Friday, August 31, 2007

Rocked Out

Here we go again, it's another exciting travel day, time for another episode of Blogging from the Bus! Where it's AT. It's exceptionally flat here in central Florida. Not that I expected the Rockies or anything, but maybe a little more hill-and-dale action. We managed to escape the rat's mouth before getting swallowed up and are now motoring on towards Tampa, where we have our last show in Florida tomorrow. Then, a Sunday hop to Atlanta, a final show there on Monday, and back home on Tuesday. As fun as it's been, I'm definitely ready for nearly a month of down-time.

What can one say about Boca? Like all of Florida at this time of the year, it's damn hot. Hot and sweaty. I haven't run outside in what feels like a couple months, but was really just Boston, a week and a half ago. And you know it's hot when I gravitate towards a treadmill. So what to do? One can only sun themselves by the pool for so long before succumbing to sunburn or heat stroke. At best, it's comfortable in the shade, but usually just tolerable. I've been pining for August in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan... 80 during the day, maybe a little humid but not too much, then chilly enough for pants and a jacket about an hour after sunset. * Sadly, it looks as if a UP run may not happen this year, which means that it'll just have to be epic next summer.

We were quartered this time around at the Boca Raton Resort & Club, an opulent, pink, and largely vacant rabbit-warren-within-golf-course dotted with palm trees and blue lounge chairs. Did I mention pink? Why it's such a prominent SoFlo adornment, I will always wonder (but rarely ponder). This was the kind of place where I thoroughly enjoyed walking around unshaven in a bathing suit and ratty t-shirt, despite the recommendation of "casual resort attire." Walking shorts and some wonky yellow polo shirt with a little alligator on the front? No thank you. I also enjoyed spending $3.73 on a cup of coffee. Luxury coffee. Because when you have to walk 15 minutes off the resort complex to find it anywhere else, they have the luxury of charging what they will. I am happy to report, though, that they got no more of my money than that.

All that aside, one would be a fool to gripe about the pool, situated along the Intracoastal Waterway, blessed with a constant breeze, water at a perfect, warm-yet-refreshing temperature. I spent a few hours out there, working on my burn-tan, reading a book, taking a dip as necessary. And thankfully, since one would have to be a little nuts to willingly vacation in Florida in August, there might have been 15-20 people there at its busiest despite a pool infrastructure designed to accommodate 100+ at any give time. Ahh, space.

The one fault, though, stuck out like a missing incisor on an otherwise flawless beauty. They had hired a guitar-wielding singer to play bland cabana-music sets along with a band-in-the-box setup. Horrible is a good place to start. He was batting around .230 with his guitar chops (if we may call them such), which may be acceptable in baseball but in music earns one a gong and a foot in the ass. After about an hour of wondering what a low, belabored moaning sound was, I finally identified it as the protest of melodies under duress. And then he started to sing. We've been trying to think of an appropriate analog in the performance world, even partial, but nothing has come to our collective mind. Conjuring my best powers of description, his tone of voice was hollow, wispy, and empty, and pitches as defined by the 12-tone system didn't happen often. Forget about rhythm. Imagine a deflated balloon trying to sing Santana. That comes close. If Christopher Guest were to follow Spinal Tap and A Mighty Wind with a film about the sub-tropical entertainment business, this guy could definitely be a character. Not a main one, but he'd show up for a couple minutes here and there.

Before Boca came Orlando, where we had two full days off. No, I didn't go to any of the theme parks, despite the fact that we stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel on the grounds of the Universal complex. I was quite happy to hang by the pool or at the pool bar, read a book, hang in my comfy room, hit the gym, and occasionally venture out for a stroll on the Citywalk or a quest for Indian food. "Having a day off" and "going on vacation," while not mutually exclusive, should not be treated as equivalent. I am not on vacation. I wanted days off, days which required little effort and involved neither bus ride nor performance. So days off are what I got.

While not exactly the shore of Lake Superior, or Franconia Notch, the Hard Rock was a fine place to spend some down time. Though Orlando surely thrives during the summer in a way Boca does not, the crowd of families thinned daily with Labor Day weekend fast approaching, kiddies bound for school once again. The crowd density lingered in that zone safely above deserted, nowhere near oppressive. Loosely packed, comfortable. The pool served its purpose, yet with a maximum depth of 3.5 feet and a temperature tepid enough to bring to mind the unscrupulous bladder control of those 10 and under left one wishing for a real pool. A man's pool, sans pee. Decor was classy-casual, hip enough to make people feel like they were rockin' with the in crowd, but cushy enough to assure them that they were getting their money's worth. Nowhere near as hip-casual as the Park Hyatt in DC, but that's a high bar.

