I wearily opened my eyes the morning after the Housecore Horror Festival, cursed the blinding, morning light and thanked the heavens because my head felt fine. I noticed only Jesse and Kyle were in the RV, so I climbed outside to see what was going on. We were parked in a hotel lot, because the HHF had flipped the bill to put the musicians up properly. In a few minutes Gronk! walked out the building’s side door and told me the shower was free and we could do laundry. I grabbed a fresh pair of clothes and ran to the room.
You’re never happier seeing a shower than after touring for a week without one. Going without a shower at home is one thing. It’s not hygienic by any means, but depending on your life, you can probably get away with it.
On the road, there is no escape. You’re constantly around sludge. Whether it’s grime from an engine, dust from the trailer, sweat from moving the heavy gear or dirt from the venue; you’re hands are in a constant state of being covered in black substances which works its way under the nails and into your soul. Ten minutes in a hot shower truly is a glorious thing.
With my first mission down, the next was to get coffee and food to soothe my aching body. I made my way downstairs and met Jesse at the RV. There was a Starbucks down the street so we wandered in the general direction, recounting the madness from the night before and laughing at the almost forgotten buffoonery. Moments after we ordered our drinks, Carlee walked in and joined our recap.
One by one the rest of the Orcs awoke and we packed up the RV, ready to hit the road once more for a long haul to Florida. Austin is on the other side of Texas than where we were originally, so we had to pass back through Houston, once more.
Little did we know there would be a parking lot waiting for us on the I-80. We were stopped in dead traffic, rolling only a few feet ever 20 minutes or so, for three hours. Things were so mind-numbingly dull we began noticing small details about the surrounding area. The cardboard boxes in the alleys, the paint peeling from the brick buildings and
“Holy shit, look at all the birds on the telephone wire,” exclaimed Gronk!
Like a scene out of The Birds, hundreds of black, feathered creatures were sitting on one particular stretch of wire for as far as we could see. We sat there, watching them in awe, for several minutes until our fascination wandered. That was their cue. In an instant they all jumped off the wire and began swarming around the freeway traffic in a pre-planned kamikaze mission. I chalk it up to our boredom, but it was quite the sight to behold.
We drove through the night, barreling our way towards Pensacola, FL and I awoke the next morning in the parking lot of an Alabama truck stop/diner/gift shop/trucker church made out of old railway cars, aptly named the Loose Caboose. Jesse, Gronk!, Oog & I were the only ones awake and we wandered our way inside to check out the random knick-knacks, highway supplies, completely useless impulse buys and religious gifts.
After filling out a few postcards I bought there and dropping them in the post box, I joined the other three for coffee in the diner. Our conversation quickly went from sweet tea to political conspiracy theories in the blink of an eye and soon we pulled both of the waitresses into the gravity of our discussion. It’s strange talking with a middle-aged Alabaman woman at 10 in the morning about the possibility Biblical angels might actually be space aliens that our government has been hiding since before the Revolutionary War. “Buy the ticket, take the ride,” indeed.
Once the bill was paid, we loaded into the RV and I thought about dipping into the little marijuana I had before we hit the road, but decided against it, knowing I needed to conserve. “Besides,” I thought, “the rest of the guys aren’t awake and we can all partake later once we reach Florida.” We barely got off the on ramp to the freeway when the red and blue lights of Jonny Law were flashing in our mirrors.
“Fuck! Fuck!” screamed Oog. “Seatbelts! Now!” and we obeyed him without thinking twice.
“How you boys doing? What’re you up to on my highway?” asked the Sheriff when he approached the window.
Immediately we could tell he didn’t have a Southern accent, which was strange. He asked Oog for his license, which was safe in his wallet, if only Oog could find it. The next several moments were tense but that’s the only way to cross a high-wire tightrope. Gronk! explained to him that we’re a travelling band from California, on our way to Pensacola, while Oog found his wallet.
“Oh yeah,” said the cop with the same deadpan, cop expression he had on his face the entire time. “I’m from San Diego.” Immediately our assholes began to unclench. “Do you boys have any guns or weapons on you? No? Ok [Oog], step out of the car and come with me.” Right back to clenching.
The look of “we just shit the bed” crossed over our faces for only a half second, but long enough for all of us to catch it in each other’s eyes. By then, the rest of the band was awake and the sense of worry hung low in the RV.
A second officer, this time a middle-aged cop compared to his 30-something Sheriff counterpart, approached the RV and asked the same questions as the first officer, before walking back to Oog and the Sheriff.
“Oh shit,” mumbled Jesse when he saw the Sheriff returning without Oog. The taste of impending doom filled my mouth as I prepared myself for a second stint in jail. “At least this time it’s for something I believe in, “ I thought.
“So here’s the deal.” he said very nonchalantly. “You guys give me your bongs, pipes and weed and I won’t arrest you, A’right? And as long as I don’t find anything else, you’re free to go.”
Internally we were screaming, but externally we happily agreed and turned over the contraband while he searched the RV and the older cop kept an eye on us.
