Monday, June 30, 2008

Day one hundred and seventy eight/nine ... The payoff/the departure/epilogue.

Raleigh was a quick ride from Winston-Salem.

That being the case, we decided to stop for breakfast. Everything was pretty standard except that Scott opted for the "fruit plate" to go along with his pancakes. The friendly waitress let Scott know that "That fruit plate is pretty big. You sure you want two pancakes?" Easily influenced, Scott opted for just the one.

Well, the waitress wasn't lying about it being big. It was--a whole dinner plate's worth of big. Among the assortment of fine fruits: canned melons; canned apples; canned cling-peaches; and jarred maraschino cherries freshly spooned, shimmering and glistening from the mid-morning sun shining off of the syrupy, sugary, institutional coating, barely camouflaging the spoon marks inflicted by the chef. The prepared fruit, gleefully released from its corrugated containment cell into the general food population mere moments earlier, happily commingled with a healthy dose of cottage cheese aiding and abetting its conspirators to conceal a thin layer of the most subtle of all nature's fruits--shredded, iceberg lettuce.

Only in the south.

And I mean that in the quaintest of ways. Lamentably, I did not have the foresight to take a photo. I think, from the above description, you can picture it.

So, anyway, we made it to Raleigh in a couple of hours and set up camp at Lisa's. She's somewhat of a den mother to us lost boys.

Lisa has been a constant in all the trips we take to, and through, Raleigh. She's the classic southern girl: easygoing, confident, insightful, witty, honest, and classy. I would have to add that she is trusting as well, as she leaves the key to her place under the rug for whenever we roll in. I'm not sure what her new housemate, Joe, thinks of the situation. We met him as we were moving in and I think he was a little surprised--well, more like a lot surprised. Sorry Joe, you may split the rent, but we've got a show to do.

Thanks again, Lisa.

Hung out there for a while, did a bit of laundry and got ready to go to town.

Hit Sadlack's for a while. Sad's is the southern equivalent of Arnold's from Happy Days with a lot less milkshakes and a lot more beer. They have bands out on the patio and we almost always play a show there. This trip, unfortunately, time did not permit a gig. Said hi to a ton of folks we haven't seen in over a year, had a sandwich, listened to a funk/blues band playing on the patio for the obligatory ten minutes and then headed out.

Our gig was at a place called the Berkeley Cafe. Can't say I'd call it a traditional cafe, but they did sell hot dogs which made Dave's ears start to wiggle. Maryanne books the room, as well as a couple others in town we have played. She takes good care of us and we try do our best in return.

Thanks, Maryanne.

Morgan Kraft opened the show again, with Dave on drums, and freaked out the twenty or so early arrivals. I mentioned Morgan in the last post. He has a unique style with the fretless guitar, singing in a forceful, insistent baritone. We are lucky to have such unique and confident friends.

Thanks again, Morgan.

The place filled up by the start of the show. In attendance was one of our earliest-made friends from NC, Mr. Peter Blackstock, co-founder and editor of No Depression magazine. Peter has supported us and our roots-rock intentions dating all the way back to the early part of the decade. His hearty endorsement of us has helped both in spirit and in opening doors which had been locked from the inside. This took on a more literal form when Peter showed up at a gig of ours back in 2003 at which the owner had decided to lock the doors early and keep the show "private" for the fifteen or so folks whose curiosity had gotten the better of them. He even brought us Creme-Puffs which up until then had only been available from the Winn-Dixie. 

From the swaying, smiling, applauding, and close proximity to the stage for the entire show, I think Peter liked it.

Thanks again, Peter.

It was a spirited two-plus hours of a show. All the good stuff got its due. We even played "Stars", off of our third record, Iron Hip. We haven't played that tune in over a year but it didn't show too much rust from what I could tell. "Stars" is our Raleigh friend, Rosie's, favorite song (she even brought cut-out paper stars the last time we played, and put them at our feet--cute, cute, cute.). If we don't play the song she'll shout and holler "Staaaaarrrrrrsssssss!!!!" until we do. 

It's kind of surreal if you don't know why she's yelling it.

It was nice to see so many people in attendance at a place we've never played. The town, on the other hand, we have played probably twenty times. 

Raleigh is like our second home and has always been good to us--great even. The folks here are real. The atmosphere is honest, resilient, debauched, defiantly southern and community-oriented. It's nice to see that, in a country where strip malls have replaced town squares, and drive-ins with roller-skate service and freshly grilled burgers have been replaced with rhumba-lines of idling cars--bloated, belching, and crawling forward to retrieve bag after greasy bag of pre-made slop--that there is a place where you can slow down and sit with people who like people, and eat fresh food that was made just for you before you go play at the local venue. And when people talk to you there, and they say they'll see you later at the show, they're not just making small talk. Because you will definitely see them later. It's a matter of pride and personal honesty, and it always takes me by surprise. And that's a wonderful feeling indeed.

We went to a place called Slim's after that. We had played there once before (the paper stars incident happened there) and something very unique happened to me.

