Getting There is Half the Fun
Ah, yes! On the road getting there is half the fun. From 24 hour journeys by land, sea and air to vans that catch on fire on the way to Atlantic City, it's just bunches and bunches of laughs.
I hardly know where to start, there are so many stories. So I guess I'll start with a trip through the Alps in a bus more designed for the English countryside.
Concert promoters tend to think about cutting costs more than about the band getting there. The bus that was booked for us for this particular European tour had been overheating for days. So what is the best thing to do with a bus that overheats? That's right! Make it climb from sea level (the French Riviera) to the very top of the Alps (near Albertville, where they held the Olympics). The Alps are some big hills, and we made slow progress all day, stopping to let the bus cool down every hour or so. By late afternoon (we had left at 9am), it was obvious that this poor bus was never going to make it, but we kept plugging along. Then the very intense mountain thunderstorms started, making progress even more difficult. And at about 6pm, at the foot of Mt. Blanc, the bus emitted one last sigh and gave up. At this point my fantasies are of a bowl of spaghetti and a night's sleep at the only hotel in town, but the show must go on, right?
So here we are, an hour and a half before the start of the concert, and we're still not even close to our destination. The tour promoters and the local promoters are panicked by this time, as well they should be, since the audience is already lining up for the concert. Ray is there, having flown to the gig, but the band isn't. Nor is any of the equipment, which is on the bus with us. No wonder the bus overheated! And Ray is throwing a fit by now, cussing out anyone foolish enough to get close to him.
So a bus, smaller than ours but with a u-haul type trailer hitched to the back of it for the excess equipment, finally shows up to take us to the gig. By this time we should have already started playing, and we're still trying frantically to transfer people and equipment from one bus to another.
Once we are all packed up, we take off again. But this time the pace is a little faster. The promoters obviously told the driver to step on it, because he's driving on these narrow mountain roads like a bat out of hell, careening almost out of control at every turn. We were scared to death. There were sheer drops of thousand of feet; villages in the valley below looked as they would from an airplane. Luckily the driver seemed to know the roads, and finally we arrived at the gig by unceremoniously sideswiping a light pole while pulling into the driveway. Needless to say, the audience was a bit impatient by this time, and there were loud boos emitting from the auditorium. The warmup band had been warming them up for over 2 hours. But they did finally get a concert, and everyone went home happy, except for us, who hadn't eaten all day, except for these long European sandwiches. They consisted of bread, lots of butter and one thin slice of raw ham. My roommate swears at these times that he's going to have a corned beef sandwich from the Carnegie Deli in New York Fed-exed to Europe, so that they can see what a sandwich is supposed to look like.
And then there's the time the equipment van caught on fire.
We were playing in Atlantic City, but flying into Philadelphia, so two vans from the casino we were performing in picked us up at the airport. One van was for our luggage, and the other one was for us. One of the sax players decided to ride in the equipment van, because it seemed to be getting a little earlier start, and he wanted to smoke. I never separate myself from my trumpet, so it went with me in the other van. We showed up in Atlantic City, to find that our rooms weren't ready for us, so we were just hanging out in the lobby. This happens a lot, and is no fun at all. But the equipment van, with all of our suitcases and some people's horns, was nowhere in sight. An hour went by, and still no van. We were starting to get worried, about our luggage and about Al, and another 30 minutes went by before a very harried looking Al walks through the door.
"The van burned up!" Al exclaimed. He told us that he was asleep in back of the van when the driver woke him up, telling him to get out of the van right away. He woke up to the smell and sight of blue smoke, and promptly left the van. The driver was trying to get the suitcases and horns out of the already smoking van, but was about 70 years old and after 2 cases he was shot. So Al valiantly got all off our stuff out of the van, at which point the real fire started. The whole van burned rapidly, with engine parts falling out on the highway, windows blowing out and the whole interior just flaming. By the time the fire department got there, it was just a smoldering shell.
Thank God Al was there though, or we would have lost all of our stuff.
Sometimes the travel is just so grueling that you end up having no idea where you are, or sometimes who you are. The longest and most involved trip I remember started out in Tottori, a small city in Japan. We had played a concert there, and were ready to fly to Jamaica for 3 concerts. We did not fly directly to Jamaica, though, not even close. Cabs took us to the Tottori airport, where we waited for the equipment to be checked in, and boarded a flight to the domestic airport in Tokyo. When the plane landed in Haneki airport, we had to get on a bus to go to the International Airport, a trip with traffic of 3 hours, much longer than the flight had been. Then it was the check-in process all over again, for a flight to Portland. That is a long flight, about 13 hours. We changed planes and went through customs in Portland, again reclaiming our luggage and heading for the flight to Atlanta. By this time we were completely burnt out, and really didn't know which end was up. Then we checked into the Holiday Inn at the airport for about 6 hours, then went back to the Atlanta airport to catch a flight to Miami. After a 4 hour layover, we boarded another flight for Jamaica, and bussed to Montego Bay, where we performed that night. The next two concerts were at different locations in Jamaica, after which we flew back to Miami, then to Philidelphia, where we had to wait for the equipment before bussing to Atlantic City, where we were doing a New Year's Eve television show the next day. We got to our hotel room in the early evening, and went to bed fairly early, not having anything to do until rehearsal for the TV show at 2 the next afternoon. The next thing I knew, my roommate was frantically waking me up, saying "Dave, hurry up, it's almost 2! We're going to be late for rehearsal!" He was frantically spraying cold water on his head, and I'm trying to get dressed as fast as I could when I looked out the window. It was pitch dark out there. It was 2 in the morning.