Tour, Day 19 – Gruene Hall

Gruene HallLast night I played in San Antonio. Tomorrow night I play in Austin. Today I’m in Gruene (pronounced “green”), Texas. A perfect in-between stop for an in-between day. I slept in my car last night because I was too tired to make it to the closest state park – great sleep – and was up early again. I headed to downtown Gruene – and Gruene Hall – on the suggestion of my sister, Ashley, and her fiance, Colin. Great recommendation!

Miles Driven: 52
States: Texas
Lodging: Camping at Pedernales Falls State Park near Johnson City, Texas

Gruene Hall PlaqueGruene is a town founded by a first generation German-American farmer in the late 1800s. Gruene Hall is in the center of a strip of shops and restaurants and is said to be one of the oldest dance halls in Texas. On the day I arrived local radio station KNBT|92.1 FM was hosting the 15th Annual Americana Music Jam. From noon till 10pm they had one band after the other playing, including Robert Earl Keen. While I had seen a lot of bands play in the last few weeks, it was great for me to be able to sit back and watch a ton of pros do their thing. Besides Robert Earl Keen, I didn’t know any of the performers, yet people were crazy about every single performer, dancing and singing along to all the songs. Almost all the performers would be classified as playing country music, and I’ve always heard that Texas country has a strong local following even if they don’t have a large national audience.

The venue, which is in its original building, has a bar at the front, wood floors everywhere and reaches around to a large, barn-like structure at the back that is semi-open on the sides except for some chicken wire. They had two stages set up and ping ponged back and forth between the two barely wasting a minute on changeovers. It was really an impressively run festival.

Gruene HallGruene HallArriving early in the morning, I saw that the doors opened at 11am and the music didn’t start till noon. I made an effort to get a spot last minute. The guy running the festival listened to my pitch but didn’t let me play because they were to be setting up all the way to 12pm. Anyway, I was glad I tried. Instead, I ended up drinking a ton of beer and listening to a lot of great music. I was particularly impressed with a guy named Adam Hood from Opelika, Alabama. He – and many of the performers for that matter – had such an understated persona and dress. You would never know that he was about to take the stage to mad applause. Adam has a very soulful voice, writes good songs and plays guitar very well. In my opinion, the photos on his site are a bit too done up and don’t communicate the raw passion and down-to-earth nature of his music. They don’t do him justice.

Texas Hill Country

Texas Hill Country

Texas Wildflowers

Texas Wildflowers

A final comment. I don’t think I could ever live in Texas. Too damn hot. But Gruene/Austin, would be where I would go if I ever did. They have trees and topography and great music. Another thing – and maybe that festival was just misleading – but I didn’t see a single woman the whole time I was in that area that wasn’t fit and good looking. If the Beach Boys had grown up in Texas they surely would have been singing a different song.

Tour, Day 18 – Accordionist

Ellie LottesThese past several days I stayed with my sister and brother-in-law in Allen, Texas. It’s been a wonderful time for me to get rested up, work on some new music and hang out with my two extremely cute nieces. That’s Ellie being shy – post-bagel with a little cream cheese on her face – at left.

Miles Driven: 300
States: Texas
Lodging: Some ranch school north of San Antonio (was too tired to make it all the way to Guadalupe State Park, which was the plan)

BoneshakersAnd now…I’m back on the road, heading to San Antonio. When driving for several hours, it always me pass the time if I can listen to a sporting event on the radio. (As an aside, I sometime prefer listening to sports on the radio. The limited amount of information forces you to hang on every word the commentator says during the suspenseful moments of a game. I love that. Driving back from vacation in 1992, my family listened to the entire Duke-Kentucky NCAA basketball game on the radio. Amazing.) Today I get to listen to Chelsea play Bayern Munich in the Champions League final on my way down. I don’t normally root for Chelsea – in fact, I usually prefer to root against them, along with any team who buys championships. I couldn’t help, however, rooting for them on this occasion as they were truly the underdogs. They didn’t play very well, but they did what was required and deserved to take the title home. (Di Matteo had to wait an annoyingly long time to be made manager, but I’m extremely happy for him. He deserves it.)

