Monday, April 30, 2012

Week 5

5:35 PM, 4/22/2012, on the train from Vancouver to Bellingham -

I started this leg of the tour in Seattle the night before last. I played at East Madison Coffee and Deli. It was an early show (5 to 7 PM). After the show, I had dinner at my favorite local Italian place, and then turned in early in order to prepare for my busy weekend. 

Last night arrived at the border to B.C. in Blaine, WA at about 7 PM. Along with about 10 other passengers, I got off the bus and entered the customs building. All of the other passengers were ahead of me and I heard each of them get asked a few questions by a customs officers. The officer asked each of them if they'd ever been denied entrance into Canada, and then checked his computer records to see if anyone them had been lying. They were all found to be telling the truth, and were instructed to get back on the bus. Finally I was asked the same question. "Well, there was that one time..."

I had attempted to cross with a friend and my band-mates in order to play a show in Vancouver a few years ago. The customs officers could tell that we were planning to play a show, what with all of our gear, band t-shirts, CDs, instruments, etc. We did not have work permits. We were denied entrance, and there was a record of it here.

So what was I doing trying to cross without a permit again? Getting a permit seemed like too big a hassle. I just wanted to play a couple shows and see the sights! I figured this time I would come in without merch, and I even left my uke behind, so it was just me, my suitcase and my guitar. The customs officer who initially questioned me and my fellow bus riders instructed me to go into a back room where I'd be questioned further by another officer. By then I had nearly given up hope. I explained to the next officer why I'd been denied entrance into Canada the first time, but assured him I was just coming in for some sight-seeing this time.

"And you brought your guitar?"

"Oh, I bring it everywhere. I just play for fun now," I told him.

"Well, if you're a musician, I find that hard to believe," he replied. "Did you come here with someone or by yourself?"

"With - by myself," I responded.

"Why did you just say 'with'?"

"Because I'm tired," I told him truthfully. I had already played one show earlier that afternoon in Tacoma, and the sun had been beating down fiercely on me the entire time. As I answered more of the officer's questions, I felt my arms begin to itch. I looked down and they were both burning red. Instead of drawing the obvious conclusion that I'd incurred a sunburn, I immediately assumed that I was getting a rash because of all of the lying I was doing.

The officer went to his computer and typed something; maybe he was running a background check on me. I stopped feeling nervous, only because I was sure that I'd have to call my friend in Lynden soon and ask her to pick me up. I started putting on lip gloss. The officer eyed me strangely, and then handed me my passport and my ticket. "OK, you're free to go," he said.

I stood there, dumbfounded for a minute. Then I raced out to the bus. Holy shit, I thought, I guess I'm going to Canada. 

Once inside the bus again, I noticed that the internet and the GPS on my phone had stopped working. This would have been more disconcerting if I hadn't been so giddy about being able to cross the border. I touched up my make-up and went over my set list for the show. When we arrived in Vancouver, I asked a few people for directions and found my way to the hotel by taking the sky rail. Then I asked the hotel manager for directions to the club. At first he didn't seem to think anything was at the address I mentioned, but then he remembered that there was a new underground club there. I changed quickly and hurried to the venue. There I met Duncan, a singer-songwriter who opened for me, and two bands called Goodnight Grace and the Cut Losses, who both went on after me. All three acts were local, high-energy, and fantastic. I also met James, who had booked me, and Brody, who was acting as a host, announcing each act before we played. James and Brody owned the place, which seemed to have been an auto repair shop in its last life. Now it was an awesome performance space, complete with lights, sound and booze. I stayed until 2 AM, enjoying the company, music and free beer.

The next day I went to breakfast in Chinatown, where I was staying. Then I asked for more directions and found my way to the Croatian Cultural Centre, where I was to perform as part of a big DIY festival. I found the place with enough time to shop around and enjoy the act that was on before me, a very talented bluegrass duo called the River and the Road. During my set I felt a bit fatigued. I had rushed around 3 cities in 48 hours, playing four gigs in that time. The spotlight seemed to be melting me. Still I was so happy to have made it there, and I think I made some new fans, so thanks for letting me in, Canada!

After my second show ended, it was already time to find my way back to the Amtrak Station so that I could get on the train to Bellingham. Now I am nearly there. I'm sad to have had to leave so soon, but I'm excited to see my friends in Bellingham!

11:50 AM, 4/27/12, on the bus to Yakima from Seattle -
Some people find Yakima boring because it is a small town. Others refer to it as "the Palm Springs of WA." When I lived here for 3 weeks in 1999, I found it less than thrilling. I was 18. I had just obtained a job and hadn't gotten paid yet, so I was completely broke. I lived with a sausage salesman who traveled constantly. Some of my coworkers would buy me a things from the vending machine at the store we worked at, knowing that I had no money and no food at my apartment. One candy bar and one soda was usually all I had to eat for the day. In my three weeks there, I lost 15 pounds. Even if I'd had money, I wasn't old enough to go out to the bars. I was so bored and hungry and depressed that I barely noticed the natural beauty of the mountains and desert around me.