After a quick search, the Sheriff informed us we were on a notorious drug and gun smuggling highway, that normally it would be $1000 bail for each person caught with weed—any weed (combined we had about an 8th)—and that we were lucky he was the one who pulled us over. Before he let us go, he cracked a smile.
“Don’t worry, I know that’s a sentimental bong for y’all. I’m not gonna break it. It’s going on my shelf in the office as a trophy,” he chuckled while dumping the dried herb. “Don’t look so sad, you can get plenty of weed in Pensacola. Y’all be safe, now.”
We rolled into Pensacola a few hours before we needed to dump the gear at the Vinyl Music Hall. Tensions were still running high from Alabama, so Jesse and I walked around town, exploring the historical district, wandering through the nearly 300 year old cemetery and ended up at a vegan café I was told about. However, it was closed on Mondays, so we found a posh bar & grille and dined like kings.
Pensacola is an old Floridian city. Statues dedicated to Confederate and War of 1812 veterans liter the city and the brick buildings are draped with ornate, Cajun-style iron work. The East and South are the best things Americans have to connect with history, which in itself is rather ridiculous. We are interested when we see buildings or cemeteries as old as a century and dumbfounded by things 300 years old. Our newer-is-better cultured minds can’t handle seeing ancient ruins when we travel. We can appreciate them like the rest, but I have a feeling most Americans are baffled and can’t fully comprehend something 3,000 years old. But that’s for another time and another blog.
After wandering around the downtown area, we headed back to the RV and waited to dump the gear. The Vinyl Music Hall is the smallest club we’ve played on this tour, with a capacity of only 525 people. There was no room for merchandise, so they stuck us on the side stage, and the best view I had of the show all night was via the flatscreen on the wall behind me. Other than that, the VMH was clean and the staff was friendly, even serving us shots & beers before they opened.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the road can only be handled with the kindness of strangers. Through previous tours with other bands, Jesse had some friends in town–Matt (from the band, 10,000 Beers) & his girlfriend, Desiree—and they showed us some real, Southern hospitality. As soon as they arrived at the venue, Matt had two packs of cigarettes waiting for us and we hung outside the VMH, getting acquainted and shooting the shit. By the time the front doors opened, we were all old friends.
With such a small venue and 4 bands playing, the stage was too full for Gogog to stand on, so he berated the audience on their level, from behind the barrier, close enough for his slimy drool to drip over the front row. And. They. Loved. It. The kids went nuts over the Orcs, frequently asking me how they made the costumes look so real. Everytime I responded with a dead stare or blank expression, saying, “What costumes?”
After seeing the elaborate stage & light shows put on by Gwar and Whitechapel at venues that can hold roughly 2,000 people, it’s a testament to their crews’ resourcefulness and tenacity seeing them provide the same quality entertainment at a venue a quarter of the size. Not only do they unload the trucks and set the stage, the crew hustled past the drunken crowd to make sure the monsters were on stage for their cues, made sure nobody got in the way, act onstage as part of the show, then breakdown the set, load the truck and do it all over again the next day. They are some of the hardest working people I’ve seen in the entertainment industry, and lesser men would quit after ½ a tour, let alone do it year after year after after.
When the show was over and the venue was clearing out, Matt and Desiree told us the pizza kitchen he worked at around the corner was still open for several more hours and we should meet them there for free grub. We agreed with wide eyes and hungry stomachs, quickly packing up the table when I noticed an obviously hammered, staggering, shaved head, goateed-guy-ala-Scott-Ian-from-Anthrax talking to Land Phil from Iron Reagan. They chatted for a few moments and Phil ran off when the guy turned his back. Mr. Goatee swung around several times, chasing his tail in circles, before swaggering over to Carlee as she packed up the merch.
“ ‘Ey ma’am, where’d tha long-herred boy tha played tha diddly-doo go ofta?” he jawed out.
Taken aback, a mischievous smile spread over Carlee’s face.
“Whoa, what?” she asked.
“Yeee know, tha lawng-herred purdy boy thaa played tha diddly-doo!” he repeated, this time adding in air guitar “He wannad smoke this-her weed ‘n drank sum burs, ‘n I already drank ‘nough bur.”
That was enough to make Carlee lose her shit.
“I have nooooo idea what you’re talking about,” she said with a laugh.
“Whaa?? Y’all don’ speak no Georgia talk? Ye know, tha diddly-doo!!!” he enunciated through the liquor & accent. “Thaaaa, DEEEEDDDLEEEE-DOOOO!”
That was the final straw for the rest of us and we exploded with a round of laughter as the guy’s girlfriend came to collect her pickled prize.
After the load-out, Jesse, Gogog, Hulg, Gronk!, one of the Ben’s from Whitechapel and I found Helen’s Kitchen–which was a giant sports bar with a smoking patio overlooking the downtown street below—where we unwound for a couple hours, swapping tour stories and eating the free, anything-we-want pizzas. With my belly full of veggie slices, I excused myself and went back to the RV. I’m pretty sure I fell asleep during the walk, relying on autopilot to get me back safely.
When it was all said and done, Matt had made some 10 pies for all of the bands, a task he never once complained about or argued against. He’s one helluva decent person and if you’re ever in California, brother, you’ve got friends who will help you out. Thanks again.