Saturday, January 25, 2014

Why Being At Home Is No Proof Against Being On The Road

I am constantly in motion. Even if I'm sitting on the couch at home as I am now, just pecking away at my laptop's keyboard, I'm always in motion - or maybe it's just the shakes from too much caffeine. No, seriously. I'm always in motion, going somewhere or getting ready to go somewhere. Let's face it, Port Angeles is an isolated community, and going anywhere is always a chore. Getting paid to do it makes it easier, but not as much as you might think.

Case in point: After another drab week at the Atlantis, I froze my tuckus off driving home, this time rolling home through the Sierras of California because old Calvin wanted me to buy him some liquor. Thanks to All-Star Liquors of Holbrook, CA for helping me keep the old fart soused. Later on in the trip I came to something of a revelation, discovering the true meaning of irony as I pulled off of I-5 to eat a messy Chipotle burrito in a parking lot in Lacey, and only after finishing said burrito did I look up and realize that I was in the parking lot of a Taco Time.

And after dropping Calvin's liquor for him, he made me an offer I couldn't really afford to refuse, asking me to come back down the following Friday to play drums for Powerlight for a show at a bar in Federal Way whose name I shall not mention. This was going to be something of an all-star show for the band, as old pals Curtis Seals and John Studamire would come out of the woodwork to play keyboard and bass for Calvin and Jackie. Joy wasn't feeling all that well, but decided that she just couldn't let me travel back down to Tacoma by myself.

And she also wouldn't let me leave on time, either - forgetting this and that, she wasn't fully ready to leave town until just past four in the afternoon. And did I forget to mention that this show was supposed to start at seven? We made it to the bar at just a tick past six, and I wasn't worried about much anything. Y'see, Calvin told me that I didn't have to bring much anything, other than my sticks and my suit because he was setting up his Roland TD-8 electronic kit for this particular show. His hope was that this show would potentially lead to a house-band gig that would nicely supplement my income from Steppen Stonz, playing anywhere from two to four nights a week a couple of weeks out of every month. That said, hope doesn't feed the cat. And neither does what I saw as I walked into the bar.

There was nothing set up on the bar's tiny stage. NOTHING.

Needless to say, I was a bit confused. I got back into the truck, and Joy and I went over to Calvin's house - he wasn't home. Curtis was there, however - and he seemed completely unaware that there was a gig to be played tonight. Joy and I both called Calvin's celly, and he called Joy back first for some reason. She handed me the phone, and he informed me that the gig had been cancelled the day before. He apologized to me for his failing to contact me about this little oversight, and asked me to stick around for a few minutes while he and Jackie returned from the grocery store to talk a little business. There was a little business talked, and he gave me twenty bucks to help defray my gas costs before we left for home.

After a quick dinner at a Taco Time in Tacoma (Joy is just obsessed with Taco Time - I can't stand their food), we headed north to explore a place I'd only heard about in the last few days, The Point Casino just outside Kingston, just a few miles past where we'd turn off to take the Hood Canal Floating Bridge back to the Olympic Peninsula. Owned and operated by the Port Gamble branch of the S'Klallam Tribe, The Point is a nice enough place with a nice little live-music venue they call The Boom Room. Too bad that the band playing there last night sucked out loud - two singers with varying degrees of talent trying to sing Pearl Jam together made me want to storm the stage and start stabbing people. Joy and I met their drummer, and he seemed a nice enough guy, though he clearly wasn't happy at having to play quietly. At least he dressed professionally - if only the rest of the band looked as good. I texted Curtis (can't text Calvin's celly for some reason), said 'we should be playing here'. We'd have owned the place. After leaving Kingston, Joy bascially browbeat me into taking her to the Central Market in Poulsbo before we headed home so she could browse a while and pick up a few snacks, and we didn't make it home until well after three in the morning.

Pulling up to the house, I wrote my mileage into the logbook - just over 250 miles for pretty much nothing. Forty bucks in gas down the tubes, and the twenty Calvin gave me went to the dinner in Tacoma. But we talked business, and that made the entire trip tax-deductible. And looking on the bright side, I won ten bucks at The Point. I wouldn't mind playing there, or even just going back to dine and/or gamble there. But I can't afford wasted trips like that. And I don't think I'll be playing local gigs here in PA anytime soon. The silence that's descended upon this town after Ron DeFrang's passing is deafening.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

New Year, New Town, Same Old Me

I've had a few days now to digest my last gig, my first out in Elko at the Red Lion Inn. It wasn't bad, not by any stretch of the imagination. In all truth it was a best-of-times-worst-of-times gig.

