Episode 47 is a conversation with my friend Jeff Morris, Jeff was a founding member of The Bruisers. We talk about his time in that band as well as how a couple of upcoming reunion shows came to be. Jeff grew up north of Boston and talks about getting into music at an early age, his first time at a hardcore show and everything else that happened in between. Like all of my guests, Jeff’s story takes a similar path (Although I don’t think Kiss was mentioned once!) and he is a great story teller so his memories and thoughts on music are all worth hearing. This was a great episode to record and it was great catching up with an old friend.
The first thing you notice about Union Station in Tampa, FL on a Friday afternoon in late July is how miserable everyone looks. People are slumped back in chairs to the point where they appear to be sitting in bean bag chairs, children are glued to whatever handheld device their parents are letting them look at for fifteen minutes at a time, elderly people have their green visors pulled down practically over their noses, and then there’s me, I imagine I look miserable. It’s also extremely hot outside, everyone is huddled inside and, as it is in this part of the country, existing just a little bit slower. The air feels slow. The station is old, built in 1912. There are six tracks divided by three platforms, but I believe only one track is working, so a relatively small station. It was closed down in the 80’s and reopened in the late 90’s where it’s served a basic purpose since. There’s nothing fancy about it, it’s renovated and looks like any old train station. So that’s the first thing YOU notice.
The first thing I notice: I open the green wooden door, it’s one of those double doors but the one on the right doesn’t move. What’s the point of that anyway? I’d like my own choice of what door to open. Fuck the system. So, coming in from the glare of outside into a poorly air-conditioned building is one large open area filled with maybe one hundred and twenty people. Immediately at one o’clock in my vision I make eye contact with a skinny white fellow. He’s bald (shaved), maybe early 40’s, wearing a long sleeve green shirt that appears to be one of those green army jackets guys like Travis Bickle wear, upon closer inspection, it’s a shirt. He has a paper bag in one hand that’s about a foot long by four inches. “What’s he got in there?” I immediately think. A full dead fish? A box of Russell Stovers chocolates? A video tape but one of those early ones from Paramount Studios that came in a white bubbly case? A melodica? I never find out. On the glass empty counter he’s leaning against is a back pack that is so filled that if he put it over the front of himself and put an overcoat on he would look like Orson Wells. You’ve seen people with these backpacks out in the world. Usually on the subway or a bus, and they’re just out for that day. How many things do you need to have with you to exist over an entire day? I usually do pretty good with my wallet and phone. I keep a sweatshirt in the car in case a chill decides to show up. Maybe he’s a magician and he’s going to treat us all to that endless bandana trick that will go on for forty-five minutes. This entire thought process takes about four seconds in real time and I immediately tell myself I am going to have to keep an eye on this guy. He definitely has a “just getting my shit together right now” vibe about him. He’s a little shifty and if I had to describe who he looked like the closest familiar person would maybe be Maynard Keenan from the band Tool.
It’s a little crowded inside here, not enough to cause anxiety or anything like that. I apparently decide to change that and go outside and sit on a cement bench around the corner. I have three quarters of a joint with me that I take out and light. It’s about 99 degrees out, with the wind chill factor, about 99 degrees. After I decide I’ve had enough I put the rest of it back in the little tube and throw it in a trash barrel nearby. I have a small vape pen with me and if I feel the need to use that on the trip I will figure out where the best place to do that will be. I’m certainly not going to try it on the actual train and get thrown off (this is me saying this a month after this trip and I’m lying).
My journey is supposed to begin at about 5:30 pm, the train will arrive in Washington DC on Saturday afternoon at 2:00 PM where I then will have a seven-hour layover. Union Station in DC as you (may) know, is in the middle of everything so you can easily become a tourist and find seven hours of things to do. I had a bag with me that held a number of different charging cables and cords, a thin MacBook Air, an Amazon tablet, one 230-page book (softcover), one t-shirt, the usual toiletries and four albums I bought in Sarasota, FL. This bag is just heavy enough to be an annoyance around my shoulders but manageable. When I travel, especially by rail, I always keep this type of an “everything I need” bag with me. If I feel like I am going to fall asleep it’s between my legs on the floor with the straps wrapped around my legs. I barely sleep on vacation, especially if it’s a new place. Why waste your time with your eyes closed? Even if it is an endless stream of loading docks, silos, and small two-minute long towns that blur by. You’ll never remember a single one, but I like to at least see everything. The train ends up being about ninety minutes late, which is fine for me. I have now found a seat on a bench inside and I’m enjoying watching people come and go. I’ve always argued that although sometime it’s interesting to have your own soundtrack in earphones while you watch people go about their business, listening to the sounds of people is enough to keep me interested. Sure most conversations you catch are boring “Oh my cousin lives there”, “Wow so then you’re going to Wheaton College, that’s great”, etc. but I feel like I’m there. I don’t want to feel removed from anywhere unfamiliar. I never want to feel that, that’s the whole point of travel, even, quick mundane travel.
The train eventually boards, this trip will be relatively short, I am traveling coach. I would never be able to sleep on a train for more than an hour or two here and there, so getting a sleeper car is something I wouldn’t utilize. I get my own seat, on the left side of the car, put my big bag between my legs on the floor and am able to slide it under my seat, on the aisle seat I put a small grocery bag with some snacks, a magazine, etc. I call this a “soft reserve” If someone is coming down the aisle looking for a seat and see this little pile they might think someone is sitting there, or that I’m an asshole. The car is about half full so there’s no reason to sit next to a stranger. You know, unless you yourself are the asshole. I also have the luxury of resting mean guy face, so nobody is going to sit next to me. Well not until we hit Jacksonville, but hey this train hasn’t even left yet.
Sitting in my row, across the aisle is a young man, maybe 20 years old. Sideways baseball hat, laptop covered in stickers for shit I never understand, which I imagine is most likely snowboarding gear or something like that. We make eye contact and he gives me a nod for some reason. Outside to my left there are people hugging their loved ones, shaking hands and saying their goodbyes. I see an attractive young woman in her 20’s, she is dressed like a hippie. Sundress, and then just a bunch of necklaces and shit hanging off her elaborately braided hair as the hippies do. She is hugging a young man in his 20’s with a manbun, tattoos all over his body including his face, he’s got no baggage. They break apart and I watch her walk past my window and then out of view, sobbing hysterically. I’m jumping ahead but later that evening I see him cozied up with a new young lady in the next car.
The train eventually starts to move, and the first big stop will be Orlando, FL. Maybe fifteen minutes into the journey they announce over the PA that there is no smoking in any of the bathrooms and you will be ejected from the train if you are caught. Another fifteen minutes goes by and they make the same announcement, this time reiterating the fact that you really can’t be doing this. They also mention for the bigger stops where the train will have a longer ten-minute stop, you may get out of the train to smoke. When we hit Orlando I get out of the train and stand in an area where I use a vape pen with THC oil in it. I’m pretty sure marijuana is illegal in Florida, but I honestly don’t even worry about it a tiny bit. Living in Massachusetts and spending time in California where it is legal it seems ridiculous to me that this would even be an issue with anyone. Who walks up but my Travis Bickle buddy from the Tampa station. He doesn’t say anything to me but makes eye contact with me and then just kind of stands near me. I plan on doing this at every stop, not because I want to fall asleep but it will relax me enough to enjoy my surroundings with little stress. I immediately worry this guy is going to join me at every stop.
I get back on the train and notice the young man with the sideways baseball hat and his belongings are now gone. An hour or so goes by and he doesn’t show up. I see him in the café car when I get up to buy a cup of coffee. I make small talk with the woman sitting in front of me, an African-American woman with her eleven-year old son. They are traveling home to Baltimore, she is worried as she may miss her shuttle in DC to Baltimore since the train is running a couple of hours late. I hold back bragging that I am happy for the delay as it shaved a little time off of my seven-hour layover.
