Such A Night
December 13, 2010
The earlier agitated rant about misspelled words that make it through spell check rousted more people to their keyboards than any previous observation from this desk. A normal response would be perhaps 3 letters, which I gratefully answer, but for that one, 12 came rolling. Which I gratefully answered.
And every natural one of them was grammatically correct and properly spelled, more so than in the original where I mistakenly called our school principal a principle. He was indeed a principled principal but that didn't cut it with the first responders and they let me have it, all in good-natured fashion of course. I retreated quick. (I know, 'quickly'; but quick can mean so fast you don't even have time for two more letters. Random House says it's a stylistic thing.)
The point is that we are not few, we who get spitting mad over mangled spelling, absurd conjugation, crappy punctuation and outright misuse. A woman wrote she may be oversensitive to it because she's a nit-picky software tester, but trucking is nitpicking in the same
way: there's little room for error and the price for messing up is so high, compared to the slight reward for slacking off, that a sensible person just doesn't do it. No matter if it's on the highway or in a software program, same thing. You gotta pick those nits or someday the nits'll gitcha.
Whenever I see a tractor-trailer laid over on the outside of a tight cloverleaf I think 'rookie.' Old guys don't do that, at least not most of us. People who take everything lightly don't last in a trade where lapses lead to skidmarks.
Wreckers tending a lapse
The dictionary says nits come in three forms: the egg of a parasitic insect like a louse or the young of such; or a unit of luminous intensity equal to one candela per square meter; or, in Britain, a nitwit. One is tempted to compose a sentence containing all three, which I just did.
In the computer realm one wonders how many pixels make a nit, or how many bytes. One?
* * * *
I flew back to Houston on Thursday, November 18, and at the mighty Wortham Center I was asked a question I've never been asked in my entire lifetime and probably will never be asked again. A question that seemed so absurd I had to laugh out loud. A man asked me: "Are you with the ballet?"
I was sitting in the cab of the truck after unloading on Friday morning into their spacious backstage indoor dock and was about to leave when a cop pulled alongside and asked that Great Question. He was there to stop traffic for the ballet show that was scheduled to pull in. Various smart-aleck replies occurred to me but I just said, "Aah. . . . no. I'm not with the ballet."
The place can host shows in more than one hall. Inside the main concert hall the seats rise up and forward like a great dark red tidal wave about to break upon the stage. We had an opera singer on the show and I have to confess to an accidental interest in that. She sang a good four feet off the microphone and filled that big room with sound. Wow.
In an office plaza across the street a bodyless giant puts a bow to a stringless double bass, with the rest of his quartet very short and playing down there behind his missing knees. All are just heads and hands, mute and somewhat troubled. They draw you in. You provide the tune in your mind. Perhaps they're troubled because they don't understand your composition.
The unstrung quartet
Left on Sunday. Stopped at Nashville for a couple days and then went on to Cincinnati, where waiting for us is the absolute tightest loading door in the civilized world. It's a right angle indoor skinny alley off a narrow side street, impossible to simply place the trailer on the magic spot and cleverly crank it hard and follow it in. With help from my pals on the ground we crab it delicately into place, taking about 15 minutes and without scraping the door jamb or
the walls. And I have to say our tech crew has become very good at landing a rig, along with all the other stuff they've mastered. The hands there at the hall tell us the standing record for the longest back-in struggle is an hour and a half.
The Cincinnati Music Hall is a handsome landmark in a great city and that tight fit isn't enough to keep us from coming back. There's a big Christmas celebration in the downtown square that night, some fireworks, a lot of horse drawn buggies clopping along with people snuggled down in blankets. A fine hotel. From my window I see the big Ohio River with barges gliding under the Roebling suspension bridge. It's a thousand feet and was the world's longest span from 1866 to
1883, when they finished Roebling's next bridge, the Brooklyn, which at 1600 feet held the title from 1883 until 1903.
The Roebling Bridge
They loaded the trailer Saturday night in close to record time, an hour and 24 minutes. And then we came out to find a nightmare Jaguar parked directly across the street in the 24 Hour No Parking Tow Away Zone. I can back in and hook the trailer but we need the whole street and the opposite sidewalk to get it clear. Call the cops.
It's an hour before a doofus in a t-shirt comes out and by then I'm really wanting to see a wrecker haul that shiny thing off to some distant locked-for-the-weekend impound lot. I wanted to say something to him in trucker talk but I stayed in the cab and kept the lip zipped, lest he could be a wealthy donor to the arts.
