Road Stories: What doesn’t kill you…

carolyn zazu

So the band quit. Well not really. I’m exaggerating.

After our one month sojourn to Texas and back, it seems the boys, realizing it was never gonna happen with me, stayed home to make some money. Fine. I had some dates booked so I went solo. Got up at 7am and drove Dennis to his roofing job and made the 9am ferry. Had a big old nap too. I have a bed in the back of my sexy ‘97 Aerostar. And with no stand-up bass hogging up all the space, there was plenty of room to stretch out. Saw three fighting eagles coming off the ferry.

Realized I had forgotten my phone.

Stopped in Chilliwack for sushi and Value Village. It smells like being up a cow’s ass there. Saw a poster of my ex on the door of the sushi place. He was playing the arena that night. Thought about going to find him for old time’s sake, but then remembered the mind-numbing boredom of the arena sound check plus how it TOTALLY DIDN’T WORK OUT and felt lucky to be free.

So long stupid suckers — I’m off to Penticton!

Saw a black bear in the ditch and stopped for a second nap in Manning Park. It was cozy and the rain drummed down on the roof. Slept til 5pm and then panicked because I saw a sign that said 198 miles to Penticton. But it was kilometres. We’d been in the States so long, I kept confusing them. Speed limits too.

Cruised into Penticton round 7pm. When the CBC cut out and I was left alone with my own thoughts, a niggling paranoia crept in that perhaps, just maybe, my official lack of success is due to the fact that I suck. Just then, an actual tumble weed rolled by in front of the van on my way down Main Street. Pulled up in front of The Elite. No posters. Shit!

The owner and a friend of a friend were sipping mojitos at the bar. “Didn’t I send posters?”

I asked. “NOPE! We were waiting…” Stealing Luther Wright’s line, I told him I’d recently had to fire my staff and apologized for the mix-up. I loaded in and contemplated the house sound system. Since I started touring with Dennis, he usually takes care of the sound stuff.

“… a niggling paranoia crept in that perhaps, just maybe, my official lack of success is due to the fact
that I suck.”

I started to semi-panic but at least two smiling men rushed to my aid. I noticed an empty record player spinning, spinning endlessly. I think it was on last time we were here. The owner and the waitress said it’s been on for three years. The Elite is a old diner by day — pink neon sign outside, right on the main street. At night they dim the lights and there’s lots of Elvis paraphernalia everywhere. Penticton hosts the world’s largest Elvis competition, so maybe that’s why. We got the PA working — powered speakers — you have to turn them on!

I ordered “The Good Chicken Sandwich”— chicken, brie, red peppers, and spinach —off the menu. An auburn-haired woman who had joined the mojito party nodded that it was indeed a good sandwich, but the owner squinted at the menu and said, “Do we even have brie anymore? I think it’s feta now.” Times are tough all over. I got dressed in the can. There’s a kind of knee-guard surrounding the Elite stage so I didn’t bother with the high-heels because it’s not like anyone can even see your feet. Also I put my amp on a chair to give the sound a chance to rise above the barrier.

Ding! The sandwich arrived while I was in the can. A damp symphony of green(!) peppers, onions, chicken, and feta. I picked off the peppers and the auburn woman traded me them for her unwanted tomatoes. In light of the changes, I think they should rename it “The Not Bad Sandwich.”

 

I went outside to smoke and my friend Tamara arrived. She’s an entomologist- lives up the hill in Cawston. Working for the organic orchards and fruit growers using other bugs and fungi to organically battle all the new invasive species that keep on coming. She also told me she just made her own bacon and later showed me the lace she’s been tatting and the marijuana macaroons she’s perfected.
“Boyfriend?” I asked.

 

“Nope,” she said.

 

She told me to wash store-bought blueberries these days. She said that in her experiments the bugs usually get a little slow but with the new sprays their using, the bugs were, like, legs up dead the second they came in contact with the fruit.

 

Fired up the show. There were people and everything. Nice people who bought records! And a tattooed Viking former roadie helped me carry my amp to the van. I try not to name them anymore- (the vans, not the Vikings!) but it looks like this one is called The Caro-Star. I miss having a band van- like a Chevy, or Dodge but the gas is so expensive.  I remember my parents bought a BMW 2002 when we lived in Sicamous. Mother’s idea. And they’d wave whenever they passed another one. 1997 Ford Aerostar owners, when passing each other, merely bow their heads and look respectfully away in tacit acknowledgement as if to say, “Oh I see you’ve been excluded from life’s pie as well.”

 

Went back to Paul Crawford and Julie Fowler’s house. Julie gave me a copy of her book which is a magical non-fiction memoir of these lady Caribou pioneer artists. It made me cry several times. In a good way. Paul runs the Penticton art gallery and invited me to stop by to see the latest exhibit on my way out of town.