The next stop will be Jacksonville, FL. I step outside for a few minutes and get myself relaxed, it’s still really warm and the sun has now gone down. I notice Travis out of the corner of my eye just standing there doing nothing. I try to ignore him. I think too much about nothing sometimes. One thing about the train that I enjoy is the air conditioner is on so high it feels like we are outside…in Vermont…in November. This is okay to me but also, I literally have the clothes on my back with me, and one other t-shirt inside my bag. I’m wearing shorts, and my usual get up of two t-shirts and one button down black short sleeved Dickies shirt. I wear the same thing just about every waking moment of my life, and probably will continue to do so until I can’t. It’s easy and it’s one less thing to think about every morning. Some conductors will try to group travelers going to the same destination in the same cars. I imagine to make it easier to track people, so everyone going all the way to New York or Boston might all be in the same car. This train isn’t even close to being full so I imagine it’s harder to track people and how far they are going, etc. I also think there’s no real reason to do that on this undersold train.
I sit back down at my seat and decide I’m going to listen to a record called New Thing at Newport. It’s a record that was recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1965 featuring sets by John Coltrane and Archie Shepp. In my opinion, this is one of the greatest live jazz records out there. It begins with a gentleman by the name of Father Norman James O’Connor giving an introduction to the set. He was a Catholic priest that was also a huge jazz fan (he also introduces Dave Brubeck and Duke Ellington on their respective Newport records) This Coltrane lineup is one of his many classic lineups with McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on double bass and of Elvin Jones falling all over the drums. You know how when you put on Black Sabbath’s Paranoid on and War Pigs starts and you basically get immediately punched in the face? Or when Greg Ginn’s guitar opens the Damaged album and you want to throw your TV set through the window? That’s how the music hits when the band starts. If you’re into this kind of thing, you’re in for the ride immediately. When I say this record is one of the best live records I am exaggerating a little. I love the two Coltrane songs here (One Down, One Up and a fifteen-minute blown out My Favorite Things), the Shepp stuff is great but the Coltrane stuff is perfect. My plan is to put this thirty minutes or so of music on and watch the backs of buildings flash by me. I’m feeling good about this trip. On past extended train rides I’ve hung out in the café car and talked with all sorts of people. This trip feels more like a mission. I’m a patient person, but I also just don’t feel like interacting with anyone this time around.
So maybe two minutes into the first song of one of my favorite albums of all time I see a person out of the corner of my eye walking up and stand facing me. He is walking direct, he’s not looking up at the numbers of each seat like someone would do when directed to a specific seat. This is an important detail that justifies my immediate paranoia and dread. It’s Travis Bickle guy and he’s motioning at my “soft reserve” and me at the same time. I remove my earphones and say “what’s that?”
“Hey the conductor moved me to this seat”
I’m completely caught off guard and now immediately filled with confusion.
“This seat? Oh okay”
I move my stuff, he thanks me and sits down next to me. Most people I would immediately ask where they are going and maybe introduce myself. I put my earbud back in and stare out the window. The music is still playing but it’s now been snapped in half and opened. I don’t know where I was. I hate confrontation, especially from people I get a vibe from. He now has a flip phone out and is texting with it (like that, “hit a key three times to get a letter” style texting) Is he sending in the coordinates to the white power militia group he heads? “I found the man with the Agnostic Front lyrics tattooed on his forearm, blow the train up when we get to Savannah, he’ll be long asleep, he’s been hitting the weed vape at every stop now” After about ten minutes he gets up and leaves. I leave at one point to get something to eat in the café car and he is sitting by himself with a cup of coffee and his flip phone. He returns to the seat a few minutes later and I say
“Hey you know that kid over there left over two hours ago I bet you could sit there…this way we’ll both have more room too” He says “works for me” and now I’m pretty much never going to sleep on this train as I am convinced he is going to slit my throat in the middle of the night.
The woman in front of me I was talking with earlier in the night is having trouble getting the leg rest thing up and asks me to help. I am now kneeling in the aisle with my head essentially between this woman’s legs helping her lift the thing up, hoping her young son does not wake up. He doesn’t and I go back to my chair to watch the orange lights pass by my window. Neil Young Tonight’s The Night, Miles Davis – Dark Magus and Cocteau Twins – Treasure all get spins on this overnight journey. Perfect sounds to fade in and out of, waking up to different landscapes and colors. At some point I end up dozing off and eventually wake up in one of the Carolinas. I watch the grey sky slowly turn orange, eventually filling parts of the train with sunlight. Most people are awake when the sun comes up on the train. Every single person you see looks like absolute shit. Thankfully this train isn’t so full so the bathrooms have no lines and the café car is empty. I get myself coffee and a better than expected microwaved breakfast sandwich. We reach a bigger town in North Carolina and I see my creepy friend who really wasn’t that creepy leave the train and walk down the platform. That’s the last I see of him.
The remainder of the ride to Washington DC is uneventful, and long. A few more delays, as freight trains have the right of way, and now the good news is my seven-hour layover in DC is now a four and a half hour one. This seems much more manageable to me. The slow crawl into Union Station is showing me a side of DC I am not familiar with. I see the Washington Monument , the Jefferson Memorial and the Capitol Building in the distance, but all in quick bursts in between a bunch of ugly office and apartment buildings.
My original plan when this was going to be a seven-hour layover was to maybe grab some sort of public transportation or a ride sharing car and explore some of DC, maybe hit a museum or seven. I essentially would have an almost full workday of nothing to do. I even had a nice friend put a list of potential places together for me to check out. Me being me, I immediately feel bad she put the effort in and I didn’t even use the information. I would have though, and it was obviously appreciated. The plans were immediately crushed when I stepped outside of the train station. It was hotter than it was in Tampa when I left the night before, and way more humid. I could see the Capitol Building at the end of the street, but walking their seemed like a hell of a task. I took a picture or two and went back inside to search for dinner. I tend to have an extremely spotty track record when it comes to meals when I am traveling. Some trips I spend checking out small local holes in the wall people recommend, or places Guy Fieri visits. Say what you will about him, but some of the places he essentially gives free advertising to are pretty great. Even if he looks like he went to a stylist and said “Ummmm, give me ‘the date rape’ look” Other trips, if I’m feeling miserable or just needing to put something in my body I make extremely bad food choices. Today was no exception. Union Station is pretty much a shopping mall that trains come and go from. The basement level has a food court with a couple of curious places I’ve never heard of. Me though, I decide I am going to eat at Johnny Rockets (yeah, I know). If you’re not familiar with this establishment, it’s basically modeled after a 50’s diner, with burgers and fries, milk shakes etc. I think at some point if a certain song comes on the stereo the wait staff have to do this choreographed dance, at least they did in the 90’s when I had a friend who worked as a waitress at one. On a scale of 1-10 of chain restaurants I’d vote it a 4.5. There is one other customer in the restaurant, and she is sitting in a booth. I sit in the booth two away from her, facing her. I don’t know why I do this but I immediately hate that I did this and also am filled with anxiety about getting up and moving to the other side of the booth so I just stay put. This move was essentially the same move as the guy who uses the urinal right next to you when there are seven more open ones (Speaking of this, this is a real thing, “shy bladder”, I should know as I have it. Especially at work, where the men’s room has one urinal, and then three stalls to the right of it, he third being the luxury suite of the public restroom, the handicapped stall. If I walk in there and there is one person in there in a stall I will usually just turn around and walk out. Often times someone is walking in as I am walking in and I will walk up to the urinal and basically stand there with my thingy in my hand literally thinking in my head ‘they must hear that there’s nothing going on here’ – or as is most times, they will want to hold a conversation with me from the stall or the sink. If all of them men I work with knew how many conversations they’ve had with me while I’m just standing there with my hands on my dick that is doing absolutely nothing they might be horrified. I wonder if anyone has noticed me leaving the bathroom and then immediately walk back in six minutes later. I mean I could always say I have a bout of diarrhea) I order a burger and onion rings which are okay. I am only really in this restaurant for about twenty minutes.
