I remember Savannah from a few years ago, when we did not play but stopped to eat. We went to Wall’s Barbecue, a tiny shack-like building on an otherwise residential street, and it was delicious. I remember having a really positive impression of Savannah generally. It is beautiful, with the vegetation and the old buildings and whatnot. This time around, with more time to explore, it feels different. Looking for food after we unload at the venue, it quickly becomes clear we are in a bit of a rough spot to get takeout. Everything is, like, fancy around here. An off-putting vibe hangs in the air like humidity, which also hangs in the air. Savannah was once a hub of the slave trade, and the racial shit feels weirder than in other parts of the South I’ve been to, an intuition which is confirmed unbidden by some locals we talk to. Nothing overt, just a sort of low rumble underneath the proceedings. Everyone on the street is doughy old white people on vacation, sometimes accompanied by unruly grandchildren. Young black people who are not on vacation sell them overpriced pralines. People in Civil War period clothing give tours. I allow for the possibility that we are in the wrong part of town, but it’s just not a very big place. How many other parts of town even are there? It makes complete sense that Paula Deen’s restaurant would be in Savannah and not somewhere else. The ungodly quantities of sweets on offer combined with the unreal vacation-vibe remind me of Niagara Falls. The squareness is suffocating. Isn’t there an art school here? Where do those people hang out? Wall’s BBQ is closed; it will be open tomorrow and we will be long gone. We are excited to find a South African restaurant, and then disappointed to find that there is nothing at all South African about the food. They have, like, burgers and falafel, and a grilled salmon sandwich that is too expensive to warrant purchase. If I saw something legit interesting I would pay eleven dollars for a sandwich, but these guys aren’t even trying. They have rooibos sweet tea, and that is the only thing besides the decor suggesting any sort of ethnic variation from a normal American restaurant. Fuck this place. We end up settling on some “New York style pizza” from Vinnie Van Go-Go’s, which is just by far the cheapest thing for this amount of people to eat.
It’s fine. Inoffensive. The ingredients are fresh. Like most pizza outside New York, it is too doughy, and a bit undercooked, and the cheese/sauce region takes up an unacceptably small percentage of the total area. We eat it outside, which is nice at least. You can also drink outside in Savannah, but it is way too early to start with that, if I do it at all. I still have work to do, and I end up sitting in the back of the bar most of the night doing it. The conditions are suboptimal for getting work done, but it gets done. Savannah has a well-regarded art school, so we are again treated to some entertaining fashion decisions, like a friendly goth kid wearing eyeliner and fishnet gloves and totally festooned with Nintendo-themed accessories including a Poké Ball with a Pokémon in it. We play our set. The sound is abominably bad, as practically every musical element manages to be inaudible at once. The soundman makes the unprecedented faux pas of asking us how the sound is during our set. Not in the clever way that is standard, where you communicate with eye contact and hand gestures and he knows what to do; he actually expects a verbal response from one of the people singing while they are singing. Props to Becca for giving him an appropriately withering look without interrupting the performance. There is a persistent low feedback that is triggered by the bass, the kick drum, the floor tom, or the open snare, and nothing any of us can do onstage fixes it, so it doesn’t get fixed. There is reverb on the snare. The snare! Julian has to ask several times to get it turned off. Our friend Jonathan from New Orleans is in the audience, and I wish he would just push this dude aside and take over the board, because he knows his way around that shit. Despite all the technical issues, the audience is highly appreciative. Aesthetic experience is just, like, totally subjective, man. The promoter takes good care of us even though it was a free show. Great promoter! Get a new sound guy! The show starts late and runs late. The lateness is a problem on this particular night, because we have a radio broadcast at Florida State before the Tallahassee show, and will have to leave early in the morning. It’s our last show with ET Anderson, and they’ll be driving home straight from the venue to get back to their lives in Columbia. We all hug and say our goodbyes. It was nice to have them along for the ride, and we find ourselves missing them already. We get out of the venue around three. With no place to stay in town, it is off to a motel. If we hustle, we can get six hours of sleep, maybe.
Tour has a way of weeding out people who are overly picky about things like filth and smell and physical discomfort, and we have all managed to sleep comfortably in all sorts of poor conditions. We have our different likes and dislikes, and sometimes they clash in small ways. But we can all agree on one thing: this Motel 6 in Savannah is the worst we have ever encountered. It has 1.9 stars on Google, and I would call that a generous rating. We had a feeling it would be bad, but it is the only place we can quickly drive to and afford that has a vacancy, and we are tired and ornery. Questions posed to the group by any individual member are met with stony silence. No one is up for finding an alternative, or driving there if we did, and it’s not like we need any sort of amenities beyond four walls and running water. We get two rooms so that everyone can have a bed. Both reek of smoke, and one has an unidentifiable dank smell as though something in the wall were rotting. A mysterious dark stain decorates the carpet. I immediately check for bedbugs, because if they are anywhere they are right the fuck here, and am both relieved and oddly disappointed to find none. I guess we’re staying. The whole place is deeply sleazy. A lot of unoccupied rooms have the doors propped open. Why are the doors propped open? I don’t like it one bit. Are we the only on-the-books guests of this hotel, with everyone else enjoying some sort of informal arrangement with the night manager that allows them to use the rooms for whatever goes on here? My money is on extremely low-level prostitution, because if it were drugs you could just do that in the parking lot, where there are definitely some people just chilling who make themselves scarce when we arrive. This is definitely a place where we will be loading our gear into the rooms for the night and locking both locks. We do it, miraculously quickly, zombie-like in our exhaustion. I bring my sleeping bag into my room and put it on top of the duvet cover, not wanting my skin to touch any part of this bed for an extended period of time. I take a shower, which makes me feel only slightly less gross than before. Even the water feels slimy. I sleep, eventually.
