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


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Rockvale, TN, October 16, 2005 -- I feel like Blanche DuBois.
I'd been booking an October tour in Texas since before I went to France this last time. When I did go to France I had managed to put together four dates in Texas…not the kind of package that inspires a great deal of confidence in myself as a booking agent, but what the hell, I figured I may as well go spread some democracy down there, too.

One of the dates I had booked was on the 7th of October at Waldo's
Coffeehouse, a Unitarian Universalist venue in Waco. After that, nada, zip, nothing until the 21st. The smart thing to do, of course, would have been to cancel Waco and just do the later gigs. That would have been a smart thing, but not a Panama thing; I wanted to play Waco if for no other reason than that Ricky Wise, the talent coordinator, had been hip enough to book me. I decided to fly in, play the gig, and fly out. The stately silver Volvo was not up to the trip.

There were some problems: I've been keen on working with other players lately, and I felt that a good bass player, at least, was essential to doing the thing right. Unfortunately, I didn't know any bass players in Texas, it had been twenty years since I'd done anything more than pass through there on my way to somewhere else, and of the friends I have in Texas one is running for governor and another running scared, and thus don't have a great deal of time on their hands to devote to finding me a bass player.

I wrote a letter to my good friend Jim Terr out in New Mexico and he put me in touch with the musical Hancock family down in Austin. When I mentioned the bass player problem, they recommended Gil T., who was busy, but who turned me on to someone who turned me on to someone who turned me on to the formidably talented songwriter Will Sexton. More about him later. Will put me in touch with David Carroll, a Billy Joe Shaver alum, so I knew he knows at least one of my tunes. David agreed to do the gig with me.

There was another problem. No major carrier flies in to Waco, and so I had to fly into Austin, and then somehow get to Waco. Will agreed to pick me up at the airport, even though he doesn't drive. Understand that this is a guy who has never seen me, and who only knows me through the CD's I sent so he could get acquainted with my tunes. Then I was gonna take a Dogbus to Waco, where Ricky agreed to pick me up and take me to the gig. Dave Carroll was comin in from a different direction, and we would meet for the first time just before playing. I had sent him some CD's also, and he had promised to bone up on the changes.

I flew out of Nashville at about eight am and got to Austin at twenty after ten. I'm standing at the carousel and call Will's cell number. He answers and I look and there's Will, waving. I grab my bag and Blackie and we hoof it on out of there out to the loading zone, where Will, who doesn't drive, introduces me to Gabe Rhodes, whom I know by reputation already as a super guitar player and son of Kimmie. Gabe's driving an obvious band-van, and we all pile in and set out for Will's place just off Lamar in South Austin. This is the Austin I dimly remember from the seventies, the GOOD old Austin. Will and Gabe explain that they would gladly take me on up to Waco except that they have a gig in Corpus this evening. We have lunch at a Mex joint near Will's, Gabe goes to do Gabe stuff, and then Will sets me out toward the Greyhound station. I get initiated into the arcane lore that is the Austin public transit system, transfer where Will has told me, and ultimately end up at the Dogbus station.

It is the weekend of the UT/Oklahoma game. For those who do not recognize the significance of this, let me explain that, the game being in Dallas, everybody in the state is driving that direction and the roads are jammed. The bus is a half-hour late to begin with, and there is not going to be any time made up on the normally two-hour trip to Waco. I call Ricky and tell him I'm gonna be a wee bit late…like about two hours. I'm scheduled to go on at eight, and we get into Waco at seven-thirty.

Ricky picks me up and we go to the gig. I meet David Carroll for the first time about twenty minutes before we go on. We take the stage, and David knows my tunes COLD, Slim, we have a great show, sell a few CD's and a couple bottles of the hair restorer. David and I part company for a couple of weeks, until the gigs coming up on the 21st and 22nd.

I meet a wonderful couple, John and Judy Hendry, who volunteer to take me back to the Greyhound station so I can get back down to Waco. We get to the bus station and a couple of brothers tell us that the station is closed for the night about ten minutes ago. Judy looks at John, John looks at Judy, they both nod in that silent affirmative way that old harness-mates have, and say, "Well, Panama, guess we'll have to take you to Austin." I am immensely grateful to liberals everywhere. Thank you, John and Judy.

We set out and about an hour and a half later arrive back in the capital. I say my thanks and fond farewell to these super friends I have just made and walk into the bar where Will and Gabe, back from their gig, and a couple of girl friends greet me.

We have a couple or six beers, Modelos, Gabe says he'll come by tomorrow for a quick trip out to the airport so I can catch the plane back to Nashville, then Will and I walk back to his place. Will plays some old stuff on the box for me, Orioles and like that ("Only You"), and I crash.

I wake up the next morning, and on my way out to breakfast Will comes by with a friend and he and I say see ya. I have breakfast in a nice Mexican joint down the street. Later, back at Will's place, I listen to his stuff on the CD player and I gotta say, you gotta hear this dude for yourself. Writes and sings like angels. Holds forth every Tuesday at the Saxon Pub (it's walking distance for Will, who doesn't drive.).

About 12 o'clock Gabe comes by Will's house and picks me up and carries me out to the airport, I get on a plane and come home. I have been gone from Nashburg about 30 hours.

It is a strange and wonderful life I lead, full of kindnesses and sweet surprises. I'm glad I get to do it.

And now I remember what it is that I love about Texas, despite that Dubya thang. It's the Texans.



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