Four hours to kill, I should go outside and get high on marijuana. It’s legal in DC. It’s now around 6:30 pm and my train leaves at 9:20 PM, to arrive back in Massachusetts at 8:30 am or so. I walk around looking for a store to go in or anything remotely interesting and find nothing. Instead of wasting money or eating more I grab a cup of coffee and sit on a bench among the other travelers. It’s a busy hot summer weekend day in the dead of summer. There is a large group of mostly teenagers and some adult chaperones all wearing the exact same t-shirt. They appear to be from some sort of Christian choir group on a field trip. They make a lot of noise and are running around acting like typical kids who are out of their normal situation. At one point in my life I would be annoyed with this but nowadays, it’s just kids being kids, I’m not really supposed to care about things like that. There’s better things to waste energy on.
Sometimes my ignorance gets me into trouble, sometimes it’s an innocent thing that doesn’t hold any significance to anything and sometimes it’s just me ignorantly stereotyping a person. A shorter, disheveled looking man is heading towards the seat to the left of me. He is wearing some sort of NASCAR shirt under a flannel shirt (remember the weather here), dirty jeans with holes in the knees, his light brown hair is lightly feathered under a faded baseball cap that I can’t read. He’s missing a tooth, not right in the front, but on the side. Despite his look and whole vibe I do note he has an attractive face, and upon closer look he has a tiny diamond stud in his left nostril. Dirty shaven with an emphasis on a mustache, but one of those light ones that guys named Dave who sold you weed in 1979 had. There’s another younger guy with him that sits down next to him. Between the two of them they have about five suitcases. I am sitting here with my bag on the floor between my legs, my coffee on the floor to the right of me and my phone is put away. I’m in people watching and listening mode. No music in my head, the soundtrack of a Saturday night in July in this busy train station in Washington DC has enough life in it to keep my eyes and ears darting around like a crack head. As soon as this man sits down we make eye contact and say hello, and he starts
“I’ve been battling with Amtrak customer service over there trying to get them to put us up. We missed out connecting train and now we have to wait until five-thirty tomorrow afternoon for the next one. That’s twenty-four hours away. I can’t stay in here, I have metal rods in my arm and we forgot my pain meds…”
He goes on and tells me he is a registered nurse, they are from South Carolina, he thinks his arms will start to hurt once night falls (he shows me scars on both forearms) and doesn’t want to resort to going outside and trying to buy drugs on the street, for fear that he could lose his nurses license. Not because that’s just a pretty fucked up thing to do. It’s still unclear how staying in a hotel would change that whole aspect of this situation, but I’m trying to at least listen. I have a few more hours to kill. Sometimes I enjoy talking to strangers, if I get a bad vibe or think they want something from me I’ll move on. I don’t get this from him. A tiny bit but the idea of money never comes up in any part of the conversation and that’s usually how scammers work. Maybe even something as small as mentioning the price of something they just had.
I now get a better look at the other guy with him, he’s much younger, maybe in his 20’s. Where the guy I’ve been talking with is a classic “Scrawny redneck” looking fellow, the younger guy who I assume is maybe his son or nephew is much bigger. His mouth just kind of hangs open and his wide eyes (one is crossed a little) are sort of just staring at nothing in particular. He seems like that guy in the group of friends you get to do crazy things like smash a TV set in front of a police station or light an alligator on fire. Those kinds of things.
I ask original guy where they are headed and receive a surprise I did not see coming.
“My husband here and I are heading to see his mom in Wisconsin, she is sick and he wants to spend time with her…” This is where I feel ignorant, or prejudiced. The fact that I was surprised to learn the relationship of these two men is ridiculous of me. Not that I am ever actively thinking of what the relationship of two random people is. Being blind to the idea that the only gay people are the ones I know who are musicians or writers, DJs, etc. There’s no social or economic background that changes anything, so silly of me.
I sit with these two for a few more minutes, and while they are nice people and harmless as far as I can tell, I just don’t feel like being part of anyone’s situation right now. I move on to go buy that inevitable bag of nuts that I literally will have for four months before I throw them in my garbage (Update: I ended up throwing them out just about three days ago, almost two months later) and a bottle of water. The wait for the train just about becomes unbearable when they finally board us.
This train is extremely empty, I have no worry that anyone will sit next to me (well until a man and his terrible son decide to sit directly in front of me and both immediately put their chairs all the way back and go to sleep – I make an audible “really?” and get up and move back one more row. Same guy as the pee next to you in the bathroom or the guy facing you in the terrible 4.5 rated hamburger and soda shop you’re in, this is him and his son. He’s teaching his son to be one of those people and I witnessed it. Have you noticed when you talk about bad driving practices with people you know 100 % of the time the person agrees with you. Are those bad people who do these kinds of things just out there having the same discussions with people “Can you believe it, I didn’t use my directional signal the other day and this guy beeped at me, what a jabroni!” These two also, before they sit have a hell of a time getting their luggage situated. All of the luggage is those hard plastic ones, they’re giant and at this point I just want to fall asleep. There is also a wife and daughter who sit two rows away from them – WTF? Right? – This family is European, maybe Swedish or German so I give them the benefit of the doubt and then I don’t give them the benefit of the doubt because what does that even mean?) and nobody does for the entire relatively short trip. I’m able to stretch out a little more. Unfortunately for everyone on this train they never turn the lights down low, so this overnight trip from Washington to Boston is basically in fluorescent light. I cure this by draping a Neurosis t-shirt over my head, occasionally a person walks by and is justifiably creeped out.
This hasn’t really been a long trip, or a very eventful one for that matter, but I am now a mixture of exhausted, wide awake and maybe stoned, I have no idea. Everything has a very surreal feel to it. This feeling has always been my favorite moment on train journeys. Sleep deprivation. With the right soundtrack and environment, it’s much cheaper and safer than tripping. As I sit there and peer under my makeshift hoodie outside the window and around the train, the final boss shows up. He’s short, like make fun of a person type short, but just in your head, has some sort of balding comb-over mullet Neil Diamond type hairdo. I imagine I am not the first person in the entire world that has seen this person and thought to themselves “That little fellow looks like an Oompa Loompa” He definitely looks a little shifty, he has one big bag with him that looks like it may weigh more than him. We arrive in New York City at 1:30 AM and the train is scheduled to sit here for about 45 minutes so I of course go out on the platform. We are underground now, so it’s just that heavy train station smell, it’s incredibly stuffy and hot but a relief as they have the air conditioning blasting inside. I decide to vape more marijuana, I have no idea if I even need to or should. This train is scheduled to arrive in Boston at 8:30 AM, there is then a train at 11:00 am that travels to Franklin, MA which is the town next to me. From there I will schedule a ride sharing company to drive me the six miles back to my house. I realize I can get off the train in Providence, RI at 7:45 am which is about a half hour from my house. I’ll get a ride from there, that makes more sense. That’s the best plan anyway. I don’t really want to sit in another train station and wait three hours to get on yet another train. That’s the plan, yeah. A normal person might just not get any higher at this point. Well not a normal person, but my best idea is to just stay awake the last seven hours of this journey. I’ve barely slept much anyway, what’s one other night?
The final boss approaches me as I stand there on the platform far beneath Madison Square Garden.
“Hate these long layovers, I wanna get home” he says
“How far you going?” I ask him
“Hartford, but I’m from Providence”
He has a generic Northeastern accent, part Long Island, part Boston, part Rhode Island. And then he gets into it
“They cleaned it up up there” he motions to above us
“Used to take this trip all the time, Back in the day you get an hour wait here you’d go up there and get with any woman up there”
“Yeah I remember there was a half hour layover and I went up there and met a woman in an alley and she sucked my dick for twenty bucks, right then and there”
“Oh wow, yeah?”