I am a huge fan of the accordion. In some of our Chicago shows we’ve been lucky to have Ronnie Kuller, a fantastic accordionist and one of the members of Mucca Pazza, join us. When I am performing by myself, the addition of an accordion is such a dynamic improvement to the sound, as it fills in all the gaps with both soothing long sounds and quick attacking notes, as well. During the past week, I have been trying to line up an accordionist for some of my upcoming shows. I was particularly interested in hiring someone for Dallas (2nd show), San Antonio (Saturday night show), San Diego and Vancouver. My accordion resource? The National Accordion Association website. Check it out!

I initially spoke to a very helpful woman in Texas who provided me with the names of a number of top-notch accordionists in a variety of cities in Texas. I was very excited after my conversation with her and spoke immediately afterward with someone based in Dallas about playing with me at the Prophet Bar show (last week). Good conversation: “Sounds interesting, I’ll confirm with you this afternoon…if I can’t make it, I’ll have one of my student’s join you.” Don’t hear from him that day. Call him the next day. Leave a message. Call the next day. Leave another message. Never hear back from him. I mention this later in the week to the woman who gave me his contact info, thanking her for her help and wondering aloud at what might have happened. I receive an email from him later that same day. “Please let me know how I can help.” I’m confused.

At any rate, I had a better experience with another contact she provided: Robert Atwood. Robert relocated from California to San Antonio a number of years ago. He, like many of the accordionists I have met before and since, primarily played polkas. He told me that his group could play over 200 polkas by heart. I caught him just before relocating to Iowa. Robert told me he was fed up with the heat in San Antonio (and it was damn hot when I was there) and wanted to be somewhere that had 4 seasons. He also told me the heat had caused him to blow through way to many pairs of lederhosen.

I rolled into San Antonio and went straight to Robert’s house for a quick run through. A total professional, Robert was on the same page with me after a quick run through. He met me later that night at the venue, Boneshakers.

Connect FourBoneshakers is a cool club a little off the beaten track next to a creek, but quasi in a neighborhood (I think they relocate, however, within a month). It is billed as a biker (as in bicycle) bar, with live music and beer downstairs and a bike repair shop upstairs. The lineup reflected the eclectic nature of the bar: me (folky rock with an accordion player!), a full-on rock band and, lastly, a heavy drone/sludge/ambient rock band to end the night. While we performed, people chatted and played the biggest Connect Four game I’ve ever scene. Robert was great to perform with. This was one of the better shows so far. I think playing with someone else makes the show a lot more fun – and full. Afterward, I stayed around and listened to the other bands. I hung out for a while with the bartender (at right in the Connect Four picture) and thought I might be able to score. Not. The other one beat me 7 straight times. Bruising end to a good evening.

Tour, Day 11 – Deep Ellum

Deep EllumTonight I played at the Prophet Bar in the Deep Ellum neighborhood in Dallas. Deep Ellum is a great neighborhood, filled with music. There are sculptures, such as the picture at left here, all over this part of town, which attests to its musical tendencies. After my show, my sisters and brother-in-law-to-be headed to Adair’s Saloon. They had an excellent country band performing. Right next door, at the Free Man Cajun Cafe, an equally talented blues band was playing.

Miles Driven: 46
States: Texas
Lodging: With my sister, Alli, in Allen, Texas

Back to the Prophet Bar. The bar is part of a very interesting complex. I played in the main room, stage toward the back as you walk in. If you head past the stage, you go down a small ramp into a much larger, warehouse-like room, where you find no less than 3 large stages. The evening I played had a very young bent to the line-up. After my set, a group of high-schoolers, full confidence and decked out in rocker gear and face paint, did a cover set of songs by bands such as Joan Jett and AC/DC. The singer was extremely charismatic and had a great voice. Meanwhile, in the other room, a full line-up of high school bands performed. We got to see a few minutes of the last group, which was playing ’50s style rock.

I felt my set was solid. Played harmonica again. Only thing remarkable is a worrying trend of my pinky finger freaking out when I play the song “Everywhere.” Not sure why, but the past few shows I’ve been losing control of it toward the end of that song, resulting in a few messed up chords. This show was very good besides that. Need to figure that out ASAP. Only other thing worth mentioning is that the despair I’ve felt from time to time during the past few weeks is turning into a broader, but less desperate realization that I just need to be better if I’m going to make a living out of playing music. I have passion no doubt and that comes through in the shows. My playing is solid, though I should do more soloing. My songwriting is good but I lack full-on hits. All of these different areas need to improve if I am to be a truly compelling performer.

