I woke up on the morning of my 24th birthday in a hammock behind a defunct bowling alley in Davenport, Iowa. It was in the forties and I realized around 5am how useless a 30-degree rated sleeping bag is when it’s not absorbing heat from the ground. Overcast skies and a 1% charge on my phone. As I rolled my bag, a man rounded the corner to walk past my dumpster shelter and I prepared to be ejected from the property. Instead, Craig handed me a cup of coffee and offered a smoke—said he’d figured I was down on my luck. I was.
The day before, the band had tracked a handful of tunes at the Daytrotter studio in Rock Island, IL. Ecstatic, we drifted through racks upon racks of gear, playing digital antiques and strumming out-of-tuned autoharps. I got to say, “We’re Joshua Powell & the Great Train Robbery. Welcome to Daytrotter.” It was my second time to do that, but I still got chills thinking about all I owed to this funky little studio in the Quad Cities—where I went as a young lad (so many moons ago) to figure out what cool music was. I thought of discoveries I’d made browsing through Iron & Wine and Death Cab sessions, stumbling upon Mirah, Dent May, and countless others. Then when we loaded out, we set the course for Iowa City by way of tacos.
We could see our taco joint, but we never made it through the intersection. A loud bang from beneath the hood rendered our silver whale dead in the water, and we frantically pushed into a service station. It’s not my first rodeo, nor my first time pushing the ’02 Quest down a busy thoroughfare, but less than a week into tour, I was dejected. I tried to bury it behind my beard and glasses so the boys’ morale wouldn’t dip as quickly as I suspected it may.
Tacos were had and AAA was summoned in a cellular seance. We got checked into a closing Nissan dealership. The nicest pregnant lady in the entire world asked us if we needed a ride and we could only say, “Where?” She assured us the parking lot was fair game, so we strung hammocks across light poles in the next-door lot and stayed up late, sharing spiritual anecdotes and prematurely tired inside jokes. Falling asleep was easy and staying asleep was not.
Talk of best and worst case scenarios was rampant. We’d just come off of three consecutive nights of good shows and wizards of hospitality. In Dayton, our friend Randy and his family gave us beds and breakfasts and tall decanters of hot coffee, which we followed by an ambling walk through stacks of used books with our friends Michael, Hannah, and Charlie. In Terre Haute, other-friend Michael bludgeoned us with adventure, from ropes course to canoes to hiking to eating ridiculous amounts of pizza. Adam bought lightsabers and so naturally we choreographed a kata to rival the Duel of the Fates. And then we peregrinated ever westward to the exotic lands of Normal, Illinois, where new friends from the indie-rock outfit, Alex and the XOs, shared their bill and their table.
Then the bowling alley and many hundreds of dollars later: we were sleep-deprived and on our way out of Davenport. Like I said, it was my birthday, and so I celebrated with the archetypal hurrah of an Indian food buffet and the Mad Max movie. And tonight we celebrate in Iowa City, which, judging by the appearance of the people in this coffeeshop, is hipper than it sounds. The band has been spartan and I love them for it—no complaints all around.
And I keep coming back to Craig, the bowling alley lane mechanic who warned me about the garbage truck and brought me a cup and said I was doing right in his book: to be poor, sure, but doing what I love. And happy. We meet and reconnect with wonderful people all around the country, but something about his simple act of humanity warmed me more efficiently than my sleeping bag. It made me feel good about people and it made me feel good about life. Even if I’m 24 years old now and older than the hills.