Blistering Heat, Broken Batteries, and a Birthday.

Hello again, dear reader. Once again I have failed in writing a new post within a reasonable amount of time since writing the last one. Settle in for another novella in the comfort of your climate controlled environment, as I slowly roast in this 90 degree Texas spring weather.

When I last left you, we were just outside of Wichita, KS. A very weird observation about Wichita – it looks a LOT like Buffalo, if Buffalo were a landlocked city in the Midwest. Lots of highways and streets with the same names, lots of large, dated industrial structures on the outside of town. The venue we played that evening, though, was nothing like anywhere I’ve ever played in the country. Kirby’s Beer Store is one single dimly lit and poster-covered room, about the size of a large living room at best. A quarter of it is a stage, and a quarter of it is a bar – there is not much room to do anything in there aside from sit still and watch music. That said, we had an awesome time at this little dive. With maybe two dozen people in attendance over the course of the night, the place looked packed, the sound system was great, and we met some of the nicest and most interesting people we’ve met so far (including one man who loves Buffalo more than any person I’ve ever met in my entire life. A man who loves the Bills and the Pegulas and smashing folding tables at football games, and who has also only ever been to Buffalo one time. Meeting this person is the closest I have ever felt to being a real life celebrity…. and quite ironically it had nothing at all to do with music.)

The four day stretch of shows continued in a place called Pittsburg, KS the following  night. A neat bar in a tiny little town in the southeastern part of the state with really great in-built sound, which is always a treat. We had a bit of a slow night but those who did stay and listen made for a great audience. Our final leg of the four shows ended in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Fun fact about Fayetteville – it is bumpin‘. At the risk of sounding ignorant, previously when I thought of Arkansas, I thought of farms and small towns and old guys in overalls and not much else. Fayetteville is the literal opposite of all of those things. It’s a busy college town with a great main strip downtown and what appears to be a hugely active nightlife scene. We played at a bar right in the middle of all of this, and despite the horrendous parking situation (street parking the van is one of my least favorite activities), we played to a very busy bar for the entire night. Not a bad way to round off a tiring stretch of shows.

DeGray State Park

After that, we had 10 days off. I didn’t plan for this on purpose, but honestly it wasn’t an unwelcome circumstance after the previous busy couple of weeks. So we kept things pretty low-key for essentially the whole week and a half. On the second of May I found us a state park to crash in for a few nights, and honestly it was one of the nicest we’ve stayed in so far. (Way nicer than any park in Florida!) DeGray State Park, for the curious. This place had a golf course and a disc golf course, horse stables, hiking trails, a marina in a huge lake, a restaurant, AND a hotel, among other things. It was gorgeous, and extremely affordable for all the amenities included. It rained for the majority of our time there which was a bit disappointing, but having some time off just hanging out in a beautiful place like that was rejuvenating in itself. We did take an afternoon to film a cover video of a song we’ve been digging on lately (and you can watch it here if you’d like to see it).

After a couple enjoyable days of a whole lot of nothing, we headed back towards Texas. En route to our next gig, we had our first stop at a place we’ve already been. Shreveport, Louisiana is in a location that happens to be a few hours from a lot of big cities. We stopped at a truck stop just to the west of the city on our way into Dallas, and again last week on our way down towards Conroe, TX. Despite the fact that we’ve stayed at dozens of truck stops, most of them tend to be memorable for one reason or another, and I remembered exactly what this one looked like as I was punching the address into my phone’s GPS – it’s the one with the real big parking lot where we ate burgers at Denny’s for dinner. It was actually kind of nice. We deal with unknown variables every single day since we’re always in brand new places, and this small little detail took the uncertainty out of things for the afternoon and evening.

New shelves! It ain’t much to look at, but I can’t even begin to describe how nice it is to have some floor space back.

Last Wednesday, we made some more upgrades to the interior of the van. Previously we had been struggling a bit with storage. Underneath our table and at the foot of our bed all our previously open space was absolutely overflowing with stuff. All things that we need to be accessible, but it was making our table seat almost unusable and making other things completely accessible near the bed. The original plan was to install a shelf mounted to the wall directly next to our cabinet. It took us quite some time to settle on this course of action (it was very weird that being angry about the placement of a shelf in a van while we’re sitting in a parking lot of some random gas station a thousand miles from home did not feel abnormal to me in the slightest). But we were thwarted none too soon by the previous owners, who I was sure had run out of surprises to throw at us. Between the metal exterior and wood paneling interior, our walls are almost entirely filled of… Styrofoam. Great for insulation, terrible for mounting things (like shelves) to in any capacity.  The only wood we could have used was placed specifically behind things like the cabinet and the TV. So, our original plan was out of the question. We went with a less-stylish but much more economical solution – wire shelving. It takes the svelte look of the van’s interior down a few points, but the extra space it gave us was well worth the sacrifice.

From there, we worked our way down to Conroe one truck stop at a time for a few days. We arrived in town the morning of the show, and mid-afternoon we were informed of a lineup change. Our gig was supposed to be a “song swap” with a local singer-songwriter, but a family emergency rendered him unable to make the gig. So we were on our own and now had the entire night to fill ourselves. Usually last minute changes mean a gig is not going to go well, but we had a pretty solid night all things considered – a decent crowd, a bunch of merch sold and tips given, and a bunch of free beers and dinner for us both.