Tour, Day 9 – Opening Bell

Opening Bell CoffeeWhen camping I always find it hard to sleep in. As soon as the sun is up, my little tent lights up so brightly that I have to get up soon after. I pulled out of Okmulgee a little before 7am, on my way to a couple of shows – and a nice bit of stability at my sister’s home – in Dallas, Texas.

Miles Driven: 302
States: Oklahoma, Texas
Lodging: With my sister, Alli, in Allen, Texas

Crystal YatesWhen putting this tour together was still very uncertain, Opening Bell Coffee came through with my first gig. I was very encouraged! It is a beautiful coffee shop in a bit of an odd setting at the bottom of an apartment building.

This turned out to be a fun gig. Not a big crowd, but some very sympathetic people nonetheless. Also, Crystal Yates and her husband played before me. Amazing to hear them play! Crystal has an incredible voice. She rocked some of her own excellent tunes and also did an Adele number dead on.

Tour, Day 8 – the Crystal Pistol

Last night I crashed at Scott’s place. He, Nick and I were listening to some music as I passed out in a chair. The two of them kept at it for a few more hours, but I was so beat I didn’t even notice. In the morning, Scott made a fantastic breakfast of corned beef hash, hash browns and eggs. Before I got on the road, heading to Tulsa, he also gave me some of his green tomatillo salsa, homemade from the peppers in his garden.

Miles Driven: 188
States: Kansas, Oklahoma
Lodging: Camping at Okmulgee State Park, Okmulgee, OK

the Crysta PistolTonight’s show is at the Crystal Pistol Saloon in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This is one of the coolest looking venues I’ve yet played at. In addition to the front room, they have a back patio. Tonight they had a ridiculous couple of circus acts performing out back while we played inside. I only had an opportunity to take a couple of peeks at the circus show. Highlights of what I saw: beautiful woman in a tight black and red corset with a tiny top hat blowing small darts into the back of a large man with a red tuxedo (red tuxedo top removed to show two nipple piercings and large belly). This group was followed by a larger act touring the country from Portland, Oregon. I got to hang with them for quite a while before the show.

Performing at the Crystal Pistol SaloonThis unfortunately was another night where I was wondering what the hell I’m doing with my life. The venue was nice, the talent buyer, Smitty Jones, was a truly great guy and the performers were awesome. I, on the other hand, was just off. I got to speak with one of the performers, Jordan Herrera, at length. You can check his group, Young Readers, out here. He will be performing at the Elbo Room in Chicago on August 5th. I unfortunately didn’t catch the name of the opening group, but they were one of the best I’ve seen. Well-written country songs. I will post their name if I can get it from Smitty.

Okmulgee State ParkAfter the show I headed toward my next stop: Dallas, Texas. I crashed at Okmulgee State Park. First night camping! Always love pitching my tent in the dark! My imagination runs wild imagining there are things big and little crawling toward me in the dark. In the morning, I was able to see what a truly beautiful place the park was.

Tour, Day 7 – College Hill Coffee

University of KansasWent over 2,000 miles on my car today. My odometer was at 521 when I left for the first show in Milwaukee!

In the morning, I took a quick spin through the University of Kansas and then had lunch at Biemer’s BBQ. I absolutely cannot resist stopping at BBQ joints when I see them. There are a lot around here.

Miles Driven: 216
States: Kansas
Lodging: With my friend Scott Williams, Winfield, KS

College Hill CoffeeTonight I am playing with a full band for the first time since the CD release show in Chicago. Scott Williams – brother of Tim Williams, who plays percussion in About A Girl – lives in Winfield, Kansas. He is a fantastic pianist and can be found playing on a number of tracks on our album, twoheartsone, (which you can buy on iTunes here). Scott sent me piano tracks via my FTP site after playing along to some of our roughs and recording at his home. Having already added his work to our album, I didn’t actually meet him until I arrived today at the venue!

Scott Williams and band

Guys playing jazz set after I finished

Scott helped me set up a gig at College Hill Coffee, a cute little coffee house in Winfield run by one of the most delightful people I’ve met on this trip, Blenda Hoskinson. Blenda was nice enough to let me play at CHC and Scott was fantastic in getting Lane Turgeon (a 15-year old bass prodigy) and Nick Hofmeister (an awesome percussionist attending Southwestern College, which is right across the street from the cafe) to play with me. They did a rehearsal or two (or maybe it was just one?) and were absolutely spot on during the show. It always blows my mind when you can play with musicians who follow along so well that the audience might believe it was our 50th show together and not our 1st. Big thanks to all three of the guys for playing with me.

