New England Road Gig
I left Houston about 8am on the morning of the 2nd heading out to Broadalbin, NY. I went through Louisiana and Mississippi ... Areas I'm familiar with being from the Deep South. These areas are kinda nostalgic to me... A story for another time, but the woods and swamps of these areas hold a very special place in the memories of my childhood and the natural scents of these areas brought tears to my eyes as I passed through them.
I hit Tennessee and was soon astounded at the beauty of coming into edge of the Appalachian Mountains. Even at night I could see the rounded out lines of the foothills. I rolled on into Memphis and immediately saw directional signs for Graceland. Being an Elvis fan, but on a time constraint, I had a moment of silence as I passed by all the exits. I rolled on through Memphis and all of a sudden I saw three HUGE (like the height of 5 and 7 story buildings) brightly-lit white crosses coming up over a hill. Beautiful though they were, that kind of religious enthusiasm makes me nervous. Only extremists tend to have that much... um... arrogance. This was only the first of MANY similar images. It was almost comical, as it became a theme after a while. Mile after mile of these huge crosses, as if each Church was trying to out do the other with the size and beauty of their cross with strategic, cosmetic lighting. It got really weird. All I kept thinking to myself was, "Damn. I bet they don't have a single vampire in this entire state..." I swear the whole place smelled of garlic. I was about 150 miles outside of Nashville when I started see billboards for "Loretta Lynn's Kitchen". It was pretty cool. I was wondering where her career went.
My butt cheeks finally gave out on me and sitting became a task. I stopped for the night a few miles outside of Nashville. Bright and early the next morning I went across the street to the Waffle House and had breakfast. Served by a waitress that I could swear looked like the EXACT same waitress that I'm served by at EVERY WAFFLE HOUSE across the United States. Different name, but same face. Soon I was off again on my trek up to Broadalbin.
Kentucky greeted me with light rain which was beautiful as it created a smoky looking mist laid gently across the green mountains, the tops peeking out just above the blanket. We have very beautiful country folks. If you've not ventured out to travel it and see it, you're missing out on something quite inspirational and spiritual. Songs with lyrics like "Misty mountain morning", "Smoky mountain range", "Kentucky rain keeps pouring down" and "My Kentucky home" were running though my head as I took in all the natural beauty that I was surrounded by. And I gained a deeper understanding of the tone and mood the songs were written in. Ohio was next. Long stretches of road between cites reminded me a lot of Oklahoma - flattened out, though elevated with lots of fields and farmland caused my thoughts to drift home again. Then the hills came. I think I was going though Cincinnati when I realized that almost every city has a loop of some sort. I hit the edge of Pennsylvania and began to take in some of the old colonial architecture in some of farming areas.
I realized I was now entering some of the earliest areas of American settlement. I thought about the early settlers, those who came in search of religious freedom, or who came in hopes of building a life all their own, but all of it revolved around the freedom to live as they chose. What a concept... The whole thing made quite an impact as my thoughts drifted to statements like "the American way" and "the American Dream". It occurred to me that perhaps the American way might mean the freedom to pursue the life you dream, and the American Dream isn't necessarily the house with a white picket fence, but rather, whatever you can dream can be a reality, given life and wings. It really was quite moving. It didn't revolve around flags, or crosses, or invisible boundaries. It revolved around the hopes of people... It was truly that simple. Some folks took a chance on their hopes and today we have an incredible Nation I lovingly call the US of A. A complex place built on simple dreams. I had tears in my eyes again (I had tears in my eyes a lot on this tour... but good ones).
I looked around and started seeing snow and ice on the sides of the road. It kinda freaked me out. When I left Houston it was 78 degrees. I looked out to my left and could see Lake Erie... Wow. I'm looking at one of the Great Lakes and just on the other side of Lake Erie was Canada. I chuckled to myself... Just yesterday morning I was a handful of hours from the Rio Grande and Mexico. What a contrast. A little while later I was approaching Niagara Falls, but I didn't stop. It was cold as fuck and there was recently a lady who fell in Niagara Falls. I didn't think my clumsy ass would be wise to go walking around icy and wet rocks next to a major waterfall. I didn't want to be an addition to that list. Besides, I didn't have a barrel. I stopped for the night in Farmington, NY. Next morning bright and early I was off to Broadalbin.