Now whenever I visit, I become enamored. Besides the aforementioned natural beauty, there is the charm of the vintage buildings downtown, many with the original early 20th century ads on them. Sure, we have similar buildings in Portland, but not nearly as many opportunities for sun-bathing. The first time I returned here after moving away was a few years ago, when my friend Charissa and I came to the Yakima Folklife Festival. Now Charissa loves Yakima, too.

Just yesterday, I said goodbye to Charissa in Bellingham. I was there for a few days, but it went by so quickly. During the beginning of the week, we shared some great meals, went shopping, and got matching pedicures. Then on Wednesday night I played at Pure Bliss Desserts, a great little place that served cake and wine. Everything was delicious! My friends Katie and Renae (Charissa's little sister) came up from Everett to visit us and see the show. Afterwards we went to a local bar, the Beaver Inn. It was a fun night!

On Thursday, Charissa took me out for a bloody mary before my bus ride to Seattle. Thanks Charissa! I stayed the night in Seattle and didn't do too much as I was trying to recover from the night before. I did walk around the city, and enjoyed being downtown again and taking pictures of the city. I turned in early and now I'm feeling much better and ready to play in Yakima tonight. Tomorrow night I will play in the Tri-Cities again, and then it will be time to head back to Spokane. I can't believe I left there only two weeks ago.

6:25 PM, 4/29/12, Pasco, WA -

I have had such a wonderful time in WA! On Friday I played to a big crowd in Yakima, at the North Town Coffeehouse. Before the show I had been unaware that Pat Muir had given me another great write-up in the Yakima Herald Republic (thanks Pat!), and it got lots of people out! I was delighted, and a little intimidated.

On Saturday I headed to Pasco on the Greyhound, and then to Kennewick on the city bus. I performed at Smasne Cellars, a lovely winery. The highlight of the night was meeting a nice local couple who had seen my name on the winery's website and had looked me up on youtube and decided to come to check me out.

After the show I went back to my hotel to take advantage of the 24 hour pool and hot tub. Today I've just been enjoying the sunshine before my night train to Spokane. I had breakfast in Kennewick, then walked across the freeway and down into Richland, where I found the Columbia River. I walked along the river for a while, and then went to a lounge across from the river and sat outside on the patio and had a drink, enjoying more of the view. Then I headed to Pasco, where I am currently eating at my favorite local Mexican restaurant, Mi Lindo Nayarit. I found this place during the first year that I came in town for the festival and have been coming back before my bus and train rides since (it is just a few blocks from the station so it's very convenient). The waitresses don't speak much English but, now that I'm trying to learn Spanish, it provides me an opportunity to practice. I enjoyed some good food and beer, and just watched a group of mariachis walk around and serenade the audience. Que bella noche!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Week 3: Near Misses

I spent this last Friday recovering from my show in Spokane the night before at the Saranac Pub. The only trouble was: I had to recover on a bus, which I caught at 8:45 in the morning. I had managed to sleep for about 4 1/2 hours at my Grandma's house the night before, and she was kind enough to drive me to the bus station. I was on my way to Everett, which takes 6 1/2 hours by bus. I figured I'd be able to sleep more on the bus. I put on my sleeping mask and my headphones right after I boarded but, by the time we reached Wenatchee at noon, I hadn't slept at all.

Everyone got off the bus in Wenatchee for a half hour lunch break. The cafe inside the bus station did not looking promising. As an ovo-pesco-vegetarian, I think the only thing I could have ordered there was a bag of chips. I noticed a bar across from the station, and decided that a bloody mary and french fries sounded much more appetizing. I also figured that the bloody mary would help me to sleep once I got back on the bus. I wandered into the dive. Suzy, the bartender, made me an excellent bloody mary and fried up some green bean fries for me which were delicious. An older man sitting next to me at the bar turned toward me as I placed my order. "Where the hell did you come from?" he asked with a big smile.

"I ... uh, I ... just got off the bus," I responded sleepily.

"Yeah, no kidding!" he replied. He introduced himself as Dave. We talked about music and traveling for a bit, then he introduced me to a local 'zine called Rotten Apple. Named for Wenatchee's main export, the Apple pokes fun at the town and its inhabitants through stories and comics.

I told Dave that I love learning about the histories of different cities, and asked him if he could tell me more about Wenatchee. He started to tell me about "something that blew up once", but it was unclear whether that was a building or a vehicle. He got sidetracked and began telling me about his rough childhood. He was admittedly struggling to get his stories out due to the effects of some "devil's lettuce" he'd enjoyed before coming to the bar. As he delved deeper into his memories of childhood trauma, I began to fret over how to extricate myself from the conversation; it was nearly time to get back on the bus.

