It’s been a bit of a rough week, guys. The Powers That Be decided that our first two months of this trip went too smoothly and decided to throw a bunch of stuff at us at once. And though it hasn’t been all bad, it has not all been great. Bit of a roller coaster coming at ya.
Our drive into Tallahassee and the gig that followed went just fine. Ever heard the saying “the further North you go in Florida the further South you get?” It’s very true. We very quickly traded beaches and spring breakers and snow birds for thick southern accents and back country roads. Our Tallahassee gig was pretty low key in a small room with a small crowd, but the beer was good and the people were wonderful; I’d happily return to the Blue Tavern. We didn’t stay there long, though. That night after the gig we decided to drive all the way out to Panama City to the house provided to us for our gig on the 11th.
In hindsight, we probably should have just found a truck stop and driven there the next day. After stopping for a necessary meal and navigating the change to Central Time, we didn’t end up at this place until past two in the morning. The house sits by itself on a gravel road, under a highway overpass, next to a restaurant that was long closed for the day by the time we arrived, and surrounded by woods. Completely desolate and isolated. To say that we were a little creeped out would be a massive understatement. Even though the affectionately/fearfully nicknamed Murder House had three bedrooms, we chose to sleep in the van.
In the light of day things certainly gave off a much less murdery vibe. The house, which is actually called Grace Note, was a great place to crash for a few nights (though we did continue to sleep in the van anyways). A full kitchen stocked with dishes and cookware, a laundry room, and hot running water were all well taken advantage of. The fact alone that the creators of the concert series we played maintain and allow this house to be used for all the travelling musicians that come through is still a bit unbelievable to me; southern hospitality is well and truly alive.
Friday we had a gig in Fort Walton, about an hour west of the Murder House. The gig in itself was a great time, one of my favorites simply from a performer’s perspective. Green Door Music Hall had one of the nicest stages and sound systems we’ve been graced with yet. As an added bonus, we had a bit of kinship with the bar owner. He used to travel in a VW Bus around the country himself, and when the bus finally died on him he cut it in half and made it a fixture in the bar (he runs sound from the back half). We didn’t have a huge crowd, but we had a good crowd; friendly people who loved the music and were very much into our original tunes.
The troubles start on Sunday afternoon, but mildly at first. Arriving at our last Florida gig, we find that the top to our tip jar/merch stand is missing. For those who have seen us play live, you’ve undoubtedly seen the little platform I set up in front of us and pile merch and our tip jar on to. I firmly believe that getting those things off the ground and in people’s direct line of sight has done our sales & tip numbers a huge favor. Any cash that comes from this table goes directly to the constantly fluctuating Gas Money Fund, which is why it’s so important. But without the top to our little stand, those items are relegated back to the floor. As an added difficulty, my dad put together the top to that stand by hand; it’s a Chizuk original and entirely homemade. So we can’t just go pick one up at Walmart. My dad, God bless him, is shipping us a new one this week, so we won’t be without for long. End of the world? Not a chance. Frustrating? You betcha.
Moving past that, the Sunday gig went very well. We were preceded by an open mic which brought in a nice crowd, and then played to a room of completely silent listeners. Very rarely are we the sole focus of the entire room in which we’re playing. They even gave us a bit of a standing ovation at the end of our set – that’s a first for us. Performance wise, we closed out Florida on a very high note.
Now things take a bit of a turn. The van has been making an unusual sound – under moderate braking, and only like 20% of the time, there’s a single metallic clunk/knock sound coming from the front passenger side. This has been happening on and off for most of the trip pretty consistently. Since we’re about to driver over 1500 miles in three weeks, I figured this was the time to get that noise checked out before it evolved into something worse – plus Greg, who does most of the driving, said the brakes had been feeling different over the last two days as well. So Monday morning we take the Beast to the mechanic, assuming a loose caliper or rotor needs to be adjusted and we’d be on our merry way. Not so. Turns out, the brake master cylinder was leaking, to the point where we had almost no brake fluid remaining. We were very close to losing our ability to brake at all, which is a terrifying thought. Not only was this an expensive repair, but parts needed to be ordered and would not arrive until Wednesday. Bad news all around at this point. We had planned on heading for Mississippi on Tuesday, so we make plans to stay at a local Walmart Tuesday night and be ready to do the repair as soon as the parts come in. We get them around 1:30 on Wednesday.
5:30 rolls around on Wednesday and the shop owner – Bubba – gives us the second dose of bad news: the master cylinder that had come in was missing a rubber nipple, causing the brake lines to continue to leak. The soonest a replacement could be shipped was the following morning. So they take us out to the back of the shop where the poor Beast is halfway disassembled, and Bubba laughingly tells us the good news is that we get to spend a night with them. So we plan to actually sleep at the mechanic’s, seeing as we have literally nowhere else to go or no other way to get there. But by the grace of God, one of the other mechanics (several of whom were working late, particularly to help us out) found a replacement part that had a 50% chance of being an adequate replacement. As luck would have it, it did in fact work. They put the van back together and sent us on our way (at a much lower cost than the original estimate, too) assuring us that our brakes were now in perfect shape for whatever lies ahead. Seriously, if you ever find yourself in a broken down truck in the Florida panhandle, the guys at A&D Truck Repairs are some seriously upstanding, down to earth dudes. So, just after sunset we drive out west, with the intention of finally leaving Mississippi with a van that should be ready for some serious mileage.
