The singer/songwriter Martin Sexton (who I've been on tour with for the past seven weeks) often says “I get paid to travel but I sing for free”. I always like hearing this quote because it gives me both a sense of gratitude and an acknowledgement of where our labor hours are logged. If I were to guess, I'd say around 80% of our job as touring musicians is spent in cars/planes and on roads, highways & bridges that all eventually lead to a parking lot and a backstage door. Some travel days are better than others and I’ve decided to report on a couple of bad travel days for me to illuminate the non-glamorous side of touring. It may be counter-productive for me to reveal so much behind the scenes stuff, but writing about my bad experiences is often a way for me to let go of them.
As I was readying to play with Martin at what had been one of my only least favorite venues on a Colin Hay tour a few years ago, I decided I would check into my hotel before soundcheck. The hotel was a nice one, situated on a boardwalk across from the Pacific Ocean. I was excited to find out my room had a little balcony that overlooked the pier and I was only a mile away from the club. As 4pm approached, I pulled out of the hotel parking lot and drove about half a mile when suddenly, from nowhere, a green Jaguar pulled out into the middle of the intersection I was crossing and our cars collided violently. Airbags were deployed, front ends destroyed and steam and fluid were leaking all over the street like two shattered vending machines. Curious onlookers rushed over to see if we were hurt. The woman driving the other car looked to be in her mid-70s to mid 80s and appeared to be ok. As I got out of my car to check on her, the first thing I noticed was that she had a kind hearted energy to her and seemed to have the same attitude that I did; no anger, just, “well this sucks” and “accidents happen”. In fact, we hit it off so well that I don’t want to get into the details of who was at fault or why, because I think she might eventually read this.
Thoughts began racing through my head like “how do I get to the club in time for sound check?" and "how do I continue the tour without a vehicle?” My car was not drivable and neither was the other driver’s. Police cars arrived, with tow trucks playing follow the leader. The woman's equally sweet husband came to help her and they reminded me a little bit of my parents. Suddenly, my heart was aching for them. I was sure this was the last thing they wanted to be dealing with at this point in their lifetimes. In an ironic twist, we were having a great chat, and though I would have preferred a happier introduction, I pictured us being friends. They told me about their granddaughter who’s attending college in Boston. They asked me why I had so many guitars. I explained that I was a traveling musician, and although I would love to chat more, I had to get to a gig. So I emptied the contents of the car, called a Lyft driver (who arrived quickly) but then had to wait until the tow-truck driver figured out where to bring my wrecked car (it was a Sunday and every rental car place was closed, with gated driveways). Finally, a plan was made and I loaded my gear into the Lyft car, relieved that the club was only a few blocks away.
The gig ended up being pretty good, especially considering the chaotic headspace I was in. My friends Ryan and Alana drove me back to the hotel.
The next morning, I booked myself a new rental car and decided to spend my day off in Las Vegas (which was halfway to the next show). My travel agent managed to score a very good deal on a luxury suite at a five star resort, so I decided I would go there and chill, get some work done and decompress from the previous day’s mess.
I got to Vegas around 8:30pm and decided to indulge a spontaneous craving I had for Bibimbap (my favorite Korean dish). I found a well reviewed Korean restaurant and went to check it out. The restaurant was in a small plaza in a section of town with several nondescript small plazas. I went in the restaurant for around 30 minutes, then walked back to my car (parked about 15 yards from the entrance) only to find my driver’s side window open. I thought to myself, “Wow, that was absent minded of me, maybe I pushed a button by accident. Next, I looked down at the front seat and saw shattered glass everywhere. My immediate thought was that I had left my two bags/man purses (or “murses”) tucked back and hidden on the passenger side floor. They were both gone. Luckily, the one bag was where I keep my show clothes and it was a day off, so it only had one bowtie in it. As for the other bag, I was not so lucky. It had my tour money from two weeks of shows, my passport, iPad, phone charger, set lists, show notes and various other valuables that my anxiety was recounting at a frantic pace. I felt a strange and awful chill run down my spine with the realization that I’d been violated and was (simultaneously) screwed. I felt a sense of disbelief. I searched my moral compass to see if I had done something to deserve such bad karma. Nothing sprang to mind. It was a 36 hour onslaught of really fucking bad luck. I settled on the thought that it just wasn’t my day(s).
