I’m walking out the door of the truck stop with a fist full of quarters. A little girl in pajamas is walking in, looking lost, still caught up in sleep, out of place. She shuffles by me timidly as I hold the door open for her. It’s a little after 1 A.M., somewhere in the desolate middle of Nevada. I’m in an old red sweatshirt, dirty jeans, and t-shirt, I’m wearing my glasses today and my hair is greasy, my face unshaven, I can feel the dirt beneath my fingernails. Behind me a woman is mopping the tile floor under an unending florescence. She stretches a smile from her weathered face, exposing only several rotted teeth.
Truck stops in Nevada boast small casinos, mostly a couple rows of slot machines and some video poker. I’ve been playing the slots while the van fills up. The rest of the guys are asleep now across the van benches for the first time in a little more than a month. Now we’re finishing the first day of our drive from Oakland to Lawrence. This is our third tour of the year to begin in either Iowa or Kansas.
The night (June 2) before we came together in a practice space down amongst the warehouses and cracked streets of West Oakland. At the end of April, we arrived home after a couple months of tour. Will Hauser, our guitarist, found his way to Reno to hang out with his girlfriend, while Joey Bustos, who plays drums, stayed across the bay in San Francisco with his family. STN bassist Bryce Freeman pitched a tent in a friend’s backyard in Santa Cruz. As for myself, I stuck around my folks place for a few days before finding a sublet on Craigslist and booking a flight to New York City, where I’ve found myself returning between the last few tours for lack of a better place, or any place to be.
We’ve spent nine out of the last twelve months on the road, touring the U.S. on our latest album, Charmingly Awkward. Our pre-tour ritual has been shortened from two weeks to a day or two. Bryce counts our merch, re-orders t-shirts and our CDs, which our record company sells to us at more than seven bucks each. Will crashes on the couch at Bryce’s parents’ house for a couple days while they get the van in order, clean it out, take it to the shop, change the oil, get new tires. I have to admit that the romance of it all has been diminishing from tour to tour. It’s still there when I look out across the sun rising from the scraped up van windows, or standing at a silent gas station in the middle of the night, and I doubt I will ever lose the passion for performing, but the nervous pulse of the day before we leave is gone.
The methodically assembled piles of luggage that I would spend an entire day putting together in my folk’s living room get thrown together with a sigh in 20 minutes before I go to bed. We’ve played these songs so many times that practice functions now not to improve songs, but just to make sure that none of us have forgotten our parts.
Barely across the Utah border, weariness causes me to pull over on an on-ramp, my eyes can’t stay focused, I find myself drifting from side to side. The guys are dozing softly and I rummage for my pillow and put the seat back. Outside, a salt flat stretches out until black mountains rise up against the sky. Coffee is still bubbling in me and the energy of the music has my pulse up. The calm of the silence, the gentle purr of idling big rigs and the occasional rush of a passing car draws me outside the van and down the embankment to the salt flat. I walk out a couple hundred feet and look up at the fat and juicy stars, my feet sinking tentatively through the crust of the salt. Words would be foolish means to express the feeling.
I wake up in Wyoming. Joey is behind the wheel and I drift in and out of a sweaty sleep on the back bench of the van, turning over and over, trying to find a position where the vibrating doesn’t penetrate my skull, where my hair doesn’t make my face itch.
At the beginning of several days of constant driving you feel the weight of the impending tedium but somehow it passes without burdening you much. After a while you begin to accept your fate like a dog locked inside all day while its master is at work. Hours will pass where you cant recall anything of the sitting and staring. At the end of it all, you’re left with only a few clips of memory that somehow sum up the hours and hours and hours and hours, but the outcome is worth it. Tonight (June 3) we are getting paid to perform our songs for people that we don’t even know, in a city that until a little while ago was just a dot on the map. It’s satisfying to wake up in a strange town and know that it was your own music that brought you here.
Somewhere around 4 A.M. this morning we pulled into Lawrence, the culmination of this drive. I had drifted off after finishing a book and switching off my headlamp, but the braking of the van, the slam of the door and the pause of quiet idling brought me into a sort of semi-consciousness. I found myself in the same clothes that I left Oakland in, ready for a shower and a real bed. The door opened again after a few minutes and Bryce announced that the hotel we had been waiting in front of was full, and that there were some huge drag races going on in Topeka that have sold out all the hotels in the area. We pulled back on the highway to a rest area and killed the engine, slept until the afternoon.