I’ve had many varied traveling experiences over the years. Some picturesque and magical, some gruesome, some boring, and some just pretty darn weird.
Once, I stayed up all night keeping our tour bus driver, Dave, company while we snaked our way through the Rocky Mountains on our way out west. It was a brilliant, clear night and the stars speckled an indigo sky above the snowy ice caps like a Van Gogh painting.
The morning mist was just starting to lift as we rolled into Jasper around 6 am and sleeping elk lined the boulevards like they owned the place.
It was all quite breathtaking, almost surreal. Like a snapshot.
I remember feeling small and insignificant compared to God’s glorious bounty.
Another time, I was trying to get to our demo studio in Newmarket, gridlocked in parked traffic on the 404. It was stiflingly hot and humid outside, and all I could think about was how much gas I was probably blowing through keeping the air conditioning on full blast while I drove, well, nowhere.
Then, out of nowhere, the van in front of me squeals his tires and guns it onto the soft shoulder. I’m thinking, “This guy’s nuts, he’s gonna get like a $1000 ticket.” After burning rubber for about 40 yards, he comes to a jolting stop. After that, the driver side door swings open and this older, eastern European looking guy gets out, and without closing his door, starts ripping off his clothes.
Piece by piece. All the way down to his boxers.
Obviously, his air conditioning wasn’t working…. He starts yelling (in Greek?). At the sky. At the other cars. At his own van. Just losing it. I lock my doors and sink down behind the wheel. Finally, when he’s done venting, he casually lights up a smoke and starts walking. In his ginch. Because it’s faster.
At that moment I knew it was time to make a move from the big city.
And then there was our trip back to Toronto from London on Saturday, July 25th 2008 in the RAV4. I think it’s called a RAV4 because it’s designed to accommodate no more than 4 people comfortably. At any time. Under any circumstances.
Only a RAVing lunatic would pile 5 people, luggage and music gear into that sorry excuse for a SUV and try to go anywhere. But there we were, in 30 degree July weather, with paving crews WORKING ON A SATURDAY! The smell of asphalt and exhaust fumes thick in the air, and us, crammed into the clown car traveling at a snail’s pace back to TO. Physically and utterly trapped.
The phrase Hell on Wheels begins to take on a whole new meaning. Bicycles passed us. I had to pee really bad and started to get cranky. I thought about the Greek guy and could suddenly relate….
Ah, the rock star life.
We arrived at the club in Toronto late for sound check, but muddled through anyway. I was a bit taken aback as the club was advertising ‘A Return to Metal’ on my behalf, which was news to me.
It’s amazing how ‘e-talk’ can take on a life of its own and spiral into a whole new concept or idea that you are only remotely connected to. Not so long ago they called it hearsay, but now, with Facebook and internet discussion groups – because it is permanent text on a screen, available for everyone to see and comment on – it’s far more real. Or so it seems.
I felt really bad for the fans who showed up expecting a night of ‘metal’. There were only about 15 (in the sold out show) who left early or went home angry at me. I know they were angry at me, because the backlash on Facebook was pretty brutal.
I don’t think anyone has been that mad at me since I knocked over John Albani’s Marshall stack during the intro tape in Bonn, Germany. Okay, it sent his guitars flying off the multi-stand, breaking the headstock off his vintage Les Paul. No, I wasn’t drunk. It was just really, really dark onstage. And I’m clumsy.
But anyway, a group of about 5 fans wrote back and forth to each other on Facebook blasting me for false advertising and being a big phony, etc. Ouch. The rest of the audience had a great time from what I could tell.
So I call the agent that booked this particular show, and this is his story (he has a thick French accent which I will try to capture here):
“Hey Miss Lee……how are yaaa?” Call display – he always knows who is phoning.
“Hey Bernie, I’m not too bad. I just wanted to discuss something with you.”
“Oh yeah? Sumting wrung?”
“Well, this Toronto show, you know. Did you know they were advertising it as a ‘Return to Metal?’”
(Nervous laughter on the other end.) “Oh dat. I hear sumting about dat … de guy [the buyer] he start his own Facebook ting you know … you can’t let all dat stuff bawder you. It like tree or four fan you know, dey get all dat stuff stir up.”
“Yeah, but what are you telling people about the show, Bernie? I don’t care if it’s only three or four people. I can’t have all that negative stuff written about me all over the internet. People think that I am advertising myself that way to get gigs and then I’m tricking them into liking my new music or something. It’s gross to have to read stuff like that about yourself. It #@**ing hurts.”
“Hey, hey, relax…. I tell you exackly what happen. De show wad bought by anawder agent firs, see? He acks me: ‘What is it Bernie de rock or de jazz show?’ I tell him she play all her rock hit and dat you play some new stuff too. Den, he tell de club owner you do a rock show and den dis guy, he start de facebook ting about you do all metal, I guess. I never tell him you doing all metal. I wouldn’t do dat jus to sell a show. I swear.”
Bernie has an answer for everything. On the spot. It’s quite a talent.
“Well, I just want to be totally clear about this when you’re selling the show in the future. Okay?”
“No problemo. I git it. Don’t you worry your pretty ‘ed about anyting. I tell dem it’s a retrospective of all your fabulous music, darling.”
Really, he’s amazing. How can I argue with that? I don’t believe him for one second.
“Alright, alright. I’ll talk to you later then.”
Thankfully, the next day’s show in Mattawa was somewhat redeeming. Great audience. Great fun. The stage overlooked the Ottawa River so the view from the stage was spectacular. A sea of people, and then, the sea. Well, the river.
My husband John, who loves Indian food, talked Rob and I into trying out some local exotic fare in a little joint he’d spotted earlier on the strip – the strip being about half a city block long.
I became suspicious when I saw folks being served on paper plates. I took it as a bad sign and really, being the experienced travelers that we are, in a northern Ontario town, we should have known better. However, there weren’t a lot of other options. Pig on a spit and a smokie stand. So we went for it.
By the time the food came we were famished. It had a curry–ish flavor … not sure exactly what kind of meat it was, and not sure I want to know, now that I think about it. We had a good laugh about it later and celebrated our truly ‘Northern Canadian’ experience by drinking beers, taking stupid pictures up our noses and pretending that the RAV4 totally rocked. Dave acted out a whole commercial endorsement for us. It took the edge off knowing we’d spend 6 hours gazing at our kneecaps the next day.
I finally felt like I had an advantage in being the shortest person in the band.
My favourite part of that night was watching the sunset later on. I’ve seen a lot of sunsets in my time (and sunrises) and this one was particularly beautiful. I stood at the edge of the riverbank and stared. And wondered how no two are ever alike. Like snowflakes. And people. And traveling stories….