Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The End of the Tour

I'm writing from Washington, DC, and Kat and I split company this morning.  (She was supposed to fly back to Portland, but instead she ditched her ticket to go hiking on the Appalachian Trail, but that's another story altogether.)  The tour's over and done, and even though it rocked face, I'm pretty happy to be headed back to Hawaii.  I want to work on NewView and some other projects I have in mind.  (I get back on the 30th, if you're one of my Hawaii friends.)

Even though this tour is ending, Kat and I are already talking about another.  She wants to try the pacific northwest in August/September, but that might be too soon for me: I'd like to spend some time in Hawaii, and give myself more space to work on those projects.  But I have no doubt I'll be on the road with Kat again at some point.  (I won't be updating this blog until then.)

So, yes, the end of the tour...FOR NOW (DUM DUM DUM).  Thanks for reading!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

People with hard lives

After that late concert on Wednesday, we got up early and left Charleston, bleary-eyed, for Charlottesville, VA, to kill a few days before Kat's flight out of DC.  We drove out towards the freeway onramp with Nat under darkening skies, then sprinkles, then a downpour.  We were all uneasy: it was a creepy sight that portended a lot of potential misery.  Nat offered to buy 20 of our cds if we used the proceeds to buy bus tickets.  We turned around and started heading back towards downtown Charleston to consider our options.  But we decided that we'd be ok, got Nat to turn it around again, and said our goodbyes on the other side of the storm on a freeway onramp, under a still-dark sky.

We got a ride inside of 10 minutes.  Some rides pick you up for idle chat to pass the time, some because they feel sorry for you, and some have got some shit to get off their chest.  This woman was definitely the latter.  She told us about her husband that beat her, and how she got away before one of them killed the other -- she wasn't sure who would kill who, but she was sure it would end one way or the other shortly.  She told us about her time in prison, and how she ended up there: a boyfriend (also a violent man) had made her arrange to buy him drugs, and she wanted no part of it.  She called the police and told them the situation, and was told to carry out the transaction, and that the dealer would be arrested, and she would be given immunity.  She did so, and the police promptly arrested her.  She told us about the first time she hit her father: she had seen her mother slap her daughter in the face, and told her daughter to go in her room and turn up the music.  She told her mother that it was a degrading thing to be hit in the face, and that it was part of why she dated so many abusers, and that if her mother ever hit her daughter again, she would cut her throat.  Her father came home later and hit her for scaring her wife.  She hit her father for the first time and screamed violent things at him.  He never hit her again.

She told us stories like this for 4 hours, then dropped us off at a Greyhound station in Rocky Mount, NC, and bought us tickets for the remainder of our trip.  We had a two-hour wait, a 9:30 pm bus to Richmond, VA, arriving at 11:30, then a 5:30 am bus to Charlottesville.

We napped fitfully until 9:30, then napped fitfully until the bus actually came two hours later, then napped fitfully until we arrived in Richmond, where we napped fitfully on the floor of the station.  Finally, I gave up, and I was in an odd state when I ordered biscuits and congealed dayold gravy from the diner at 3:30 am.  That's when I met the guy that pops up in every Greyhound story, the fresh-out-of-prison convict.

This guy, 36, had been in prison since the age of 24, and had been out for 10 hours when I met him.  He was in for drugs: he bought a half-kilo each of heroin and coke at a time from New York italians, and drove down to Rocky Mount, NC, 55 the whole way.  He drove down in a new black Chevy Suburban, which he bought with cash.  He sold to everyone, kids of 14 and grandmas of 70, and never did any himself, but got sloppy and sold to someone that told someone something.

The police hit in his door with a battering ram, knocking him across the room, and took him in with no fuss.  They offered him a deal if he gave up the italians, but he knew they would kill him, and chose 12 years of prison instead.  He showed me his shank scars, and when I asked how he got them, he told me about the guys that would knock your soap out of your hand in the shower, and how they said "shit on my dick or blood on my shank".  He said "they take your manhood from you man, they take your manhood from you" and started crying.  He said he lost his mom and his wife years ago while he was away, and his daughter and grandma three weeks ago in a car crash.  He was going to Providence to see his two grandchildren, with no cash and no plan but to get a job and follow Jesus.  I bought him an egg and hash browns.  I mean, what the fuck else can you do?  We eventually got to Charlottesville and collapsed into hotel beds without further ado.

