- Essays: On The Road (And A Little Off)


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On The Road Again in New England

Nashville, April 6, 2004 -- I nosed the Volvo out onto I-65 North, headed out to play my second tour of the Northeast in the past year. My first date was not until April 8, in Williamsport PA at the Coffee and Tea Room, but last year's Homeric trip from Nashville to Burlington VT in just 20 hours had convinced me of the downright foolishness of these massive bucketing drives through the American night, no matter how heroic they later seemed in the retelling. Eight hours after leaving home I stopped to spend the night at my brother's glen in West Virginia. The trees at home in Tennessee had been decked out in new spring foliage, primavera, two weeks ago but those in Glenville, two hundred miles north and five hundred feet higher, were just starting to leaf out.

It was dark when I arrived in my brother's holler. Stars were diamonds strewn on the blanket of sky, much more brilliant than I get to see at home in the reflected city lights of Nashburg. My brother's porch light was on and I was greeted by Pudge and Ruby the dogs, Pudge thumping his ancient tail and Ruby weenying around on the porch, grinning and showing me her belly. Inside, after all the hugs, we all sat around and talked incessantly as we always do when freshly reunited, and then, mindful of my responsibilities, I went to bed.

Next morning I set out for Williamsport, PA and my gig at The Coffee and Tea Room. Coming into Williamsport, the home of the Little League World Series, I was struck by the Andy Hardy American-ness of the town, with big, comfy old houses lining the streets, relics of the timbering industry empires that had at the turn of the last century found their home there. Williamsport is, or was, anyway, also the home of GRIT Newspaper, which used to be sold door-to-door all across America by entrepreneurial and/or journalistically bent kids, including the nascent young Panama Red. All that remains of GRIT, however, is the sign on the side of a building. For someone who wasn't alive at the time, GRIT is a little difficult to explain: sort of like National Enquirer only without the nutty stars and the aliens, and with a little Farmers Almanac thrown in...

I had been overtaken by events around the bus these last few weeks and had neglected striving to publicize the gig until the very last minute. Thanks, however, to the understanding and kind efforts of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette's Lisa Hanssen, I was able to gather a small but enthusiastic crowd. Sold a few CDs, pleased everyone but one guy who had come to hear me do all of Kinky's material, go figure. I explained that the only Kinky tunes I did were those I had written with Kinky, but he wanted to hear They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore. So there was one person we didn't reach out there that night. Sincere thanks to Darlene for the gig and the crew at the Coffee and Tea Room for the hospitality.

After the gig, I stopped in at a bar down the street, ordered a Scotch, but all they had was Dewar's, so I drank half a shot and headed back out onto the Interstate.

I turned up I-81 and was almost to Binghamton before I realized I had missed my next turn, so I doubled back, turned East at Scranton and headed into Massachusetts just at sunrise before turning North toward New Hampshire and my friend Sebastian's house at Sunapee.

I didn't bother giving John Kerry a call. I only have advice that it's too late for him to take. Break a leg, dude.

I rolled into Sunapee at about nine in the morning, just as it was beginning to rain. Little did the Volvo, or I, realize the storm that was coming...