Is it cool? Not really, to have that done to me standing in a dirty alley with the added anxiety of missing the train if they don’t hurry up, that sounds like an experience where you’d have to pay me. I let my new friend that I’m going back inside and try to sleep. I watch him standing out there after I return to my seat, he’s swinging his arms back and forth waiting for someone to talk to, he’s not smoking or anything. This feeling of loneliness and melancholy sweeps over me, not just for him, but anyone I briefly paid attention to on this trip, and myself. When I think of people like this, myself included just going through life not really noticed by anyone. We have these stories we always want to tell someone no matter how absurd they may be, or how non-eventful they may be. Everyone has them and even when they are some sort of testosterone fueled “hey check it out just because I’m small I get blow jobs” trying to impress another dude story, it still holds some weight. How sad would it be if you went through life and never got to tell anyone a story?
I’m contemplating this kind of thing while I drift in and out of sleep which I am completely unaware of and finally come to and realize we have passed Providence Rhode Island and I will now be spending four hours in South Station on a Sunday morning in Boston. I could technically take a ride share from here but the idea of small talk for forty-five minutes in a stranger’s car at this mental state sounds like a nightmare. Instead I grab a coffee and find a table to sit at, I take my earbuds out and listen to the sounds of a Sunday morning in my home town. It’s nice to be home and hear the accents, and laughs and conversations. No need for me to pay much attention here. I’m from here and I know everyone’s story, the good ones, the bad ones and ones like this one where nothing happens but I felt like I wanted to tell it.
The first time I heard the song Flower by Soundgarden I shit my pants. I lost interest in hardcore and punk rock after I graduated high school. Nobody was doing anything new that interested me anyway (I’ve since gone back and discovered a lot of good stuff I missed in the 90’s but that’s words for another time) I had taken a break from “classic rock” and traditional metal like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, etc while spending a good chunk of my teenage years immersed in the hardcore scene. The first thing I thought of when I heard Flower was the intro to the song sounded like Led Zeppelin with Morrissey moaning along for a couple measures. And then it kicked in and it was all Led Zeppelin, or something. I couldn’t put my finger on what it sounded like. It was new and fresh and that was the moment I discovered this whole other world of music that started happening. Soundgarden were at the very top of this world, no question.
I can’t think of another band I have seen in so many different size venues in Boston and beyond, from The Rat, The Paradise (with VoiVod and Faith No More!), Avalon, Axis (with COC and Danzig!), Worcester Centrum with Guns n’ Roses, Hollywood Palladium with Monster Magnet, Great Woods in Mansfield, MA at Lollapalooza and probably a couple more I’m forgetting. They seemed to always be on tour in the 90’s, I never missed them. That first show at The Rat after Ultramega OK came out, Kim Thayil stood out to my brother and I. We thought he resembled Tommy Chong, and of course they then ended the show with a cover of Earache My Eye. As amazing as Cornell’s voice was, it didn’t hit me right away. The music and riffs were what I really dug. That changed when Louder Than Love was released and at the next show I saw, at Axis. They opened with Beyond the Wheel and Cornell’s voice was out of this world. That song is made for him. It’s one of those songs nobody should ever attempt to cover. If he was away from the microphone or when it went out his voice would still carry throughout the venue. And this band was fucking loud. They closed that night with one of my top three songs by them, the “doomy” I Awake. I shit my pants again. Every time I saw them after this show my eyes never wandered further away from Cornell. That voice, and even as a heterosexual male, let’s admit it, the guy was obviously pretty easy on the eyes. I never got to see Led Zeppelin, Soundgarden fast became my Led Zeppelin. A larger than life rock band that was loud, sexy, perfect in every sense.
Up to Louder than Love the lyrics on Soundgarden records didn’t connect with me that well, there was always a mix of humor and clever lines like Hands All Over’s environmental “you’re gonna kill your mother” line but nothing mind blowing. When Badmotorfinger came out that changed for me. The lyrics on that record connected to me, they were smart, sad, hopeful, funny, everything my 20 something Stussy hat sporting self needed. Mind Riot and Slaves and Bulldozers immediately come to mind as ones I wish I wrote.
I am at work and can’t really spend all morning writing about Chris Cornell and how big of a deal he was to me, but reading the number of posts from friends who also spent a good amount of their life loving this man’s music I felt like needed to get something out of myself. Every post and little tribute has been refreshing to see in a week of generally crappy things to read on the internet. It took me the entirety of their existence to figure out how and why I loved this man and his band so much. It was and still a long fruitful relationship that has aged well for me. All of their music (Okay, I never liked Spoonman, not to be that guy but) is still listenable, and the reissues they have been releasing have reawakened my interest in them. Thanks to a number of unreleased tracks on all of them you can see how Cornell put some of these songs together and why he was such a monster songwriter and top tier musician. Some of these bigger musicians dying the last few years (Bowie, Prince, etc) have been sad, but this one got my eyes watery this morning when I saw it on the TV in between stories about how sunny and warm it was going to be today and how surreal and sad the government is right now. Cornell was on a Lennon/Townsend/Jagger level for me. On a positive note I still have hours of timeless music to listen to escape to.
Woke up depressed
I left for work
You have a good day
It’s not your fault
I know it hurts
Remember, I love you, love you
Remember, I love you, love you
Woke up depressed
I left for work
You have a good day
It’s not my fault
I know it hurts
“So did we ever…you know?”
“Umm, no we never did that”
(Are we really having this conversation?)
“Well because you said you were good friends with your landlord and felt weird having sex in her building”
(I mean also because the first time you kissed me was three minutes after we finished a half-drunk game of Yahtzee. Well, you were half drunk. I was drinking Sprite. You had your hand in a bag of sour cream and onion potato chips that you had been snacking on throughout the night. If I know potato chips, they leave behind a lot of remnants in one’s mouth. So I still have vivid memories of that first kiss, where I was transferred some of the remnants of said sour cream and onion potato chips. The landlord thing was certainly part of why we never had sex, but I didn’t want to bring up the chips while you and your friend were coincidentally sharing a basket of tortilla chips)
“Oh okay, I wasn’t completely sure”
(How do you not remember who you’ve had sex with? Also, in retrospect, that’s kind of an insult! I can remember the women I’ve been with, fooled around with once, dated briefly or for years. A good chunk of those women, are connected to The Cure and my history with that band so it was no surprise a random girl I dated for a month almost a decade ago would pop back into my head the night of a Cure concert)
My friend Michelle sent me a message a few days before this show saying she may have an extra ticket and if so I can have it, and if I’ll drive. Deal. I tend to never get tickets when they go on sale at this point. There’s no real reason to, especially with all the buying options out there, and friends on social media going. If you can’t find a ticket to a concert the week of in 2016 you’re not trying. Also, I’m never dropping however much money people spend on beer and drinks at shows so I’m willing to pay a bit more for a ticket if I need to.
Michelle and I got to the venue early and grabbed dinner nearby. We’ve been friends for a few years online, met once in person while I was working the door at a bar six months ago but never hung out so it was nice to be able to drive and chat and sit down to dinner and chat instead of meeting up at a show and not having time to talk. She is similarly minded as me I think, and is hilarious in person as she is online. It’s good to have friends like this.
There was a woman sitting to my right alone who at one point ordered two drinks. At one point I look up and approaching the table is a girl I recognize immediately as the sour cream and potato chip girl. I have no idea what her name is at this point. I struggle with the guilt of this lapse in memory later as I judge her for forgetting if she had sex with a particular person. When I realize forgetting someone you played Yahtzee with isn’t that big of a deal I move on. Emotionally. We exchange pleasantries, she even says her name for some reason, probably sensing my lapse. I introduce her to Michelle
“This is my FRIEND Michelle”
When it’s time to leave Michelle is well ahead of me and pretty much outside when she stops me and asks
“So did we ever…you know?”
