The Rhubarb Tour ended in Louisville at the Palace Theater, a gorgeous picture palace from the '20s with Moorish gewgaws and statuary in niches and fountains and pillars, just down the street from the grand old Brown Hotel, and it was the sort of night you hope to end a tour with—a packed house and a good show and the heat of the crowd and the show winding down to a sweet conclusion. A true variety show, with a wide range of goods, from Peter's "Heart of the Heartland" to "Casey At The Bat: The Other Version" to Stephanie's "Ikie" to the song with the seeing eye dog and the toilet brush and the three-breasted woman in it. Low ribald comedy and transcendent music, plus a plug for ketchup and the adventures of a private eye who has come to Louisville to help a beautiful actress in a movie about a horse named Studmuffin. After the show, some of the audience hung around to hobnob, and I found people who'd driven hundreds of miles from Indiana and Illinois to see the show, which is the sort of compliment that makes a man resolve to Do Better In The Future. If people are going to risk life and limb to see you, you'd like to be doing something distinguished and not just camping on stage.
Which the Rhubarb Tour show was. It was hard to put together the show list from night to night, because there simply was so much there. We never got around to doing a Famous Celebrities sketch on the tour, or the Café Boeuf, or enough solo Dworsky (he had a Bosendorfer piano one night and German Steinways a couple nights, and those deserved to be heard in more than just the Powdermilk Biscuit theme), and every night I kept shifting things around in hopes of squeezing in more. But what we had was good. And we were generous. Three hours, inevitably. This was not a cool show designed for the carriage trade; this was for people who really like A Prairie Home Companion a lot. Which is a select few, Lord knows. But there are enough of them to fill the Palace Theater, and nobody who came could possibly have left disappointed.
From the theater to the plane. The plan had been to stay overnight at the Brown, but I was in a mood to get home. We bade farewell to drummer Kinsella who would hop a flight the next day to Newark. Everyone was in a pleasant and wistful frame of mind as we boarded our plane for the last time, and Stephanie gave out copies of her new CD, and I gave out my new novel and wrote limericks for our flight crew, including one of the pilots, Tommy:
"Flying's an art form," said Tommy,
"Like poetry or origami,
Full of meaning and beauty,
Except co-pilot duty,
Which is more like slicing salami."
And Ward and Dave and Nikki and Debbie and Kim.
Sam Hudson and Albert Webster fell asleep over Wisconsin. They worked harder than anybody. Twelve-hour days, non-stop, every day a different venue with its own idiosyncratic sound system and production people and unique worries. But there are worse fates than to work a show. The sound man is the kingfish, the chairman of the board. And the stage manager is the commanding general. He walks down the hall knocking on dressing rooms, saying, "One half hour, ladies and gentlemen," and everybody starts to vibrate. You could put these guys in gold brocade coats and tricorner hats and knee breeches. For sheer grandeur, it's almost as good as railroad conductor or New York cop on the Times Square beat or the doorman at the Ritz.
And we land at Minneapolis-St. Paul and say quick goodbyes, and I hop in a cab and head for home. St. Paul is quiet at 2 a.m. I slip in the back door and look at the stacks of mail. I sort of wish we had a show tonight and I could say, once more, "The outlook was brilliant for the Dustburg team that day. We were leading Mudville 4-2 with an inning left to play." And sing "Goodbye to my uncles, farewell to my aunts. One after the other they went to lie down." And say, "It's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon." But now it's time to find out what a quiet week can contain.