(Note: apologies to anyone that saw the earlier, neutered version of the post.  It was pretty lame, I was just tired at the time.)

The Megan Jean Band Commands You To Dance

After our two shows in Savannah, GA -- the last booked shows of the tour -- we were invited to come back to play the barn jam in Charleston a second time.  (Remember Eddie?  That place.)  We rolled back into town and killed a few days smoking hookah and going to the beach with Brent and Nat, our Charleston buddies, before the day of the show.

We played our set and things went well -- 40-50 people, good response, but low cd sales -- and then settled in to listen to the other bands.  The one after us was a great bluegrass/zydeco crew that had been playing together for 20 years, and everyone got up and danced like crazy fools.

So we all thought the high point of the night had come and gone when the next band came up.  It was just a duo -- this heavy chick wearing black and lots of eyeliner and carrying a blues guitar, and this long-haired music-nerd-looking guy with an upright bass -- and it's hard to follow an energetic set like that with just two people.

They proceeded to kick everyone's ass in the whole crowd.  The woman had an intense voice, alternatingly growling and operatic.  She laid down this piece of plywood and mic'ed it, and when she stomped on it, it was like a bass hit and a snare at the same time, and you couldn't not feel the rhythm.  But mostly, you felt the music because she felt it: her face got screwed up, her eyeliner was blotting like she was crying, she'd clench her teeth and spit words out.

I would have doubted it was possible to play to the same level with nothing but a bass in your hands, but the guy onstage did.  He did everything I can think of to bring noise out of a bass: bowed harmonics, jazz-style plucking, skreetchy noise from the bottom of the instrument, playing percussively with the wood of the bow... it was obvious before I talked to him later that this guy had studied this instrument alone in a room for years and years.

Go give them a listen --

Monday, May 11, 2009

Meet Petra

As it turns out, one shitty couchsurfer cannot defeat the combined luck of Kat and I, and everything turned out peachy in Georgia.  We got in touch with a very friendly and hospitable tank gunner, one of the most active couchsurfers in Savannah.  We spent a few days at his house, which all went something like this: he would get up at 5 or 6, go do something productive until noon, and come home when we were waking up.  He would then *cook us breakfast* and take us to the beach, or the barbecue cookout, or wherever.  Thanks Fernando!  We love you even though you make us feel inadequate.

While we were there, he hosted another couchsurfer, Petra.  Petra is a powerful-looking woman with a big kid smile, a professional tennis player ranked 238th in the world.  She's Slovenian, and bald.  Her routine is something like this: she goes to a tournament, where she makes a few hundred or thousand dollars, depending on how things go.  She stays at a couchsurfer's house while she's in town.  Then she drives to the next tournament, two or three states away.

I thought it sounded like a really unusual life, so I asked her more about it.  She doesn't have a home base, or own anything besides what's in her car.  Her closest friends are her fellow athletes: she meets the same players at every stop in the circuit, and she's become friends ("but not best friends") with some of them.  Her dating life seems to have suffered -- her last serious relationship was several years ago -- but her attitude on the subject is that she doesn't really miss it, because it's not her focus.

Her focus is tennis.  She loves that game more than I think I've loved anything.  She practices intensely, running long distances along the beach, or the riverside, or whatever is scenic in the town she happens to be in.  She takes a week every now and then to practice 8 hours a day on the courts.  Whenever she talks about the subject she gets really excited and exaggerates her vowels in a particularly eastern european way.

What's most remarkable to me is how calm and happy she is.  I don't think I'd be able to live like she does, but it seems to work for her.  She credits her spirituality -- she discovered a meditation center some years ago, and heads over for a weeklong seminar every now and then.  She says that people who've known her over the years say that she's become much more at peace.

I wonder if/when she's going to settle down.  I touched on this, and she did seem pretty wistful about the idea.  In a surprising moment, she talked about how idyllic she finds the idea of being a tennis coach and having an apartment and steady life.  Maybe I'll run into her a few years down the road, living the 9-5 dream.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The last 24 hours or so have been exceedingly strange

...even by the standards of the last month. We got a ride to Savannah, GA -- our next destination -- with Brent, the awesome guy we crashed with in Charleston. Our Savannah couchsurfing host picked us up and we headed to get some margaritas, it being Cinco de Mayo and all. So far so good!