We get to the venue and of course run into Yahtzee woman and her friend again who are sitting in THE SAME SECTION AS US. That’s the last interaction we have with them.
Just as that is happening the band is suddenly on the stage and you can hear some sort of noodling around on stage for a few minutes. I think it’s maybe some sort of pre-recorded thing playing and then realize they are opening with “Open” from 1992’s Wish. I posted about them hopefully opening with this on Facebook earlier in the day so that was exciting. I mean not really but it was a tiny personal victory I celebrated inside my head alone in a venue surrounded by thousands of people.
They followed Open with five songs from what may be my favorite Cure album, The Head on the Door. It was the first record I heard by them, it’s short and has catchy pop songs and just enough darkness to at least place it in the top five essential albums in their catalog. When I first heard the record I was heavily immersed in the hardcore scene, especially what was happening there with all of the new more metal sounding bands like Corrosion of Conformity and D.R.I. The Cure was a quirky thing for me at the time. I wasn’t married to hardcore and metal, I grew up loving The Beatles and later on Squeeze and Joe Jackson and The Clash so the Cure was kind of natural for me. I think this era of the Cure is right before they would get the badge of being that band you put on a mix tape for the girl at the book store, or the band you were a sad sap for listening to. That wouldn’t start happening until the next record, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me.
This was also around the time I was dating my high school girlfriend I was with for about two years. After getting burned by my first girlfriend in junior high I was a slightly paranoid boyfriend. I was one of those dudes. It was early in life and I’m not even remotely like that at this point, but yeah I could get jealous.
My brother got tickets to see them at the Orpheum in October of 1985. October 25th to be exact. My girlfriend mentioned a party her and her friend were going to the same night as the show. The party they were going to was being hosted by a boy her and her friends thought was cute. I can still remember him. He was that weird quiet misfit kid. Like the one in that movie American Beauty who films the grocery bag. I was bummed she would be going to this party so I tried getting out of going to the show but couldn’t. And of course nothing happened aside from me being able to be that obnoxious guy that says things like “Oh, cool, yeah I saw them in 1985” Hanging out with that high school girlfriend years later she did admit that her and the weird quiet misfit kid had sex after she and I broke up which was a horrible thing to tell a person.
Back here in 2016 they follow the dark and brooding Sinking with three songs in a row from Disintegration (Pictures of You, Closedown [like on the album] and Fascination Street) and then on to Hot Hot Hot !!! from Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (God I’m sick of typing that out over and over. Wish they played more from Wish, or Faith) was a soundtrack of a whole crush I had on a girl who turned out to be my cousin. I swear I can explain. She was a cousin as her aunt married my mother’s cousin. This would have been around a year after Pretty in Pink came out (February, 1986) The Cure album with too many words in it came out in May of 1987. Me and, I’ll call her Elizabeth became friends when my uncle introduced me to her at a family event. When I found out she wasn’t related by blood it was over. She became Molly Ringwald. Had red hair, wore those hats, may have even had “The Rave-Ups” written on her book cover (doubtful) for all I know. We spent many nights driving around Swampscott and Nahant, Ma parking and listening to that album. I was a scared baby with this kind of thing so I never made any kind of move at all. Neither did she and we just remained friends.
A couple of years later we would go to a Cure show together, it was the Disintegration tour, well “The Prayer Tour” I had seen them a couple of more times and was going to both nights. She went with me one night and I went with another friend or maybe my brother another night. The night we went at one point in the show I was yawning and my eyes got all watery. I consciously thought that if she looks at me she’s going to think I’m crying. And low and behold the next day she told one of her friends about it and they told two friends, and so on and so on…I get told by a friend “Hey dude Elizabeth said you were crying at that Cure show”
I hope I didn’t reply “Boys don’t cry”
The band bounced around their immense catalog of music throughout the remainder of their thirty-one song set. Once you get rid of any kind of disappointment you may have if they don’t play a particular song, seeing The Cure is always an amazing treat live.
I was hesitant seeing them in a hockey arena as the last place I saw them was in a nice old theater in Los Angeles (performing their first three albums and a host of other rarities) and it was probably the best time I’ve ever seen them. I was by myself at that show, thousands of miles away from seeing anyone I know, far away from Molly Ringwald and Yahtzee girl. This show here in 2016 was just as important, and if it ends up being the last time I see them it at least has an amusing bookend to it running into that girl, and spending the time with a good friend, meeting a few new people and seeing other friends.
Also, because of how we were sitting (me on the inside, and Michelle on the seat closer to the aisle, with me facing the stage and her essentially behind me) she didn’t see me get a little misty in the eyes during Just Like Heaven.
In my last entry here I talked about how horrible and awkward dating in your 40’s can be. Then I remembered how I was as a teenager…and how I was in my 20’s…and how I was in my 30’s. I feel like I might over-dramatize that I am awkward with women. I’ve had a number of long term relationships, and with all of those relationships I have remained very good friends with all of them so I can’t be that weird and awkward with women. And then I remembered these stories. All true stories. I changed the names of the women even if I am still friendly with some of them.
My second girlfriend, who I was with for a good chunk of high school was two grades above me. I was good friends with one of her friends named Julie. Julie and I lived next door to each other as kids, I was friends with her brother and her. At one point she tells me that this girl Tina likes me. I get Tina’s phone number from her. At this point I’ve maybe spoken to Tina in person zero times, but probably closer to a negative amount of times. That night I call Tina’s house (I still remember the phone number) and her mother answers.
“Hi is Tina there?”
“Yeah one second. Who’s calling?”
“It’s Chris, from school”
“Hello?” it’s Tina’s voice (I guess?)
“Hi Tina, it’s Chris Campagna”
“Will you go out with me?”
“Okay, see you tomorrow at school” and I hang up
Tina and I are now boyfriend and girlfriend, and remain so for well over a year. Everything is great, we spend every day together walking around Swampscott and getting mosquito bites from hanging around in the cemetery sitting on the grass listening to music. I was one of those kids that carried a boombox around. I’m just remembering that this second as I type this. Ewww.
My first girlfriend, Olivia she lived right behind me. That relationship started at Fantasy Island in Salem, a staple for first dates for any teenager in Swampscott and ended near Captain Pizza over by the train station. What a horrible metaphor. At one point Olivia told me she wanted to see other people along with me though. Fourteen year-old me was okay with this for about three days. Until I watched them make out in front of me. That ended but we somehow remained friends and I would often stop by her house and hang out on the porch talking to her. This would also be the first time I create a web of lies in my head to get out of something that wasn’t necessarily that bad to begin with.
I stopped by Olivia’s house while dating Tina once and Olivia’s dog came to the door and bit me on the leg. I didn’t have a dog, nobody I hung around with had a dog. When I saw Tina later that night I would have to explain to her where I was that a dog bit me. Olivia had come to the door in a bathrobe so I already felt guilty being there. I came up with some story in my head that a neighbor’s dog chased me while I was on my skateboard.
The mark the dog left on my leg went away within three hours and Tina never found out I was bit by a dog that day.
In my twenties I was again friends with two girls who were good friends. Renee and Cara. We would hang out together, talk on the phone and do shit teenagers probably do. Chew gum. Complain. Split pizzas. Order mozzarella sticks. Not know anything about anything whatsoever, etc. At one point I developed a crush on Renee. We would talk on the phone late at night about who knows what. At one point I was going to just tell her but wanted to do it in person. I made the mistake (well in retrospect not a mistake) of telling her I had something I wanted to tell her. We were going to hang out the next day anyway.
“So what did you have to tell me?” Renee asked a few hours into us driving around aimlessly
“Oh, ummm, yeah, nothing. Forget it” I chickened out
“Come on” she insisted
“Nah, it’s nothing”
“You can’t do that”
“Okay fine, I think I have a crush on Cara”
Cara and I date for a few years off and on. We had a great relationship. That was my first real “one that got away” thing when that ended. That relationship coincidentally ruined Let it Bleed for a few years for me as she was also a big Rolling Stones fan. The fact that it started falsely never really troubled me until I think about it.
