Monday, June 21, 2010

Weekend From Hell

Chapter 1 – Bombs Away

Getting through the day at work Friday wasn’t much of a challenge, but I knew the rest of the coming weekend would be. I charged up my batteries at my office desk, preparing for battle. And, I did a tiny amount of psyching myself up because I knew that if I was going to accomplish this weekend without crashing and burning, literally, staying sober or at least not getting hammered was mandatory. There would be no banzai partying. That’s cool by me, as Bud Select 55 has become my best friend and wingman. I just had to make sure I didn’t get “distracted”.

There was another issue on my plate to “psyche” up for: my AC in the Durango was non-functional. I noticed this over a month ago, and took it into the shop. Some kind of part was going bad up by the dash, a dealer part, and it wasn’t cheap to fix. Over $300. But it seemed like, back in early May, that it was functioning. Only after a good hot day later in that month I soon discovered it still wasn’t. Well, have to take it back in.

However, that proved to be impossible. I hadn’t really had the opportunity to get it back to the shop (which is why I tended to it earlier, I knew that was my best window of opportunity), so I called the shop Wednesday to get it in, and she said “can you bring it in Saturday?” Uh, no. That won’t be possible. So, chalk that up to the continuing list of challenges I’d have to face this weekend.

Load in at Gateway International Raceway’s Midnight Madness was to take place no later than 7pm, I was told. Sound engineer Tim, who also booked the gig for us, explained if you wait longer than that to get in, you’ll be in line for quite a while. We play from 9-1, so that meant a little down time there before the gig getting there that early. Don’t normally have that. That was cool, because I needed to change strings. It would also let me rest, focus, and get my shit together for the grueling weekend I was embarking on.

Pulling into the track, I traced the old route once used to get back to Stages in the day, along the northern perimeter of the property along the Cahokia Diversion Canal. That little jaunt brought back vivid memories of Stages’ heyday. It was like a time warp to the halcyon days of St. Louis rock nightclubbing. I hadn’t been along this gravel road since the club closed almost 18 years ago or so. And, I was playing there yet again. Somewhere. Damned if I know where, tho. No one told me where to go.

I wound around the facility, past a checkpoint or two, and eventually found the modest wooden bandstand nestled underneath the towering grandstand along the drag strip. Boozie’s trailer was parked in front, and he had begun setting up his drumkit. There was a smattering of cars parked about, and a small crowd making their way to the grounds. I was understandably curious as to what size crowd we’d be performing for. This had the potential to be a huge, huge event.

Load in was quick and easy, as was set up. The stage was ample, and covered by a blue tarp overhead, so I wasn’t too concerned about the weather or elements on my gear. Forecast was for hot, anyway. I tried to do a rain dance and make this gig go away, but I was unsuccessful. The massive grandstand behind us protected us from the setting sun, so there was some cool shade to be had until the night fell.

The other Rock Bottom fellas soon arrived shortly after I did. Most importantly, Steve showed up with the cooler full of my Bud Select 55! I was parched! It was time to whet the whistle! Still, I knew I’d have to rein it in. I was leaving promptly after this gig, and driving to Cape Girardeau where my family was. My eldest had softball in the AM and I wasn’t going to miss it. 55 Select’s lower alcohol content makes this so much easier!

I changed strings on my Ibanez, “Bob”, while sitting on a picnic bench off of Stage Left. There was no dressing area or band green room to be had. The stage was located to the left of the concession/restroom area, so there was a traffic flow going by the front our stage as the size of the crowd expanded. Guess I’ll be changing into my leather there, I reckoned.

One thing about outdoor gigs, keeping stringed instruments in tune can be a real challenge. Plus, I’ve been fighting my Floyd Rose locking tremolo lately as well. Even when I just bend a string (and I’m kinda forceful, such as when I’m chirping out a Zack Wyldd style harmonic) it throws the bridge slightly out of whack, and I have to jerk the bar back to snap it back in place. Drives Derrick nuts. I’ll try to get that in the shop sometime, if at all possible.