The first thing that you have to deal with is just getting there. It isn't hard at all, the 290-mile distance from Reno a relative pittance compared to the 750 to 800 miles I drive getting to and from Nevada in the first place. But it's a tedious drive, and it never helps when the vehicle you're driving has a blown-out heater core and it's cold outside as a witch's tit in a brass bra. I broke up the boredom with lunch in Winnemucca at Winners Casino, a place I played once or twice back when I was in Powerlight.

Leaving Winnemucca, the drive became hilly. And much to my surprise, I was actually going up in elevation. Since all this is taking place in what's known as the Great Basin, and all the rivers in said basin drain into the Great Salt Lake rather than to an ocean, like an idiot I figured that the drive from Reno to Elko would eventually wind up going downhill somewhat - silly me for thinking that. Elko (5,066ft.) is actually higher in elevation than Reno (4,506ft.), and there was a pass along the way that was over 6,100ft. I guess the downhill part starts after Elko.

The Red Lion itself is a very nice place, the casino and restaurants at the east end of the complex and a long chain of hotel room buildings leading off to the west. Our rooms were in the very last of these buildings, of course. I look at it as being able to get a little exercise to and from the stage and the buffet. Oh, yes - the buffet. The Red Lion gives the bands coupons good for a trip a day through the buffet in their 24-hour Coffee Garden restaurant for every day of the band's engagement. And the staff there were so nice to us. I really can't stress this enough - they were incredibly nice to us.

The stage - larger than any we play on save the Nugget's - is tucked away along the casino's south wall, right next to Aspen's Bar & Grill, the casino's fine-dining option. I'd been warned in advance that we'd need to keep our volume in check because of Aspen's, and Mike and Arthur told me that they'd also been warned about this before telling me that the last time they'd played the Red Lion, the stage and its locality were actually closed off from the rest of the casino as a cabaret called Club Max. Loading in and out was easy enough thanks to a disguised stage door that led off to a small but sufficient dressing room, a bathroom, and most importantly a back door where we could bring in our stuff without disturbing the casino.

If there was any problem we had during the engagement, it was running our sound. The stage has no PA of its own, so we used ours, and it was a struggle dialing it in just right. It wound up taking most of the gig to get the sound where everyone was getting what they wanted and nobody had to scream out drink orders and so on. We were constantly tinkering with the sound, even working after one gig was over to completely re-do the PA's alignment and get everything just right. Mike was constantly worried that the Red Lion's pit bosses and managers would label us as being 'difficult' because the sound wasn't right and that we weren't doing anything to fix it. I think we showed them that 'difficult' was the last thing we were.

If only it wasn't so damn cold out. I spent most of my time in my hotel room, which to be quite honest was probably the best one I'd ever stayed in since I started working here in Nevada. Very, very comfortable beds, a fridge (which I took full advantage of) and a microwave (which I never did use), and a nice big flatscreen that made Skyrim look very nice. If only the hotel's wi-fi was a little more consistent....

But I was in a funk most of the time we were there. Mike finally confirmed the remainder of our schedule, and a six-night run at the Atlantis that I'd originally been told was later on in the month was actually a week sooner, forcing me to abandon plans to drive home and instead set up the trailer for a week before schlepping over to the Atlantis' bandhouse. And things didn't get any better when I made my way over to the local Wal-Mart to buy a new card for my cellphone. For a town roughly the same size as Port Angeles, I was stunned to find it was closed at approximately 1am - everything was closed! Driving back to my hotel in an utterly foul mood, I noticed an Elko PD cruiser watching the road in front of me, and I was halfway tempted to flag him down and ask him if there was anything in Elko open all night that wasn't a casino.

And daytime only made things worse. The Wal-Mart looked for all the world like it had been looted recently. And heading back to the electronics department to get my phone card only revealed that not only were they out of the cards I needed, they hadn't gotten any shipped in to the store in two weeks. Really? Seriously? They're on a major Interstate corridor for fuck's sake, with large metropolitan areas four hours in each direction and a regional distribution center less than four hours away, about fifteen miles east of Reno! The customer-service rep in Electronics didn't even seem to care all that much about the minor meltdown I was having over their inability to keep small easily transportable items in stock. Let's just say that I don't ever want to go back to that ghetto-ass Wal-Mart ever again. I'll drive to Winnemucca if I have to. Leave it to Joy to save my bacon. She bought the card for me in Port Angeles, then IM'd me the card's PIN number via Facebook so I could reactivate my phone.