I rolled into the small town and began looking for the Funny Farm Comedy Club. It was a small farming community so I thought the club would stick out like a sore thumb... Wrong-O! I passed the thing 3 times before I spotted it. It was a barn... a renovated BARN... with a giant gorilla popping out of the front of the building. How I missed a barn with a gorilla leaping out of it, I have no idea. I pulled in and set up camp in the barn loft, which had been renovated and turned into a mini condo. I went into the kitchen and made me a snack. I looked out of the back window across a frozen field with a worn out barbed wire fence, a frozen stream, some tractors and another barn a little ways off. I was in the upstate NY woods. I was taking all this in when I noticed the cattle hightailing it across the frozen stream toward the barn (seeing cows walk on water will fuck with your head a little if you're not accustomed to this sight... Holy Cow!). The farmer was putting food out for the cattle in the barn. What a strange thought. Of course everything was frozen so the cows had no grass to eat. We don't get snow and stuff like that down here so I guess I never thought about it. It was just an odd sight.
The show the first night was rough. The opener ate it pretty bad as well as the 3 guest spot comics. My jokes were hit and miss and even the headliner, Jocko Alston ate it bad. After the show Jocko and I went up to the loft and nursed our bruised egos. That show hurt. At first I thought it was me, I take things like that very personal. I take pride in giving what ever size or credence crowd 110% every time, every show, but in review I think it was a strange crowd... small and just... well, really weird. Considering every comic ate it. I shook the bad show off and set myself a goal for the next night. Friday night was a 2 show night. The place packed full for both shows and both shows were excellent. It got to be just fun. There were all kinds of people in there. Bikers, farmers, rednecks, yuppies... guys that were so fuzzy I mistook them for a Yeti. They were all very receptive and I even tried out a couple of new jokes and stories, all of which were well received. Saturday night both shows were packed as well and were just as great as Friday. I didn't venture out too far while in town there, except to the local mall (Wal-Mart). It was 38 degrees and just too damn cold for me. Someone came up to me after one of the shows and was telling me that, "This is good... you shoulda been here last week... it was about 20 something degrees..." I promptly told him to fuck off. Like I said, when I left Houston, it was 78 degrees. I think my asshole froze shut somewhere around Niagara Falls and I may have left it on the side of the highway somewhere near Pennsylvania. After driving for 30hrs, 2 days later I still couldn't feel my right butt cheek.
Sunday I was off on my way to Virginia. I decided to stop in New Jersey and hook up with an old buddy. New Jersey is a cool State. One of the original 13 colonies founded in 1691. Though a small state, it is spread out as thought it were as big as Texas. It's called the Garden State for a reason. Even with winter still on its boots, New Jersey has vast hills, green and lush and just absolutely breath taking. It's the kind of place you roll into and you can't help but smile. After being out in the frozen tundra of upstate NY it was a pleasure to see grass and trees with leaves again. Evergreens spanned the hills along the highways and some of the deciduous trees still had some leaves. I spent a couple of days with my bud at her shore house. The New Jersey bay is lovely. The sand is white and the water is deep blue. Seashells were every where and large. Very different from the beaches that spans the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico along the Texas/Louisiana boarders. The sand is a reddish brown color and the water is too and murky. The mouth of the Mississippi River drains into the Gulf right there and the red Mississippi silt along with the tremendous currents keep the beaches and water dark and muddy. It's very sad to compare the two shorelines and see first hand what a terrible state our beaches are in. The Mississippi River is so very polluted due to the high ship traffic that runs along it as well as the major ports and cities that sit along its edges.
Tuesday afternoon it was off to Virginia. Some of the most historical and beautiful areas of the country lay tucked away just off the highways of the East Coast. I'm sorry California, but compared to the East Coast, you have nothing but rocks, earthquakes and landslides compacted by an unreasonable cost of living. Yep, I said it. I stopped in Newport News, VA for a couple of days and visited some relatives. One night we went out to a Mexican Restaurant/Karaoke bar. Man, lemme tell ya. Why is it that most fat folks can sing like angels, but the scrawny ones couldn't carry a note if you tattooed it on their tongue? It was painful and at some point really funny. I thought I'd left all the country crooner wannabes back in Nashville, but no. The next day I headed out to Bedford, VA for my show that night.
