605 Miles From Home: Part 2
We’d made it into the diner only seconds before it really began to pour. In a few minutes, the rain filled the street, overwhelmed the gutter, and crept over the sidewalk.
Normally I love a flash flood…maybe because it’s a very South Texas thing, to suddenly go from a beautiful day to 10 minutes of intense rain. The crack of an Earth-shaking, chest pounding thunder, and the way lightning spreads out its wild, illuminated fingers through the sky…so primordial and anciently terrifying, touching down into some instinctual part of me. And then nothing…as if it never was.
That day my stomach was having too rough of a time to enjoy any of it.
A mixture of travel exhaustion and late-night drinking had me queasy, making the storm feel unsettling instead of romantically melancholy. Looking through the menu of a New Orleans greasy spoon wasn’t helping either.
I think I would have just gone somewhere else had it not been so torrential at the moment.
The place looked like some weird version of Al’s Diner. Our server – paper hat, apron, and all – was going down our line of bar-stools collecting drink orders on his notepad.
I was being indecisive. My eyes couldn’t even find where to start. The menu was looking like a blur of black letters, red lines, and poorly lit photos of unappetizing food.
He started with the others, “What can I get you man?”
He had a voice 15 decibels too loud for my head. He was energized, enthusiastic, and trying hard to be friendly. I guess to cover the fact that he was a fighter. Intimidating in size and height, with a cauliflower ear, knuckles flat as a board, left eyebrow scar, and speech slurred and spacey. He easily weighed something close to two and a half musicians combined.
Damn that went fast. My turn.
“My man, coffee like your friends?”
“Uh… no…” I could feel my stomach knot, and the weird feeling of having to swallow when there’s nothing there. “Diet Coke.”
He laughed, “I gotcha. I gotcha. This guy needs me to turn down the lights!”
He yelled it, but I don’t think anyone noticed over the pan-slapping, yelling, and sizzling noises coming from the fry cooks.
Conversation was light. Partly because of my state, though I wasn’t the only one feeling off, and partly because I was still finding my way into the group.
Fred was looking for the best vegetarian option that wasn’t like another omelet we had only a few hours before we went to sleep. Dave was getting menu recommendations.
I halfheartedly debated what meal was least likely to come back up – between a burger and the house special (a piled on mountain of a sandwich recommended to Dave by our waiter) – while my mind wandered off about this…
It’d been a while since I played with completely new people. It’d been a while since I had been thrown in to socialize with completely new people.
A new band.
How weird it is to start one. How hard it is to find people I like, much less play with, or start a business together. Besides musical chemistry, which is rare and difficult enough to find, you need to be able to hang with the members.
All day. Every day. For months. For years. Again and again. Without driving each other crazy. All focused. All giving more than they are asked. All willing to sacrifice again and again.
My brothers and I have been through so much I don’t think you could find a tighter band. We don’t always agree, and it isn’t perfect or easy, but we have a way of finding a compromise, of fighting it out and moving on.
My drink order came. It was a lukewarm can and one of those cheap, thick plastic cups that still felt hot, like it was just pulled out of the dishwasher, filled with crushed ice. I like that I know the cup is freshly clean, but the heat makes for a weird taste. At least I had the ice.
Two men came into the restaurant, shoes sloshing and umbrellas dripping by the door.
“Got tired of waiting outside?” The server yelled at them, “Might as well grab a drink my man. I’ll getcha.”
“It just won’t stop.” They laughed, grabbed a bar-stool a few spaces down from us, and started on about the weather as the server did his same loud routine for the new customers.
I turned to Fred, “What you decide?”
“Omelet,” he sighed.
“Goin’ for two,” I laughed as he shrugged. Fred tossed me a what-about-you look. “Ugh… hamburger I guess? I dunno.”
I think I burned through two glasses of water and a diet coke before I even ordered.
And the rain fell harder.
And the smells of grease and meat came out from the kitchen.
And the sounds of the two new customers ordering, the server still yelling, and the cooks laughing and dropping pans.
And all my thoughts spinning.
The first show was that night.
The real fire.
Being thrown into a new band, with its own history and methods, I was still finding my boundaries and my place.
Late night Jazz bars and omelets.
All bringing us a little closer together.
But that night will make it happen or not. The music can make us, and it doesn’t matter who we are or what we were. On stage, we are together, forced to make something happen or fail trying.
And just like that, the rain stopped.