 

The theme was bullying. An elementary school washroom had been recreated in the middle of the gallery and people could write on the walls. Unlike an actual school, the scribbles were mostly positive messages. A round brown kindergarden table and tiny chairs took me right back to my school days. Ice filled my veins and that old familiar feeling of dread came upon me. I noticed Paul and I were both crying. On my way out the door Paul gave me a few silver “You are beautiful” stickers and I drove on down the road thankful that I’ll never have to go back to high school.

 

Getting older has its occasional perks.

 

A certain amount has to be coming in or else you just go “screw it.”
Jim-the-one-eyed-biker.

 

Penticton to Winlaw: 329km ($120)

 

Heard on the radio that Castlegar’s gone gay! A rainbow crosswalk has been installed somewhere downtown. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Castlegar but I’m not sure they’re ready for that sort of thing. I pictured dudes in TapOut shirts and beer pants going out of their way to the nearest non-rainbow crosswalk for fear of being called “Faggot!”

 

The road wound me up and down into the Kootenanys. Kept catching mighty rain storms. Pulled into Thrum’s market for a whiz and some pickled carrots for my sweetheart. ($7.50)

 

Got to Winlaw around 5:30pm. Crossed the street to Sister Moon’s Thrift Store and found perfect hat, slip-on shoes and an umbrella ($20). Saw a sign for a garage sale that said “Garage Sale.

 

9am-3 or until I had enough”.

 

Arranged to meet up with my pal Jim the One-Eyed Biker at the cafe. Formerly Cedar Creek, way formerly The Hungry Wolf, now Kayu’s Cafe. Nala, the owner, was behind the bar, pen behind left ear greeting the dinner customers.  (I met “Nala” as Blind Al. Apparently his new name came to him in a vision after one too many Hiawasca ceremonies: Nala=Alan backwards. I have ribbed him about this whilst drinking his tequila but we are still friends. Ordered the special- smoked salmon pasta with a rose sauce and fresh asparagus from up the road.

 

Followed Jim, who had arrived in full leather rain gear to drop his motorcycle home up the road. He rolled some joints and I got dressed. Back at the cafe, it was really warm and crowded and it seemed like everyone brought at least one baby with them. I had to set up the sound great amongst the people.

 

Luckily there was a side door to the patio near the ‘stage’. I asked if I could move the plants to make more room. They had some sound gear but I opted to use the stuff I’d brought because I know how it works. Unfamiliar gear has a tendency to a) really stress me out and b) often unleash wailing feedback which nobody likes.

 

Sweating and mildly disappointed at the lack of glamour, I started up the show. I bought a big red horn and a red tambourine at the dollar store because those Kootenay valley audiences are the worst. I mean, they’re all dear friends but since none of them believe in conforming and rarely leave their compounds, they can get a little excited and totally forget that they came to see you play. I was, at one point, supposed to become a school teacher but I escaped. But you can never really escape can you? Playing solo can kind of make you feel like a caretaker of boozy adults. I conjured the spirit of my friend Luna Tart. It was hot, humid and full of babies. I cracked the door open a little which helped. A young man who looked a lot like Michael Cera asked if he could use the microphone to announce his mother’s birthday. I sang her happy birthday which she took as licence to play the tambourine (badly) for the rest of the night. Eventually all the babies had to go home and it was just down to the staff, the birthday girl and this rocker guy sitting at the bar who air-drummed the whole set with me.

 

Ended up back at Jim’s with the waitress and her friend. The waitress was very persistent and made me play more guitar while she and her friend took turns using Jim’s can to do railers. I was happy because I had wine and Jim was letting us smoke inside. Eventually I think I heard Jim say, “Let’s go to bed, dear so these nice people can go home.” I capped off the evening by doing my yoga ball trick- you take a flying run at it belly first and it’ll roll you across the room- only I kind of misjudged and bashed my nose into a piece of firewood. It was a bleeder. The waitress and her friend made some “Oh-look-at-the-time” gestures and split. I thought that was pretty funny- I mean, when you scare off the coke people! I brushed my teeth and said good night to Jim who was on a palette on the floor with his St Bernard, Lucy. “You can sleep right here, ” he said pulling back the cover.

 

No way pal. I get my own room.

 

In the “morning” Jim was already up. He made me quiche and spinach salad with an Asian sesame dressing and some really strong English tea. Then we weeded his garden. We were just going to do a little bit but then the sexiness of tangible results took over and we had to do it all. His neighbour came over and pointed at a small triangle of snow up the mountain. He told me it was called The Dukhabor Triangle and when the snow melted it was time to plant the corn.

 

Then all of a sudden it was, “Holy shit! It’s 3:30?? I gotta go!”

 

Destination: Republic, WA. First time.

 

At the tiny border crossing near Grand Forks, BC, the lone guard seemed more curious about me than judgemental. “So you do everything yourself?” he asked, considering the idea for a minute. He handed my passport back and almost as an afterthought, he asked how much money I was traveling with. “About $150 I told him proudly. He looked kind of disappointed. I mean, they always ask you if are traveling with more than $10,000 because they have to but this guy, it was as if, for a moment, he was entertaining the notion of self-employment and then was jolted back to earth by the grim reality.

