Featured Column:300 Thousand Miles and Three Stories Later…
On tour in December, as a rock and roll band, we turned forty. No, nobody came down with arthritis or received a subscription to AARP's magazine. It's even worse. The Big Wu's tour van rolled over 300,000 miles. Read again: 300k! In human years, at an average of 55 mph, that equals 5454.54 hours of colon-compacting backbreaking nerve-racking boredom we've spent driving to venues so we could get you to dance. If you add the hours together in day-sized chunks, that equals 232 days, or eight months of time served in a prison cell where you can drink all the beer you want, but won't be able to take a piss.
I don’t want to paint an analogy that every second on the road parlays to an eternity in hell, but you can’t imagine it. You have to live it. We’ve been to most of the continental states, performed a thousand shows, eaten every kind of food served, and perhaps most proudly, have sampled just about every beer known to mankind. Somehow, we’ve made a great many friends and managed to not make too many enemies. Not to mention all the musicians we’ve shared the stage with. I can say on good authority that I’ve had the privilege of jamming with some of the finest musicians in America. Not everybody can make that claim, and not everybody would want to. Especially if you have to ride 300,000 miles in a van to do it.
Spending all that time with a relatively small group of band-mates and crew gives one plenty of opportunities to get to know one another, usually too well. However, in this universe of change, there are a few constants: If you put five million monkeys in one million Ford tour vans and launched them out onto the vast space known as the club circuit, they’ll cause the same trouble, have tons of fun, and ultimately live somewhere between love and hate (mostly love) for everyone on the bus.
I recently watched the too-cool documentary Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster. Where most viewers will feel a sense of drama and tension during their numerous fights, I laughed my ass off. There isn’t an argument that I, and everyone else in the Big Wu, haven’t been a part of. Not only did I recognize every position on the various topics of contention, I knew what the other guy would say next. For every fight they played out for the camera, I can remember having the exact same discussion with the other members of Big Wu. If that wasn’t haunting enough, I recognized every member of my band taking turns portraying all the various roles: Asshole, voice of reason, drunken instigator, peacemaker, etc. If nothing else, its good to know that every band, and I do mean every band, given enough time, argues about the exact same shit, no matter how many records they sell.
I suppose when I get too old for rock-n-roll, I’ll deem the best part of my experiences will be the stories I’ve collected on the way. There is something about crossing a ceremonial mark like 300k miles that gives one pause, beckons to set aside a moment for reflection. So I heeded the call for nostalgia at the best place for the reflection of the deeds and sins I have witnessed: The potty.
Awww, don’t even feign surprise; everyone secretly knows that the center of cerebral calm is located in the crapper. Long held is the truism "You never shit where you eat", but nobody said anything about the merits of pondering life’s big issues in the bathroom. Besides, the memories I conjured up are funny, at least to me.
For the record, it should be stated that I’ve held the employ of many fine ladies and gentlemen. In their own way, each and every one of them performed well under pressure, making sacrifices at great personal cost for no other reason than they knew that the show must go on. Thus, out of respect, all of the names and places described have been blurred for anonymity. But the accounts are true, at least to my recollection.
THE PHANTOM CRAPPER ALWAYS RINGS TWICE:
While trekking across the frozen wasteland known as "Montana", a roadie announced that he was experiencing a disturbance of the gastro-intestinal kind. Being lunchtime and needing fuel, all members of our party voted to take a break from traveling. The roadie, whose bowels were screaming for attention, jumped out of the vehicle and made a mad dash for the Flying J building, where he could find shelter from the literal shit storm that was descending upon him. However, the gods of touring had turned on him. A mere fifty yards before he reached the safety of the Flying J haven, with all of its well-maintained facilities, his body lurched into revolt, expelling a moderately robust turd into his Hanes.
After cleaning himself up, (and disposing his soiled briefs), he rejoined his partners in crime at the lunch buffet within the truck stop. After sharing his embarrassment for the benefit of comedy within the ranks of his party, he dined on a wonderful smorgasbord of edibles offered to weary travelers. However, his full-bellied satisfaction soon transformed to an impending sense of doom as he began to feel a familiar urge.
Knowing he must act quickly before history repeated itself, the protagonist bolted out of the restaurant relying on his internal compass to navigate him back to this diarrheic’s haven, the men’s room. Well, as he emerged into the open spaces of the truck stop he realizes that the familiar potty he stopped at before was on the other side of the building, a good hundred yards, at least. Quickly reacting to his new set of circumstances, he looked for a closer facility. Frantically searching, his eyes hit pay dirt. There, a mere twenty yards to his left is a sign bearing the international symbol for poop amnesty. Running towards the promised land as fast as one can while doing the bow-legged mosey/sprint that can only be performed by a man under great duress; he reaches the door that serves as the goal line his poopey end zone… Only to find that the restroom he chose was designated for the fairer sex. While that alone may not have deterred him from completing his most urgent mission, his doo-doo designs were further halted by the female representative of the Montana State Trooper Patrol that was washing her hands. Meanwhile, our hero’s body had begun to automatically relax upon believing that relief was in site. Upon the shock of realizing the mistake made, the roadie in question did the only thing it could do: He crapped himself on the spot.
