Tuesday I am driving from San Francisco to Denver. First stop is Silver City, Nevada. Wednesday will shape more east on Highway 50 for Baker right on the Utah border. Will see how much stomach I’ve got for road Thursday. If I make it to Glenwood Springs, Colorado that would setup striking distance to arrive in Littleton on Friday.
I’ve been worried for four years about the sanity of our Executive in the White House. I have been looking at the problem of climate emergency we’re trying to come to grips with for a good many years more. Add the emerging pandemic from the Coronavirus to the existential threats and you’ve got yourself a red-hot short list to what is keeping responsible military officials at the Pentagon awake night and day.
Now an unwanted bug is going viral. In honor of this threat and in consideration of the hazard it represents, my wife and I are battening down the hatches here at the one-man and one-woman amusement park. We are provisioning our apartment in Colorado this weekend. Being sailors we’re expert on stocking a pantry with dry goods. That bit of nuttery has caused us both much Mormon like sorrows.
Cruise ships are departing harbors across the globe as I write this tomb of viral doom, but among my vast readership, (vanity project) are there any anti-vaxxers ready to learn they are confined offshore on an infected ship? Didn’t think so.
Hunkering in an apartment isn’t so bad when considering the alternatives. The writer and his best half are both quirky vegans. You’d think Darwin would smile down upon such vaunted immune systems and I’m sure Charles is doing exactly that from high on but how much faith would you put in a grinning angel short of seeing one at closing time in the prime of your lost post adolescent youth?
I place my marker, and I am not a betting man, this is not a wager, this is a concern, and what has my attention isn’t today but where the numbers might suggest we are headed two weeks from now.
Running across Nevada dawn to dusk Wednesday. The Silver State delivers a respite from the crush of humanity. Nevadan’s possess a warmhearted insular misanthropic neighborliness. Crusty rural types are as likely to give you the shirt off their back as to toss a baby rattlesnake at your feet so they might get to laugh as you try dancing for your life.
The rows of mountain ranges oriented north to south come upon a traveler like waves. Dunes, snow capped peaks, pinion and juniper groves, everywhere sagebrush. High desert is stark, cold, seductive.
A desolate Great Basin landscape feels prescriptive. Putting all the troubles in the world in the rearview mirror, striking out on Highway 50, piling up one-hundred miles of nowhere and nothing is a soothing means of catching up on all those insoluble puzzles I’ve been intending to finish.
My wish list is short for things I’d like to see fixed. End fossil fuel subsidies and transfer that assistance to the renewable energy sector. That would be one thing. Next, remove the current autocrat running amok from the Oval Office. And last, wish you all a safe journey and good health through this rough patch that is barreling at light speed toward our precious Mother Earth.
“This is a family
show. After my show you’ll all want to go home and start a family.”
North Tour 1980
After four months playing the sidewalk in San Francisco I
pulled up stakes and trucked to the Northwest. Instead of fifteen minute shows
I’d present my one hour set. Instead of a sidewalk I’d play college campuses.
Getting amped up for twenty-five sidewalk shows squeezed into three days was a
gut busting iron man competition. I needed a change-up to my routine. The hope
was I’d come back from the tour recharged. Sidewalk shows are always uphill at
full speed from start to end. Contracted college dates dialed the intensity of
a show back. Instead of sprinting I was long distance running.
I traveled solo with my performing dog, chicken, cat and
dozen goldfish. I had a sleeping bunk, cooking gear, suitcase, shave kit,
typewriter, prop case and costume. Under
my front seat were a set of chains for my tires in the event I encountered snow
or ice. Cooking was done off my tailgate. The price of gas was my mortal enemy.
I was hopping from date to date. My California plates were a
tipoff. Provincial types reckoned I must be an infiltrator. Alternately
conscious sympathizers saw me as an out of bounds homeboy on the prowl, they
recognized the desperado— I was pegged a soul searcher. Six hours from
Stockton and I was in Ashland, Oregon, six hours more and I’m asleep in my bunk
At the end of any day I might have not spoken to another soul.
Touring can be as simple as sixteen hours of bittersweet lonely silence fueled
doubt. I encamped along lakes and rivers. I’d stock up on food, get out of town—
sit still. Weekday’s out thirty miles from any population center was all wind
whistling through the pine needles. I made small talk with local ranchers.
Sometimes a highway crew was repairing a nearby roadway. Most of the week after
a show I’d be camped alone.
This road dog veteran 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
rested easier once I settled in for the night. I’d try to finish my chores
before sundown then curl up on my bunk with a book.
Once on the road the pace of life will work out best by
keeping your wits about you. Getting into the rhythm takes time while you
adjust. The idea is to not fixate on the destination. You will want to
appreciate all the in-between moments, make each leg of the tour matter, the
journey itself is the spacious location, the string of dates becomes a feature
length wide screen modern day sprawling epic. It was alternately either all Clint
Eastwood as Bronco Billy or Charlie Chaplin out there. Waking up, making cowboy
coffee, caring for the animals, getting the truck started, leaving plenty of
time to get to the venue for the show, this is how to bring composure to each
new crack of dawn. You can’t let emptiness rattle your nerves.
I sought out insider knowledge from incidental conversations
about the places I was passing through. If I needed a nap I’d pull off the
highway slow roll down a dirt road park beneath a shade tree climb onto my bunk
and fall asleep relishing the stillness. 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, be sure to fix a problem before you had a
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 extra checks by mail to
my bank back in California. I’d pull off and use a pay phone to get in contact
with my answering service operator. 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 my dog Sunshine
a thing or two.
I corresponded with clients. Solicitous letters were
composed on my Smith-Corona manual typewriter. I kept a calendar with potential
appearances marked in pencil. Once a client confirmed I inked the date in with
expectation and permanence. In the event a booking was contracted I queried the
surrounding communities for more work. Festivals, fairs, schools, libraries,
and park and recreation departments were all targets of my mailing campaign.
Once I had finished one show I turned my attention to finding an engagement for
tomorrow. A sober eyed fiduciary responsibility to keeping the theatrical
enterprise afloat filled my day and night.
This past winter before heading north I went bar hopping and
whiskey drinking. I befriended members of the Charlie Musselwhite Band at a
down on your suburban luck saloon in Sunnyvale, California. Charlie’s players
were moving north with 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 with
Charlie’s sidemen. My juggling business amused the vagabond musicians. They
were envious of my running a solo entertainment enterprise. Unaware of a
variety entertainer’s austere road life they instead traveled by automobiles
and stayed in what I imagined were luxurious economy motels. Charlie seemed
older than the hills even if he wasn’t. Musselwhite and his band all drank
hard. The Chicago trained harmonica bluesman was punching out one-night stands
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 wore on a body and you’re bound to wear out sooner than
later. Charlie eventually stopped his liquor drinking. Sobriety is likely a lot
to do with why he’s lived such a long life.
Charlie’s guitar player had quite the way with the ladies. The handsome picker 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. Music making 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.