During the car ride, things started getting strange: we couldn't get a word out of her or her bf, really. The mexican joint was crowded and we skipped the margaritas. They offered to drop us off at our show, but we wanted to hang out with them, as our show wasn't for a few hours and we had just met them and wanted to make friends. They seemed to disregard that and dropped us off at the show.

The show went great! We played well, got lots of compliments, and made decent money. The act after us, the Train Wrecks, was a sweet honkytonk / rock band.

We walked towards home for the night, but I got us lost.  I called Aaron and he googled for me to discover we were 20 blocks out of our way.  Oops.  We walked about 5.5 miles, 2.5 more than we needed to.  We finally got to the house at 3 am.

When we got inside, the dogs immediately started attacking us.  They calmed and we set up our sleeping bags in the dark, and we slept fitfully while the dogs occasionally woke us with licks to the face.  At 8 am, one of our hosts woke us and recommended we find other hosts, because they were very busy.  "Nice to meet you!" she said.  Confused, we fell back asleep.  At 9 am, our other host informed us that he was leaving the house, and that we needed to pack our bags and leave.

So it was that we found ourselves summarily booted from our relatively warm and comfortable sleeping bags.  The only solution we saw was to spend money as fast as possible to make ourselves less miserable.  We summoned a taxi (the driver, Romeo, played some mean spoons and overcharged us), slept all day in a pension, then ate a insanely fantastic meal.

Not sure what's going to happen next.  We definitely can't afford this hemmoraging of money for much longer, and nobody has yet responded to our emergency couchsurfing requests.  Post comments wishing us luck, or, if you live in Savannah, offers of couches and/or spare bedrooms.

The rest of this post consists of a description of our meal in all possible gory detail, written for my future self to read and enjoy.  If you don't love food (*love*) you will probably find it boring.

Sweet tea to begin, while we waited for the restaurant to open
Mint Julep -- aka minty bourbon
A bottle of house pinot noir -- Vinas 3, 2007 -- California
Amuse-bouche -- smoked tuna, salmon with wasabi, mussel in spicy tomato aioli
Oysters -- baked with herbs, butter, and garlic, and raw with vinegar and horseradish
Cheese platter -- baked goat cheese, fontinello, roasted hard italian cheese (squeaky!), with two kinds of local honey, roasted pecans, and spoon bread
Salad -- herbs and flowers from the backyard garden, topped with a little cantaloupe and mild feta, in a thick vinagrette. also, ground pepper. mmm
Scallops -- pan-seared, served with mashed potatoes, and tangy grilled diced vegetables, which almost felt like a salad
Steak -- pepper-crusted tenderloin, in a sweet butter mustard sauce, served with broccolini and potatoes au gratin
Then a pause
Goat-cheese cheesecake, with berry sauce
Dark, sweet espresso

This meal was positively sexual.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Hitchhiking: a How-To

Long post! Deal with it.

0) Try to hitchhike without a schedule, and say yes to stuff that happens. If you're cool, people will invite you to do fun things along the way. This is some of the best stuff about hitchhiking. On different occasions, I've been picked up by people and subsequently gone camping, eaten dinner with their parents, stayed at their house, and started dating.

1) Figure out what roads to take to get where you're going. You can google it and write it down, or print/buy a map.

2) If you're in a city, catch a bus/ride to the place where the first road from 1) leaves town.

3) If you're not at a good hitching spot, try to find one. They have a place for cars to pull over. They give people plenty of time to see you and think about picking you up. (Try to be after a straightaway or traffic light.) Don't hitch on the side of an interstate if you can avoid it, but onramps are good. If it's dark, you probably won't get a ride, but if you want to try, try under a streetlight.

4) Stand up, stick your thumb out, and smile. Cars will rush past. Some people might wave, or make other odd hand motions. A pinching gesture means "I'm just going a little way", as in "or else I'd pick you up". Sometimes people will give you a thumbs-up. I like the people that gesture, but also hate them. Why not just pull over if you like me so much, jackass?