 

Well it’s not for everyone.

 

Thank god.

 

A new road! A new road! I love a new road! There were many retarded deer all over this one.  I spied an abandoned wheelchair at the edge of a murky pond and thought of my friend Kelly Haigh and how much she would have appreciated the delightful creepiness of the tableau. It’s weird how in the sticks, you can only get the religious station. The host was interviewing a guy who (gasp) started smoking pot in college and lost his connection to God. Got to Republic a couple hours later. Cute old fashioned town reminiscent of Greenwood, BC. Brick buildings and saloon fronts. I found The Republic Brewery, where I was playing, on Main Street. Upon entering I was met with a dense fug of beer breath and peanut shells. I was welcomed by the owner, Emily- petite, hippie clothes, Irish looking.  The place was pretty busy (and hot) but she said she’d get her husband to get out the sound gear for me. I told her I’d be right back. I needed a little stroll, just to be out of the van for a little bit. I went to the pizza place I’d seen out back to see if I could order a slice. The man and woman behind the counter informed me they only did whole pizzas. I didn’t think I had the time and I could just tell they were going to be deep, wet and chock full of onions and green peppers. “Uh, I think I’m just going to go to the store,” I mumbled and departed. At the grocery store I got two buns, some cheese slices, an avocado and a tomato. And a box of wine. I read some of Julie’s book and had a little street side picnic then got dressed near the back of the van. I was just finishing up when Emily came out looking for me. “So you know the show is supposed to start at 8?” she asked.

 

“Holy shit, really? I thought it was 9. So sorry.”

 

I lugged in my amp to the “stage” area where a trio of biker women had ensconced themselves. “Can we stand here?” they asked. I said something like, “Well, er…”

 

As  I was wondering if I was going to have to perform my set stuffed under the bookshelves, Emily told them to disperse. I saw not a stitch of sound equipment. I sighed and told Em I would just quickly grab my gear from the van. I was hot, tired, hungover and once again disappointed by the lack of glamour. Set all the shit up, Emily’s husband brought me some wine, tooted my big red horn and started the show. It was a really old beer drinking room. Pressed tin ceiling, racks of ceramic steins on hooks lining the bar. The bar staff had a special stick with a hook to reach the higher steins. The audience were really friendly. I showed them my red sparkle gas can tip jar and they responded with donations. And laughed at my jokes. Before I started “Get it Up, Get in Out, Don’t Mess my Hairdo” I paused. I said, “So… on my way here I could only get the religious station. Do you guys listen to that?” A trio of women all simultaneously held their noses and gave the thumbs down saying, “Boo! No way!” Well I just thought I’d check. A fireman from Grand Forks told me in the break about all these other breweries I could play in the area. He was loud, well meaning and kind of drunk. I met an attractive couple from Spokane. Told me they’d been married for thirty years. I asked if I could be their dog and they said yes!

 

So that’s one retirement plan.

 

A dark haired chick with flushed cheeks and the best dress did some super weird dancing to my right.  I pretty near played every song I know and ended with “You’re not a Whore” complete with gargle solo and a final horn flourish. Had a drink with the Spokane couple before packing up my shit with the help of the fireman.  Emily appeared with a check. I asked her if it could be cash and she worked it out. I got $350! I thought it was going to be $75 and tips. WOOHOO! Emily gave me a map to the “band apartment”. It was only 11pm but I was pretty tired. I followed the map but ended up headed to the graveyard. I pulled over to look at the map under a light. There was a Subaru behind me. I hoped they’d just go around me but it stopped behind me. For a second I thought it was the fireman and my knuckles were white on the steering wheel. The Subaru pulled up beside me. I braced myself and looked over. It was a girl. She said, “Are you heading to the apartment?” I said I was. “Well I’m Emily’s sister. I recognized you from the show thought you might be lost. Do you want to follow me?” I breathed a sigh of relief. For a minute every warning I’d heard about driving around by yourself IN AMERICA rang in my ears.

 

The basement apartment was all brown shag and wood panelling. I had a smoke outside with just a little cup of box wine, went back inside, locked the door, counted all my money and hit the bottom bunk.

 

Woke up at 8. Made coffee and hit the road. I was trying to make the most of being on new roads but ended up backtracking East over several still frosty mountain passes instead of the shortcut I was after. Told the border guard I had nothing he was after and was soon back on the old Highway 3. Was gonna boot it all the way to the hoot but remembered it was Mother’s Day and ended up 8 hours later (not counting an ill-advised trek through Surrey) on the couch in Whiterock “watching Alex” with Maman.

 

Resilient sounds kind of heroic and makes me think of fossils.

 

I think I’d like to be filed under impervious.

 

Words by Carolyn Mark, illustration by Freyja Zazu

originally published in analogue magazine’s April 2015 issue