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Electric Balloon Tour, Day 10

The drive from Fargo to Spokane is 17 hours in good weather, but it is not good weather. The first day is all right, freezing cold but not actually hazardous. The second day is pure hell: mostly downhill, foggy, snowing, hailing, half a lane of highway unusable, surrounded by semi trucks that could easily kill us with the slightest wrong move. There are actual runaway truck ramps, which are provided in case a truck’s brakes fail. You steer towards the ramp, and gravity makes your truck stop instead of hurtling downhill at great cost to life and limb. This is straight Looney Tunes physics, and it does not make me feel good about being on the road.

On the plus side, one place we stopped for gas had this sweet aquarium with various kinds of trout:

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There were also a lot of shirts for sale sporting various puns about the right to bear arms in which a bear was pictured. It is probably safe to assume this bear is packing heat.

In Spokane, we play at the only venue in town, The Bartlett. It’s only a few months old, and the space used to be a furniture store. The owner, promoter, and soundman are the same guy. He does a commendable job at all three. The interior is beautiful, wood everywhere, and tallboys of Olympia are $3, half off for bands. I guess I should stop being surprised at how cheap beer is outside the city, but it’s still always a pleasure. Conspiracy theory: Grain Belt and Olympia are one and the same. I’d have to taste test them side by side but it is damn close.

The headliner is The Thermals, and they bring it. They also bring a lot of people, which we greatly appreciate never having been to Spokane before. One guy in particular catches everyone’s eye. He is tall and rail-thin, and sports the odd combination of skintight track pants with a white stripe down the side, a belt with a big metal buckle, Nike knit running shoes, and a flowing white linen shirt. He enters the venue chewing and blowing bubbles with bright pink bubble gum. His hair is shoulder-length with a growing bald spot. He has craggy American Indian-looking features and his expression conveys intense, grave focus. He dances. Oh, does he dance. He is clearly some sort of local character, so I ask the bartender what his deal is. She says they call him Tambourine Man, because he usually carries a tambourine. He likes to demonstratively wig out at shows and have people pay attention to him. She rolls her eyes; she is no longer amused. I know if some asshole started playing tambourine during my set I’d be annoyed. I don’t engage him verbally, as I worry about my inability to disengage. He seems harmless-crazy though, just a solitary figure who wears his weirdness proudly and has found an outlet for it. Weirdness like that really sticks out in a smaller city like Spokane. In New York you’d pass five guys like this on your commute and not bat an eye.

I meet a friendly local artist in the crowd after our set. We talk for a while about life, the universe, and everything, and he lets us crash on his floor. Among the many amazing items in his house is this horrifying-awesome Tim Burton jar:

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It was made by a friend of his, and I am relieved to hear that it actually is intended to evoke the folkloric vagina dentata and the association is not just in my pervy mind. He makes us some tea and we all stay up and shoot the shit for a while. He has to leave to go to work, and directs us to The Satellite Diner. Like most things we end up eating for breakfast, it is delicious and like a few bucks more than I’d care to pay. But any port in a storm. I order one of the more awesomely good breakfast ideas I’ve seen yet:

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Hash browns, cheddar cheese, chili, two eggs over easy. They have every type of Tabasco sauce, too. I opt for Chipotle. I break the eggs, and the yolks get cooked by the heat of the other ingredients. I mix it all up into a starchy, greasy, eggy mass of breakfast delight. I finish every bite. It is supplemented by totally superfluous rye toast, which I wrap in a napkin along with some packets of jam to make a sandwich later. We have peanut butter in the car. Two meals become one.

At a rest stop on the way to Seattle, reality intrudes. For the second time this week, an innocuous pee stop becomes a window into the depths of human misery. This sign greets me as I dry my hands:

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On the one hand, endless props to Seattle Against Slavery for raising awareness and providing assistance to victims of human trafficking. They have worked with government to get these posted in every highway rest area, and if even one person calls that hotline and gets the fuck out of whatever life circumstances brought them there, it was all worth it. On the other hand, fuck the rest of humanity for sustaining a demand for forced labor and sex work. Who are these people? How many have I met? The sheer amount and degree of suffering you have to ignore to have a good day is staggering. I will try to have a good day today, and put such things out of my mind until the next rest stop. I suppose that makes me part of the problem.

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