We made it in just before last call. I was standing around and decided to grab the local weekly. I wasn't drinking, and I didn't feel like waiting in line and/or occupying the bartender's time to request a water. So, I just stood hung near the closest dim light. As I was struggling to read the tiny print, the bar the lights suddenly went up. Hooray!, I thought, I can read. What the ... ? This, for me, was the first time I had ever been at a bar when the lights went on signaling imminent exodus, and I was more than happy about it.

Little surprises around every corner, but nothing dangerous, as they say.

We went to our friend Jen and CJ's house for a while and finally back to Lisa's for some much deserved rest.

Saturday started with a fine breakfast prepared by our friend Lutie. Lutie is married to Jac Cain who may very well be the best soundman in the Southeast. Jac may also have the largest collection of flame-oriented apparel allowed per person in North America. Jac's band, The Poonhounds, have played with us before and schooled us in the ways of three-piece, furious, punkabilly. Lutie is a phenomenal bass player and we had the pleasure of her cameo on bass at the Berkeley show on the show-closer, "6:29," in which Bow plays trumpet.

Thank you, Lutie.

Off to Wendell (pronounced, Wen-dell down here), and a relaxing day at the Blue Sky Farms lake compound owned by our friend Steve. We lazed about and took a dip in the 70 degree water. 

Thank you, Steve.

It was here, on Blue Sky Pond, that an adventurous chain of events unfolded.

I spied a rowboat across the pond. The curious chap that I am, I took a stroll and went for a look. After pulling it away from the brush it had been propped up on, I ascertained that there were no paddles and hastily returned it to its proper position against the brush. This, as predicted, elicited a chorus of far off and echoey boos from across the pond. Never one to miss an opportunity for attention (or to prove my seaworthiness), I immediately reconfigured my plan of attack and foraged for a stick long enough and strong enough to use as a makeshift paddle. This took no time at all, and in a matter of minutes I was teetering side to side in the middle of a lime-green, tin and plastic vessel, with a crew of ants in the hold and swaths of snowy white cobwebs as my rigging, and I was rowing with my stick and moving, suspiciously fast, towards the other side of the pond. It was long enough that I paddled it like a kayak holding my hands about two feet apart and alternating left and right strokes.

Upon reaching the other side of the pond I, in true pirate fashion, grabbed the sunblock from my bag and reapplied the life-extending cream.

I took a few minutes to recharge, said my goodbyes, grabbed my camera, and headed back out in my stick-boat. 

Once again, my virgin jump-rope did not see the light of day as stick-boating is one of the foremost calorie burning activities recently discovered.

The elusive North Carolina bear-pig made a surprise appearance waving us on with its snout and granting us some good luck with its mere presence.

Thank you, bear-pig.

And, before long, it was time to head back and get on the road to Charlotte. We dropped off Lisa at home and made the requisite stop at Snoopy's for some hot dogs with chili, mustard, and onions. And yes, I am still on my diet. My diet is specifically tailored to fit my temporary circumstances on this trip while I'm happily stuck stopping at the places five people can agree on. I had a Snoopy dog and a cheeseburger. What I did not have was fries, onion rings, a fried apple pie, or an ice cream float, any of which would have been fair game on a previous trip.

And then, back in the van and on to Charlotte we did go.

Charlotte proved to be a lot better than previous times. 

Puckett's Farm Equipment is a classic old building from a time in the past when the men of the house would head out for a bag of feed, or a new tiller, and talk shop over a cold Pabst from the oversized cooler in the back, smoking Pall Mall Kings or spitting chew.

I talked to a guy there who had seen the place in all its incarnations: as a farm equipment store with a cooler in the back; as a bar that sold a few pieces of farm equipment; and as a club with a bar that just calls itself a farm equipment store. As it stands now, with it's owner, Gary Puckett at the helm, it remains a unique and friendly venue that always makes us feel welcome.

Thank you, Gary.

It's been tough getting people out to see a band they may not know, but last night, with the help of the local press, we put a nice size crowd in there.

We played a spirited set, a bit heavy on the old-school country side, and even had a crew of kids up front dancing. Playing "The Chicken Dance" for those lucky enough to be celebrating a birthday at a Stuntmen show helps get the mojo flowing and before we knew it, they were cutting a rug to our distinctive brand of roots-rock mayhem.

This lucky young lady, named Joy, even got a one-of-a-kind "google-eyed" Drunk Stuntmen poster for her very own.

Personally, I love SS's personalization (directly below Drunk Stuntmen): "Joy, this is your poster."--classic.

And then it was time to pack up and head to the motel to sleep a bit before making the trek home which is where I am currently about five hours into.

I just spoke to my aunt who I will be seeing this week. She is anxious to see me and hug me and let me take care of her like I had been doing not that long ago before I was given this five days of away-time to do this important tour. She needs me, and I am gratefully available to help her now when she does.

