Long time no see.
Hang on, because this isn’t going to be an overly uplifting reintroduction. We’ve been back on the road for just shy of six weeks and it’s been one thing after another the entire time. It’s quite literally gotten to where I haven’t have time to do anything other than eat, sleep, work, and try and keep the van from falling apart around us. As usual, writing here takes a back seat to everything else that’s going on, and it’s endlessly frustrating that I miss out on recording the idiosyncrasies of each day on the road and have to settle for this massive, sweeping overview instead.
I’m thrilled to be moving again, don’t get me wrong. For every day I spend with my head in my hands because yet another critical piece of our house or life has fallen to pieces, there are twice as many moments where I wonder what took me so long to choose this kind of lifestyle. I think of our old apartment, the thin walls and matted carpet, the neighbors with loud marital problems, the driveway that was never plowed in the winter. I also think of my miserable hour long commute I took five days a week and sitting for hours at a time in a windowless room making money for someone else. I’d never in a million years go back to that. That said, over the last six weeks there have been more downs than ups.
There’s far too much to tell to take this day by day. So in hopes of getting myself back in the habit of writing, I’m gonna give you both the good and the bad in highlight-reel format.
- The van has had various things break no less than six times since we’ve left: our water pump tubing cracked again, the hole in our roof got worse, (we bailed no less than 2 gallons of water out of our overhead storage one week) our brakes are making a terrible (yet intermittent) noise, some part of our radiator was leaking coolant all over the passenger side floor, and some un-diagnosed electrical problem caused us to need a jump start once every two to three days. I actually think there may be more things that I’m forgetting as well. Of these issues, three of these are temporarily fixed and three of these could become major issues again at any moment.
- The contract for my second job that I picked up in the fall ended abruptly in early February. Now I’m back down to one part time job. I’m trying not to let this cripple my ability to enjoy things but I spend a very large amount of time worrying whether or not we’re making enough money to continue long-term. Then answer right now is that we are, but barely.
- I’ve been sick for half the time we’ve been on the road, it seems. I had no voice the entire time I was home in Buffalo, but managed to get it back just before we left. By our third gig I felt a nasty cold coming on which took me out of commission for roughly another week. And in these last two weeks I’ve not only managed to lose my voice almost entirely yet again, but I also somehow managed to pick up a SECOND cold immediately after my voice began to rebound. Today is the first day I haven’t felt under the weather in some regard in a long time.
I know that’s just three things, but these are the big-ticket items that have truly permeated nearly every aspect of every day. There have been dozens of other little things in the day-to-day that become a lot harder to deal with when all of the above things are hanging over your head. For example – we had a very high-paying gig cancel for reasons beyond our control in a very critical spot in the spring. Usually it’s not the end of the world when this happens, but when on that same day the van is actively breaking down, I have a LOT less money coming in and I feel like death warmed over, something little like that makes you want to throw in the towel. Some days, all it took was untimely cold weather to make me give up on the day before it even started.
- The gigs have been great, save for the two or three I have not had a voice for. Overall we’re better paid than our last tour through Florida and Georgia, we’re getting very solid crowd and venue reactions, and our gas-money (soon to be new-album-money) fund has never been fuller thanks to increased tips and merch sales. This has been the one thing that has really kept me going when everything else looks a pitiful shade of grey. This is, after all, supposed to be the entire point of what we’re doing. If the gigs were going poorly I may have turned around before we hit Miami this time.
- We’ve gotten to spend a good deal of time with friends and family already. We’re much busier this time than we were last year – which is great – but fortunately our schedule did allow for a little down time. Most notably, we spent a few days with some really good friends of ours in St. Petersburg, and nearly an entire week with my parents and sister at my Aunt Deb’s place in Naples. This has been the second thing that has kept me going. I can’t emphasize this enough – when things feel like they’re getting out of control, there is nothing that feels better than having a place to park the van worry-free for a few days while also having access to unlimited shower, a full kitchen, a power hookup, and simultaneously being surrounded by loved ones. It’s the best kind of stress relief. It’s a literal breath of fresh air when things are crumbling. I’d be much more pessimistic about the next four months if we hadn’t had those two breaks when we had them.