Their Hard-Rockish, we're cool, cut-loose-and-have-fun branded vibe wore thin within the first day. It would be nice to escape it in at least a couple locations within the hotel (like, ahh, maybe... my room!?), but no, it's as pervasive as the Florida humidity is outside. Every time they have the chance to use a quote from some rock classic, you can bet it's there: the Eagles' "You can check out anytime you'd like, but you can never leave" printed on the express checkout card; Floyd's "Wish you were here" on postcards; John Lee Hooker's "One bourbon, one scotch, and one beer" on the bar napkins (but of course credited to George Thorogood), etc. It seems they've obtained every piece of rock n' roll memorabilia imaginable and display it prominently on every square foot of surface: Cliff Williams' bass in the lobby, a greeting from Live behind the front desk, a picture of Korn above your bed. And naturally, no one is safe from the music. Hard Rock ALL THE TIME. No moment of solace at the pool, it's Pantera again! What's that I hear from my room? It's a live band in the lobby at 10:00! And beware where you sit at the pool bar, you may receive an even mix between the pool speakers and the concert footage blaring from the TVs above the bar, which can be funny at times (ie. Queen on Prince) but generally has the effect of turning the brain into putty.

The one place safe from all things Hard Rock was the laundry room. If it had a window, I may have stayed there for longer than it took to wash, dry, and fold.

Related to the vibe and endlessly entertaining was the manner in which the toiletries were labeled in bold, block letters: "HAIR" for shampoo, "HANDS" and "FACE" for different soaps, "BODY" for lotion, and you get the idea. Had I another hour, I would have been tempted to take a sharpie to as many squares of TP as possible: "ASS." It's a good thing they didn't have condoms.

And that should about wrap it up, on a note of utmost maturity as always. Other mindly meanderings intended for this effort will have to be saved for something of a sequel, which will likely be soon 'cause I'm FEELIN' IT. As a good friend of mine once wrote, "ALLRIGHTY THEN!!! God have the longest recoil before the shot of anyone I know!! and then...kabbbbbbbbboooooooooooooooooooooooom. zowie." $10 for anyone who can correctly guess the author in question. Until next!

* For the purpose of this romanticization, I have omitted the mosquitoes.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


A week ago, I wrote notes for a posting entitled "What Do You Do With A Day Off In..." which would compare days off in both Cleveland and Manchester (New Hampshire). Since then, we've done two shows in Canada and one in Atlantic City, and now we're on the bus heading up to Boston. How time flies.

But it was a good idea for a posting, I would say, and so I'll knock out an abbreviated version for your reading pleasure. It may be another hour or so until we finally cover the two miles from where we are to the GWB anyways. Gotta love the Jersey Shore traffic.


At least three people — hotel employees, bartenders, etc. — informed me upon my inquiries of what to do that Cleveland is "not a walking city." I think that underlies the spirit of the day well enough. Early in the day, I had looked up a few record stores, all well outside of walking range. I considered the option of renting a car for the day and checking them out, as well as finding a slice of beach on Lake Erie somewhere to spend a little evening time. That started to smell like more trouble than it was worth, so I bailed on that, and set out to walk the unwalkable.

For a city on a lake, there isn't much of an accessible lakeshore, save for a little patch around the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Browns stadium. I understand that not all cities are as wise as Chicago when it comes to utilizing their waterfront for the public good, but one would think that a city the size of Cleveland could do better, even having industrialized the waterfront to the point where their river caught fire 30 years ago. At least the industrial leftovers make for semi-appealing photos:

While walking back to the hotel from the lakeshore, I passed a six-block pro-life demonstration, timed to target the evening rush hour. Of course they had the usual leaflets, bullhorns, and giant images of dismembered fetuses, which is all well and good, but what struck me as a little inappropriate was their use of children in the demonstration, kids between the ages of about 8 and 13. They had one standing by each of the posters, and even more handing out propaganda. When I politely refused a leaflet from a 10-year-old girl, she shouted after me, "Where do you think you'd be if your mother had YOU aborted!?" Never mind the gaping holes in that argument, there's something terribly wrong with being accosted in such a manner by a person of that age. What kind of parent in their right mind would politicize and propagandize their own progeny, especially on such a volatile issue? Although tempted to stop and ask such questions, I kept on walking.