We were severely disappointed to find that a half an hour into our drive, the noise we had originally been concerned about was in fact not gone. The brake work we got done was definitely necessary, but the original problem was clearly not corrected like we had hoped and assumed it would be. I employ my Google skills to try and figure out what the hell would cause a vehicle to make a sound like that so sporadically and not involve the brakes, and I came up empty. After consulting my mechanically inclined friends back home, we’re keeping a watchful eye on it for now and will be back in the shop the minute it starts to get worse. A slight air of potentially impending doom is palpable in the van each time that irritating metal thunk decides to rear its ugly head.
So we drive our poor van back to Fort Walton, which is en route to Alabama on our way out of Florida. We were hoping to find the top to our tip jar stand, citing that that we could have possibly left it on the stage at Green Door, and also desperately seeking a win after the van’s mechanical situation threw so many curve balls at us. If you guessed that we did not find it, you would be correct. I suspect we left it on the curb or the bumper after load out that night, and at 2am neither of us were awake enough to catch the mishap. So we finally leave Florida and drive out to an Alabama Walmart to spend a single night, happy to be headed for a change of scenery, but not nearly as high spirited as either of us would have hoped.
We wake up Thursday morning, and I notice the wires to our solar charge controller (it takes the power from the solar panels and sends it to the house batteries) are loose. I had reset the panel earlier in the week and apparently not tightened them back down correctly. In trying to reconnect the wires, I managed to establish a bad connection in one of the terminals and nearly set the charge controller on fire. The plastic in the inside melted and burned quite badly. Not the win I was hoping for at this point, either. We had reservations for an RV park the next day, so I wasn’t worried about not having solar power, but now we have to get a new charge controller shipped to us and I have to spend an afternoon reinstalling it, and repairs are far from my favorite way to spend my time.
Thursday morning we drive into Mississippi for our first gig outside of Florida in weeks. A rock chips our windshield on the way, just to spite us. After arriving in Pascagoula we make a couple pit stops, including one at Lowes, where we buy some parts to make a makeshift tip jar stand top for the next couple gigs. It’s made of a plastic storage container lid instead of wood, it doesn’t look even half as nice, and it wobbles all over the place, but it’s a cheap temporary fix and it’s working for now. We take our newfangled contraption to the gig at the Celtic Irish Pub, where we’re playing a Thursday night before a big party weekend. Perhaps a bad call to book a gig around St. Patricks Day at all on my part. Aside from one awesome drunk couple that stayed for nearly our whole show, the bar was basically dead, due completely to the upcoming holiday. I think we would have had a really good night there on a different weekend. But we got paid and sold a little bit of merch, so it wasn’t a total loss in my book. We pack the van up and head for a truck stop in Gulfport for the night, with plans to drive to an RV park in New Orleans in the morning.
The drive to the RV park this morning went smoothly, and I was hoping this would mark the end of Things Falling Apart. But as we went to hook up our electrical line, we discovered that a large piece of our muffler is torn and hanging inches off the ground. We seriously can’t catch a break here. A few piece of muffler tape and an hour climbing around underneath the van should be enough to fix it, but god damn, couldn’t we have spaced these things out a little bit?! I have been stressed up to my eyeballs since Monday and it’s basically driving me crazy. If it’s not one thing, it’s the next. I want to say that at this rate we won’t have anything we haven’t repaired by the time we get home, but I truly hope that does not become the case.
So, I’m going to conclude this post & week of craziness with a list of all the good things that are happening. Because despite all of these inconvenient, expensive, frustrating situations, there’s still quite a bit of good going on in between them.
- Overall, the tour is in the green from a financial perspective thus far; we’ve made quite a bit more money than we’ve spent, and that trend looks to continue. We’re sustainable!
- I started booking shows for the Northeast summer/fall tour and lined up three dates so far. We’re not caught up, but we’re no longer way behind on booking.
- I have a dozen half-started songs that I’m very excited to work on once I have some down time.
- I tried cheese grits for the first time and they tasted just like mac and cheese. I loved them profusely and think about them far more often than I should.
- The roof repair, the water line repair, and the new fridge are all working exactly as they should be. The repairs I do have to make are holding strong!
- Greg and I can be in each other’s company literally 24/7 and we continue to have a good time 99% of the time (the 1% being when we’re driving and or parking in tight spaces). When something isn’t actively breaking, we’re almost always having fun.
- I’m in New Orleans for the first time in my life today. I just spent the last twelve hours working for all of my part time jobs, so I have money in my pocket and a wide open schedule. Tomorrow, we’re going into the city, and I’m going to eat a bunch of Cajun food, see a lot of things I’ve only ever seen on television, and drink a large assortment of sugary, boozy tourist drinks on Bourbon Street. We’re gonna have fun. All the work will still be there when I’m done taking a break, and god do I need one.