- We’ve gotten to revisit some of our favorite restaurants already, and those of you that know me well know that there is very little that puts me in a better mood faster than a good meal. We returned to the Savannah Seafood Shack (best po boys in America), we got more fritas cubanas in Miami (we ordered 10. That may have been too many but I do not have regrets about this), and we found a great little poke bowl spot in Miami as well (a favorite of mine). We also ate a TON of great food while visiting with everyone, so much so that there are too many places to list here.
- The weather is good and warm. We’ve seen very little rain lately, and that alone is pretty spirit-lifting after the autumn we had.
- We’re leaving Florida sometime within the next 24 hours. That’s always something I look forward to.
As you might guess, there’s plenty more that I could list here as well. Smaller things, but good things nonetheless. For example, we finally got to meet the hosts of the Americana Cafe Sundays concerts that we’ve now played twice – this is the gig that comes with a house for us to stay at in Northern Florida, and the house we’re still at as I write this. Maggie and Mike McKinney are two of the kindest, most genuine, most interesting people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. They may be in their seventies, but their energy and compassion for the people of northern Florida and the music they create is inspiring. I genuinely hope to see them again many times in the future. They were a beautiful bright spot in an otherwise dismal week.
I’ve also been struggling a bit lately with feeling obligated to be sharing what we’re doing online. Certainly this goes hand-in-hand with having a rough go of it lately, but I’m not enjoying having to posture myself and our life in a certain way to appease people on the internet who want to feel included. (This doesn’t apply here, for what it’s worth – this is almost completely unedited speech on my part.) We have this Patreon thing still running and we got basically no content out in February, and I have been feeling piles of guilt about it. But I’ve been so sick and there have been so many other things going on that really needed our attention more than anything else, especially more than putting together cover videos for the internet. And so we apologize and promise we’ll do better next month – and we will, because I’m a perfectionist and I don’t like leaving things half finished like this. But that doesn’t stop people from asking what’s going on. But then when you try to explain that you haven’t had the time, they say “But you’re living the dream! What else could you possibly be doing every day?!” And by the tenth word of your next sentence explaining why it isn’t always butterflies and rainbows they’ve already tuned out. People don’t want to hear about how hard this can be. People want us to post nice pictures so they can say “I’m so jealous”, and that’s it. And that’s really been eating at me lately. In all of this chaos and struggle that has been January and February, perhaps the worst part of it all is that it’s extremely isolating. There’s thousands of van-lifers and full time RVers, but how many of them are also musicians? Who don’t have a trust fund or a pension to ride on financially? Who have an old, unpredictable rig that changes its functionality based on the weather? And who just happen to be unlucky this time of year? If these people are out there, I’d love to meet them.
So, there it is. I’m sure to you it might not seem like it’s been as rough of a ride as it has. But it has been much tougher this time around. I think when you take the magic of discovery out of a lot of these places, issues that you previously overlooked become more prominent and harder to handle. Fortunately, after Thursday things look drastically different for the next few months, and I am anxious for the change.
Anyways. Sorry this has been so depressing overall. I mean it when I say I’m happier now than I was before we left, challenges and all. We’re going to New Orleans on Saturday and I am unabashedly thrilled to be celebrating Mardi Gras in one of the coolest cities in America. I hope that much like last year, all of the tough stuff is being thrown at us right away, and that the minute we get out of Florida things are going to get a whole lot better. I am optimistic in every way I can possibly be. But if you have any good vibes to spare, if you wanted to send them our way I would be grateful.
Here’s a big ol’ collection of photos from the high points of the last six weeks. It really hasn’t been all bad, and here’s some proof of that.
Here’s to bluer skies, y’all.