In my 30’s at the beginning of the Internet (for me anyway) there was a Yahoo! Penpals thing. It wasn’t really a dating thing but maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t even called Yahoo! Penpals. Some bullshit chat thing on Yahoo! You look it up. I met a woman on there who was a jazz singer and teacher. She was the same age as me, maybe a year or two younger. We dated for a brief couple of months. It got to a point where I liked her enough that I lent her to CD’s a Coleman Hawkins CD called The Genius of Coleman Hawkins and Discs 3 and 4 from the Miles Davis Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel Box Set which is some of the best live jazz you can ever hear in your life. So you definitely want to always be in possession of all seven discs. At one point she took me to see Patch Adams (GOOD LORD WHAT A SHITSHOW), that was the second to last time we would hang out.
The last time we hung out she needed help moving a rug from one room to another in her apartment. On the way over there I decided to break up with her. I had lost interest and we didn’t have much in common besides jazz music. Music compatibility isn’t enough to sustain a relationship. As we pulled up to her apartment I asked
“Do you still want help with that rug?”
I don’t think I’ve seen a more mortified look on a person’s face since. Oh well. Who didn’t suck in their 30’s? Oh yeah, most mature people.
A year or so goes by and I decide one night I’d like to hear Disc 3 of The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel 1965 by Miles Davis box set. It’s not there. I need to get that disc back from Terry. There’s no possible way she wants to talk to me as a friend at this point. I devise a plan. Terry is a pretty accomplished singer and vocal teacher. I’ll call her and sign up for vocal lessons and at some point ask about the CD. According to her ad in the Phoenix she charges $30 an hour lesson. I’m a complete pussy for even doing this so it will end up costing me at least $150 to get those discs back from her.
I had recently started my band Presley and wanted to attempt to actually sing so I did want to learn how to sing, so this was some sort of weird, lame excuse to do that.
I called her out of the blue and she was fine, water under the bridge. She’d be glad to teach me and would be happy to see me she explains. The lessons take place in her apartment her at a piano and me standing there singing. It was interesting and fun. I even have tape recordings of me singing things like “My Funny Valentine”, “The Night We Called It a Day” that I really should just hold a giant magnet over if I have any nerve. At the second lesson I spotted the discs on her kitchen counter lined up among twenty or so more of hers.
“Hey I just remembered something…you don’t still have my Miles Davis discs do you?”
“Oh I don’t think so. I thought I gave those back already”
“Oh okay yeah maybe you did” and then I did that thing only a true asshole would do
“Oh wait, is that it right there?”
I got the discs back and had ten or so more lessons until I realized I wasn’t learning that much from the lessons. Perhaps a better appreciation of vocal jazz.
Last summer, while broke in Los Angeles and hungrier more than a few days a week I sold the Miles Davis Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel 1965 box set on eBay for around $100.
This is also my official announcement that I am starting a Kickstarter campaign to buy me another copy of the box set. Click the link below and donate what you can. I really need another copy of this box set. I’m kidding, there’s no link to click. You’re fine.
“So, you’re 50 right?” I asked the woman sitting across from the pizza we were splitting
“Nooo, 48” she replied
“Oh, my bad…this pizza is pretty good though huh?”
This is just one of many awkward exchanges I’ve had with women I was trying to date or date while in my 40’s.
Dating in your 40’s is one of the worst experiences I’ve had to deal with, which is mainly a result of my neurotic personality, but also because at this age, especially late 40’s everyone deals with loneliness in a different way. Some deal with it by going on a number of dates with people they’d never associate with in “normal times”, some deal with it by just seeing if they can arrange a date with someone and then canceling at the last minute. Like some sort of crack highesque self-esteem boost. I feel like I have fallen into both groups.
I wrote about actual specific dates in this blog a while back which went over pretty well. I imagine some of the stories both horrified and amused anyone who read them. Aside from a three-year long relationship, a one-year long distance thing and a six month one I’ve been single for most of my 40’s. I actually don’t mind the periods when I’m single. Not having to text someone trivial shit like “I just left”, and multiple “How’s your day going?”’s every day is a key to a less cluttered mind. Having to worry about saying the wrong thing all the time. It’s not like when I’m in a relationship I dread this kind of stuff or are even conscious of it, but the absence of it glares pretty bright.
The two main ways to meet women for me have been 1) Online dating sites, 2) mutual friends introducing you, or having a friendship turn into something else. The second one seems to be the more successful one. When things start to escalate it can be a little overwhelming in a nice way at first, once things start REALLY escalating is when you have to be careful and take note of things you normally wouldn’t think of. I love tits, any size really. But if a woman sends me a picture of her tits and I can see a prescription bottle in the background, the first thing I’m doing is zooming in and making sure whatever it is doesn’t start with the letters K or X. This doesn’t really happen to me as much as that little scenario might make it sound like, but the background of these pictures is just as important as the “business” For instance if a woman’s profile has two different pictures that are clearly in hotel, sorry motel rooms you probably want to keep moving. When your profile has pictures of you and your two sons who both look like Mike The Situation, I probably am never coming to your house. I don’t know if those pictures are just a proud parent showing off her children or some sort of passive aggressive “you don’t want to cross me” thing. Either way, I’m not interested. True story: A woman had multiple pictures of her son in one profile and in every one he sported a crooked baseball hat and an ICP “Hatchetman” necklace. Sorry I don’t want my penis anywhere near something that made a Juggalo. Is that so bad?
Dating outside your comfort zone is okay for a little while, but ask how okay it is when you’re getting a blow job in some woman’s condo across from a framed picture that says “Keep Calm and Wear Flip Flops” Believe me, it’s surreal. I’ve always thought having a ton of stuff in common was overrated. Like music, one of the biggest parts of my life, since I was a kid, it’s framed who I am, led me to meet most of the lifelong friends I’ve had and always been there for me. Accent on ME. I don’t really want to date a woman who loves my favorite band The Rolling Stones. I don’t want to potentially ruin Sticky Fingers because it suddenly becomes me and my girlfriend’s “album” On the other hand if I met a woman not into The Stones and she wants to learn about them I may point her in the wrong direction on purpose. “Yeah so you’ll want to start with Emotional Rescue, their best album” Let her ruin one of those records (FTR I like a good chunk of Emotional Rescue, maybe I should have said Voodoo Lounge or one of those later ones, except their last one, a Bigger Bang which was great. People seem to like Steel Wheels and Bridges to Babylon but I’m far past them at this point and will probably never even give them a chance. Also for years I always thought Tattoo You came out before Emotional Rescue because it’s such a good record. Like how great would that run of albums looked if they had been in a row, Beggars Banquet through Tattoo You. Oh wait Black and Blue is in the middle. Okay so take out half of Black and Blue and half of Emotional Rescue and fuck what a run of great music they had. Your favorite band pales) You can also ruin meals if you go to the same place for dinner all the time or get take out from the same place. Anyone else ever cry over a chicken sub years later they used to get with their significant other? I’ve never done that, come on.
Dating in Massachusetts seems to be a little easier than dating in LA was when I was briefly there again last year. I went out with a couple of women who I somehow convinced dating an unemployed broke guy who lives on his father’s couch was a good idea. The first woman I went on a couple of dates with was Mexican, a very nice girl, definitely girlfriend material. Didn’t smoke, do drugs or drink. All great traits in a woman. I left out that I had one of those medical marijuana cards, but it never caused a problem. The first time we went out we went to one of the many nice public parks in Los Angeles and talked for hours. At one point she asked if I knew any Spanish and I replied “The only Spanish I know is what’s on Mexican food menus and what they say in Cypress Hill songs” My slight racist comment got a chuckle anyway. The next time we hung out she invited me over for dinner. She was cooking for her niece she was watching for the night. We’d spend time alone later when the child’s dad (her brother) came home. The anticipation driving to East LA from the valley was high. “An actual Mexican person is going to cook me dinner. This is going to be great” So she cooked turkey Hamburger Helper, boxed scalloped potatoes and some dry Jiffy corn muffins. We hung out a few more times and always had a good time, but I moved away so that ended.
