Piece of the Seldom Seen Northwest
A moneymaking sidewalk show in Fisherman’s Wharf was one prong of a multiple pronged business plan. After four months playing the pavement I trucked to the Northwest. Instead of fifteen minute shows I’d be presenting my one hour set. Instead of a sidewalk I’d play college campuses.
I traveled solo with my performing dog, chicken, cat and goldfish. I had a sleeping bunk, cooking gear, suitcase, shave kit, typewriter, costume and set of mechanic’s tools. I cooked off my tailgate. The price of gas was my mortal enemy.
I was hopping from date to date. My California plates were a tip-off. Provincial types reckoned I was an infiltrator. Alternately cognizant citizen’s saw me for the dreamer I was. Six hours from Stockton and I landed in Ashland, Oregon, six hours more and I’m asleep in my bunk in Corvallis.
At the end of any day I might have not spoken to another soul. Touring can be bittersweet lonely. I encamped between dates along lakes and rivers. I’d stock up on supplies get out of town and sit still. Weekday’s out thirty miles from any population center was quiet. I made small talk with local ranchers. Sometimes a highway crew was repairing a nearby roadway. Most days I didn’t see another soul.
I polished the skillful means of being comfortable in my own skin. I had a good bed in my truck and screened windows. I’d wash my pots and pans, brush my teeth. The dog, cat, chicken and goldfish all rested easier once I settled in for the night. I’d try to finish my chores before sundown then curl up on my bunk and read.
Let’s Get Away From it All
Once you’re out on the road the pace of life takes a few days to get into the rhythm. The idea is to not fixate on your destination. You will want to appreciate all those in-between moments, make peace with each leg, the journey itself becomes a feature length wide screen spectacular. Waking up, making coffee off the tailgate, caring for the animals, getting the truck started, leaving plenty of time to get to where you are going, this is remaining centered and exercising a self respecting sense of composure. You can’t let emptiness rattle your nerves.
I’d learn from incidental conversations about the places I was passing through. If I needed a nap I’d pull off climb onto my bunk and sleep. You want to take the time and make the effort to fill the five gallon jug with spring fed drinking water. I did all my own oil changes, kept my brakes adjusted, greased all the zerk fittings. The idea was to keep ahead of trouble and fix something before you had a breakdown.
I’d play a date and after go to the local bank where the check was drawn. When my wallet was flush I’d send the other checks by mail to my bank back in California. I’d pull off and use a pay phone to check in with my answering service. I’d practice juggling and hand balancing in parks. Product development required staying in shape and coming up with new tricks I wrote music and lyrics for the ukulele. I tried teaching the dog a thing or two.
I corresponded with clients. Letters were composed on my Smith-Corona manual typewriter. I kept a calendar with potential appearances penciled in, once my client confirmed I inked the date in. Once I had a booking I queried the surrounding communities for more work. Festivals, fairs, schools, libraries, fraternal organizations and park and recreation departments were all targets of my advertising campaign. Once I had taken care of matters related to my immediate survival I would turn my attention to finding an engagement for tomorrow. A sober eyed fiduciary responsibility to keeping the show afloat filled seven days a week.
Glamour and Glory of the Biz
I had met members of Charlie Musselwhite’s band at a bar in the Bay Area. The players were moving north with the spring. I’d pulled into Eugene and so was the band. Tacoma same thing. Between sets I’d drink beer, shoot pool and small talk to Charlie’s sidemen. My juggling business and touring amused the vagabond musicians. They were envious of the simplicity of my running a solo entertainment enterprise. They traveled by automobiles and stayed in economy motels. Charlie seemed older than the hills even if he wasn’t. Musselwhite and his band all drank hard. The Chicago harmonica bluesman was punching out one night stands up and down the west coast trying to keep food on the table and a roof over his head. Charlie’s band was rarely asleep before dawn. You could be a blues player, do all that drinking, smoking cigarettes, skirt chasing tom catting but that was hard on a body and you’re bound to wear out sooner than later. Charlie eventually stopped drinking. Sobriety is a lot to do with why he’s still alive today.
Charlie’s guitar player had quite the way with the ladies. He had two or four aching to be his one and only. He’d come and gone through Tacoma enough to have made some sort of lasting memories with his throng of heartthrobs. He’d tried taking one on the road. Hard as he tried the guitar player couldn’t make that kind of arrangement stick. Guitar playing seems to be more soulful when powered by heartbreak, two-timing and everlasting unfaithfulness. Charlie’s band was versed far more completely in all of these matters than some upstart one man variety show act. Even a better than fair looking comedy juggler was no match when going up against a quartet of rhythm and blues infused Don Juan’s.