I’m at the end of the tour. Hovering just under 4 weeks out, in Little Rock.
The other musicians are in and out of a hotel day room. Showering. Resting. Calling loved ones at home. Lounging on the bus. Getting ready for tomorrow’s flights. Everyone’s a little edgy, a little somber, and more than a little hungry.
I’ve spent the afternoon on a walk around town with our drummer Fred and Lindsay, after a big lunch of course. Pretty much how it’s been every day, except that today is a mix of excitement, melancholy, and homesick desperation. Last days are heavy.
Sam, the guitar tech and all around great guy, is setting up gear on stage. After lunch we had load-in, which is why I’m taking a breather; I won’t have something to do until sound-check in a few hours.
The driver, Sean, is working on the bus. The generator has been tricky for the last few days, but it was able to make it to the lot behind the club overlooking the Arkansas River. Nothing as bad as when the brakes went out in Montreal almost making Heartless late for a festival in Toronto. That’s just par for the course, when you put that many miles on anything, the small things start to give out.
Walking, sitting, waiting, and writing. Thinking about everything that’s happened to me on this run. Wild thoughts. Strange dreams and epiphanies. A string of days where everything felt dark. Nihilistic comedy. Jubilant performances.
A handful of giant fist-sized crickets passing by my head, and a grandmother pushing two toddlers in a stroller. I listen to the river.
There are a million little things I could tell you about: strange people, inside jokes, tensions and arguments…the dark stuff that makes for easy stories…but I’ll try to write something about gratitude, a word rarely used in this business. Though it might take me a second to get there.
I feel it’s important, ‘cause I feel really grateful. Now…on this very bench…as I’m writing to you…so close to home. And from day one, from the moment I had landed in New Orleans…or actually a little after that.
“Thanks for flying with us.”
I nodded back weakly, not because the flight was bad, but I’m just not a morning person.
I was getting an unusual amount of hospitality from the attendants. I’m not used to First Class, and the only reason I’m there is because of some fluke about the number of bags I can carry, and how many musical instruments it was cheaper for me to fly first class. Anyways…
It was 9:00 in the morning, and I already had enough snacks and diet cola to last me till lunch, but that still doesn’t mean I was ready to talk to people.
Baggage claim’s next on my list, I think to myself as I’m turning on my phone, following the herd off of the plane.
Baggage claim, I think to myself as my phone loads up the regular amount of programs and updates. I get an email from Mgmt. I read it as I collect my bags ahead of everyone else (one of the perks of first class).
‘Rene. You’ll be landing first. The guys should be a couple of hours behind. It’ll probably be easier for you to wait at the airport until they arrive. Then you can go to the rehearsal together.’
Only a couple of hours at the New Orleans airport… I think as I’m passing the last restaurants and shops, heading through security.
And now it’s too late to go back.
The waiting area for rentals and taxis is small. Real small. Two vending machines, an empty help desk, and a rack of pamphlets…and nowhere good to kill two hours.
And soon I’m waiting outside on the smoking bench, with my gear and bag, next to a fifty-something women burning through a second cigarette.
“You get kicked out?” she asked.
“What?” I was in too much of a daze to understand her, until she points at all my things with a deep violet polished finger.
“You got a lot of stuff hun… looks like you got kicked out of your apartment.”
“No… I’m playing tomorrow,” I said kicking my bass case, but she starts laughing, deep and husky.
She’s messing with me.
“I know, I know hun,” she laughs more then turns away, taking another drag…leaving me feeling strange.
Should I leave? Where would I go? Does she want to talk or just tell me that joke? That was a joke, right?
Then she snubs out the butt under a heel, and sits next to me.
“Who ya wanting for?”
“The rest of my group.”
“By yourself? Hmm…”
“Why ain’t they here? The rest of your band? Shouldn’t a band be together?”
“They are… uh… coming from New York, I think,”
“You don’t know?”
“I’ve never played with these guys before,” I said trying to explain this situation, but I don’t know how interested she really is.
She’s getting to the end of the smoke.
“But you’re playing tomorrow?”
She says something else, but it was lost in the roar of a bus pulling away from the stop, and I don’t really feel like asking her to repeat. She starts looking through her iPhone with one hand, grabs the cigarette pack off the bench between us, and without another word walks away.
There’s a weird moment when I’m alone. I notice a breeze hadn’t come by in a while. I notice New Orleans is warm, but not the kinda warm that I have in Texas. The air is heavy and wet. The warmth is hovering all over me. I could feel it sitting in my chest. Why hadn’t I noticed this before?
I try to distract myself, pulling out my phone, playing a quick game. Then I check my emails as a new group of passengers comes thru.
I look over the schedule.
Show after show.
Only a few days off.
Why hadn’t I noticed this?
And all I can think of thru the woman and her cigarettes: Everything’s different.
The people unloading from planes, grabbing their bags, getting into taxis. New Orleans: Everything’s different.
And I think about the last bus tour I did, the smallness of a bus bunk. Buses are small: Everything’s different.
My family back at home, my son, my wife.
I’ve got a month on a bus with a band of guys I don’t know. Everything’s different and anything could happen.
Then my phone buzzed.
“Rene. We landed. Where are you?”
To be cont…