We leave Ohio and I start to get those flashbacks of what it was like a handful of years ago when I didn’t know anything and was just happy to be poor and in a van and seeing cities I hadn’t ever seen, some cut rate Marco Polo of the Millennials, singing sad songs and drinking PBR in identical dive bars across a country that didn’t much care one way or another.
I’m not delusional now either: I still know only one or two things, and mostly people still don’t care that much. Poverty is relative. The van is the same van. But we’ve learned a lot about building better shows and we’ve built some regional word-of-mouth groundswell in the Midwest, and so it was strange to be on tour for two weeks in the familiarly warm middle of the country where we didn’t really feel like we were on tour so much.
That changed pretty quickly in New York. Monday was a show at a theatre in Syracuse, smack dab between two empty college campuses with an 1100-person capacity. I told the venue we probably shouldn’t take the date—we don’t know anybody upstate—but they assured me it’d be fine if I booked some locals. I booked some locals. It wasn’t fine. But Adam met a cool old vet on oxygen with braids in his beard and we got him on the list, we were making friends. We met a dude who worked there, Wes, who kindly offered his living room. His tortoise woke us bright and early, banging on his terrarium and making way more noise than you ever thought a tortoise was capable of.
Then Buffalo was a little better. Mohawk Place is a sweet dive bar on a good strip. I walked around the city watching the sun decline in the reflection of the buildings’ windows and I’ll be danged if I didn’t run into that same old vet, sitting outside a different club in a different city with different oxygen tanks. He was sober and offered me cookies and I told him, you’ll be on our list anywhere we play, Joe.
Buffalo to Philly was a haul. Adam and I explored the city by foot for a while. Ever since we quit smoking, it’s weird to be at a venue in between loadin and show time—you feel like you should be doing something, but there’s nothing to do. So I’ve taken to rambling around whatever boro, picking up vibes and watching the people in their respective urban lives, so different from my small town in south Florida and my not-really-a-college town in Indiana. There were some great bands on that bill, one that sounded like something straight out of True Detective and one that featured a pretty girl and a slide guitar. I got to drink a few beers with Kyle, the guy behind IndieOnTheMove, the site responsible for almost singlehandedly enabling our touring career. He bought them, which seemed very backward to me. Then we left the city, headed Brooklyn way, and found a quaint little copse of trees along Cooper River in Cherry Hill, NJ, where we slung hammocks and ate trail mix and slept to the sound of cicadas and woke to an eruption of polyphonic birdsong littering the canopy overhead.
It’s not all romantic: we were equally as excited about the Taco Bell down the street. Then we sat in a cool little coffee roastery where I caught up on inboxes, the boys dutifully sent press releases, and Adam played with a little tyke who offered up his toy trucks in a steam of babble and trust that only children have and aren’t allowed to keep very long.
I’ll tell you where we didn’t eat Taco Bell though: New York City. I once wrote a hateful little poem called, “To Every Empty Room in Brooklyn,” and the sentiment still stands a little. I don’t care how trendy the room is, I haven’t played a good show in BK yet. But that might change next time, because we played with an excellent band called DizeeChroma with whom we’re already scheming show trades for later in the year. My old pal from Florida days, Sarah, lives in Long Island City. I met her at an Assemblies of God church where I used to work when the pastor and his wife and actually just the whole church tried setting us up, but she’s become a dear friend since, and that was reflected in the message she sent met after leaving for work in the morning: come anytime, use our towels, drink my whiskey, and adventure on.
The wooden floor in the little box of a living room wasn’t the most comfortable ever, but what really killed us was the crushing humidity of late May in New York City with the windows open. About six in the morning, I left the boys sleeping on makeshift palettes in their underwear and set out to get my fix of the city. Bagel deli in one direction and coffeeshop in the other. Trying to find my way to the taller buildings and realizing they’re farther than they look. Then I had a vision of every greasy homeless dude I’d ever seen on a subway platform, so I grabbed the Guild out of Old Lady Science and headed down to the E Train where I sat for over two hours, lazily singing Beatles covers or whatever else came to my head, watching the sleek shoes of businesspeople headed into Manhattan, old Indian ladies in traditional dress, little kids tossing in quarters, gorgeous girls in their own worlds, everything that makes me love New York even though it’s hard. And I made enough money to buy some new jeans after ripping the crotch out of mine, climbing a tree the day before.
Today I got to show the boys how beautiful Vermont is. We’ve got the weekend in Burlington, where the people are what the people in Portland and Austin and Williamsburg are only pretending to be. They have old books because there are no new book chains. They wear flannel and beanies because it’s cold. They live in cabins with no electricity, not because they’re writing their new novel in an MFA program, but because, man, those particular mountains haven’t been marred by power lines yet. We’re pulling in to the bar now, and I’m complaining about Adam’s music, and he’s trying to push me out of the shotgun side of the car for it.
Come see us sometime this summer. That’s all I’ve got.