It started snowing when we were on stage. Just a few flakes at first, but by the end of the second set, it was a full-on blizzard. Good thing we were way up a mountain in Virginia City, Nevada. “Oh you won’t be getting out of here,” the locals said knowingly. Uh… Oh, yes we were! We had a show in Santa Cruz the next night which I was fully intent on not missing. After the show, we slid on down a few streets to our hotel and had a few smokes and drinks in the van while the blizzard blew and wailed all around us before retiring for the evening, possibly permanently.
Dennis was gone in the morning, which was odd because the man can sleep in. I found him in the parking lot putting on the chains we had bought at Walmart. I’ve noticed from getting to live this long that the design of some things have improved — skis, tents, etc. And tire chains. These were self-tightening. You used to have to drive on them in the snow incrementally and then cinch them tight with these gripper thingies. I was holding up the instructions with a diagram in the whipping snow while Dennis, frozen-fingered, tried in vain to attach them.
An old man came out from the lobby. “Need some help?” he bellowed. We said yes, thinking he’d know. He said we had to drive up on them. I gently told him that these were the new kind that you didn’t have to do that with. Dennis was becoming quite frustrated. It turns out the Walmart dude had sold us the wrong size and they weren’t going to fit. The old man left us to it.
The hotel was at the bottom of a fairly steep hill. We tried to go up it but slid right back down. We asked the hotel for a shovel and tried to scrape the ice off the hill and tried again. Slid back down. Eventually I got out of the van and Dennis gunned it up the hill. I hopped in at the top and we edged down the mountain pass sans chains. I couldn’t even look, and busied myself with my phone. None of this would have bothered the old me (the young me?) but it seems that I have developed late-onset FEAR of a) driving in snow and b) going downhill. In essence, I have turned into my Mother. At the bottom of the hill we went to another Walmart and exchanged the chains for the right size and continued down the interstate until we were stopped by men in orange vests and snow pants at the foot of a mountain pass and instructed to put on the chains, which are mandatory in the Sierra part of California. They fit! And off we went. And on and on. Legally you can’t drive over 25 mph with chains on and it’s bumpy as hell. We passed through Lake Tahoe, which came as a surprise. I guess I never thought about where it was because I filed it under a place for rich people that I would never see. Looking back, I guess it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that we hit snow while driving through a ski resort! By the time we stopped at a gas station in Placerville, CA, there was no sign of snow. That’s the thing about weather, it’s hard to remember that it’s not permanent when you’re in it.
The guy ahead of us at the gas station turned to Dennis knowingly and said, “How glad are you to not have to go 20 anymore?” Meaning, he thought we could take the chains off, which was good to hear because I might have made Dennis keep them on all through the rest of California. Just to be safe.
Orange trees and sunshine for a while and then it got dark suddenly at 4:15-ish and the last stretch to Santa Cruz is very winding and hilly and twisty and the lanes feel super close together.
Made it to The Crepe Place by 6pm. The staff there are very gracious and all introduced themselves. Our hobo friends were meeting us and hoping to play a set. I got changed in the tiny bathroom, like a superhero, talking myself into my fishnets all the while hearing phantom knocks at the door.
I ate dinner with a friend’s sister I’d just met and several of her friends at a big round table in the back. Mercifully, they were hilarious and super friendly. Without letting modesty get in the way of the truth (or a good story), our set went great! There were people there and my blizzard fear had transformed into a powerful energy-giving rage! We played like it was our last show on earth and those fuckers were just gonna have to take it! Though I suspect that by American confidence standards, we still seemed timid.
The other band on the bill were called Rusty Stringfield. They played a lot of surprising covers all in the bluegrass style. Like, “Won’t get Fooled Again” by The Who. People dug them and we stole the accordion player. We ended with “You’re not a Whore (if no one’s paying)” and he jumped on stage with us. He said he couldn’t help himself. We were singing him his whole life. “That’s MY SONG!”
Peaks and valleys. Highs and lows. Four city days. It all seems so heightened when you’re trying to get to a show. Home life between tours can seem vaguely slow motion after all that excitement.
But I guess you need both so you can notice the difference.
Drink water, go for walks, do your chores. You will feel better if you do.
Words by Carolyn Mark, photography by Ilijc Albanese.