As for the shows themselves, we started on New Year's Eve. Enough said. Packed out, everyone there ready to party. After that? Ghost town. We kinda expected it, I know I did, but it's still pretty jarring to play the next two nights to precisely nobody, and only a handful of people each on Friday and Saturday. It was to be expected, of course. It's the end of the holidays, and everyone is physically, mentally, financially tapped out. But it's no fun playing to an empty house no matter where you are. But things could be worse, I guess. We have a new keyboard player in the group, and Chris is a piscitarian-vegetarian. And good fish isn't easy to find in Elko. But he coped admirably, and seemed to actually enjoy working with us. I think he'll be a fine addition to the band if he can keep it together.

And what have I been up to with my week off? A whole lotta nothing. My buddy Josh Lease invited me to take in a show this evening just past, but I really wasn't in the mood for a bill of fair-to-middling hardcore bands. And I really wasn't in the mood for the kind of audience this particular type of band attracts. In so many words, I fucking hate straightedge kids. Little snot-nosed assholes that think they're better than everyone else who love picking fights with anyone who doesn't look like them. And I sure don't look like them - never mind that for all intents and purposes I invented them. The last time Joy and I had to deal with straightedge kids, they made life miserable for us at a show headlined by Tennessee metalcore meatheads Whitechapel, flying every which way out of the pit to start fights with anything in sight. I spent the entire headline set standing in front of Joy as she sat in her wheelchair, hoping to prevent any little dumbasses from injuring my wife further with their mindless idiotic rage. Let's just say that my mind is made up when it comes to straightedge kids - they're idiots.

So I stay in my trailer - and did I mention that the furnace isn't working? Fortunately we left a portable propane heater in the trailer for just such emergencies, and while it doesn't heat the entire trailer, it heats the area I stay in well enough, and actually uses less propane than the furnace. So it's a fair enough trade, I guess. Two more nights in the trailer after this, then I can check into the bandhouse on Monday. And that day can't come soon enough. I need a shower.

Did I think the gig in Elko went well? I sure hope that the Red Lion thinks that it did. If not, we're down to playing only two rooms - the Atlantis and the Carson Valley Inn. And that's not viable for me. I did my best in Elko, we did our best in Elko. It's up to the suits to decide that, I guess. Mike seems reasonably sure that we'll be back in Elko soon enough, and I hope that he's right. My dad has offered to help me get a job at Clallam Transit if I find myself in the position of having to leave the band. But that's something I don't know if I'm ready to do. I don't want to give this up, even though common sense says that I should have done so a long time ago.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

That Was The Year That Was

To be honest, I'm glad 2013 is over. It wasn't a good year. Everything around me seems to be falling apart - my life, career, hell my truck is falling apart. But I soldier onward with grim determination to find out if what little optimism I have is actually based in any sort of truth. That said, let's look at my personal highlights from the year now past - if there were any.

Honestly, there weren't many, and even then they were more glimmers of hope than anything concrete. Joy and I found a lawyer to oversee her seemingly endless battle with the Social Security Administration, and we almost immediately began to see results. But we're still trapped in wait-and-see mode, our lawyer now wondering aloud if the judge that heard her case previously may have intentionally buried her case to keep her from being awarded what could potentially top six figures.

My beloved laptop took a shit on me a few months back, but thanks to the fact that people tend to give me money in lieu of Christmas presents, the nice folks at Best Pawn in Carson City were able to hook me up with the nice Toshiba Windows 7 laptop I'm writing this post on. One hitch, though: this beast still thinks my name is Homer. I think I can fix it. That, and as soon as I get home I'll be taking this beast to a tech to see if I can get it souped up a little.

How my truck holds together is beyond me. The heater core's been nothing but a sinkhole of antifreeze as of late, and with as many miles as I drive it's only a matter of time before it seizes up on my once and for all. I'll miss that truck when it goes, but only for as long as it takes for me to replace it. Joy's told me more than once that the truck is the first thing to go once she gets her Disability case settled, and I've pretty much settled on heading into Seattle to buy a compact five-door - places like Sound Ford in Renton can hook my up with a nice new Ford Fiesta hatchback that's bigger than my old Suzuki Swift and gets a whole fuck of a lot more miles per gallon than my truck for less than $10k.