The cops left and we all got it jacked out of there, probably setting a new record for the hall's slowest departure. I figured the guy was not only not a wealthy donor but it fact would be an embarrassment to the donors. They wouldn't want to be blamed for a bonehead stunt like
The photo of the wreckers in the rain was taken the next day on Interstate 71 in Ohio. It put perspective to our difficult escape. It didn't make me euphoric or anything, but it did fit into the old "hey it coulda been worse, y'know" category. That soothing paradigm. (That word is almost hard to type. When I first read it I had never heard it actually spoken and for years I mentally pronounced it puh-radd-i-jim, a sound so clumsy you couldn't say it.) Anyway, it's not real truck trouble until you have to call a wrecker.
* * * *
Stopped at a favorite hotel next to the Cuyahoga Falls for three days, drove through Pennsylvania and checked in to our New Jersey retreat the first of December. The next day, Thursday, took the rig across the notable Washington Bridge and dove headfirst down into the
Big Apple. One hundred and thirty five tart intersections later I crossed West 43rd, three blocks from Town Hall with an hour and a half to crew call. I called in. They said bring it on.
Forty-third is a westbound one-way. It took every minute of that ninety to get around and find a way in there from the other side and a complete description would fill the next two articles. A map of the route would look like the solution to a puzzle, extending nearly to the East River, twice. It all began with a dead truck sitting at the intersection of 43rd Street and Sixth and blocking the left turn for our trailer. The Town Hall is the second building down the street. Close, but well over an hour away.
A cop ushered me back out onto Sixth Avenue and the fun began. It's holiday traffic. Block upon block of traffic creeping. Time standing still. Another stalled truck at another necessary turn. We get back to 43rd at crew call time, swinging wide and deep from the far right lane of 6th Ave, our intersection freshly cleared by three uniformed officers; missed that same stalled truck by an inch and a half. They unloaded the gear in less than an hour and I drove all the way north
to 178th Street again and back across the big bridge out of the Big Apple and down to our protected hotel lot in Hoboken. Locked the doors and walked to the nearby steakhouse and ended the day with a rare filet. Another happy ending. In the morning I caught a cab and flew back to Minnesota. Our New York stand would be three weekends.
* * * *
Five days later, Tuesday, I was in Hoolihan's in White Bear Lake, a working class saloon where in the mens room there's an actual black on white safety warning across the top of the porcelain urinal, reading: SHALLOW WATER - NO DIVING --- DIVING CAN LEAD TO DEATH, DISABILITY OR SERIOUS INJURY. That kind of place. Warmly lit by dozens of antique beer neons. A place where you walk in and the phrase Honey I'm Home falls into your mind.
I was there to hear my guitar virtuoso pals Lund and Mayasich. They were setting up on the small corner stage with two Telecasters and tube amplifiers and a small PA. And a good bass player named Scott. At 7:30, timed early for folks who actually have jobs, they proceeded
to expand the lexicon of American music. That may sound like BS to you but it was in fact just plain gorgeous.
I usually hit every music joint on Broadway when I stop in Nashville and I promise you not a guitar player on that strip is better than Dan Lund. And Paul Mayasich has as good a blues voice as I've heard since Greg Allman and he can play slide like the brother did. It's
all just crazy good. Makes me think what it must have been like in those small Washington DC bars where Roy Buchanan used to play for low money and notables like the Rolling Stones would stop in. (They offered him a job, says the legend, and he turned them down.)
A highlight happens in the second set when a tall guy gets up, invited, to sing a blues tune and then, walking the small dance floor with a microphone, proceeds to give a lengthy history of himself and his lady love, here with us tonight. He talks of four years of being best friends and then six months of dating, is how I hear it, all told in a rambling but humorous style with faces and hand gestures, a sort of epic poem with the boys setting down a groove in the background; and as I'm starting to wonder where this is going and what song this is bringing on he finally says he's not going to sing a song and he asks her to come on out to the floor and you expect a dance but knowing looks are passing at their table of friends who are all grinning and now the rest of us are starting to think omygosh and she walks out shyly, herself probably starting to think omygosh, and the room gets quiet and the man drops down on one knee and offers up a ring to her and he says to her: Will you marry me?
And she, with a perfect face, pauses, bends to kiss him and then says Yes. Yes she will. And we all approve, clapping and hollering going on, and women in the crowd get all teared up, and even some men, and then Paul sings an emotional Bring It On Home To Me which turns out to be a most exquisite choice.
And after the break and into the next set, when the night just couldn't get better especially after four weeks on the road, it did, when in walked my firstborn daughter wearing a big smile and a sassy black leather shortcoat with white fur trim. She knew about the place but I didn't expect she'd show. Looked like a movie star. Knocked me out. And some other guys too. No wonder I didn't get home until 3:00 AM.
russring at visi dot com