I should say that by and large I have been backwards in coming forwards about celebrating big birthdays. I spent my 21st on a solo moped trip in the South of France, my 30th getting lost and ripped to shreds by brambles in the New Forest, my 40th on my tod at a health spa, before downing a whole bottle of Bollinger and provoking a richly deserved hangover before the day was out. Then my 50th was marked by a quiet gathering down the pub to which I was oddly fearful that no one would come. And so for my 60th I decided to do something a bit more memorable and 'out there', not least because it wasn't even my birthday at the time.
For I have just returned from a band tour of the USA, largely funded by an unexpected legacy from my much missed friend who died last year. I knew that had she been less ill towards the end, M had planned to spend her money on a busking trip in Spain, so I felt sure she would have approved of my putting it towards another music-related travel experience.
In the past I have taken to calling these tours 'gruelling fun', and this one took gruelling to a whole new level. On three occasions we were all up for 24 hours, and normal days were very, very long and almost entirely lacking in downtime, or any demarcation between day and night. The clocks going forward the other Sunday robbed us of another precious hour of sleep(!). But despite the physical toll of our punishing schedule, the trip was a truly extraordinary experience, and I don't regret going one bit. One of its main satisfactions was the fact I survived, showed up on time each day, and didn't fall ill and become a liability to everyone else. That said, I might not rush to go back again, even if cost was not a barrier, as it ordinarily would be. Or not to the exact same places, say. There wouldn't be the same novelty factor second time round, plus I would go in knowing how ridiculously knackering the whole thing was!
My set list fail - "I had one (small) job!"
On tours to Germany and France I feel I add value in terms of translation and interpreting, but clearly in The States there was no such need for language services, and I was without obvious 'portfolio'. That said, on Day 1 I was assigned the small yet important role of copying out each night's set list. Apart from neat, accurate writing without any smudges or spotting, and the requisite spatial awareness to ensure you can fit all 17 tracks on one sheet of A4, I had to have my wits about me as the set changed from time to time - songs were left off or added, or played in a different order. I dutifully performed this task for the first seven gigs until we got to San Diego. By this late stage in the tour we were all dropping with tiredness, and I forgot to put in the extra track from the day before. I cannot even pretend it was a Freudian slip - it was not a song I particularly cared for - as it was a simple oversight on my part. When the band discovered the error mid-set, the singer announced the fact to the audience, while the bass player screened his eyes with one hand and peered pointedly into the crowd, as if searching for the miscreant. I apologised profusely afterwards, but it was all okay in the end, as they had in fact decided to take it out for good anyway after that gig. It seems I was merely ahead of the game...
As the tour wore on, I did acquire other (very minor!) roles. A smorgasbord of little ad hoc tasks that I was free to execute, being the spare person in the party. These included cutting pizza, finding entrances, dispensing essential items I happened to have on my person (moisturiser, tissues, bandage, scissors, sleeping aids and sweets (not a euphemism) ), holding things, carrying things, guarding things, muling cigarettes through Customs, waking people up on planes when their food arrived, scurrying ahead to recce eateries, fixing wobbly tables (a surprisingly common occurrence), executing a clean sweep of remaining green room snacks at the end of the night, and flushing overly sociable band members out of venues while I was about it. There was one task I didn't manage, however, as I didn't have time to go back to the hotel between the meal and the gig to carry it out, namely to 'squeeze' someone's wet laundry. I was flattered to be asked, mind.
On arrival into Seattle, having been up already for more hours than we cared to calculate, we were pretty peckish, and several of us were craving something all-American like pancakes. In my disorientated state, I was still vaguely aware that 5th March was Shrove Tuesday, which seemed to seal our choice, and I promptly steered the party towards a nearby I-Hop. A cursory appraisal of the menu revealed a whole section devoted to dishes for the over-55s, to which the qualifying members of our party (all but one) instantly gravitated, thanks to the twin appeal of the meals being tailored to our demographic, and a bit cheaper. Which didn't stop us feeling distinctly crestfallen that the waitress didn't ask any of us for our ID...
Napkin-intensive 'fist food'
Early on in the trip I had an embarrassing incident with an oversized wrap from Subway. It was absolutely stuffed to the gunwales with filling, and was the size and weight of a small infant. I only managed half of it in the end, and that very messily. T S Eliot's Prufrock famously wondered whether he dared eat a peach. He clearly hasn't tried one of these greasy torpedoes if that is the most undignified foodstuff he can think of. I ended up wiping my mouth after every bite, which led to the coinage of a term to which we had much recourse during the trip - 'napkin-intensive'. And yes, 'finger food' doesn't cut it either, as you needed both hands to get purchase on these squelchy zeppelins.
|Source: Chew Boom|
Pick up trucks with nothing on them
In all the miles we travelled by road - over 2000 at a guess - we passed a lot of pick up trucks. We have them over here, but they are an even more common sight on roads across the pond. And nary a one had anything on it, not even a dog or a pot of paint. What's that about?