Lane’s dad, Brad Turgeon, also joined us on trumpet near the end of the show on the song, “Dutch Girl, In Summer.” You can hear him playing on that song in the album. Scott facilitated some more postal service action to have Brad’s parts sent to me for the album, as well.

You can catch Scott regularly playing jazz gigs in Wichita and Winfield. His quintet is also performing at College Hill Coffee on August 24th.

The gig was very fun and went well. There was a good, very sympathetic crowd. I played a few songs by myself, then the whole band played. After our second set, Scott, Lane and Nick played a wonderful jazz set. The guys are incredibly talented.

After the show, we headed to Scott’s place to have a few beers and listen to some music. Scott has instruments all over his house – guitars, mandolins, keyboards, an amazing Rhodes with Leslie speakers and many things for which I don’t the name. Scott also has a nice record collection. One of the bands we listened to was The Ohio Players. For some reason, I had never heard of them in spite of the fact that they had a couple of #1 albums in the mid-1970s. You absolutely must take look at some of their intense album artwork.

Tour, Day 6 – Smokin’

As I approached Kansas City I saw my first Waffle House since I was in Atlanta in early April. I was taken aback by the strange sense of excitement I felt. Chicago needs a few Waffle Houses!

MPG so far: Around 39
Miles Driven: 244
States: Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas
Lodging: Motel 6, Lawrence, KS (last time I stay at a motel for a month)

Davey's Uptown Ramblers ClubTonight I played at Davey’s Uptown Ramblers Club in Kansas City. A nice little venue near the cool Westport neighborhood. This turned out to be a fairly unremarkable show. There were only 6 or so in the audience and 2 of them worked at the bar. Oh, the stories I will tell when I’m famous! The bartender, Michelle, who booked me, and the bouncer were very cool. As I had my usual pre-game whiskey on the rocks before the gig, I talked to the bouncer who told me a number of stories about working for UPS, including a horrendous broken ankle he incurred while slipping on some ice and sliding into a yard while trying to deliver a package. It would be more explicit than bad language or pornography for me to provide all the details here.

Probably the highlight of the show was the guy who sat near the stage and waved his arms as if he were conducting. He told me he was really feeling it, which inspired him to imagine he was conducting an orchestra. He’d definitely had a couple. Nonetheless, these little things are oddly encouraging.

Kansas-Missouri BorderI love the smoking ban that so many cities have imposed. Kansas City apparently is not among them. It is less than fun to take deep breaths and sing when everyone in the bar is smoking. I definitely left Davey’s smelling like an ashtray.

The border between Missouri and Kansas is a blur as Kansas City blends into Overland Park, Kansas. This was the one state line crossing on this trip that I did not do on a highway. The state border literally runs right through neighborhoods. I could see people here easily crossing the line to go visit a friend in an adjacent neighborhood or going to the grocery store. (By the way, this neighborhood crossing also constituted a new state to cross off my list! Yay! Up to 46 out of 50 now!)

Tonight I drove on to Lawrence, KS – home of the University of Kansas – and stayed at a Motel 6…again. I felt like I needed a couple of nights of motel stays to recharge my body after a whirlwind last two months of work, finishing the album, preparing for the tour, etc. But tonight is the last night! The budget will not allow any more motel stays so it’s camping, sleeping in the car and crashing with friends and family from here on out.

Tour, Day 5 – Rebound in Omaha

Got up this morning and headed to a coffee shop in downtown Sioux Falls. I had a delicious Cuban reuben and listened to a French couple seated next to me. They must have taken a wrong turn in their tour of the United States. OK, that’s mean.

I hadn’t had any luck trying to book a show in Omaha for this evening, so I planned to play at an open mic night instead. Today I get to cross another state of my list: Nebraska! Now I’m up to 45.

Miles Driven: 191
States: South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska
Lodging: Motel 6, Omaha, NE

21st SaloonI arrived at the venue I had found – 21st Saloon – around 6pm. I assumed that I could simply sign up. It turns out, however, that it was more a showcase than open mic night. Each player has to sign up way in advance and gets a 30-minute slot. Lucky for me, someone dropped out last minute so I got to start the night off. I felt it was providential. It turned out to be just what I needed after the previous disaster of a show. Michael Miller – also a player – organizes the Sunday showcase night. Performing at 21st SaloonThe audience was much more sympathetic and I played with a lot more confidence. I also got to meet some great performers including Jon Lee Jerry, a guy who only recently began performing. He has an incredible voice and has a group he calls Something Red. Getting to listen to many different performers – I played at 7:30 and the last went on around 11 – is turning out to be one of the highlights of this tour. I’ve learned a lot from them.