A nice thing about outdoor gigs: I can turn up! I gave it a little juice on stage, and even then, the engineer, Tim, raised an eyebrow. Man, that Bogner Line 6 Spidervalve 100HD is LOUD! Honestly, I think I had it about 2mm past where I set it at Eddies! But I could feel it! Fresh strings and volume, two key ingredients to getting my mojo up and going!

The boys in the band chatted once in a while as we would bump into each other setting up our rigs. I think all of us were wondering if this would suck or not. It was different. Our friends, a band called The Alley had done the gig, and said that while all in all it was fun, the people would just often walk by the stage on their way to either the concessions or restrooms, and stare strangely at them. If they stare at The Alley, they’re going to glare at us…

Changing out of my roadie clothes and into my “costume” (and a cool new shirt I bought, along with my leather pants I can now fit into), we took the stage around 9:20; just a tad later than we expected, but due to engineering, not us. The first song felt good, and I was kind of excited because this venue had so much possibility. There were a small group of friends out front, and a smattering of others observing, beer in hand, curious as to what we were about.

First song in, and the monitor mix was way out of whack. Steve’s voice was so loud, the cones chirped and protested. My voice was pretty overpowering as well. They weren’t going to last at that rate, we’d blow the hell out of them. We paused after the first tune and attempted to make adjustments, but for whatever reason they were unsuccessful. Exasperated, Steve just told them to take him out of the monitor mix completely. He just go out front and sing. That, to me, made things even worse. Without Steve up there in our stage mix, it was like karaoke or something. We almost had to guess where we were in the songs. Plus, it just killed the vibe. And if we can’t get a good vibe, we start to suck.

Despite having a fresh set of strings, and my amp blaringly loud, my guitar playing was suboptimal. I just couldn’t seem to get the phrasing I wanted. I’d riff through a solo, and it felt choppy, sloppy, and uninspired. No magic. Certainly no mojo. I guess fighting the monitor mix and the conditions were taking a toll. I begged them to put Steve back in my monitor, and his voice did modestly appear, but not in proportion to the mix around. And, just as The Alley predicted, people would saunter by and just stare. Even glare.
Steve was of the opinion that they wouldn’t really be there for dancing the first set, and I wholeheartedly agreed. We’d play much more of our rockers early to get some attention. We had a lot to compete with there. And this was a very indifferent crowd.

There were a couple bright spots out front, however. Two young boys were righteously digging it. They couldn’t have been more than 10 years old, but because of Guitar Hero they were quite familiar with a number of our material! They played air guitar and hooted and hollered. Brought a broad smile to my face.

The other bright spots were some of the extremely attractive young ladies that would appear, usually with a boyfriend. They’d stroll by on their way to the concession stand, briefly distracting me from my frustrations on how badly we sucked right now. True, they were all 18-23, and obviously with other guys. But, the scenery was delightful.

Speaking of delightful scenery, Theresa approached Steve’s cooler strategically placed on Stage Left to fish out some watermelon vodka and Diet Red Bull; her drink of choice for the evening. I was pounding something out on the keyboards, and she motioned to whether I’d care for a shot myself. I know I should have declined, but I nodded that I would, eventually. After I quit playing keyboards at least, then I’d sneak just one since it was early. Not privy the interior monologue in my head, she simply took that as a yes, I’d do one NOW. She approached and raised the plastic Dixie cup to my lips. Uh, ok, well, now then.

I parted my lips while glancing down at my hands, desperately trying to continue playing. I’m not an inherent keyboard player, its something I was forced to learn back in college. I have to concentrate while I play them. Theresa alone, decked out in a skin tight bikini top, which struggled to contain her cantaloupe sized breasts, along with flashing her devilish smile is enough to break that concentration. For anyone.

Now, I like a good Jager Bomb. Cold, tart Jager, some sweet Red Bull. I can live with that. I’ve become quite a tequila connoisseur, and it’s become my preferred shot. But a cold Jager Bomb will do in a pinch. Vodka Cherry Bombs should be about the same thing, right?