I went out with another woman twice, once to a bar where I had maybe $11 in my bank account. She “forgot my debit card” and was trying to figure out how to pay, or have me say “oh I’ll pay” She was a regular there so the bartender told her she could come back the next day, but the fact that I couldn’t just pay the bill was embarrassing for both of us. She owned a house with a pool and I got to swim in the pool one day, and that was the last I heard from her. Holy shit that pool ruled though, it was in the 100’s that particular week so it was nice to just sit in the water for hours and talk about my ex-girlfriends. Which is what I realized I was doing when I was driving home at 9:30 PM
I wasn’t ready for a relationship, and realizing I was wasting the time of any woman who came into contact with me got to me so I took my online dating profile down and stopped.
I’m (mostly) settled right now and recently single again. I briefly thought of doing online dating again, put my profile on again and met a couple of women in person. The first one was literally standing in the parking lot of a Subway where you could smell that bread. You know how when you walk into a Subway and it just smells like yeast and mayonnaise? So I met this woman outside, we were going to just talk and go from there. Right before I got there a car sideswiped a motorcycle, right in front of her while she was waiting for me. So the entire time we were talking, two hours or so, there was a guy on the ground with EMT’s around him, a smashed car, overturned motorcycle, just disaster. So that was a surreal first “date” She assured me she wanted to see me again and I never heard from her again. The second was someone much older than me and who when I didn’t reply to her text message in a certain time frame she sent me a message that said “Hey Christian just wanted to let you know I’m gonna move on. Take care” Move on from text messaging each other for two days? That was also my cue to move on. Step away from looking for nothing. I love coming home to my new place alone. Not involving myself in trivial daily games with someone. A bitter jaded view of love and relationships? Sure, but what else is there? Someone always comes along and saves you again every few years. For now I’ll continue to enjoy Sticky Fingers by myself.
(Note: Sticky Fingers while an amazing record front to back, is not my favorite Stones album. In the slight chance a future girlfriend is reading this I’d like to keep that information confidential)
Las Vegas is easily the most disgusting place in the world I’ve ever been to. I’ve been three times now and absolutely love it.
I left Flagstaff filled with breakfast and a couple of grand ideas. I found that Public Enemy and The Cult were both playing in Vegas this night. On the same bill. Tickets were around fifty dollars, which seemed reasonable considering I would at least gamble fifty dollars away and not get it back. I love both of these bands. Public Enemy were one of my favorite hip-hop groups as early as their first album when I fell in love with the beat in “My Uzi Weighs a Ton” The Cult were also a favorite, so much that I actually have two Cult themed tattoos on my body but that’s a whole thing for another day. And no it’s not a “Fire Woman”
The drive there was unremarkable for the most part, mainly because my patience for driving was getting low. As a result of my detour to Austin I was well over three thousand miles at this point. I do love this little stretch from Flagstaff to Las Vegas. There are a lot of those moments where mountains in the distance take so long to reach you a sigh of frustration easily falls out of your head every time you see a new mountain range in the distance you know you have to reach. It’s the ultimate test of patience, this stretch. It’s pretty much your last day of long driving, and going to Las Vegas is literally a gamble. Every time I’ve been I’ve enjoyed myself until I got back to my room and contemplated what it was like. Imagine the entire customer base of Wal-Mart mixed with the cast of the Jersey Shore.
It was Saturday night and I was getting nervous, as hotels in Vegas are extremely cheap. NOT ON FRIDAY AND SATURDAY THOUGH. I finally found a relatively cheap hotel off the strip (The Palms) I had a nice view of the fun part of Las Vegas from my twelfth floor corner room that was much nicer than the price seemed. I almost didn’t want to leave the room, but that was mainly because it felt like it was about two hundred and five degrees outside. I think it was two hundred and two. The woman checking me in half apologized to me that there was some sort of “pool party weekend” thing happening. Just then I noticed women walking around in bathing suits everywhere. I didn’t want to sound creepy and say, “That won’t be a problem” but I said, “That won’t be a problem” I mean really, I was on the twelfth floor and wouldn’t be going to the pool hoping for some sort of solitude.
So the pool was pretty much right outside my window and the fucking bass from the DJ playing dance music was loud and impossible to avoid. My room was filled with all sorts of bonuses, snacks, drinks and an “Intimacy Kit” which was basically condoms, KY Jelly and I don’t know, a flash drive with a bunch of Marvin Gaye on it maybe? Who knows? The bathtub in my fancy Las Vegas hotel room had jets so of course I immediately go in, but not before I took out the marijuana grain alcohol thing and took more than I had taken the day before in Roswell. I had visions of walking into a casino like Johnny Depp playing Hunter S Thompson, crooked and wobbly, lights everywhere. I had already stopped my brief couple of days with the disposable vape-cigarette thing so I was allowed this (I think?) I would not be taking advantage of the free drinks waitresses bring you when you gamble aside from some coffee and soda. I almost fell asleep in the mini hot tub in the bathroom. I put on Steely Dan as loud as I could to drown out the pool party folks below. Not the ideal band to block out sound but you know, it was a long day and Motorhead as much as it would have been the most appropriate band wasn’t an option for what my brain needed. Certain music helps me unwind at certain times. A lot of times it is loud metal and that kind of thing just not this time. Okay.
I took a little more of the weed cocktail thing and decided I would head down to the strip. I texted my friend who gave me the concoction in Texas and wrote
“So I’m going to up the dose for Vegas I decided”
“As your spirit guide I back this idea” he replied
I discovered there was a shuttle bus to take you to the strip from this hotel. I got on the bus with a half dozen or so guys drenched in cologne. It was early still, probably about five or six more hours of sunlight. Bright Nevada sunlight. I can’t remember the last time I saw a tree. In this tinted windowed/air-conditioned caravan of douche I wondered how going to Vegas with a group of dudes works. I’ve always come here alone and it works for me. I gamble a little, eat a little and go back to my room. No alcohol or hooking up with women and that kind of thing. You know, stuff that’s just bad for you in general. When these guys meet women that are also traveling in a group how does that work out logistically? Sounds like a nightmare and a half. Speaking of nightmares, while daydreaming about the bros in the shuttle bus I start to feel the marijuana juice hit me. Thankfully it’s air-conditioned and a brief drive over a bridge and down a couple of blocks. It’s then I realize I have left my sunglasses in the hotel room. It’s so bright outside it looks like the sun, and although I don’t plan on walking around outside much, I need them to avoid eye contact. Just as it is on Hollywood Boulevard near all the bullshit, people are constantly trying to sell you something whether it’s a photo op with some unrecognizable cartoon character, or strange pussy for sixty dollars. I always make it a point to have sunglasses on the rare occasion I am down there. In Las Vegas you can at least slip from casino to casino without much contact with the sun. I just wanted my fucking sunglasses, is that okay? Especially as I started to feel like I was a little too high to be doing this. As we all exited the shuttle bus underneath Caesar’s Palace we were told there is a bus every hour on the hour and they end at 1:00 AM. I got out and immediately walked into the crowd of a casino in the afternoon. That familiar hum of slot machines, a light cigarette smoke odor and horrible people everywhere I looked. I lasted all of about thirty minutes before turning around and leaving and waiting outside for the next shuttle. Defeated by Las Vegas in less than an hour! It must be a record.