It wasn't until later that night that my subconscious reminded me that I had seen desperate looking people walking around everywhere as soon as I pulled off the highway and into Vegas. Sad, shadowy types walking with no destination. I should have known better.
I figured that whoever stole my bag would take the cash and discard the rest, so I drove around for a couple hours, using my cell phone flashlight to look in dumpsters for my discarded belongings. At the peak of my exasperation, I even lightly interrogated handfuls of homeless guys in various locations to see if they knew where someone might abandon a bag after extracting the valuables. As you can imagine, they weren't feeling very social or sympathetic. As for me, I was feeling like I was losing it. My search for the bag was a dead end, so I filed a police report, swapped out my rental car at the airport (for the second time in the same day) and eventually found my hotel. Needless to say, the “luxury suite” was wasted on me so I went to the gift shop, bought a new phone charger and went to bed.
The next morning, for some odd reason, I woke up feeling like Scrooge on Christmas morning. I had been haunted by two harsh and unsettling incidents, but realized that this might be a teachable moment. For some reason, I felt happy. I called my insurance company and was informed that the other party was assuming full responsibility for the car accident…I wouldn't have to pay a dime.
As for my bag, yes, losing money hurts, but as for the other stuff, it's just stuff. Replacing it can be a pain in the ass, but it can be replaced.
I left my hotel in the bright Nevada sun and started planning; planning what to do next and how to cancel and restart everything. I thought to myself, “maybe it's a good time for a reset anyway.” My man-purse was kind of ratty and I wanted a new one. I had also needed a new iPad for a long time and passports can be replaced.
My friend Ryan called and after hearing about the car break-in, speculated that “whoever got my cash probably needed it more than I did, at least in that moment.”
I felt a little better.
So as I started to unpack the mental suitcase of things that had not been stolen from me, I remembered all of the wonderful things I have in my life; a loving family, an abundance of friends, a joy filled career and endless possibilities for where this life might take me.
And at the present time, my life was taking me to a gig in Park City, Utah for the Sundance film festival. I was getting paid to play my songs, and to share the bill with a great musician who is also an old friend (which was just what I needed at that moment).
As I was getting closer to Park City, I was reminded that sometimes the North American landscape can be disarmingly beautiful. Do you remember the old View Masters (probably relegated to the bargain bin in thrift stores nowadays) that some of us had as kids? You would put a disc of photos into a camera shaped viewing port and the photos would show up as 3 dimensional images, mostly of landscapes or of far away, exotic places. They could literally transport you to what felt like a place so beautiful that you could never touch it in real life. Here I was, having a similar scene unfolding before my eyes. Giant snow dusted mountains staring down on fragile and barren looking farm houses. Horses and cows grazing in vast open fields while the sunset soaked the grass in the color of pink champagne.
I suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Later that night, I was talking to Martin backstage and he recounted to me how his entire house had burned down just a couple of years ago. He had just put the finishing touches on his dream house and then it literally went up in smoke. Everything had to be rebuilt and replaced.
Suddenly, my car accident seemed minor.
A few days later, I had breakfast with my friend Dawn Bunetta in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Dawn’s husband Al had managed the songwriter John Prine for over thirty years. As we were chatting over coffee and chocolate croissants, I absorbed so much inspiration from her. Although she had lost both her husband and son in the span of a few short years, she still somehow retained a resoundingly beautiful spirit and she casts a strong light on anyone in her path. As I was pulling away, we shared a quick laugh and a smile, and I was reminded that life goes on.
Accordingly, my stolen bag now seemed meaningless.
So I guess, in summary, gratitude can grow from shit, and so can songs. I am constantly reminded how lucky I am to have such a fun and fulfilling job. So thanks for that. Really.
As for the rest of the tour, it was pretty incredible. We went from the warmth of Winnipeg to the harsh chill of Florida (yes, I know I have that backwards). I got to sing for a lot of new people, swim in the Atlantic, and I found a new favorite coffee shop in Lubbock, Texas.
So now, I begin my headlining tour. I’ve written jokes so new that I don’t even know if they’re funny yet. But if they’re not, I can always just play a song.
See you soon,