Joy's health is actually improving - I think. Her doctors truly care about her well-being, and they seem to finally be getting a handle on her health issues. Though the battle is far from over, I can see her getting better. I wish I could say the same about myself. I know my health is in decline. Let's just say that years without any sort of proper healthcare have taken their toll on me. And I'm thanking the spirits, totems, rocks, trees - anything and everything, really - that healthcare reform will finally give me the opportunity to take care of myself. I need that help desperately if I want to be there to take care of Joy.

Now if only the band were doing well. We've actually finished 2013 and started 2014 with a new gig here in Elko at the Red Lion Inn. But we've lost two gigs at the same time. We'd gotten the opportunity to return to the Carson Station in August, but we learned that we wouldn't be getting any more bookings there in the future due to their live-entertainment budget being cut to where they can only afford live music one night a week. We don't think that's going to last for very long, and either they'll come back (we hope) or they'll eliminate live entertainment altogether.

And then there's the Nugget. It was something of a shock to us all that it was announced that John Ascuaga's Nugget had been sold to an investment group led by former Peppermill executives. We tried to keep our hopes up, but the reality here in Nevada has always been that whenever a casino changes hands, the first thing that tends to happen is that the live-entertainment budget gets cut or eliminated altogether. And that's almost exactly what's going to happen. The new ownership will be closing the cabaret in March to demolish it and put the sports-book in its place. We'll be playing there one more time, and then that's it. Across from the cabaret, Trader Dick's is allegedly already being put to the sword, with a Mickey Gilley's honky-tonk to open in its place in time for the rodeo this summer. And the basement where the sports-book and bingo hall are now will eventually become a mega-nightclub, which is becoming the new the new trend in Reno - the Grand Sierra is already heard at work turning the entire north end of the casino into a mega-nightclub of their own. Overall, the theme of the new casino - the Nugget moniker will go away in the next year or so - will be country-and-western. And that leaves no room for any live band that isn't a country band. There has been some scuttlebutt floating around that the new ownership is interested in putting local bands in the Celebrity Showroom during the week, and that's a gig I wouldn't mind having at all - a midweek gig followed by a weekend gig

So why are bands like ours getting the shaft, as cabarets grow more and more scarce? Cutting the live-entertainment budget at a casino is easy to do, shows shareholders/stockholders/boardmembers that money is being saved, and can be done without costing a single casino employee their jobs. And the ugly truth is that there's nothing musicians like us can do about it. In some ways, we even deserve it. We were the people brought in to replace the unionized orchestras when the corporate owners broke the Musicians' Union. We have no protections, nobody to fall back upon, nobody to cover our backs. There's been talk for years about the bands unionizing, but it's never amounted to anything because those who might like the idea would probably be too afraid to risk being permanently blackballed from work by the casinos, and I know that there'd also be people who'd join up with the sole intention of sabotaging the effort. Most of us have just hunkered down and hope the economy improves and opinions of live musicians change.

I try to remain hopeful. But that hope is growing dimmer and dimmer with every year that passes. And the sad truth is that I hitched my wagon to this star a long time ago, and I have no other significant job skills. Joy and I both talk about moving on, finding a real job. But I know I'm lying to myself when we talk about that, and I think Joy knows that as well.

And I'm making a change here online as well. I have three separate blogs now, and that's just too many. So I've decided to stop posting at Musicians Boycott and just move all my semi-insane ramblings here. I'll eventually archive all my posts from that blog, then see if I can have it shut down altogether. Having three separate blogs creates a sort of option paralysis, when an idea dies because I can't come to a personal consensus as to where to commit virtual pen to virtual paper. If you didn't know, the other blog is Joy & Joe Eat Around, a food and dining blog. Or is it Joe & Joy Eat Around - I can't remember. And the funny thing is that I found a place here in Elko that I really want to check out before we skip town, a place that serves Cornish Pasties (pronounces PAST-ease), a British savory filled pastry that was created to be a portable meal for coal miners. Given Elko's past and present as a mining center, a restaurant like that seems entirely appropriate.

Well, I'm done venting for now. Hopefully I'll be able to post here on a very regular basis. There's that word again, hope. That 's something I need now, more than ever.