One of the highlights of this show was that I played harmonica for the very first time live. I think I mentioned in an earlier post speaking with a guy at one of my first gigs – in Milwaukee – who told me about a friend who drove around town practicing his harmonica. Well, I did just that after speaking with him…and had many miles of practice. So, tonight I busted it out for the first time on the songs “Everywhere” and “Why Would You?” Performing solo definitely results in a sound that is thinner than playing with a full band. Adding harmonica helped add a layer to the show. I hope to play piano, as well as use some sequencing later in the tour to further diversify my live performances.

Two more things…

Slimming Down
Storage UnitToday I feel like the green soldier out on march for the first time who realizes many of the things he is carrying are not as necessary as first perceived. I had worked out a rubix cube of a pack job to get all of my equipment into the trunk of my car. I really did not want to have a guitar laying across the back seat for all to see. Every time I played a show and had to pull items out, however, it was damn near impossible to get everything back in. Do I really need all of this stuff? Answer: No. So, during the day, before I played at 21st Saloon, I found myself a nice U-Haul Storage unit and jettisoned about two boxes worth of non-necessities. I now have 2 storage units! My Chicago warehouse supplies the Midwest and now the Omaha plant will supply the Plains states. I’m looking forward to rolling back through Omaha in a few months.

Parking Ticket
Omaha Parking TicketBefore rolling out of town, I strolled through downtown Omaha and worked for a few hours at a coffee shop there. Nice downtown area. While I was working at the coffee shop I managed to get my first ticket – of any sort – with my new car. I was a bit upset until a) I saw that it was only $16 and b) that the return envelope was addressed to the Omaha School Fund. Once I saw that second bit, I really wasn’t bothered at all about paying the fine. If only the money we pay in Chicago went to CPS instead of LAZ Parking.

I leave you with one last photo of downtown Omaha. Some nice public spaces.
Downtown Omaha

Tour, Day 3 – Late Night

In addition to the obvious goals of the tour, which are to become a better performer, promote my music and sleep with as many women as possible – in no particular order – I also hope to hit many of the states that I’ve not yet seen. I’m up to 43 at present and should get to 49 – just missing Alaska – by the end of the tour. (I did look into making the jaunt up to Alaska to play a show from Vancouver. Google Maps’ suggested route included a ferry from Seattle to Ketchikan, which takes something like 20 hours. Yeah, so not going to happen on this trip.)

Miles Driven: 421
States: Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota
Lodging: Motel 6, Sioux Falls, SD

Green GiantToday is the first day of the trip that I get to cross one of the list – South Dakota! It’s a long day of way too much driving, across the entire length of southern Minnesota (which at least let me see this huge green giant). It started raining about halfway through MN. The rain got harder and harder until I could no longer clear my windshield to see. My car – Hyundai Elantra – is brand new and I’m still figuring things out about it. I was sure that I could crank the windshield wipers up one more notch so that I could see – “maybe I’m not turning the thing hard enough???” Alas, no. It was so bad – I really could not see the road at all. People have often told me that people from Atlanta – where I grew – have an ability to drive that is soluble in water: if it rains, snows…fogs, whatever, they have to pull over. I often think this is ridiculous. So, I was very reluctant to have to do just that. I pulled over and waited till my windshield wipers actually looked like they were doing the job. While I waited my car was blown around by some ridiculous winds – which I later found were around 60mph. I also later found out that some tornados were seen near the border of Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota. The rain eventually became reasonable again so I continued on my mission.

Latitude 44Arrived in SD. So excited to cross it off my list! After all of the ridiculous weather, I found Sioux Falls bathed in the most lovely sunshine. I headed down to Latitude 44, where I was to perform that night. I drove past Sioux Falls’ cute little – it is quite little – downtown, which has a feel that is one part old west and one part cute downtown area (a la a suburb like Highland Park). Very nice.

There had been a snafu with the scheduling for that night – two full gigs were booked for the venue – and I was still a little uncertain of how things would play out. There was talk of moving me to another venue, but in the end they kept me on the bill. It ended up being a less than ideal situation. 4 bands played, including the headliner, and then I did a late set after midnight.

