Forty-something gigs, twenty states, far too many cities to count and well over 10,000 miles. Here we are on day 144, staring down the home stretch of the most eye-opening, important, and quite honestly, life altering journey I’ve ever had the pleasure of taking.
Before we get to the highlights reel, I have to recap the last week. It wouldn’t be a true return to Florida if some unsavory events didn’t befall us. (I’m certain I angered the Florida Gods in a past life and they have a vendetta out against me).
Our show in Tupelo was great. Really great, engaging crowd for a weekday show. Tupelo is a pretty neat little town too. Fun fact: it’s also home to Elvis’ birthplace. We got to see Graceland and his childhood house in the same week, which was pretty cool. That said… Elvis’ childhood home is not exactly as interesting as his mansion. Any Parks and Rec fans here? You know that episode where they go to the William Henry Harrison Museum and after one or two exhibits everything else is just majorly grasping at straws? That episode may have been based on this place. These people have tried to turn something Elvis-related into a full-fledged attraction as hard as they possibly could. There’s a lot of “walk the trails Elvis may have once walked!” type of stuff. My advice: come take a look at the outside of his childhood home and walk the grounds, it’s free to do that. But don’t pay for stuff here, and don’t plan for a day long excursion.
Up next was the drive back to
hell Florida. We almost died twice immediately. Within an hour of crossing over the Florida border on the first of June, while we were attempting to pass a tractor trailer, a large piece of metal fell off of the truck, bounced off the highway, and hit our van about six inches above the windshield. It took one of our small orange work lights with it and left a nasty indent. The van is otherwise unharmed, but had our speed been any different there’s a very good chance that piece of metal could have gone straight into the driver’s seat, and therefore into Greg. And THEN, not an hour later, a truck towing a U-Haul trailer had a hitch failure. The trailer swung wildly across several lanes of traffic, held on only by a safety chain. It missed us by no more than a few feet. I was incredibly relieved to be off the highway that evening.
We played at the Olde Fish House Marina for the second time on this tour last Friday. It was great to be at a familiar location; we knew we’d be paid and fed and have a place to park the van. Taking the uncertainty out of gig days really takes the stress level down a few notches. On top of that, Matlacha is a very cool town and we really like this venue (and their food. They put pineapple and coconut in their coleslaw and it is the best coleslaw I have ever eaten).
We had a few nights to kill at a truck stop before our last Florida state park reservation until 2019. And, in Florida fashion, the only truck stop available to us is the weirdest and creepiest we’ve stayed in on the entire tour. I have seen some bizarre things go down at truck stops. There was an active crime scene at one in Albuquerque that we still slept at without a second thought. This one is worse than that. Between being pretty far removed from the main road, the trucks not being separated from the cars and RVs, a barely lit parking lot with cars that have not been moved in a very long time, and the, uh, caliber of the other people staying here, it’s more than enough to give you the heebie-jeebies. I write to you from this exact truck stop on our last night in Florida, because we never get to leave this state on a high note.
Monday to this morning, mostly due to the borderline unbearable humidity and our need for AC in order to sleep much at all, we stayed at a really nice state park just south of Fort Myers. Florida certainly has its faults, but they really do have an incredibly beautiful parks system. But mostly it was nice to have a place to run our air conditioner and temporarily forget that 85 degrees in 100% humidity actually feels like 110 degrees. I do not know why everyone does not leave Florida after Memorial Day – I absolutely prefer the Arizona desert heat to this.
Like I mentioned, it’s our last night in Florida. We have two more gigs to go, one tomorrow and one on Saturday. I’m not expecting either of them to be too much to write home about (6/9 edit: our last Florida gig was one of my favorites ever, but that’s for another post now), nor do I expect the insanely long drive back to New York to be remotely interesting either. So instead of waiting until we get home (and inevitably forgetting to do a final post), I’ve compiled a list of questions that some of you might find interesting, so that we can tell some stories about this trip that we otherwise might not have a chance to share. I answered all of these first, and then I had Greg answer the same questions to see how similar or different our answers would end up being. Here are the results!