No. I’m sorry. This was putrid. She tipped that Dixie cup and poured into my mouth a very tepid, foul tasting substance that no where near resembled a Jager Bomb. And, she must have had the damned thing topped off, because it just kept coming. I kept trying to gulp it down, but my taste buds threw a mutiny, and ordered my gullet closed. Streams of the stuff poured from the corners of my “pie hole”, soaking my cool new skeleton sequined t-shirt from my chest to my navel.

As my body, or more accurately my mouth rejected the heinous mixture, I began to protest, but I was “handcuffed” by the keyboards; I had to continue playing! And she kept pouring. I think I wore more of it than I actually ingested, and I’m sure my face bore a look of anguish. I could hear the melody I was playing hiccup as I flinched from the disgust, and I scrambled to get back on track. That will learn me!

At the conclusion of the song I commented over the mic “what the hell was that? That wasn’t a Cherry Bomb! That was a Turpentine Bomb! Bob Ross uses that stuff to clean his brushes after he paints happy, little trees!” No danger of trying one of those. Ever again.

On break, I wandered over to the soundboard and conversed with friends gathered. Both they and Steve explained to me that everything sounded great out front. Steve had retreated to the area out front of the bandstand since his voice in the monitor mix was now non-existent. “Sounds really good out here, man” he explained, with a satisfied inflection to his voice. Yeah, but on stage, it was just dragging us down, I think. I wasn’t feeling it. Oh well, we didn’t seem to be garnering that much attention anyway. We’re an after thought around here. These people are here for racing. No one would notice if we sucked or not.

One thing is for sure, there was plenty of eye candy to take in, so that passed the time. An extremely beautiful brunette paraded by who commanded every man’s attention. Tall, slender, with a tight sexy dress that barely covered her hips, and long, luscious legs. Wow, what a beauty! And, you could tell she knew it. She walked as though she were the only woman on the planet. A very confident strut. She’d walked past the band stand a few times while we played, and wouldn’t even acknowledge we were up there. From the soundboard on break I saw her return, and pointed her out to Derrick and the others around as she proudly strutted by.

“Wow,” I said. “There she is again.”

“Yup,” Derrick replied.

“Hot,” I said.

“Mm hmm,” Derrick responded.

There wasn’t much vocabulary needed. It was guy stuff. Ogling. I guess we tend to limit conversations to one syllable words at that stage.

At that very moment, she stumbled over a cabling cover (bright yellow and black, to be easily seen), and fell to one knee, obviously scrapping it on the asphalt. That garnered some howls from our tiny group of people watchers who’d taken notice of her.

“Well, that’ just killed it for me!” Derrick said, throwing his hands up. “She’s not hot anymore!”

“No, no!” I protested. “Now she’s vulnerable! I think I’ll go ask her if I can kiss it and make it better!” Which, of course, I had no intention of doing. I did feel for her though. That had to sting. Strangely, there was some justice in it, though. She was just a little too cocky in her strut. The nefarious Karma Gods brought her down to size.

As the crowd began to increase as the evening wore on, I figured our second “money” set might get some reaction. Possibly. Then again, I’m not sure a bomb going off would have gotten much attention. When you play outdoors, the area is so large that it’s difficult to really get a vibe going unless they are right up on you, and they weren’t. It was more of just a traffic area and no real way to generate a crowd, with people wandering by. Some smiled. Some glared. Some ignored us completely. C’est la vie.

Way off to my left located in the shadow of the gargantuan grandstand of the Oval Track was a rectangular area roughly the size of a small parking lot, blocked by concrete barriers like the ones you’d find along a highway. Intermittently, they would let cars in into this pit, and they participated in what is becoming a tremendous sensation: drifting. I’d seen it mentioned on the website when I researched the Midnight Madness, but had no idea what it was. In a word, it can only be described as insanity.

These guys get going around that open area spinning out, sliding side to side, and basically doing everything they can to keep from slamming into the barricaded ring of the pit. One guy didn’t, and they took a while to pull his car out. Every once in a while on stage I’d peer over while playing a song, watching these maniacs slide around as though they were on ice. Occasionally, there would be more than one, whipping around, avoiding each other and the walls! Madness!