It was a very small and intimate venue tucked in the back of and Italian restaurant. The bartender and I hit it off well. She was a re-located Jersey girl and we spent a few hours talking about New Jersey and NYC. Since it was such a small venue I thought it would be a great opportunity before the show to sit around and talk to some of the audience as they filed in and waited for the show to start. They were some of the nicest and funniest folks. The one black guy in the whole damn town owned a video/"toy" shop and we got into some really great discussions about the laws surrounding the sale of such products. The show was GREAT even though we had an audience of about 20. I did a 35min set and went and sat in the back to watch a little bit of the headliner. He was tanking bad. It made me uncomfortable to watch him. One of the audience members I had been chatting with earlier walked up and asked me to go out to the bar for a shot. I went with pleasure. The headliner was starting to make me squirm. After his set the Headliner walked to the bar and started chatting with me. Then he asked if I wanted to go back out and "smoke" with him. I said sure. I rarely turn down smoke. That's when we got in a conversation about his show. He told me he had done 2 rails of coke, smoked a joint and then had 4 shots while I was onstage. This is BEFORE his set! No wonder he ate shit. Then he said, "I was really disappointed that you didn't sit and watch my entire show..." I told him that I had promised an audience member a shot after my set and that's where I went. I didn't have the heart to tell him he was just so strung out that he sucked and the whole crowd saw it. I went back to my room and tucked in. I said to myself. "Self. Don't be a junkie." Then I nodded off.
Next morning I was up and off the show at the Lakeview Resort in Morgantown, West Virginia... oh, pardon me... West "By God" Virginia. If you don't know' don't ask me. Apparently there's and understood "By God" in the name of West "By God" Virginia. I guess God lives in Ohio and they wanted to be next door. Again, History started playing out in my mind as I realized that before the Civil War there was no West Virginia, only Virginia. I was amazed at watching a history book come to life right before me. The states that were spawned during the civil war just lay where they fell and were left where they stood once the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the civil war came along. The war that nearly destroyed this entire country and could have very well divided this nation into 2 different countries spawned several new and unique states that still to this day have a bit of a rivalry going. "Funny", I thought "They sure do look the same..." The resort was on One Lakeview drive. Well, someone failed to mention there are TWO Lakeview Drives in Morgantown. One is a golf resort and spa, the other is a trailer park just off the Lake. Guess which one I ended up in. I rolled up into this trailer park and went "Oh hell no... I'm playing a trailer park? This can't be right..." Then I thought about the lil' tid bits on my resume. There's a bowling alley, and I just got back from playing a BARN. I figured, "Well, it's possible". So I made a phone call and was pleased to find out I was actually in the wrong place. I was only a couple of exits away and I made it there real quick.
I rolled into the Lakeview resort and found the hotel I was to be staying in. I make my way to the ballroom where the show was to be held and looked around. There were large painted murals of legendary golfers everywhere, but no Tiger Woods. Already I'm thinking, "They don't like Chinese people." I hooked up with the MC and the bartender to let them know I was there and all was right with the world. They both looked at me and said, "You must be Slim." I said, "...and you're observant." They had a good laugh at my expense because they had heard I was lost in a trailer park looking for a golf resort. They thought it was pretty funny that I could mistake one for the other. I told 'em, "That's just how redneck I really am...." I went up to my room to relax. I set up camp and went over to see the view from my window. I had a great view of the lake and just across that lake I had an outstanding view of the trailer park I'd just gotten lost in. Comedy tends to write itself most times. The show that night was good - another small crowd of about 60 or so. While I was on stage some drunken woman in the crowd (probably out of the the trailer park across the lake...) piped up and corrected me on my mispronunciation of West Virginia... That's how I found out about the "By God" clause. All in all the show went well. Afterward I was sitting at the bar just finishing my beer and hanging a bit. I was so tired. One nighters back to back, with all that driving can really take it out of ya. A chick came up and sat next to me, introduced herself and said she was there with her girlfriend and her parents. They had driven for about 3 hrs from Ohio just for the hell of it and decided to catch a comedy show. They had never been to a live comedy show, and they really liked what they saw. It put a smile on my face and a lil' pride in my heart. I went back up to my room for the night. It gets very lonely out there on the road. I was missing a lot of people, my mom, my Alex and my dog. I was counting the hours until I had to get on the road again for the next gig. Looking out of my window and cussing the lights across the lake over in the trailer park. Then it dawned on me. The folks over there in that trailer park are the locals of this town and probably the same folks who showed up at this show to enjoy and support live comedy. So I shut my mouth and put my judgments in my back pocket then went to bed. Next morning I left on my way to Marietta, OH for my last show on this tour.