What was your favorite city?
Jess: I still can’t pick. I loved New Orleans, I loved Albuquerque, I loved Phoenix, I loved San Antonio, I loved Austin. And a bunch of others. This country is amazing.
Greg: “Austin, TX. The food is amazing, a lot of amazing musical history as well. If you’re a musician it’s definitely a town you should visit and spend some time seeing.”
What was your favorite gig?
Jess: The Brewhouse in Lake Park was great because of the amazing crowd. Flagstaff Brewing Co. was great because of the awesome venue and cool town. The Driskill in Austin and Odell Brewing in Fort Collins were probably our biggest crowds. It’s so hard to pick because every gig has upsides and downsides. Overall though, I enjoyed 90% of the gigs we played.
Greg: “It’s hard to choose. It’s probably a toss up between Laughing Goat in Boulder, CO (it was nice to have my parents there and other familiar faces from back home) and probably Brewhouse Gallery (it was a gig that could have gone really wrong, and ended up being a really, really great night instead).”
What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
Jess: I’m still surprised how much of a good time we had in Albuquerque. We didn’t even have a gig there, we just hung out for three days and had some of the best food, hiking, and exploring days of the tour there.
Greg: “Seeing our friends Dave & C walk in the door at our gig unannounced at the Alley Cat in Carrollton GA was definitely surprising.”
What was the scariest moment?
Jess: It’s quite honestly a toss up between our near death experiences mentioned above coming back to Florida, and when the van wouldn’t turn on outside of San Antonio because of that dead battery. Terrifying stuff.
Greg: See above.
What was the hardest or most frustrating part of the trip?
Jess: Nothing worse than a booking agent changing or cancelling a gig on you last minute. While overall we were incredibly fortunate to have minimal problems on that front, the few times it did happen I wanted to punch something. Also, trying to fix things like the van’s plumbing when I have literally no clue what I’m doing.
Greg: “Not being able to always have air conditioning when it’s almost 100 degrees outside, definitely.”
Did anything go wrong that seems funny now?
Jess: Most of the non-terrifying things that have gone wrong are somewhat funny now. Spending so long at the mechanic’s in northern Florida is an amusing story to tell now that we’re several months removed from the chaos that it was in the moment!
Greg: “We had a certain show where the bar owner decided they wanted to sing along with us from their own wireless microphone from behind the bar while serving drinks. Difficult to deal with in the moment but a fun story to tell now.”
What was the best moment of the entire trip?
Jess: Despite all the amazing shows, new fans, and amazing sights we’ve seen, I’m not sure I’ll ever be more awestruck than I was when I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time.
What little, ordinary thing did you miss from your usual routine?
Jess: Having good, bright lights to do my makeup in, and the ability to use my hairdryer whenever I wanted. Also, windows in my bedroom.
Greg: “Being able to cook on a stove whenever I want to.”
Favorite part of van life:
Jess: Being able to load all my gear back into my house at the end of the show and then drive away is such a great feeling. Also, being able to leave any place that we don’t like whenever we want.
Greg: “The fact that you can drive literally anywhere you want to, and have your house and everything you need right there with you always.”
Least favorite part of van life:
Jess: If you’d have asked me this six months ago I would have guessed the answer would be “dumping our black water/sewage waste tanks”, but that’s actually not so bad. I miss having unlimited electricity and water, mostly. You really take those things for granted until they become a finite resource.
Greg: “Having to take the van into the shop when something breaks, and therefore having your house and everything you own at the mechanic’s sucks. Also, the fear of worrying about breaking down so far from home and having to figure out what to do next on your own.”
Did you find any sights or activities a bit off the beaten track? Beyond the tourist traps?
Jess: We did a lot of hiking and exploring out west which I loved. Our campsite in the Rocky Mountains where we did some great songwriting is one of my favorite spontaneous, off the beaten path activities we did on this tour.