Second set was put into the books quietly, with very little fanfare. None of the money songs seem to connect much, or stop anyone from using the restroom or getting another beer. By and large, we felt like an oddity there. Very little interaction. As some of the young beauties strolled past us, I’d call out to them to get their attention.

“Hello! My name is Otter!” I’d say. “Rush Chairman! Damn glad to meet ya!” It became my running gag for the evening, to lighten up my mood.

It’s a line from National Lampoon’s Animal House, from the raucous playboy Otter, who spent most of the movie womanizing. A movie older than the people I was saying it to. They probably didn’t have a clue what I was saying, let alone what the reference meant. Some would smile. Blankly. Some would glare. Some looked away as quickly as they could and avoided all eye contact. Perhaps I should have said some quotes from The Elephant Man instead?

On the final break, I was counting down the moments to get out of here and head south to Cape to be with my family. I just wanted to get it over with. Since we started a little late, 1AM was rolling up quickly, and there was no way I was going to play past that. I just wanted to leave. Obviously this would be a short set. Hallelujah! Turpentine bombs took their toll on Theresa, and as I exited the bandstand I found her passed out in the passenger side of my car, which I’d parked directly next to Stage Left. Jason had been tending to her for a while as Steve worked, and once on break, Steve did his best to help her. She had a tough time of it. Very tough.

The Bud Select 55 was gone from my cooler, and naturally I had no buzz. That was a good thing, though, considering I was about to drive 100 miles or more. I was a bit peckish, so I grabbed a bratwurst at the concessions, and a Bud Select draft to wash it down. That set me back almost $10. Did I mention that I knew I basically wasn’t going to make any money for this? The fee for this gig was Scroogely cheap. We should have called the band Bob Crachet, Ebenezer Scrooge’s poverty ridden associate. We were doing it simple for some exposure, and the potential for a big, fun festival crowd. That, and sound engineer Tim is a friend. But, there wasn’t much money in this gig. Not sure there was much exposure, either. Unless I stripped out of my leather pants.

Time rolled around to finish the night, and Steve continued nursing Theresa’s massively intoxicated self at my car. We really only had about a half hour left, and I was adamant about not playing past 1am. A couple young men approached Derrick as he tuned his guitar, and I overheard them ask “you guys do Megadeth?” Well, that would be perfect right now, wouldn’t it? Derrick glanced towards me, and I said “right on!”

We knocked that one out, Symphony Of Destruction, and while I was playing it, I thought “hmmm. Pantera Cowboys From Hell would be a perfect segue.” Steve popped up on stage at the song’s conclusion, but I shooed him off.

“We’ve got another one, dude. Get the hell out of here,” I told him.

He nodded and rushed back to Theresa’s side. Our Megadeth fans appreciated the Pantera too, as I expected, and at this venue, those kinds of tunes are a good fit, I thought. Where to take the set list from here, I wondered. I didn’t need to. Sound engineer Tim approached the stage briskly.

“Hey, we’re done,” he said.

What? Two songs in? There was still 15 minutes left.

“We suck that bad?” I asked.

“No, no,” Tim said. “You guys sound great. There is a huge storm moving this way, and they want to clear it all out. They are shutting down the races and everything. So, we need to tear down. It’s happened before. It’s the weather.”

Roger that. That was music to my ears! Quit early, and load out, I could hit the road and have just a few extra minutes of sleep! I threw that guitar off and started unplugging chords with a quickness. And, judging by the amount of beer in my cup, I could enjoy one more as I tore down. Damn, I love beer! I needed to quickly hit that concession stand one last time.

As I schlepped my gear into the Durango, I found Theresa sprawled across the hard, rocky asphalt next to it. Jason had tried to get her back into my vehicle, but she adamantly protested, and insisted on stretching out across the cool pavement. I’ve fucking been there! I understood exactly what she was feeling. Strange to see someone else go through that very sensation. That cool pavement feels so good when you keep throwing up. So sorry, kid. Next time, ease up the Turpentine Bombs!

I finished my packing job, while Steve and Jason lifted her from the parking lot, carrying her from the field of battle. Actually it reminded me more of a football game, where they haul off an injured player. Steve and Jason each had an arm of Theresa’s draped over their shoulders, and she was completely listless, dragging her motionless legs across the gravel. She took one for the team!