While I waited to perform, I munched on a cheese and cracker tray they had out for happy hour – slightly embarrassing, because I really tapped it hard and I was wondering if the owner noticed. I talked to the bartender Lou (short for Louisa May), while I waited and munched. She is a great singer in her own right it turns out and was playing her first show later that night at another venue in a Neil Young cover band.

Latitude 44 SignIt was great that they kept me on the bill, because they could have dropped me. That said, flow-wise it was not cool for me to go on solo after a couple of full bands had played. And I was damn beat by the time I played. This was truly not that great of a performance. I was off and not nearly as enthusiastic as I could have been. (Writing this a couple weeks after it happened, I can say that there have been many occasions on the tour where I was able to play as long as I wanted. I always played as long as I could and with gusto. This night I just wanted to get off the stage…which was lame.) So, one of the least inspiring performances of my life. Some small depression is setting in, I have to admit. I’m wondering if I’m any good at this…

Awesome Band!

I played with the ACBs, the Van Eps, Hippocampus and Ghosty that night. The ACBs are a band from Kansas City and they truly put on one of the best shows I have ever seen. Their music is excellent. If they stick to it, I would be shocked if you don’t hear more about them. Really fun songs, very well-written, and the guys are all talented musicians. Check them out: I particularly liked the song. By the way, the recordings are good, but live even better.

After I was done around 1am, there was much hanging out left to be done, as all the people were milling around. I was thinking to myself – this is a great opportunity for an adventure – BUT, I was just so beat and not feeling it. I headed back to the Motel 6 instead.

Tour, Day 2 – Truckin’

So, yesterday was my frantic last day at work and then tutoring at Cabrini Connections in the evening. The entire past month has been a whirlwind so I’m just packing and trying to wrap up a lot of loose ends this morning. Tonight I’m playing a show at the Frequency near the capitol in Madison, Wisconsin. I was hoping to play with one of my friends who plays banjo and is a student at the University of Wisconsin, but that fell through so I’ll be playing solo again tonight.

Miles Driven: 153
States: Illinois, Wisconsin
Lodging: Pine Cone Diner/Car near I-94 in DeForest, Wisconsin

The show starts early, a little before 8:30, and I play a 30-35 minute set. I felt good about it. The Frequency is a nice little venue with a stage at the back, pretty classic set-up. It was nice and dark apart from the stage lights. I felt like playing some of the more chill songs (e.g., “It’s Cold in This Car,” “Dutch Girl in Summer”), so I did.

One of the aspects of the tour that I’m looking forward to is all of the bands I will get to meet and listen to. I played with two great bands last night – the Josh Harty Band, based in Madison and fronted by Josh Harty – a really good guy that writes excellent songs – and Kingsley Flood out of Boston. Kingsley Flood reminded me a lot of Mumford & Sons. They had a lot of energy and very good songs.

Before I left Chicago, I had just finished watching the last season of the Wire. Some say it is the greatest show ever written, and I agree with them. I’ve been thinking of recording my own version of Tom Waits’ song “Way Down in the Hole,” which is covered several times as the intro song for the various seasons of the Wire. Kingsley Flood played an encore that featured this song. They absolutely rocked it. Fantastic version of the song.

After the show, I got to hang out with the bands and spent a couple of hours with the very amicable Josh Harty. We stopped at a few downtown bars, where I got to meet some of his friends. I particularly liked two of Josh’s friends – Chad and Erin. Chad Vogel runs a series of events called SlowPig that “celebrate heritage pigs.” Basically the events are gourmet pig/local farming/etc. extravaganzas that reminded me a lot of Outstanding in the Field. Check out their site here. They’ve done events in Madison and Milwaukee and are considering expanding to Chicago and Minneapolis. Being a language and linguistics fanatic, I enjoyed talking to his girlfriend, Erin, who is a grad student studying linguistics. I tried to stump her with very specific questions about the vowel sounds in various regional American accents (e.g., where did that nasally north midwestern short a (as in can or apple) come from?), but she was more than able to parry my questions with very technical responses. I’m grateful to Josh for showing me around.

