenage gangs at the Jersey shore, but I always fear a pummeling at the hands of nameless locals whenever we travel too far from our own comfortable domain.

After the show we drive to Phoenix, a drive that promises to last at least 14 hours. Thank Alexander for expert tour routing. Or thank the logistics of touring in this punk rock circuit in April.

Last night was fun. We played at a pizza place in Austin. During the day, it acts as a fancy family restaurant. But when the sun goes down, the tables are removed and the fun rises up. I recall hopping about and falling on a rug so thick and robust I barely felt a thing upon impact. A heavy throng of kids crowded inside for the rock. I saw some old faces from back home, like Rich, still with his distro, and Doug, still, well, still Doug, with his BMX cronies.

Afterwards we stayed with Tom. His cat, Chingy, decided that Billy’s sleeping bag looked just like her cat box and urinated all over it. Of course this evoked unending outbursts of laughter, all at Billy’s expense. Yet the rest of us feared such a fate for our sleeping bags. This caused me to avoid sleep until well after 4 AM. I pulled the blue bag tightly around me, so I’d know if the full-bladdered feline intended to make a bathroom of my bag.

The cat ran amok all night. What do they feed her, crack? At varying intervals, she rammed my leg, jolting me into jittery, nervous consciousness and muttering, “What the fuck, no, get away, don’t pee on me, DON’T FUCKING PEE ON ME!” Eric somehow slept curled up on the Barcalounger. I don’t know he does it. He left his sleeping bag somewhere, and his pillow somewhere else. So he just calls a spot, assumes the position and dozes off. It’s impressive.

We awoke early, the sun piercing through the window like arrows. Tom allowed us to devour his groceries. Then we went to a post office for Greg to mail off various record label business and us to send out various payments. No, playing in a band does not come for free. Everyone demanded coffee, so we cruised into downtown Austin and settled in a hip café. I had chai with soy, my favorite. The city seems a halfway decent place. The houses boast that southwest/Mexican architecture. Lots of adobe pinks and light browns. I felt alright there.

Jamie made us eat at Mr. Gatti’s, this chain restaurant, which is a buffet of fast Italian food. Supposedly he eats there until he vomits. Thankfully, he did not do so this time. Me, the vegan, blew seven smackers on a plate of iceberg lettuce, pasta and marinara sauce I hoped was meat and cheese free. Later, Tom told me him and Alexander were going to a popular vegetarian eatery. Of course I joined them and blew $10 or so. The price to pay for eating healthy.

The clouds and sky seem nearly upon me in the great big prairie land open of Oklahoma. Why does it fly this low out here? All I see in this region is poverty to the extreme. Ramshackle ranch houses and abandoned buildings rot past the highway.

Otherwise, I’ve slept barely three hours per night. I live off a steady diet of Clif bars and Subway. I need nourishment of all kinds and none of it is foreseeable on the horizon, especially with the desert hours away.