Greg: “Camping with Savannah and Drew in Tonto National Forest in Arizona was amazing.”
What was your favorite meal?
Jess: Another question I literally cannot answer. I think New Orleans had the most good meals overall, but the barbecue in Austin, the Mexican food in San Antonio, and the seafood and Cuban food in Florida were all phenomenal and possibly better individually. I wish my waistline and wallet allowed me to eat out every day because the food was definitely one of the highlights of this trip for me.
Greg: “Terry Black’s Barbecue in Austin. No contest.”
What was the strangest thing you ate?
Jess: Oh man. In San Antonio I was looking for this particular variety of Mexican candy that I had bought the last time I was in the area. Instead I bought salted & dried spiced plumbs. It was the single worst thing I’ve ever eaten. Why do those even exist??
Greg: “Crawfish, just because I’ve never had them and didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t like them nearly as much as other seafood I’ve had.”
What was the funniest/strangest/most insightful thing a local said?
Jess: A lady in Flagstaff wished us a Happy New Year in early April. That was weird.
Greg: “Carlo in Santa Fe told us the state park we were about to stay in is where the mob dumps dead bodies.”
Where would you revisit? Would you ever move to any of those cities?
Jess: We don’t stay in any place long enough to really get a feel for what it’s like to live there. So, zero plans to settle down anywhere any time soon. That said, I cannot wait to return to the southwest and New Orleans.
Greg: “I would go back to the Grand Canyon, back to New Orleans, to Austin, to Phoenix, to all of Colorado – really, a lot of the places we went, and anywhere that would book us. But we didn’t really spend enough time in any one spot to know if we’d want to move there.”
If you could only re-live five minutes of the trip, which five minutes would it be?
Jess: If I couldn’t even pick a favorite city, you know damn well I can’t pick a single five minute period. Maybe the first few minutes I started playing my new guitar in Dallas. Maybe the few minutes we saw the wild horses in Arizona. Maybe the couple minutes it took to eat beignets and drink lattes at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans. Maybe just the five minutes after midnight on my birthday where I got to open a new year of my life doing exactly what I want be doing. Any of those would do.
Greg: “This is a tough question. Honestly, I think I’d relive the the night we stayed at the first truck stop in Georgia because of the excitement we had about finally getting out there. Not knowing what to expect out of the next six months and having everything be completely new and different was so exciting, along with that first realization of complete freedom that comes with living on the road.”
So there you have it. If you’ve been following us from the beginning, you know how much has gone into making all these things come to a successful conclusion. I’m sad to see things come to an end, I really am. But I am infinitely more glad that I was able to go in the first place, and forever appreciative that not only did we get to complete this journey, it surpassed all of my expectations. I was not gifted the opportunity to make these things happen, nor was it some stroke of prophetic luck. I have worked nearly every day to make my incredibly far-fetched dream into some kind of comfortable reality. And I suspect I’ll spend many more years doing the same. I have learned to live with less than I ever thought possible, and that while thorough planning is an absolutely vital component to success, sometimes the unplanned and spontaneous avenues we find ourselves turning down end up being the most memorable. It’s hard to notice change in yourself measuring day-to-day, but things have been definitively different for me the minute we pulled onto the road in front of my parent’s house nearly six months ago on a snowy January morning. I’m no longer living for a 48 hour break at the end of the work week. I’m not drowning in the idea that my life wasn’t turning out the way I expected. I did something. And I’ve been living a life that I no longer feel the need to run from. I’m sure this comes off as self-indulgent or even over-dramatic, but I can’t begin to tell you how fulfilling it is to walk a personal dream from an unguided wish into a reality that is better than you could have imagined it becoming. It’s pretty intoxicating.
This was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, and though I don’t want to give luck credit for my hard work, it’s impossible not to look back on each and every day we’ve had and not feel incredibly lucky anyways.
Thanks for reading, and see you soon.