I had planned to stay with a friend in Madison. That having fallen through, I decided to hit the road and sleep in my car somewhere along the way. I left Madison around 12:30/1:00 am and only made it about 45 minutes out of the city, found a little spot about a mile off the highway that was quiet and pulled over. Oh, and there was a Taco Bell on the exit. I made the fantastically bad decision to eat 4 Meximelts before going to sleep. So necessary.

At about 2:30/3:00 am, I was awoken by a flashlight in my window. I was half in a dream state and looked toward the light to see a person that looked just like Josh Harty – the guy I had played with earlier that night. Well, I thought it was him. I smiled and closed my eyes. I’m dreaming. What is Josh doing out here? He should be back in Madison. Silly.

It felt like it took me 30 minutes to finally come to though I’m sure it was actually 30 seconds – still a long time – for me to realize that it was not Josh Harty but a local police officer. I must have seemed hammered and completely unfit to drive, though I was truly just completely wiped out by the long day. At any rate, in my groggy state, I was asked to step out of the car. I had taken my shoes and socks off. The officer assented to my excellent suggestion to put them back on before I got out.

He put me through the works. I struggled to stay serious thinking of that Reno 911 spoof. Follow my pen…without moving your head…back and forth…and back and forth…and back and forth…and back…and…forth…seriously 9-10 times. And then one time up and down at the end for good measure. Then I had to walk a straight line…then lift one of my legs up and hold it for 60 seconds…then the other. He seemed pissed that I passed all of his tests. I think I heard him say, ‘Damn!’ before he told me he would have to have me do a breathalyzer test. I had to blow twice, but was way below the legal limit.

He still found a way to inconvenience me in spite of the fact that I hadn’t broken any laws. “Well, you’re ok to drive, but I can’t have you stay here. I’m going to have to take you to a diner so that you can ‘completely sober’ up.” But I’m not drunk, legally or otherwise? And I wasn’t driving – nor planning on it – I was simply minding my own business, out of the way, sleeping on the side of a very empty side road. How are you possibly doing the public good by waking me up and having me go sit in a diner? I asked him if I could just do a couple of barrel rolls and a few heel-toe-kicks and then get back on the road. He wasn’t feeling it.

Pine Cone DinerHe gave me a choice: the TA gas station/truck stop or the Pine Cone Diner. I actually at first thought he was going to have me follow him with my car. I almost went for the truck stop that was a mile down the road. Instead, I said that the diner sounded like a perfect place for me to spend the next couple of hours. So, he took me to the Pine Cone diner which was about 200 yards from where I had parked, just had to cross a very busy four-lane highway to get there. Thank god I didn’t go for the truck stop, as I would have had to walk the mile back.

He told me I was “on my honor” to stay at the diner for a few hours. I thought about walking back to my car as soon as he disappeared over the horizon, but me being very obedient to authority, I stayed at the Pine Cone, ordered one of those truck stop cappuccinos (French Vanilla) and some cheese-covered hash browns (even though I had eaten those Meximelts about 2 hours before).

I ended up digging into my diner moment – you know, being one with it, feeling the flow. I talked to a nice retired trucker for about an hour who looked very much like a thin Santa, with a long white beard. He told me about how he used to drive trucks for the army and then, after he left the service, for a company that delivered within a two-hour radius of Madison. His last trucking gig was “pulling pups” up to Minneapolis and back. Apparently good money but rough work. He did that for a while, got fed up with it and then up and quit one day. I unfortunately never got his name.

When he left a couple of other guys came in and sat down on the other side of me. Two truckers, one retired. They had some interesting banter going for a while that I overheard as I continued to push my hash browns around my plate. After a few minutes, one of them asked me if I was just starting my day, where was I headed, etc., assuming I was a trucker as well. I told them my story. They laughed. The retired guy, Butch, now owns a stump removal business. He gets up every day at 4:30 in the morning. This morning he wasn’t working, just going through his regular routine, stopping by the Pine Cone for some coffee. He seemed to know everyone that came in. He planned to take his wife later that morning over to Milwaukee and then Gurnee (Illinois) – with a stop at the Harley-Davidson museum along the way – to celebrate their 44th wedding anniversary.

After talking with the guys for a bit longer, I finished my French Vanilla and settled up. The guys wished me well on my music career. I could have used some well-wishing for crossing that damn four-lane highway. Surely, that police officer made everyone a lot safer by having me get out of my car, not get any sleep and then play frogger on a busy road at 5am…just to put a sleep-deprived Gabe back on the highway.

Oh, well, on to Sioux Falls, South Dakota!