I was kind of excited about this show. It was going to be held in the comedy club of the Lafayette Hotel. The history of this Hotel ALONE was captivating and is one of the last of the old River Boat style hotels not to mention that Marietta, OH sits right on the banks of the Ohio River and the Muskegon River. Marietta, OH was the first city of the Northwest Territory founded shortly after the Revolutionary war and was the seat of government for the Northwest Territory. I was eager to lay my eyes on the Ohio River and look just across to see West Virginia and the colonial homes that still scatter the hills sloping down to the riverbank. As I entered the edges of Marietta I drove along the edge of the Ohio River, knowing that this was one of the first areas of the Underground Railroad and the early anti-slavery movement during the late 1700's. Not to mention the all famous Mason-Dixon Line. I arrived at the hotel and as I walked in I stepped back over 100yrs in time. The Lafayette Hotel is one of the hotels in the Historical Hotels of America association. The Hotel was built in 1918 and to this day is well preserved. I checked in and made my way to my room. I walked in and my jaw hit the floor. The room was small, VERY small but so absolutely breath taking. I saw the headliner's room and a couple of other rooms but mine, small though it was, was definitely the most visually historical looking room I saw. The walls and bed as well as furniture were dark mahogany woods trimmed with fabrics in deep tones and styles distinct to the early 1900's. A large stern-wheel was inset above the head of the bed which was a partial inlay into the wall. It gave the sleeping area a wooden canopy effect. I walked in, set down my bags and said to myself, "Now this is a place that's definitely haunted..." It was a little unnerving. I set up camp and headed down to the river. It was beautiful. The gently rippling river was so very quiet as it passed, not giving any hints to the tumultuous undercurrents raging just beneath its surface. If a river could talk what tales of adventure this one would weave. George Washington and many other founding fathers of this nation sailed between its shores. I took a breath and took it all in. This is where my end of the nation began. From Marietta, OH on to Texas, the west started here. I was grounded by it. The little patriot inside of me that I didn't know was there stood up proud. There were plaques along the viewpoints telling the history of the town. Some stuff I didn't even know. Marietta was first called "Adelphia" meaning "brethren" and was renamed Marietta after Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France who helped us fight off the British during the Revolution. And I realized, if it weren't for the French during the revolution, we might not be a Nation right now, just another British colony. At that point I wasn't mad at the French anymore, they helped make us a Nation and for a moment I stood in silent gratitude overlooking a Nation that almost wasn't. I cried again. It was empowering. The show that night was outstanding - a sold out house. I was on top of the world that night. At first I was a little shaken, this crowd was intense. They were in complete silence as I set up every joke, you could hear a pin drop and every eye was directly on me... So caught up in what I was saying. Then the Punchline... BAM! Every punchline was met with roars and applause. They never saw it coming. What a great show! I hung out for a little while after the show with the headliner who was an absolutely fabulous guy named Bob Featherer and then went up to my room. I slept with the TV on 'Cause I was sure this place was haunted, but I slept like a baby. The next morning I packed up and hit the road on my way back to Houston.
It was a 21hr drive ahead of me. I had planned to drive for 10 or 12hrs and then stop for the night, but as my travel progressed I was lost again in the scenery. Looking back over the Smokey Mountain tops. Soon I was in Alabama and the scenery started to shift again to the old familiar swaps and marshes of Mississippi. Before I knew it I was caught in the early morning mists of the swamplands as I crossed the Louisiana Atchafalaya basin... my inner-child was smiling and memories of the Deep South summers played through my head with every passing cypress tree covered in Spanish moss. And I just drove strait on to Houston. I kinda felt like Dorothy in OZ. It was an amazing adventure and an incredible journey, but in the end... "There's no place like home..."