Many variations on this tale have been told over the years; perhaps the sight of an officer of the law was too much for this rock-n-roll bandit, or maybe he should have dined on a bottle of Pepto Bismo instead of truck stop buffet food. But one thing’s for sure: He’s the one and only person I’ve known over the age of six that has shit his pants twice within forty-five minutes.
Most folks assume that musicians have nothing to do after a show but do drugs and chase tail. However, the truth lies somewhere shy of glory that has been laid of the reputation, especially if you’re as ugly as the members of Big Wu.
We had a merch guy who, to be fair, was better looking than anyone in the band. So it was no mystery where he could found after the show- usually rolling around in the arms of some sweet girl. He routinely beat the single members of the band to the punch by working on the ladies all the way through the show while the musical bachelors were out of harm’s way on stage.
But not all merch guys are created equal. We had another who wasn’t as gifted in the looks department but isn’t shy, and always reserves the politeness to introduce himself to every girl he meets. We all thought his big night was to come when he convinced the merch girl from another band that you would know (but I won’t name) to meet him at our hotel.
Since he was my roommate, I generously offered to sleep in the van. This wasn’t just because I’m such a softie for romance that I’ll get the worst night’s sleep so my merch guy can diddle some hapless stranger. I had a nefarious plan of my own: I thought if we can cross-breed two merch people, their unholy union might create a genetic super-strain of merch-slinging offspring. Just thinking of millions of dollars such a creature would bring in at the T-shirt table makes me shake with glee. However, despite our best efforts, he somehow couldn’t close the deal, leaving himself depressed and lonely, and me penniless.
THE GREAT HOTEL CAPER
Speaking of being broke, most young bands on the road are exactly that. Trust me, it’s not easy going from city-to-city when your just starting off and nobody knows who you are, save a couple of adventurous youths who saw you on jambands.com. Thus, if one is to survive, you have to do one of the following- either raise your income, or more likely, lower your expenses. So if you’re just starting out and living in that tour purgatory where your sick of sleeping on peoples floors, but can’t afford enough hotel rooms to accommodate everybody in the band and crew, then take notes. Although there are many variations on this scheme, we came up with an almost failsafe way to get three hotel rooms for the price of two.
Known as the "Big Wu Room Switch-a-Roo", the heart of this caper plays on the lodging industry’s fanatical goal to keep people from smoking cigarettes in non-smoking rooms. First, check into the hotel, purchasing two rooms. If possible, ignore any questions about smoking preferences, as the default for clerks is to assume you want non-smoking rooms. Everybody proceeds to the rooms. Upon opening the rooms, have one person call down to the front desk; insist that there was an oversight, and that he would prefer a smoking room. Reassure the clerk that the "unwanted" non-smoking room is in the same immaculate order as it was before the room was opened. While one person stays in the supposedly vacant room, the other goes down to the desk and returns the room keys in exchange for keys to the smoking room. Huzzah! Now you have opened and occupied three rooms for the price of two.
One can vastly increase the chances of success by sticking to the four cardinal rules:
1. Check in after the gig. The chances of another traveler checking into the pilfered room vastly decrease after 2:00 am.
2. Avoid unnecessary suspicion by leaving most of the band in the van. Nothing smells of crime like eight musicians standing in a lobby waiting for two rooms. Never "check in" more than four. Let the others in a back door.
3. Be sure to hit the road well before check out time. Do everyone a favor by showering in one of the legit rooms, and be sure to make the bed. Leaving no evidence of the rogue occupation. The perfect crime!
4. Pay cash. If they somehow get wise to you after you’ve left, they’ll charge your Visa and leave it to you to contest the bill at a later date.
While I’ve enjoyed the last three hundred thousand miles, with all of the knowledge and stories the road has taught me, I’m looking forward to the next wave of experiences.
This month’s Old Style Zealot and recipe are one and the same. Nothing goes with the Super Bowl like beer, and nothing goes with beer quite like chicken. If you’ve never made beer can chicken before, then check it out. It’s so easy anyone, and I mean anyone, can do it.
1. Take a chicken, remove the packet of guts, rinse with cold water, and pat dry with a paper towel. Season the bird any way you want. (May I recommend salt, pepper, and curry powder?)
2. Open a can of Old Style, drink half, and then make more openings on the top with a can opener. Sit the bird upright, using the can as a stand. Refer to the picture for everything you need to know.
3. Cook for at least an hour and a half at 350.
Enjoy! And don’t forget to drive safe, be nice to your mother, and drink your milk…