The bus came rolling in a few minutes after the hour. For the journey back I was joined by a couple in their 60’s presumably heading back to their room to have sex; just kidding, presumably going back to their room to take a nap before going to the buffet later. I made my way back up to my room like a paranoid freak in a Black Sabbath shirt should be. I immediately took another bath in the tub with the jets in it. I waited until the sun went down. The two views in my room were west and north, the west view was blocked by a building so I did not get to watch the sunset over the mountains or anything spectacular like that. Once the sky was black and half lit up with Las Vegas I would go back out. My plans were to eat something horrible and disgusting for me, and then sit in a Keno parlor and drink coffee and maybe win a few hundred bucks. I did two of these things anyway.
I discovered that just across the street at the Gold Coast casino, which is kind of old and shitty looking, there is a keno area. I won’t have to get back on that shuttle bus and deal with remembering what time it is and that kind of thing. How convenient! I’m still pretty high as I leave the hotel after taking a bath and talking to a friend on the phone for a little while. I somehow forget that I was just going to walk across the street to the casino with the keno and then walk home and get back on the shuttle bus. The evening customers are a little more hardcore. About seven of us total on this bus. All men and one woman. All dressed like you assume people in Las Vegas dress. I’ve also remembered my sunglasses this time. Unfortunately it’s the evening and I now have to carry these stupid things around all night. I find an area where there is a bunch of different food and of course find the Chinese restaurant and order some rice. That’s it, vegetable fried rice and a cup of water. Not a glass, a cup of water. I take a few hundred dollars out of the ATM and make my way to the casino and immediately lose a third of that money. Bummed, I hit up the frozen yogurt place and get something that I immediately cover with shit like cereal and whatever else. I decide to leave the area and head back to my hotel again so I can walk over to the Gold Coast and play keno. It’s easy, uncool and more my speed as a seven hundred year old man.
The Gold Coast is great, off the strip. Not too crowded, and the crowd that is there are mostly people with a good amount of grey hair on their head. I find the Keno area and pretty much stop here for the rest of my night. The waitress is quick with the soda and coffee refills and I’m fine giving her a buck each time, especially since I’m pretty much losing money by the minute just being in this casino. The folks in the Keno area are a rugged bunch. There’s me and my whole situation. A couple of women in their fifties whose husbands show up every half hour or so and hand them money, a couple of mysterious Asian men, and a handful of elderly men and women. Nobody in the keno parlor is getting laid tonight and that’s fine. I have a big day tomorrow; I’m on my last day of this long road trip where I am going to settle in California for the rest of my life. It’s going to be great.
I walk back to the room, broke and feeling a little pathetic as I have every time I’ve come here. Thankfully I fall right asleep under the far away glare of the strip. I have a dream of the glare of light at the end of this trip; the final resting place, just out of reach. I’ll never take one of these long road trips again once I stop. I’m tired, torn and frayed, but yeah California will be waiting for me tomorrow when I get there. Life is just getting started.
I left Roswell feeling like shit again. Not physically, but not sure what I was doing. I was going to drive to Flagstaff today, not before hopefully stopping in Albuquerque and taking some photographs. This stretch of the drive is tough, it’s one of the most beautiful parts of this particular route but when you’ve already been driving for a week you kind of grow numb to it. “Oh, the earth shit out another mountain, great” The drive west to east allows you to experience that part of the country with a fresh pair of eyes and an empty brain.
I arrived in Albuquerque and my first order of business would be to find some Breaking Bad filming locations. I found two within a few minutes (the car wash and Saul’s office) I needed lunch. I pulled over in the Saul’s office strip mall and posted the Breaking Bad pictures on Facebook and then got a few suggestions around town where I should eat. Per usual, because I was by myself I decided I would get Chinese food. In New Mexico. For the second time in my life. The food was pretty good and I will stand by that decision as a good decision. It erases that first time I did this a few years ago or eating it in Oklahoma a few days before.
So I quit smoking cigarettes in 2009. June 15th, at 1:40 PM. I remember the date and time. I never went back ever. I even tested myself that summer by driving across country one and a half times and taking a train halfway across the country without nicotine of any kind. Six years later I never even think about it, people smoke around me, and although it’s horrible and disgusting, I don’t mind it that much. If anything it reminds me of why I don’t like smoking cigarettes anymore. On previous vacations cigarettes were your best friend on hours long drives. You could by a carton for real cheap on a Native American reservation and smoke as many as you wanted. One every hour, three in a row, there was no limit to the amount of cigarettes you could smoke. The main way I stopped smoking was I taught myself to dissociate cigarettes from boredom among other activities (post –meals, in between songs at band practice, etc). So they were useless on road trips. They didn’t improve any situation, they never did, ever. Vaping might have though. At a truck stop to get a beverage I decided to by one of these disposable e-cigarettes and “vape” I had spent the better part of a year making fun of vaping culture on social media, but I was out in the middle of nowhere no nobody would see me vaping. I was also confident going into the experiment I would not get hooked back on nicotine, and I can proudly say I haven’t vaped since or had a regular cigarette. I assumed I would try this for a day and just never tell anyone about it at all. I do all sorts of things in life that I never tell anyone about. Everyone does, right?
The one I bought cost me around ten dollars and promised me 500 puffs or something like that. I took it out of the package and took a drag off of it. I only tasted a little and it was pretty disgusting. They had flavored ones, just like the big boys vaping “mods” where you can get all sorts of flavors that a person should never vape. Even these small e-cigarettes have flavors but I just went with “tobacco” I guess it tasted like tobacco, and for the two days or so I used it I was “addicted” to it. Not in the physical case where I needed it, but I did keep pulling the thing out every hour or so to take pulls off of and blow little clouds of vapor in my Hyundai and perhaps just to have that feeling of smoking a cigarette in the car.
Because I left a little later than normal, I imagine as a result of the marijuana juice the evening before (Who am I?), I got to Flagstaff after the sun had gone down. It was a long uneventful day through a lot of beautiful mountains and long long long stretches of nothing. I try to get lost in either music, or someone talking on the radio, every once in a while just the sound of outside. Once the sun goes down and it cools off a little I start to get tense. It started raining when I got to Flagstaff. I pulled over and searched for a good price on a hotel, found one within a minute and booked it over the phone. I always like checking into these random places, seeing these generally friendly people at front counters that turn into new faces in the morning when you leave. After I checked in I walked to my car to get my luggage and “high ticket items” to be brought into the room as well as a hot cup of coffee I grabbed at a gas station. The rain started coming down so hard I was immediately soaked before I got to the car. I decided to get in the car and drive to find dinner which lasted all of about four minutes before I realized I could barely see out of the windows so I retreated back to the room, falling asleep to hammering rain on the window.
I feel like any time you wake up in one of these places surrounded my mountains is an amazing experience, especially if you arrived post-sunset the night before. Flagstaff early in the morning is a glorious place. Bright, blue and green everywhere, mountains that are usually capped with snow but not in June. Today it was bustling. It was a Saturday morning so all of the breakfast places were leaking people into the sidewalks and streets waiting for a table. At this point in this trip I just want to get there. I don’t care about stopping and seeing things, or eating at better places than Denny’s or random fast food. This morning though, I decided to eat a better meal than Denny’s or a random sandwich from a gas station mart. I found a spot (I swear I would never say that out loud. It looks nice in writing, but if you ever talk to me in person and I recommend “a spot” you can punch me in the face or throw a drink in my face) on Yelp and headed there. There was a parking space right in front and because of me being alone there was a spot, err, seat at the counter. The counter is your friend in a diner. The waiters and waitresses are on top of your coffee at all times and you can make eye contact with the guy making your food. The food was great, it was still early and my next stop was Las Vegas. I was well full and ready for the long drive through the desert, long stretches with mountains on either side of you that go on for hours. Beautiful and endless views in every direction make for an intense drive until you start getting back inside your head. Miles away from where I just left with no actual plan. This is certainly no way for a grown man to be at this point. Las Vegas should be fun. It’s very hot out.