Dangers of the Road
I’m going to start this with some observations on the things that happen to us road musicians. Obviously this is meant to be tongue in cheek, but nonetheless the sentiments expressed are valid (at least in my demented mind). And always remember my friend Marc’s law of bus travel, which we dubbed the “Field‘s Law“. That is that a bus trip will always take twice as long minus one hour from what was estimated in your *really accurate* itinerary. Thus a trip that was estimated to be 4 hours will invariably be 7 hours (4x2-1). That is unless the bus breaks down in the Alps, which is the subject for a story later in this book.
1. The inside of all motel/hotel rooms look remarkably similar, with notable exceptions. These exceptions include all European hotel rooms, which look like walk-in closets, and the Klein Motel, in upper east somewhere, which looked and smelled like the Black Hole of Calcutta, and was not owned by anyone who had ever had the last name of “Klein” We were expecting a cozy little place watched over by a nice elderly Jewish couple. What we got was Gopal and his lovely wife “I NEED A DEPOSIT OF $3,287.00 BEFORE YOU CAN CHECK IN” and their 14 small children. Actually it was difficult to understand what Gopal’s lovely wife was shouting to us. To me it sounded exactly like “We have no public restrooms”
Actually one hotel room in the lovely Province section of France (conveniently located above the town’s only tavern) appeared to be a deserted house of prostitution, or maybe a stopover for tribes of bandits. The one and only bathroom was down the hall, and the interior of the rooms looked (and smelled) a little bit like the dual cells at Attica.
Other than that, all hotel rooms look alike, even the ones with big fancy lobbies. The only difference is that in the big fancy lobby places, as soon as you emerge from the bus swarms of bellmen will abscond with your luggage, only to appear at your room 2 hours later expecting a five dollar tip. I have had physical tugging matches with bellmen, after patiently and calmly trying to explain that I would prefer to carry my own luggage. Ok, so occasionally I scream at the top of my lungs “GET THE HELL AWAY FROM MY LUGGAGE BEFORE I RIP YOUR SPLEEN OUT!” Sometimes that doesn’t even stop them and I have to beat them off with my overstuffed carry-on bag.
Oh, I forgot one other difference. In the fancy places, as soon as you as much as pick up the phone, you owe them $67.42 for the first 39 seconds of a local call.
And room service. If you call a number on your phone (a good value because it’s the only time anything you do with that phone will be free) the same bellman who probably still has your luggage will wait another 2 hours, then bring you a hamburger and 4 french fries and charge you $67.42 plus a $287.93 service charge. Plus another five dollar tip.
2. All hotel/motel housekeeping people look remarkably similar. The only exceptions are the occasional Hispanic or eastern European babe that just recently immigrated and es trying to support her 3 kids (who happen to be “helping” her to clean your room) on her 84 cents per hour salary.
3. These housekeeping people also are the most persistent humans on the planet, save maybe used car salesmen and the vendors in the Casablanca Bazaar. They always barge into your room at 7:23am, after an obligatory knock on the door. No, they don’t wait for a response. And the “Do Not Disturb” sign does not deter them, nor the 3 locks on the door, nor the fact that you have left a wake-up call for 2:30pm. In fact once I had the housekeeper call because my “do not disturb” sign was on the door. I very patiently explained to her in a calm and collected tone of voice that there was a reason that the “do not disturb” sign was on my door, and that was that I DIDN’T WANT TO BE DISTURBED. And when they come in to find you naked sprawled on your bed sleeping fitfully, they are shocked. I don’t know what they expect, since the air-conditioner keeps the room at an average of 87 degrees. And that’s centigrade.
4. If your hotel/motel air-conditioner happens to work, it will cool the room to 54 degrees, then shut off until it reaches 87 again, when it kicks back on, sounding like the Blue Angels are practicing a bombing run on your hotel room. After a couple of cycles of this it will totally freeze up and quit working entirely.
5. When you call an Italian hotel from the road, explaining that you will be there at 9 pm and asking them if they can keep the restaurant open for you, and they say “we will be sure to have food for you when you arrive”, it means that when you arrive there will be bread on the tables that they had put there for breakfast in the morning. They will charge you $67.42 for eating it.
6. When you check out of the Italian hotel the next morning, there will be a 2 hour argument about the extra 124,457 lire ($67.42) charge on everybody’s bill. They refuse to give you back your passports until you hand over your lire.
7. When a local promoter that you’ve never met decides to meet you at the airport, it generally means he has bad news.
8. When your local promoter says “we have a nice bus for you” it means “it used to be a tour bus until they retired it. Now they use it to haul around construction materials”
9. When the local promoter says “The rental agency was out of trucks, but there is plenty of room under the bus for equipment” it means “I’m sorry, but you will be traveling 500 miles with a guitar amplifier on your lap”
10. When the driver says “the bathroom will be fixed tomorrow”, it means “the bathroom hasn’t worked for 10 years and never will again in your lifetime”
11. When the driver says “don’t worry, we’ll stop when you need to go to the toilet” it means “I’ve got a bladder the size of Cincinnati, and I ain’t stopping for NOTHING”
12. When the driver says “we’ll be making a lunch stop soon” it means “we are dangerously low on gas, which is the only reason we’re stopping” The exception is in Italy, where a 2 hour lunch stop at the Autogrill is in the contract. We were actually shown the contract once, when we were running late and didn’t think we had 2 hours before the gig started. Of course the contract was in Italian, so it was difficult to translate. I am reasonably certain that i saw “Autogrill” on there somewhere, though.
13. The Autogrill is the only truckstop in the world that serves Osso Buco.
14. The Autogrill is the only truckstop in the world that serves wine, in glasses or bottles. The bottles are much more popular, both with the band and the drivers. Somehow this scares me when we return to the highway.
14. When your local promoter says “We will have a nice meal for you at the venue” it means one of two things:
a. We will have
a nice dinner for 5 people at the venue, even though
b. We will have a veggie tray from 7-11, complete with some green dip that’s been sitting so long that it’s developed a crust that’s impervious to penetration by chips and/or vegetables, except maybe a very firm carrot.
15. When the local promoter says “we have a nice jam session set up for you after the performance” it means “I am trying to curry favor with a local club and look like a bigwig by appearing there with members of the Ray Charles Orchestra” It also means that he plays very poor (but loud) blues guitar.
16. When you get to the jam session, the house band is either:
a. The lounge
band from the Holiday Inn Express
17. When your regular bass player breaks his arm by the pool at the Best Western, everyone’s brother/sister/nephew/husband plays bass. What this really means is that they either own a bass or are renting to buy. The one exception was that when the owner of our favorite Thai restaurant, across the street from the Best Western (or as one of our illiterate road managers spelled it, Best Westren) said “my husband is a bass player”, what she really meant was “my husband is an absolutely fabulous world famous bass player who has been helping me run my restaurant but would really like to get back on the road for a while”. Bless her heart. Her husband is still playing with us after many years.
Which shows that occasionally things work out. Sometimes during all of this, you get a great bass player or a wonderful meal or a musical jam session with friendly local musicians who can really play. But don’t count on it.