Road Trip

How a mid-list band spent six weeks in an RV, fueled by chili

We informed Michelle after the decision was finalized in Portland. She was sad, but understood. We would be crazy to risk running out of money as far away from home as Canada. Better to lose three shows than the rest of the tour.

This makes our "good news" phone call all the more curious. We were told not to bother with the van. Michelle Cable, our booking agent, had fired us.

"I replaced you with another band this morning," she said. This blindsided us and brought a few words to mind, namely, "What! The! and Fuck!?"

I'm up and ready to go at the start of our adventure.
I'm up and ready to go at the start of our adventure.
The band relaxed while our roadie did all the driving.
Brian McManus
The band relaxed while our roadie did all the driving.

We were unreliable, she told us. We'd cancelled three dates and, as far as she was concerned, were unable to make the rest of the tour because our RV was toast. Considering we'd called her the night before and asked about van rental solutions, the odds she really believed this seemed unlikely.

It gets better. The band she replaced us with, ZZZ, was from Amsterdam. We're no conspiracy theorists, but such a thing would take more than a night. Clearly she'd planned this.

"Fuck you," we told her. "We'll see you at the San Francisco show."

She'd already called all the clubs to cancel.

"Fuck you, see you in SF."

We immediately started calling clubs to tell them we would not be canceling.

Michelle Cable had beaten us to the punch. If we were let back on the bill, she would be pulling DMBQ.

We wouldn't have enough money if we didn't play these shows.

We rented the van and hauled our gear to Sacramento, where we sold some of it at Guitar Center. We then bought Greyhound tickets and shipped our remaining amps and drums via Greyhound Package Express.

Have you ever ridden a Greyhound bus from Sacramento to Houston? The smell of feet and rest-stop fast food hovering in the buses made us pine for the days when we had to smell our own sulfur-soaked RV. The two-and-a-half-hour layovers, the meth heads asking if we'd be interested in buying "green weed." It is its own special brand of hell.

From Modesto to Los Angeles I sat next to a 17-year-old Mexican gangbanger who was headed to Mexico to visit her four-month-old baby's father, who'd been deported. Her mother had lupus; her brother-in-law had just killed himself after his child was born without skin. Her mother had to visit doctors in Mexico because the only ones they could afford were horrible. "We have Medi-Cal. It ain't no good," she explained. "Now, if we had Medicaid we could see a doctor in the States. Medicaid is the shit!"

As she spoke, it began to sink in: Tour was over.

The Bottom Line

I sometimes wonder if David Bowie's career didn't begin as a practical joke. Before he was an androgynous spider monkey from outer space, there must've been a time when he ground it out in a band that existed just outside the glare of a spotlight, right? The way I see it, one night, way back when, after he's passed out hard on booze and pills, someone -- most likely a drummer or a bass player -- decides it would be funny to paint his face up like a girl. Bowie wakes up, doesn't shower, brush his teeth or even look in a mirror. He takes the stage that night, looking like a freak.

The crowd goes bonkers.

Afterward, kids come up to Bowie, buy his records, request an autograph and ask where they can buy the same color eye shadow he's sporting.

Soon Bowie is playing to houses packed full of people eager to see the crazy man/woman from Pluto.

And there you go. That's tour. Even at this level. You can grow a bad mustache, wear disturbingly low-cut shorts, don underwear for a New York City bar, hook yourself up to a beer IV and not erase the dirty words your bandmates have written on your arms in Sharpie while you were passed out.

Tour can make you feel invincible. Bulletproof. You're on the road with your second family. They test your patience from time to time. You may even make each other bleed. But ultimately you're in it together, building on something in which each of you has an equal stake. You're a gang roaming the road to bring what you've created to 100 kids in a basement in Rapid City, South Dakota, who go apeshit when you begin beating the first chords of a song you allwrote that they recognize and love. And when a 16-year-old kid from Odessa informs you that your live set has "melted off [his] face," it feels pretty damn great.

Now, if only that great feeling were good toward the purchase of a new RV, we'd be getting somewhere.

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