On a lighter note, you know you're back in the Midwest when you get the grimace. It's what happens when someone catches your eye, or you catch them looking at you, especially when involving one male and one female. Perhaps you maintain eye contact briefly and smile, but they immediately look away and turn their head down. Then the lips tighten up, drawing down at the corners. Maybe they look back to see if you're still looking. The reaction is a mix of two things: the feeling of being caught doing something bad, and the repressed desire to actually smile back. A source of endless amusement...


This time I did it right. We drove through the night from Cleveland, and arrived at our hotel at 11 in the morning. I knew nothing about Manchester, but knew that the White Mountains are in New Hampshire, and since the state isn't exactly the largest in the Union, they'd be no more than a couple hours away. Having been stuck in cities or towns for the last few weeks, I was jonesing for a good hike like nothing else. As soon as we got in, I hopped online, investigated hiking options, and arranged for a rental car to be dropped off at the hotel. By 1:30 I had the car, and after taking care of other details, I was on the road by 3:00.

I settled on Franconia Notch State Park as a destination, an hour-and-a-half straight shot up I-93. The ride itself is stunning, as forest gives way to foothills and mountains. Though it was cloudy when we'd arrived in Manchester that morning, the clouds began to clear around noon, and upon reaching Franconia Notch the skies were perfectly clear and sunny. I would've liked to have gotten there earlier, but even with a 4:30 arrival, I had plenty of daylight left for a good hike.

Incidentally, Franconia Notch was the home of the Old Man in the Mountain, a rock formation which looked like the profile of a man's face from the right perspectives. In 2003, when the Old Man finally decided he'd had enough and slid down the mountainside, taking the form of a giant gravel pile. The last time I was there, in 2000, the Old Man was still hanging out, making sure everything was in order. It's a bit weepy, driving through the length of the park and not seeing him there above, but his image endures on quarters and license plates and an infinite stream of souvenirs.

My goal as set earlier in the day was to do a 9-mile day hike described at the top of this page and outlined in blue in the map to the right, but that seemed a little foolish to attempt at that point. Instead, I considered another 7-mile loop beginning at the Lafayette Campground, passing the Basin, and topping off at Lonesome Lake, indicated in yellow on the map. * An elderly chap at the park visitor center advised against, steering me instead towards one of several three mile loops. I hadn't come this far just for some lousy three-mile mountain hike, so I asked the younger guy working at the campground store if he thought the loop was possible to complete before sundown. He said definitely, but I bought a flashlight just in case.

It took me just over two and a half hour to complete the loop, climbing from about 1800 ft to 2800 ft and back down again, and the flashlight never came out of the bag. I can't begin to explain how placid and beautiful it was, especially as I ascended the mountain and approached Lonesome Lake. At that time of day, the day hikers had all but disappeared, leaving plenty of fresh mountain air for me. For the first time in weeks, I felt chilled enough to put on long sleeves, a welcomed change. Further description can be found here in the form of a Flickr set. Enjoy! Perhaps I shall feel inspired to put up a few more sets over the following days...

And there it is, the best day off of this leg, and definitely in the top three for the entire tour. It'll be hard to beat. When we're done in September, I may just have to disappear for a few days and get more than just a few hours of a taste. Even such a short escape did a disproportionate amount of good, but it also illuminated the lack of natural world in my recent life to a degree which I can't ignore.

So that catches us up through, umm, a week ago. During the time I've taken to write this, we've traveled under 10 miles, and are now stumbling across the Bronx in search of open road. It's nap-time now, but should I feel so inspired later on, perhaps I'll fill in some bits of the last week. But don't wait up too late...

* For an unaltered version of the park map, click here, and for a close-up of the area I visited, click here.

Monday, August 06, 2007

PA Hustle

What can I say about Allentown? I think the picture aptly describes the last couple days. Had to be black and white. There was one record store that looked promising, a little more than a mile away from the hotel. After walking there in the sticky, disgusting heat of yesterday, I discovered that it wasn't open on Mondays, and only opened at 1 on Tuesday. Given our leave-time of 2 this afternoon, and the small chances of a record store owner actually being reliable enough to open his store on time, I figured that it may not be worth risking being left in Allentown just for a few dusty 45s.

But oh did we rock Bethlehem last night...