It's been a good tour. We played some fine music--our music. We ate a lot of good food. We balanced work with relaxing. And we did it all on our own, without the help of, and conversely the debt to, anyone outside of the immediate family. I saw a lot of people who I care about, and vice versa. These people have stuck with us and made us feel welcome and that's all anybody really needs in this world: to be cared about and taken care of in hopes that what goes around really does come around. And hopefully it will come around while we still are, as we always have been, as we plan on continuing to do, as presently, we have no other desire or directive. 

This is it.

This is enough.

This was easier than I thought.

And this has come to its natural conclusion ... to be continued.

Thanks to Steve and Scott for driving. Thanks to Bow, Dave, and the aforementioned for playing so well. Thanks to all the people who came to the shows, all the pretty girls for making us feel a little less like strangers, and all the club owners and bookers for believing in us for what seems like forever and a day.

And, as always, thank you, all of you out there, for reading.



As I was tidying up this post in my text editor, a giant "Pop!" sound came from the driver's side tire. It sounded like a flat tire. This would be an annoyance, but a minor setback at the most.

We pulled over and checked; no problem was visible.

We got back in and drove a half mile or so and it happened again.

This time we pulled off at an exit where the van was diagnosed with busted wheel bearings.

I wasn't too sure what that meant but soon found out that it was serious--like, get-on-a bus-and-spend-a-day-and-a-half-to-get-home kind of serious. 

So, we used my AAA card this time (as Scott's had the maximum 2 tows on it for the year), and waited in the van. Dave took this time to enjoy the majesty of a Virginia thunderstorm the classic Yankee way: under a tree with an open umbrella.

Yes, it's a bad idea. No, nobody stopped him. Yes, he survived.

Bow dared me to put googly eyes on the giant tiger outside the Exxon. I took him up on it, as you can clearly see.

And so we waited for Wayne, from Wayne's auto repair to come and pick us up. He showed up promptly and ascertained that it probably was the bearings. He then got on his phone, and called Advanced Auto Parts who, for some strange reason, were open until 8 p.m. on a Sunday. 

Then, the van assumed the position on a flatbed for the second time in this four day trip.

And we assumed the position in the back of the cab.

And the five of us--six, including Wayne--drove 25 miles north to the town of Fairfield, VA to see what we could see.

Meanwhile, I found a wall jack outside the facilities and recharged my laptop. I don't know if you can electronically monitor the fear instilled in a piece of machinery, but if you could, I think ol' Lappy's readings would have been off the charts. After five or six people showed up and started to mill about I decided it had had enough and relinquished it from its post.

And we hung out and spent time together, as a band, at a garage in a tiny town in the south, like we've done on oh-so-many occasions. It didn't make us freak out, it didn't make us argue over stupid shit, and it didn't make us give up, because this is the kind of stuff that brings people together. It may be cliché, but it is the truth. And in a matter of a few hours, on a Sunday evening, hundreds of miles from home, we got handed a bit of good luck. 

Thank you, Wayne.

And of course, thank you supernatural spirits of the under-overworld who must be having quite a laugh over this cage of mice they are controlling with reckless abandon. It must be fun to be all-powerful.

So, after we paid the very modest sum for the parts and labor, and gave Wayne our two most recent CD's as a parting gift, we got in the van and drove north.

It was a five hour pit-stop that could have become a multiple day disaster of logistics.

Sometimes, things just work out.

As the brakes coming off of interstate 91 jarred me from a dream, I rubbed my eyes, massaged my sore neck, and took a swig from my almost empty gallon of warm water, I saw from a cloudy field of vision, houses that looked familiar--New England houses--my neighborhood houses. And I realized I was safe. And not only was I safe, I was sane ... in mind and body and spirit.

And as I sit on my couch listening to my landlord mow the grass outside, with pictures on my walls and instruments on their stands in my periphery, I am almost overcome by the beauty of it all--the beauty of fate combined with perseverance and determination. And, I am, as well, struck by an amazing balance--the balance of feeling endlessly satisfied and appreciative that I went on this short but most important journey, and eternally grateful to be back, around people who love me, in New England, on a beautiful summer day, right back at home where I belong.

Thanks again for reading.


And here are the photos I'd be kicking myself for not including.


Above and below: Virginia rest area.

Port-o-John googly-elephant.

Above: bathroom, Omega House Breakfast joint Winston-Salem, NC

Below: outside The Garage, Winston-Salem.

And my all time personal favorites located at a North Carolina gas station ...

And the interstate googler rides on ... thanks for playing along. 
This world takes itself way too seriously. Now, go out there and do something funny to it.


Anonymous said...

You just made my day with your silly googly eyes. I love that kind of fun. I really needed the humor--it's been a panicky kind of day.

Five Little Words said...

I haven't enjoyed myself listen to music so much in a very long time. It was nice to get out of my head. I only screamed it once this time when Lutie started screaming requests, prefacing it with, "Oh FUCK it..." because I swear I really wasn't going to scream it this last time, but you know it makes my life hearing it live. Thanks so much for everything you do.
Much love,
Rose Ann