It’s been a long time, friends.
So let’s briefly recap 2019. Last I left you, we were on our way to Buffalo in June to remodel our van and record our sophomore album. We successfully finished both of these things by September. Our van’s new interior has improved our living conditions by a factor of ten, and our album was received very well by friends, family, fans, and media alike. We left WNY in mid-September for a fall-to-early-winter tour which ran until mid-December. All in all, a fairly productive and successful end to 2019, and we rang in 2020 at our usual New Year’s bar among good friends.
Ah, the optimism I had for 2020 in January. Had only we known.
We began our last tour in mid-January and, like in many previous years, started in Georgia. This was followed by a very long string of Florida shows, including a week of shows in the Florida Keys, and concluded with a drive straight from Fort Walton to just outside of Houston.
We arrived in Texas on March 5th.
Texas has become one of my favorite places to tour through. I can’t say for sure if I’d want to live there, but as a touring musician it offers an almost unparalleled level of benefits – a music loving culture, great, cheap food, REALLY cheap gas, and some of the better drivers we’ve encountered. When I say we were thrilled to arrive in the lone star state, I’m not exaggerating.
We played our busiest week of shows ever starting March 5th. The schedule was planned as 9 shows in a row with only one day off. The first five shows went off without a hitch. On our sixth show of nine, the atmosphere in public began to shift. We had our first discussion about the Coronavirus while sitting at a bar. We publicly lamented for Austin over the cancelling of SXSW, but quietly cheered that no cases had been found in this county. On the 7th show, I felt uncomfortable accepting drinks from the bartender and wished that people would leave the bar and go home. On the 8th show, the bar manager and sound guy waved at us instead of shaking our hands, and the show was not attended nearly as well as expected.
We cancelled the 9th show. This was on 3/14.
We had booked state park reservations for the following Sunday and Monday, so we resolved to honor that reservation and give everything a few more days before we decided what our next move was going to be. I spent six months booking this tour. I did not want to overreact.
By Monday we had resolved to cancel all remaining March shows. This was on 3/16.
On Tuesday we did something we’ve talked about for a long while, something I in particular have been trying to make happen for years. We visited an Arlington area animal shelter and adopted a dog – a little rusty-colored, one year old, 14 pound Chihuahua mix we named Piper. My thought process was that with a forced break from touring, it would be the perfect time to help a dog adjust to our lifestyle. Piper presented us with a number of challenges early on, but she’s blossomed into the sweetest little companion and has been a wonderful distraction from the seriousness of the situation. Though she’s been plenty of work since day one and still does not know life as a true van dwelling dog as we’d hoped, she’s integrating so well into our lives, and we both love having her around.
This was 3/17. That evening, we started the drive back to Buffalo.
Our other option was to go further west, to Arizona, and try to wait out the bulk of this problem there, in hopes of picking the tour back up in April. Us choosing to do that would mean that we felt optimistic about what was going on in the world. Going home meant that we did not think this issue would be resolved by April, and that we’d have to cancel at least six weeks worth of shows. Right now, we’ve been right on each and every decision.
Since we’ve arrived back in NY, it’s been both a whirlwind and a whole lot of nothing. Early on, I would lament at the lack of things being done every morning, at the friends and family who continually said “I’m not worried about it” and “it isn’t a big deal”. I feel like from the beginning, I had a good idea that this was going to be a big deal. I watched diligently as county after county, and now state after state, imposed social distancing laws and acknowledged that Americans were not immune to this virus.
I spent about three months in that mental state. We ended up cancelling the remainder of our tour by mid-April. I turned 26 in lockdown in May. All our summer festivals and shows following our tour were cancelled by June. We watched the ebb and flow, the flattening of the curve, the rise of the anti-maskers and the US becoming the COVID-19 epicenter of the world.
We watched this while we fell apart, to be truthful. We watched the life we built – the thing I poured my heart and soul into for YEARS, investing every spare penny and moment and time into, be taken from us by an out of control virus and those too selfish to think of those other than themselves.
I lost my interest in playing music almost immediately after arriving in Buffalo. At first, it felt too serious to be doing something like singing. But soon, I found myself making excuses any time a guitar was around. I think my soul needed a break. I was pouring everything into what we were doing, both mentally and financially. As so many had warned, and I had long expected, being a musician had finally become a Job. And with a Job comes tasks and duties that you don’t enjoy. And while music will always be something I love and adore playing, also being the accountant, the manager, the marketer, the promoter, the website designer, the booking agent, the everything – it wore on me to the point where I think I wanted nothing to do with any of it, the music itself included. On top of that, I think watching something you’ve worked so hard to achieve be laid entirely to waste by things out of your control would take the wind out of anyone’s sails.