5) You'll wait for a long time, and it'll feel like even longer. This is the part where you feel like it'll never work, and furthermore, that it was ridiculous of you to ever think it might. Things vary by state, but if you've got a female in your party and you're at a good spot, you'll wait about an hour on average. Lone guys, double that. Triple for two guys. Don't hitch with three guys. It varies a lot, though, so just remember: someone, someday, will pick you up.

5a) Hitching is illegal in lots of places, so sometimes a cop might pull over and warn you. If so, politely apologize, gather your things and don't hitch anymore until they're out of sight. I've never heard of someone being ticketed or arrested, but I guess you might be. In that case, sucks to be you!

5b) If it gets dark, you're probably stuck till morning. To prepare for this, pack some food and water and a sleeping bag. If it rains and you didn't pack a tent, you're going to be miserable and any electronics you're carrying will become unusual paperweights.

6) When someone pulls over, look wholesome. Say "Thanks for stopping!" and ask where they're going. You probably won't know where that is, so tell them your route and they'll probably tell you where yours and theirs diverge. This short conversation is important: if they act creepy, skip the ride.  Otherwise, unless they're going the wrong way, get in the car. Five miles is good enough.

6a) If you're female and alone, keep your bags in your lap so you can bail easily if you need to. If you're a guy and a girl hitching together, remember these two things: the guy should get in first, and if anyone asks if you're dating, say yes, even if you're not.  That's always a leading question, and the things it leads to are bad.

7) Be friendly and talk to your driver. If you're not willing to talk to drivers, don't hitch. Silent strangers make people nervous, and hitching makes you an emissary of hitchhikers everywhere.

8) Start thinking about where you're going to get dropped off. You want a good place, and if it's less than 2 hours before dark, try to get dropped off somewhere you could sleep if you needed to.

8a) If you need help, ask for it. If you need to look at a map, ask if they have one, or if they'd mind stopping at a gas station to check one out. If you need to get dropped off somewhere, say so. If you're not sure about something, ask if they know. If you have a problem with people helping you, get over it. People like helping you, you're like a lost puppy to them.

9) When you get dropped off, go to 3) unless you're at your final destination. Don't worry, you'll get there, eventually. Probably :D

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Picture version of my last post

Aaron has gracefully provided an image summarizing my last post:

Friday, May 1, 2009

Holy crap, did we just dirtbuggy through the South Carolina night?

So we'd been looking forward to Wednesday's show for a long time.  It was at a little barn called Awendaw Green, about 20 miles outside of Charleston, South Carolina.  We had been in touch with the venue owner, Eddie White, and he seemed like a true patron of the arts: the guy went out out of his way to help us book other gigs and make everything easy on us.

Turns out the gig was on my birthday, so after our warmup song, Kat had the whole crowd of 100 sing happy birthday to me.  Aww, thanks Kat!  We rocked out for an hour and a half, it felt great.  I played and sang a song of mine, Coming Spring, which was the biggest crowd I've sung to by far.  (My biggest crowd so far had been living-room-sized.)

Eddie had offered to put us up at the barn that night, so after the crowd dissipated, we hung out with Nat, the resident sound guy.  (The property also has a recording studio and living area.)  He and his friend took us out on a dirt buggy ride through this track the neighbors built, which feels like stepping into a driving video game.  The leaves whipped us and we sped around corners and over jumps like ridiculous madmen.

Did I mention that Eddie's a dentist?  Eddie's a dentist, and the next day he woke us up to bring us to his office and clean our teeth.  He then took us out to this crab shack and got us delicious seafood, and another gig there.  Thanks Eddie!

But wait, Eddie's even cooler than you expected!  Nat took us over to Eddie's property in the swamp and we went kayaking.  I fell off the kayak (note: kayaking upright is difficult) and Kat got bitten to hell.  (She's been slapping herself at random times since, and she draws some great stares.)  

Those were some of the best times we've had on this trip.  It's a really surreal feeling to wander into and through all of these fascinating and beautiful scenes, people, and places.  I feel compelled to mention more cool things about Eddie.  Did I mention he's a great dad?  The reason he built this whole Awendaw Green complex is because his son loves music, and he wanted to give him a place to record.  Eddie White: if you're reading, I'd bear your children if I were able.