I kept trying to get Suzy's attention so I could pay my tab, but she was the only one on shift. Finally she made her way back to me and I paid her. Dave was trying to get me to write down the info for my show next month in Leavenworth, but I just bellowed it at him and told him he'd have to write it down himself because I had to catch my bus. The bus had been slated to depart at 12:40; my watch read 12:39.

I ran across the street. Initially I didn't see my bus. Then I saw a bus parked in what seemed to be a different spot but I attempted to board it anyway. The driver told me he was headed South and that my bus had just departed. I ran to the corner and saw that my bus was about a block away. I chased it and somehow caught up with it. The driver opened the door and let me in. I was relieved, but also felt nauseous as I curled up in my seat, due to the combination of booze, fried food, running and worrying about becoming stranded in Wenatchee. Never again, I vowed, will I drink when I should be getting on a bus or train.

Luckily I did manage to sleep through the second leg of the bus trip, and I arrived in Everett feeling refreshed. My friend Renae picked me up at the station and took me out to the Vintage Cafe for dinner. The food was great and I loved the atmosphere there. Then we headed Cafe Zippy's where my show was going to be held. I met a guy named Michael who said he was going to be opening for me. His music was good, and I especially liked it when he played harmonica. Renae's and my friend, Katie, met us at the cafe, as well as two of their friends, Keffer and Ryan. There were only a few other people in the audience, so it was a pretty intimate show.

After my set, we all went back to Renae's to get ready to go bar hopping. Some more of her friends as well as her roommates met up with us at the house, and then we all headed to the Irishmen, and then to a bar with pool tables and a jukebox. My friends and I danced even though there was no dance floor and no one else was joining in. At the end of the night, Katie's uncle, who is a cab driver, picked us up and took us all back to Renae's house. I started my last beer but things got fuzzy and I never finished it. Evidently I just put myself to bed and passed out instead.

The next day, Renae, Keffer and I went to Golden Gardens Beach in Seattle. We cured our hangovers by laying in the sun and drinking wine all day. It was strangely hot and sunny out for a day in mid-April in the NW. Keffer played my guitar and it sounded lovely. After we all walked along the beach searching for rocks and shells, I noticed that it was nearly 4:30. My train was scheduled to depart at 5:30. Keffer said that he thought it would only take 20 minutes to get to the station, but we all agreed that we should leave then and give ourselves extra time to get there.

After about 40 minutes in the car, we realized that it was going to take a little longer to get there than we expected. At that point we were near the U district, so things were beginning to look familiar to me but I knew that we weren't very close to the station yet. Keffer said not to worry, and he sped and wove through the thick traffic. We arrived at 5:23 PM. Thanks Keffer!

I was still a little nervous: I knew that the train usually left right at 5:30, and I still needed to print my ticket from the U-scan! Thankfully we found, after entering the station, that there was a long line and that the train to Portland had not made it in yet.

I said goodbye to my friends and boarded my train about 15 minutes minutes later. I found my seat, and then stretched out over the empty seat next to mine, tired but relieved. I was ready to go back home for a few days before the next adventure.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Week 1

I started my current tour in Oakland. I actually arrived nearly two weeks ago, but I had a few days to relax before my first show. I ended up needing them, as I caught a cold and began exhibiting its symptoms just as I arrived in Oakland! I was staying with one of my best friends, Jane, and her family. I didn't want to get them sick, but, as it turned out, her 2 year old son had a cold already, and neither Jane nor her partner ended up getting sick. I chilled out at their house for a couple days, then felt better by the time my first show rolled around. It was at the Actual Cafe in Oakland. I had so much fun there, and there was a great turn out! In addition to dozens of strangers being there, Jane came with me, and my friend Kim, who lives in San Francisco, showed up, as did my friend Sara, who lives in Portland but was vacationing in Oakland for the week. She also brought a couple of friends that she was staying with, who took us all out to the Prizefighter in Emeryville after the show.

At the Actual Cafe, a singer named Myles with a beautiful voice opened for me on the keyboard, and then I got to open for Eli Conley, who played guitar and sang very clever lyrics with a soulful voice. Eli also had a lead guitarist who played slide guitar for part of his set. They were great! During my set, I sang my heart out, so much so that -- as I was sad to discover the next day -- I ended up losing my voice. Too bad I had another show that very next night!