And then, in July, to the shock of quite literally everyone involved – my family was exposed to and contacted COVID-19.
We were SO careful. We didn’t go to any bars or parties. We wore our masks. We kept our social circle extremely small. But my younger sister was exposed at work, and she came to my parent’s house to celebrate my youngest sister’s high school graduation. And that was all it took. Myself, both sisters, my dad, and Greg all tested positive.
We spent the better part of this month in state-mandated isolation. The process when you contract this virus is so strange – we heard my sister had tested positive just a day or two after the rest of us went for our tests, so we all assumed we had it as well and acted as such. We actually were visiting my parent’s second place in the thousand islands when we started feeling sick, which is in about the middle of nowhere, so the four of us that were all infected together found it very easy to isolate from the rest of the world there. But we didn’t get our test results until just a couple days ago – by this point, it was over a week after we had been given the tests, and we were all over most of our symptoms and on the mend. In short, if we had been waiting for our results to begin isolating ourselves, we would have exposed a LOT of people because of how long it took.
We all recovered without much pomp or circumstance, and for that I am eternally grateful. We all had variations of coughs, fevers, headaches, and fatigues. We all also lost our senses of taste and smell to some degree – myself worst of all. Everyone else has returned to normal on that front, but it’s the only symptom I’ve yet to shake – if I had to guess, over two full weeks since my symptom onset, I think I have about 60% of those senses back now. On that note, stop taking those senses for granted. Taste is 80% smell, and when you lose them both, you lose all enjoyment of any food, period. I still can’t taste my coffee in the morning. Just yesterday, I got some of my ability to taste garlic back. I still can’t taste chocolate or mac and cheese or guacamole. Anyone who knows me (or who has read any of this blog when we’re touring) knows that I am an absolute foodie. I think I was genuinely was bordering on depressive for a few days when I couldn’t taste anything at all. The only flavor I could still detect was bitterness, and it made eating anything a chore. It was also one of the most bizarre sensations of my life – the flavor going out of food is like the color going out of the sky. You don’t ever really think about it until suddenly it’s no longer there.
That said, we got through this about a hundred times luckier than many others, and while it’s cathartic to complain about my experience, I recognize how fortunate we’ve been. But the rules feel different now. I’m no longer wearing a mask because I’m afraid OF other people, I’m afraid FOR them. What if I’m still contagious? The CDC promises me I’m not, but how sure can they be with something so new? How can I ask anyone to come to a show, knowing even at my most careful moments I still managed to contract this disease without any difficulty? How can I ask someone to come and risk their health for me? How do I justify leaving WNY before we have this under control as a country? What if I can catch it a second time? Am I actually any safer now than I was? Are there long-term implications that have yet to rear their heads? I really don’t have much aside from more questions at this point.
And on an equally as frustrating note, we’ve received a shocking amount of borderline animosity and unexpectedly crazy behavior from family and friends who we told about our diagnosis. As much as I don’t plan on being social for probably the remainder of July, I can feel the whispers of accusations between closed doors. Based on what we’ve heard, I know some people assume we did something wrong when we were being more careful than almost anyone I know. Too many people panicked went and got tested after finding out we had it despite us not having seen them WEEKS prior to our exposure. And very few asked if we – the people who actually had the disease we are all so scared of – were doing alright. I understand the fear, I truly do. But we were the ones in actual danger. It was unprecedentedly disheartening across the board. I was looking for a modicum of support during a terrifying moment for my entire family, and we got something a lot closer to a pariah status instead, and we’re still feeling the implications of it.
There may be a silver lining to all of this (that isn’t just my realization that I might not be surrounded entirely by the kind of people I’d hoped). I’ve been listening to music again. And listening to music makes me feel like I want to play. I think maybe there’s something to be written about here. I can’t stand the on-the-nose, Coronavirus-specific songs that call this pandemic out by name, but there may be some more nuanced emotions that have come out of actually contracting the virus that might have their place in a few songs. I’m a little bit excited that I feel that way without having to force it – for a minute, I was worried that feeling might never come back.
