I approach extended drives, at this point, with a certain structure and with the last 9 weeks consisting of multiple twenty-plus-hour treks, the mental development is becoming somewhat scientific. Rarely do I enjoy music on miniature journeys as such. It’s a quick road to boredom, like a sugar cereal leads to a late morning crash. Starting a marathon like the one I am on, is best begun with a sporadic decision to leave. The adrenaline connected to the idea of returning home is enough to power the first twelve hours. I metaphorically tee up my shot, getting a visual and see that the more resilience I can summon makes for an easier second stroke. This particular drive, pardon the pun, has me leaving Elgin, TX in a moment of clarity. Recognizing that all is accomplished that needs accomplishing and opposed to hanging around for the initial scheduling of 9 more days, that week and a half would be more productive waking up in my own bed each morning.
The first night has me relieving myself in a styrofoam cup, sleeping in a reclined driver’s seat and allowing the Diesel engine to roar through the night amidst a slew of eighteen-wheelers in Concordia, Kansas. I even topped up on fuel to be sure that I wouldn’t be left with a four hour nap resulting in a fuel filter that needs priming. Morning comes sudden, from first wince to full vehicle movement a minute has yet to pass. I justify McDonald’s sausage and biscuits as my junk food for the trip and double-down by asking for a cream and a sugar in my coffee.
Like the day previous, the first efforts are to sit in silence. Make as many miles as one can until the highway meditation looses it zen and then move into podcasts. Joe Rogan, guest dependant. Billy Corgan’s outlook on the music industry was enough stimulation to breach the early morning hours and, now, coming into Nebraska, Henry Rollins joins Joe as I zig-zag on a secondary highway towards South Dakota. Because it happens to be a Sunday morning, I welcome the relaxed tone of slowing down every twenty miles, another small town, casually passing through at thirty miles an hour. Silence to podcasts, Tom Petty’s Hard Promises album, the tail end of the Saskatchewan Roughriders conference final, silence again, a slew of “hey-guess-where-I-am” phone calls, another fuel stop and finally a three hour push to the Canadian border. Heavy-eyed and hopeful that the crossing will be swift.
Swift, if we acknowledge there was no hassle over commercial goods coming back across the border – the remaining albums and merchandise from my run to Texas with fellow troubadour, Colter Wall. Lengthy, if we acknowledge the thorough rummaging through all bags with zippers, a cooler, rubbermaid containers, the space between the interior walls and the frame of the vehicle and an understudy of my two spare tires. The one underneath seized into place, never used. A second because the first is seized. Conversation is awkward with the border guard – he can’t understand why I need such a large vehicle if touring as a solo artist – some type of “break-glance psychology” being used on me as if blinking is cue for lie detection.
35 hours total and I arrive at my brother’s to a microwaved breakfast casserole made in his wife’s mennonite tradition. Canadian Comfort Food. I’ve become rather fond of the classic southern eats – BBQ, grits, biscuits, salt, high fructose corn products. Ain’t no comfort food like mennonite cookin’ – so I eat and sleep. I wake to a four year old and a two year old, shirts off, wrestling Uncle Blake awake. One drops his entire body-weight onto the side of my face with a slap of stomach to cheek, the other stands at the foot of the bed bouncing his head off the mattress. My brother’s young family getting used to my coming and going, one night power naps and two week stays. The family farm a few miles up the road, where Mom has the coffee on and Dad awaiting our morning hang. The eldest of my nephews rides along with me for the morning which consists of sharing Kraft Carmel Squares, drinking coffee with “Grandpa”, reading my old picture books, and cleaning the van. Never bored, he fills any space up with a question or telling me his plans to purchase two hundred head of cattle, Black Angus and Black Herefords – growing the herd with “Daddy’s Bulls”.
Eager to make it back to Regina before dark, I close my passing-through family-ranch visit with an hour heart-to-heart with my Pops and then drive into the howling wind. A recent memory of Texas’ weather is comforting but a deathly cold prairie is home. Upon buying my diesel van in September, it has yet to see cold weather having immediately began touring the South. With almost 400,000 kms on it already, it’ll need to be nurtured into this type of weather. Plugged in continuously. A lot of the reasoning behind such a sudden departure from the south was a few sputtering starts and chance of being stranded twenty-six-hundred kilometres away. That’s an issue needed to be dealt with.
I tend to romanticize my transient hard-worn lifestyle in the moments before physically walking into wherever I’m hanging my hat. Currently, my lover’s home in downtown Regina. Some tours I prioritize facial hygiene by keeping my whiskers trimmed, others, I let them take over. This was the latter. I put on a clean shirt before shutting the engine down, replace my toque with my hat, attempting to clean myself up before seeing my partner for the first time in a long time. She welcomes me at the door with her perfect mix of warmth and sass. A supper being prepared, a welcome-home card, and couple gifts – a functioning turntable (as it was in need of repair before leaving) and strangely enough, a pineapple. We reconnect physically and fill the evening with chit-chat, stories we refused to share through texting, work talk, and silence. I’m bathed and asleep before dishes are cleared.
For as much reading as I had hoped to get in while away (enough to justify a rubbermaid full of books accompanying my travels), the opportunity to focus came only a handful of times. The odd day off with a hotel room, the prolonged soundcheck of another band, once over a morning coffee. Working while touring has windows of time filled with staying on top of finances, emails, upcoming performances, marketing. So, I pair my first morning at home with an extended lounging; one book about the evolving tactics of protesting and another about alien abductions. As a couple hours pass, I’m still in bed but shifting into a work mentality, jotting down notes and to-do bullet points.
“Everything has a home”, a simple mantra for spacial organization has me attacking everything at once with a sense of flow between further catching up on receipts, doing laundry, and final inventory on merchandise. Not many t-shirts sold but a decent amount of albums. “Buy this and I’ll throw in that,” almost ignoring the posted merchandise pricing throughout the tour. Seeds planted. Social media may be the best gauge of germination. The crop looks good.
I have a little over a week before needing to leave again – that needs to be spun in with show announcements, the release of a little more content to build on the buzz, gears turning. Finding a few extra days in the schedule at home is as good as any income, not to mention the handful of friends passing through on their own touring schedules. Wood Mountain’s Kacy & Clayton, Winnipeg’s William Prince and Taber’s Corb Lund. Maybe I’ll check out Agribition. Maybe I’ll lock myself in the house.
I put on a record and think about cutting into that pineapple.