Previous to our stay in Allentown, we headquartered in State College at a hotel only paces away from I-80, but a couple miles from the edge of anything exciting. The closest intersection:

State College is exactly that, and only that. A pleasant enough hang, once one takes the shuttle to the main town/campus area. It's got everything a thriving student populace needs to survive: cheap food, all-day breakfast, bars serving beer in plastic cups, an endless supply of Penn-logoed tees and sweats, a Starbucks, and a giant Abercrombie & Fitch store — which seems to have succeeded in clothing damn near everyone who wasn't wearing a Penn tee or gloriously microscopic Pink shorts. A funny thing about living in my corner of Brooklyn: though this look pervades the country, it's not one you see all too often around the neighborhood. Thanks to the hipsters, it looks pretty goofy now.

Same thing goes for khakis, but it's been too hot for those.

The all-day breakfast place (The Waffle Shop) makes a mean omelette, so I hit it both days, each time surrounded by orientation kids and those who decided to stick around for the summer or flee home a little early. When I say surrounded, I mean it; besides a couple parents here and there, I was easily the oldest one in the place. Can't say that happens too often.

I spent an hour City Lights Records, a basement shop on the main drag. No exciting 45 finds this time around, but the owner (Greg?) was quite congenial and turned me on to the weighty power of Baby Huey and histrionic funkiness of Betty Davis. While he had no Baby Huey in stock, several Betty CDs sat on the rack, so naturally I took one with me. Keeping with the theme, I also picked up Detroit soul singer Bettye Lavette's 2005 release, I've Got My Own Hell To Raise. Why I didn't buy the latter two years ago I'm really not sure, given that I was lucky enough to play with her during the months previous to moving to the city and have been well aware of her indelible bad-ass'dness ever since. It's deep. Soul to the core.


While based in State College, we played an actual county fair in Clearfield. I shall now defer to pictures.

Here's our stage and seating area. Hours before our soundcheck, the track was the scene of a moderately impressive stunt driving exhibition. One of the crew took video. It included a man who ran around in a fire suit, burning. Contrary to what the picture suggests, there were a few more available seats.

Like any proper county fair, there were carnival rides, elephant ears, award-winning produce and baked goods, plus livestock! Like horses...

and chickens...

and sheep...

and pigs...

and, of course, cows...

...and cows and more cows.


Now we're on the bus, somewhere between Allentown and Cleveland. Pennsylvania is one hell of a long state. So... what does someone do with a day off in Cleveland?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Upstate, Baby

After being back in the city for a stretch, we're back in the land of "Can I help who's next?", which in this case means Syracuse, NY, but probably applies to most of the country. I walked into the Bruegger's Bagels on campus this morning and it smacked me right off. Now, I'm not anywhere near to bearing the badge of the Grammar Police, but that one just hurts, and it's everywhere. How about something simple, like a "Who's next?" or an "I can help the next person," or just go there with "Can I help whoever's next?" Yes, language was meant to be twisted and teased, but this one sounds so very wrong, kind of like clapping on one and three. Alas, both seem to be generally accepted by the populace.

Same thing at Starbucks 10 minutes later.

Though we officially started this leg on the 18th just about two weeks ago, I haven't felt like we've really been on tour until yesterday. Because of the proximity of the last gigs to NYC, I spent most of the last week at home. Add that to the city time at the beginning, and the road time has been kept to a minimum. But now, no more city until early September.

A good term to be familiar with in the world of road travel is "oil-spotting."

Behold the staging area for our earlier gig at the Watertown fairgrounds. Believe it or not, those trailers, while as lacking in air conditioning as residential in feel, made for one of the more comfortable pre-show hangs thus far. Better than a fluorescently-lit locker room in the basement of an arena. Still, on a cloudless, sunny day, spare time was better spent throwing around a frisbee.

A curious bit about Watertown, or the sliver that I saw. Across the street from the fairgrounds — directly behind the trailers, in fact — sit both a public swimming pool and roadside park. I poked around the park for a minute after dinner and noticed that though it sits above the bank of a river, the riverbank itself is obstructed for the length of the park by a chain-link fence. And why?

Who knows. I'd hate to know what they've got hiding in that river.

I finally bought a sketchbook and some sketch pencils after intending to do so for the last couple months. Before this whole music took off running, I was a visual guy. Haven't done much with a pencil in the last 10 years, but it might be a fun way to spend some time over the next month...

Sleepy time!