I want to talk about the other major thing I did during this lockdown period too. I bought a small business. I didn’t finalize the purchase until mid-June, and as I’m still getting comfortable doing my new job(s), I don’t really want to get too into the details of exactly what I’m doing. Not because it’s scandalous or anything, but entirely because, in typical me fashion, I’m afraid of it going poorly and having to explain to people why it didn’t work out. (Remember when I kept the first tour a secret from the world for almost a year?) That said, I have no indication it isn’t going to go well. It turns a reasonable profit, it’s been running for five years, it’s in a fairly stable niche, it’s something I can do completely from my laptop, and it’s music-related – so it’s something I don’t have to learn from scratch. If I can grow it in the ways I’m envisioning, this can easily replace all the ridiculous side gigs I’ve been working over the last several years to cover the gaps left by our gig incomes. This is something I’ve been trying to do for ages, and I’m optimistic that I’ve finally found it. I actually took out a small loan to finance the purchase, I’m that confident. (And I didn’t even take out a loan to buy the van back in the day).
Speaking of the van, after a few agonizing days earlier in the summer, she’s running well again. We had been fighting with a leak in our heater core for over a year, and with all our down time took it upon ourselves to replace it. It was a horrible but not impossible job. Immediately following that job the van had trouble starting while warm, which resulted in me replacing all the spark plugs myself, only to realize that the actual problem was a loose connection on our engine temperature sensor – we wasted a full day on that one, and the actual fix took about five seconds. We also had our windshield replaced – the first, and probably sole, repair that was covered by insurance thanks to a rock to the windshield while we were still on tour. We’re still hoping to fix our large generator while we’re home, as well as a couple other little projects, because there.’s always a few of those kicking around.
But sadly I don’t think we’ll be going anywhere any time soon. Every place I’d like to go is being absolutely ravaged by COVID right now, and I suspect much of this country is on the verge of another large scale shut down. I think we’ll be in NY well into 2021, and I don’t expect the first time we leave will be to do any playing, either. It’ll be just because we finally can.
So we’re in a very weird limbo. We got the Thing everyone is so scared of, and our antibodies should clear us to go about our lives as we did before. But instead we have more questions than answers, and nothing feels like much of a relief despite our luck with the virus experience itself. I’m enthusiastic about the new business, and music is starting to sound appealing again, but there are very few around me that I’m interested in sharing any of that with. I have every intention of putting my head down, working on the new business, writing a couple songs, and teaching my dog some more manners. But as much as all of that sounds appealing now, I suspect I’ll have a hard time doing an entire year of it.
I just thought it might be good to write some of this down. Truthfully, I wrote the entire part about our March tour dates and everything preceding it a couple weeks after we got to Buffalo. But my heart wasn’t in writing about it further then, and everything has changed so much in a few short months. I’m glad I waited, and I’m glad that it’s written down now.
But god, do I miss the road. It didn’t hit me until very recently how much I miss how things were Before. I miss waking up in random truck stops on lonely highways in strange deserts and high mountains. For a little while, I thought maybe the sadness that I had developed since arriving home might be because I was maybe getting tired of what we were doing. 26 is pretty close to 30, and I was starting to think that maybe I was interested in something more stable. But a little bit of soul searching has proven the opposite to be true – I’m not done running around, not even close. The sadness comes from the same thing the sadness came from at the beginning, and the catalyst for everything – it came from feeling like someone, or something, else was in control. I didn’t get much of a say in coming home, it would’ve been foolish to do anything else. It’s the same way I felt when I took my first full-time job – I felt like anything else would’ve been a mistake.
So I’ve had my break. I shrunk my circle. I learned, I grew. I feel the differences in myself from before this pandemic and after, and despite the heartache I am certainly stronger for it.
I just want the universe to let me get back to my life before I forget everything I’ve learned. It’s selfish, I know. But time keeps marching on and I won’t be able to do the things I want to do forever. Put me back on I-10 right where we left off, headed southwest. I didn’t get to see the Superstitions this year. We didn’t go to the Badlands like we planned. I think about Moab on a weekly basis, and how long it’ll be before I get to go back again. That all breaks my heart so badly that I try desperately not to think about it. I’m trying to focus on the positive until I can stop lying to myself about how sad it really makes me.
The weather has been wonderful this summer so far. Piper finally became friends with my parent’s dogs. Greg has really taken to smoking meats, and we’ve had a great menu of meals since we’ve been home because of it. I didn’t die from COVID-19, and I can probably give some plasma and antibodies to those less fortunate now.
And the road is still out there, and the very instant I can go, I’ll be gone for a long, long time.