Physically I still felt much better from the cold, so I went shopping with Jane in Rockridge before the show. After shopping, we got some pizza, and she helped me find the BART station so I could get to SF. My show was in the ballroom inside the Green Tortoise Hostel. I found the hostel and was very excited to be in SF for the first time in about four years. I was bummed, however, to still have laryngitis. Right after I checked in, I found the sound man and asked him what I should do. He bought me a beer (with a lemon it, so, as he said, "it's good for you!") and asked me if I wanted to just try playing a few and see what happened. I agreed. We got set up, and a couple of guys were watching us from their table nearby. One of them saw my uke and told me excitedly that he had planned to leave when the music started, but that now he was going to stay. I whispered for him to not get too excited, on account of my condition. He noticed the random percussion instruments that were strewn about the stage. He offered to back me up. He said his name was Mike. I told Mike "I don't know if I can do it." He replied, "Yes, you can. Come on, let's do this!" And so we did. His drumming was excellent, and we made it through three songs. I was happy that I got to play "the Mission", a song I wrote for the San Francisco neighborhood of the same name.

After the show, Mike and his friend Jeff bought me a baklava and gave me one of the beers they'd brought in their backpack. The honey in the baklava was just what my strained throat needed. Thanks guys! I had a bed in a four-bed female dorm room. All of the other ladies I was staying with were very kind, especially Margie from Ireland, who gave me tea and cough drops. She told me that she had quit her job and was going to travel the US and Europe for several months, and then work in Canada for four months, while she figured out what she wanted to do with her life. She said that that she would gone from Ireland for a total of nine months! That made me feel a little less crazy for quitting my day job and going on the road indefinitely.

The next night I went to the Mission and had dinner with my friend Kim at Bissap Baobab, one of my favorite restaurants. They serve Senegalese food. It was nice to see that the restaurant was still there, and to see Kim again. After dinner I took the BART back to Oakland, where I spent another couple days at Jane's house before leaving for Sacramento.

On Thursday afternoon I took the Amtrak train from Oakland to Sacramento. I found the motel where I had reserved a room, then found a place to eat dinner before my show. Then I made my way to the venue, the Fox & Goose, where I got to open for a local singer named Hans, and a touring band from San Diego called Adams & Eves. Everyone was very talented. I walked away with a CD from Hans and a vinyl album from Adams & Eves. It was one of those nights that make a performer feel so lucky: you get to watch other talented acts for free!

The next morning it was time to get back on the train again, this time for five hours, to Reno. It was a beautiful ride! I enjoyed my favorite snack bar car treats -- pretzels with hummus, and a whiskey and coke -- and watched the sun and the palm trees of California disappear as we headed into the snowy mountains. The snow only slowed the train down by about twenty minutes. After I arrived, I found my hotel, the Sands, and had a quick dinner before my next show.

I had to take a city bus out to the highway and then walk a half a mile to the coffeehouse where I was going to perform. It was in the suburbs. The coffeehouse, Walden's, is a well-known spot for touring and local artists. The host, Todd C. South, is also a musician so he treats the guests very well. I got to open for a singer/songwriter named Jose Skinner and his back-up band. Jose even joined me on my set for one song, "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash. It was really fun to sing a duet with him! After Jose's band's set, his lead guitarist/bassist, Eric, and his wife, Ashley, offered me a ride back downtown, which I happily accepted.

I awoke the next day to discover that my cold had never really gone away, it had just moved. Instead of being in my throat, it was down in my lungs. I spent time in the steam room at my hotel, and drank a hot toddy with dinner that night, hoping the two things would help. I also decided to give up my one-to-two-a-day cigarette habit, even though I knew that Nevada is probably the worst state to do that in. People are, of course, smoking in every casino.

Throughout the day I kept trying to go out for a little walk. At first there was an intolerable combination of wind and cold rain, so I went right back to my room. Later it looked to be clearing up, so I headed out again. This time I got to walk around for a while and see the river, until it began to snow on me. That's when I decided to have my dinner and drink in the hotel restaurant.

Finally, I awoke the next day feeling like I could breathe. My throat was a little scratchy though, but I drank plenty of tea. I got to play my last show in Reno that night at Java Jungle, another great local coffeehouse. The host, Ryan, was really cool. He gave me free tea and a sandwich. There was a small crowd there at first but, about 15 minutes into my set, a huge group of friends (maybe 20 more people) all came in together and started dancing. It turned out that two of them had just gotten married! They decided to have their reception at Java Jungle, which boded well for me! I talked to them on my break. They were all really cool, and most of them lived in a house together and were a poetry collective. They offered me a place to stay and I told them I'd take them up on it when I'm back in a couple months. Before I headed back to the Sands, Michael, the bartender from the bar below the Java Jungle, invited me to come down for a free drink. I enjoyed a glass wine and the epic playlist on Michael's ipod. Unfortunately I wasn't about to stay out too late; I had to go to bed early and prepare to depart Reno the next day. Next stop: all the way up in the Tri-Cities in WA. Looking forward to week 2!