The extra few minutes gave me a moment to relax before I began my long journey to the Bootheel. The crowd was thinning, as was the number of available young ladies. “Hello! My name is Otter! Rush Chairman! Damn glad to meet you!” In all honesty I wasn’t seriously interested in “hooking up”. But, I admit there is a primal part of the male personality, when let loose from his cage, is always on the prowl. Perhaps it’s just the hopeful side of me that wants to replace what is now missing from my life: companionship. Regardless, my weekend was laid out for me, and getting “laid” would be no where near included in those plans, even if I’d wished it. Which, I must admit, I didn’t.

Missy, a friend, was close by, along with her teen aged daughter and her friend. We talked, and flirted. I think I kinda needed that. After what I’d been going through, and suffering some emotional blows inflicted by who I’ve come to consider a very selfish, hateful individual hell bent on blaming everything from Global Warming to the BP disaster on something I did or said (which she heard from someone else), it was nice to feel attractive to someone, even for a minute. There’s no doubt a thick veneer has covered my heart the past few months. Feels comfortable, too. I think I’ll wear it for a while.

We were told “the check was in the mail” regarding our pay, which we basically already expected. There was no reason to stay around for anything, really, so after I changed out of the leather and my Turpentine Bomb soaked tee, I hit the open road. I’d say it was about 1:30 am or so. Perhaps closer to 2am. Faint boils of lightening flashed within the encroaching clouds to the north, reminding me of why we quit early, and how pressing it was I get to the hotel. Besides, with rain behind me, perhaps they will start the games late, and I could sleep a little longer. Sleep. I so need to sleep.

It didn’t take long to hit Jefferson County, Missouri, where I peeled off of I-55 and hit a QT/Wendys. A pit stop, a cheeseburger, and back on the black, lonely highway. Traffic was almost nonexistent by the time I reached Ste. Genevieve, but the storm clouds kept me company, drifting off to my left, probably awakening the good people of Chester, Sparta, and other parts of Southern Illinois in the distance. I could bring up the radar on my phone, and there was a very mean line of storms chasing my heels.

My eyes grew heavy, and the highway was hypnotizing. I punched the CD player, and Jeff Healey now kept me company for the last leg of the journey. I rubbed my eyes frequently, singing along to whatever was coming through the stereo, but trying not to lose focus on the highway. I’ve been to Cape many, many times. My mother’s family is from there. Each exit told me how much longer I had to endure this torturous excursion, for each one let me feel a little closer. If only my eyes will cooperate. Thank God I wasn’t inebriated. In retrospect, thank God for Turpentine Bombs, because I refused to drink them!

The last ten miles were the toughest, as the Interstate narrowed down to two lanes due to construction. I had to be very, very sharp lest I find myself literally drifting into head on traffic, sparse as it was. Plus, because I was forced to slow through the zone, the longer I was going to spend behind the wheel. Keep singing and wailing, Jeff! Even that was becoming hypnotizing.

I made it into the parking lot of the Drury Inn Suites just before 4am to much relief. Instructions were to have a key left in my name so as not to wake everyone up forcing them to let me in. Of course, my mother had already texted me to see if I’d left, and claimed later she didn’t sleep too well worrying about me. I shuffled into the foyer simply exhausted, but here was no one there. Peering through the locked glass doors, I could see a short panel resting on the lobby side of the counter which read “Be Back Shortly”. I tapped on the window, but there was no response. Wonderful. Should I wake the family, or wait. I contemplated just sleeping where I stood.

Five minutes or so, an attendant noticed me and soon produced the key that had been left for me. Operating on pure autopilot, I managed to find my way to the elevator, up to the fifth floor, and into our room. Mom greeted me, and the girls were fast asleep.

“How was it?” Mom asked.

“Sucked,” was all I could muster.

I think she prattled on about a couple other matters, but I was oblivious. Just direct me to the bed I’m sleeping on. The suite was very spacious, and I found the bed most welcoming. Within scant moments of my head hitting the pillow, I was gone.


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