Passive spliffing in venues
I mentioned in my last post that you only have to stand at certain points along my road to catch a whiff of waccy baccy. To my surprise I learnt that weed is legal in a number of states, mainly on the West Coast, such that venues in the second half of the tour were routinely fragrant in that - to my nose - still louchely 'erbal way, and there was some talk of skunk varieties in the green rooms. Largely amongst the indigenous support bands, to be fair.
|Source: Portland Marijuana|
My unprecedented hotel toiletry haul
Anyone who has stayed in chain hotels in Europe lately may have noticed the steady switch to wall mounted soap-cum-shower gel dispensers. It is a sad trend in my view, as one of the few perks of paying over the odds these days for a quite ordinary hotel pretty much anywhere is to nick the stuff in the room...from hotel pens and pads you really don't need (though that is not the point) to tea bags, sugar sachets, vanity kits, shoe polish sponges, and little bars of soap and bottles of shampoo. I always leave a token bottle of conditioner behind, not because I am ashamed of my minesweeping abandon, but because I can't be bothered to embrace a two-step hair washing process. You can imagine my delight in the US when every hotel without exception had 'takeaway toiletries'. Check out my haul below, insofar as Truffle's photo bombing permits. It is not even the definitive set, as I found six more bars of soap and a couple of shower caps since this shot was taken.
The leftover eating - and drinking - imperative
Living at such close quarters with seven other people means you get to know their little quirks. I am mindful that I have a fair few idiosyncrasies myself, notably a phobia of lukewarm or cold food that is meant to be hot. Plus an aversion to gratuitously added value teas that purport to be 'something recognisably Breakfast', but do in fact have a surprise slug of caramel and spices in them. And one of our party happened to be most particular about not leaving waste food or drink, and I tried very hard to accommodate his strong line on this, finishing anyone's plate as needed, and swigging entire bottles of water on the very point of going through airport security. I got into the habit of getting a box to take my own leftovers back to the hotel, where we had increasingly started to find both fridges and microwaves. By the last day, I had stockpiled several pancakes the size of plates and a mound of quesadilla quarters, which sadly I didn't manage to dispatch before our flight home, though I had valiantly eaten reheated quesadilla for breakfast the previous morning. You may be wondering at this point why it says 'extreme burritos' in the title, when I appear to have been mostly eating quesadillas. In fact it was a bit of both, as Mexican cuisine proved to be the happy intersection of all our respective food requirements (carnivorous, vegetarian, vegan), such that we had floury wrappy things quite a lot. The burritos were as big as the aforementioned Subway wrap, which is why I moved onto the more manageably flat quesadilla in the end. And I borrowed the term 'extreme' from a menu option in Jack in the Box, which tantalisingly offered 'Extreme sausage'. If you absolutely have to eat there, please at all costs avoid the vile grey slime masquerading as hash browns.
Doomed attempts not to lose stuff
Following a distressing lost rucksack incident in Barcelona last year, I was determined to have nothing stolen and leave nothing behind anywhere on this trip. Well, that went well. From the very first day my long and ripply scarf kept falling off and winding up on the floor, and various members of our party repeatedly drew my attention to its dangerous trailing proclivities. I also left my wallet on the floor of a toilet that must have just flirted out of my handbag somehow - have you noticed how valuable items have innate leaping abilities? Luckily I realised the mistake at the bar a moment later before anyone else went in there! Then I also managed to leave an Urban Decay eyeshadow palette in some hotel or other (I console myself with the thought that it was rather long in the tooth already). I thought I had additionally lost a blusher, scissors, and eyelash curlers, but they all turned up in odd places by and by. Luckily, I was not alone in my carelessness. Three other members of our group left rucksacks behind in hotels and restaurants, but were quickly reunited with them by thoughtful staff, while the keyboard player left his laptop in one venue, without which his instrument would not have produced a single note at subsequent gigs! The following morning, after finally getting hold of the promoter as he emerged from a dental appointment, and making two eye-wateringly expensive cab trips into town and back, the keyboard player recovered his laptop, and the show could go on. Oh, and the drummer left a beloved jacket behind in San Diego. So glad it's not just me then. ;)
|Dunce cap of light|
Perfume aspects of the trip coming up in Part Two!