I turned 24 just after that gig, on a Texas highway just outside of Houston. The first birthday I’ve ever spent away from home. It even sounds ridiculous to me to say that 24 feels old, but to be fair it’s the oldest I’ve ever been. I’ve always tended to measure the passing of time between my own birthdays rather than at New Year’s.  It was very gratifying to spend that late night drive looking back over the past year and everything that’s happened; it’s honestly an overwhelming amount of change. I no longer feel like I’m hurdling towards some predetermined destiny that I didn’t have much say in. I worked so incredibly hard to get myself to the point where I could be so lucky as to celebrate a birthday in the middle of the adventure of a lifetime. It’s impossible to talk too much about this without sounding cheesy or over-dramatic, but I really do feel like I have a greater appreciation for everything in my life now than I ever have before. This country is so big, but the world is small, and life is far too short to spend it unhappy. Here’s to 24, and  to hoping I can close out my first quarter-century on its highest note.

For all of the above reasons, I really didn’t care too much about doing anything crazy for my actual birthday. But we did happen to be lucky enough to be en route to a city I very much enjoy – San Antonio. We drove into town that morning to an RV park I reserved a few minutes from downtown so we could Uber into the city for a few days.

This thing can be controlled through hand gestures! The robot rebellion is surely coming… but until then I should be able to get some pretty sweet pictures.

Before we get into that, I want to briefly talk about my sole birthday present. With Greg’s relatively stringent budget (set and grudgingly enforced by yours truly), physical presents aren’t much of an option (though he did buy dinner & paid for the RV park, which was no less wonderful and very much appreciated ♥). And at my age I don’t have much expectation of gifts from anyone. But my wonderful parents shipped me a present all the way to Texas. They were kind enough to both make me a particular dessert I am extremely fond of, and buy me something so outlandish that I would never have purchased myself… I am now the proud owner of a drone. If you thought we had some cool pictures before, hang on. Once I figure out how to fly the thing (not nearly as easy as it looks), we’re gonna have some next level photography and videography going on.

In near triple digit weather, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Back to San Antonio. I really do like this city. The river walk downtown is such a fun way to kill an afternoon and evening. Last time I was there I was only 20, so this time around I made it my primary objective to have a few margaritas with my unbeatable, delicious, real-deal Mexican food. We also spent time at the Alamo and in Market Square – all a bit touristy, but as far as tourist activities go this place has some of the best ones for a major city, in my opinion. We did not anticipate the weather, though – it has not been below 90 degrees since we left Conroe. You literally can’t be inside the van from 1-5pm if the A/C isn’t on – it does not cool off in here easily or quickly.

“You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.” – Davy Crockett

We had two gigs in San Antonio as well. The first one was the day after my birthday at a bar/restaurant called Sanchos. Early gig for us (3-5pm), but a really cool venue and great crowd. We got food afterwards – Greg had street tacos and I had a torta, and it was the best food I’ve had in weeks, no joke, and very possibly the best Mexican food I’ve ever had. Last night we played at a pizza place called Fralo’s on the outskirts of the city. Really nice outdoor patio with a great little stage, and a very respectable dinner crowd for a Monday night.

Post-gig last night, we had our very first major problem. So far, we’ve had brake issues, water pump issues, roof issues, fridge issues, and muffler issues to name a few. All of these things have either been non-essential or planned for carefully. Yesterday we stopped for gas less than fifteen minutes after we left our gig. Shut the van off, filled the tank, and jumped right back in, all in less than five minutes. Turn the key, and the van suddenly sputters, then goes silent. Unbelievably, our battery is dead and the Beast is hobbled. We’re now stranded at this random gas station at 9:30pm in a strange town. For the first couple of hours we consulted the Master (my dad), ran a couple diagnostic tests, and tried jumping the van off of our house batteries (which has worked several times previously) to no success. After coming to the conclusion that further assessment of the problem was going to call for disassembling things under the hood, and with the clock rapidly approaching midnight, I broke down and we called AAA. I think everyone has heard the trope that it usually takes a technician hours to arrive, so I prepared to be stuck at this gas station well into the night. Not today, said the AAA gods as they smiled upon us! This coverall-clad angel showed up within a half an hour of my original phone call for help, tested the battery, told us that it was completely dead, swapped it for a new one in 15 minutes, and the van fired right up immediately after. Hallelujah. I’m not 100% sure that there isn’t something in the van mechanics that killed the battery in the first place, but for now things are running perfectly again, and I’m hoping we can get home to a familiar mechanic before any other issues arise. All in all, as far as a crisis could go, we really couldn’t have asked for a better timed or more easily resolved one.

And that brings us to today! Today was a boring day by most anyone’s standards, – we did laundry, we took the van to a self-serve car wash to scrape off some of the ever-accumulating layer of dead bugs, and we spent the entire rest of the day in a Starbucks so I could get work done and stay out of the heat. Not every day is chaos, craziness, or adventure, which is undoubtedly a good thing or I would be exhausted.

We’re a few short weeks away from heading home, with just seven gigs remaining on this first tour. These past few months have absolutely flown by. We’re heading into Austin tomorrow, one more city neither of us have ever been and both of us have always wanted to go to – so there’s still a few cool things left for us to do before we start making the trek back east.

Ending this post on some RV humor – I think everyone who lives like we do has felt like this once or twice. 😉

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