I wake up early to make a phone call for work, which necessitates pacing around on the balcony to avoid waking my roommates. A man asks me for a cigarette, which I do not have. I kind of wish I did so I could make some conversation and discreetly feel out what the fuck is going on in this hotel, as he himself does not seem threatening. I finish my call and head back inside to wake everyone up. Checkout is soon, and we have to hit the road anyway. We always tip at motels, and in general I am a good tipper, but for the first time I am tempted not to. Whoever cleaned this room is doing a shit job. It is vile. Why should I pay any more for this experience than I already have? About to leave, I feel a pang of empathy. I imagine what it must be like to work at this hotel in any capacity. Maybe you know how bad it is and it’s beyond your control and it sickens you every time you come to work in the morning, or maybe you actually think this constitutes “clean” and my standard of living is just that much higher than yours. In either instance, the least I could do is give this person a few bucks so they can buy their intoxicant of choice. I leave a tip. Punitive non-tipping is for assholes, anyway. What was I thinking? I am very tired.
We are almost done loading when catastrophe strikes: we are missing the floor tom and the bass drum head, as well as the bag that holds the cables, pedals, and auxiliary percussion instruments. There are not a lot of places to lose things in a motel room, and these items are just not in either one. What the fuck happened? How is this possible? We mentally retrace our steps, and everyone is sure they made it into the van from the venue. You can tell when you’re missing something because it feels spacious instead of barely fit for human occupancy. Did we leave them unattended for too long, and somebody snatched them at the motel? The possibility creeps us out, because it would mean we were being observed extremely closely by somebody upon arrival, but it is technically possible. We were not exactly at peak mental acuity loading in the night before, and petty theft is well within the range of things that might be going on here. We weigh our options. Definitely can’t make the radio thing, but maybe we can still make the show if we stop at a music store and replace the lost items. It will be a financial hit, and anything we buy in a pinch like this won’t be as good, but it will allow us to continue the tour. But it just doesn’t add up. We never leave anything unattended, or forget anything big like that. We’ve been doing this for years; the process isn’t even conscious anymore. It wouldn’t freak me out so much if we could pinpoint what the mistake was.
About to give up, I spot something out of the corner of my eye. It is a cylindrical black thing marked with a piece of neon pink tape on the handle. It is our floor tom! What the fuck? On the balcony, I see my amp head and the cable bag. They were not there a minute ago; a minute ago we were all freaking out. I quickly piece together what must have happened. We always prop a door open while we load in because we don’t have enough keys for all five people, and someone must have accidentally loaded these three items into one of the other open rooms. Nothing would have been in them yet, so all the empty rooms would look the same. An absentminded mistake, borne of exhaustion. Since it’s checkout time, the housekeeper is cleaning the rooms, and took these items outside to get them out of the way. If we had given up two minutes earlier, we never would have found them or even known what happened. I don’t even care who made the mistake, we are all just glad to be on our way the fuck out of here with all our stuff. I find the housekeeper, who is perplexed by both the situation and my excitement, and thank her profusely. She has no idea how much she just helped us out. I tip some more. Now we just have to worry about being extremely late for this radio session and trying to play a show on between four and six hours of sleep. These are normal problems to have, and we are fine with them.
The radio thing turns out to be no big deal, as Florida State’s radio station has an ad-hoc approach to programming that suits our circumstances. Blocks of time are reserved for broad categories of programming, but not specific DJs, so we are able to do our thing without messing up anybody’s schedule. The venue, All Saints Cafe, is comfortably close by. It is a 24-hour coffee shop, and we will be playing in the backyard. I like this place, even though the barista is rather prickly. If I went to school here I would come here all the time and develop a love/hate relationship with it from coming here all the time. I get a succession of refreshing nonalcoholic beverages: an Italian soda with watermelon and lime syrups, an iced yerba mate, a blended chai latte. I also get some weird vegan mac and cheese that is best not discussed. I have had very good vegan mac and cheese in the past, using nutritional yeast in place of cheese, but this one manages to be both heavy and unsatisfying, not to mention entirely lacking in salt. Of these problems, I only have control over the last one. The yerba mate will be the difference between making it through the show and not. The last few nights have been late, and I have been waking up early every morning for work, so I’m even less rested than the others. I cannot recall ever having been this tired while playing before. I get the sense I’m fucking up way more than usual, and Julian confirms afterwards that that was the case. I’m not the only one. As usual, the crowd doesn’t notice and eats it up anyway. What do I have to do to get some hecklers around here? Literally shit my pants onstage instead of just figuratively? I guess if they’ve come to see you, you’ve already won. And it’s mostly college kids anyway, not beaten down by the world yet, ready and willing to like things. We crash with our friend Nathan, and I rather curtly commandeer the carpeted ping pong room for sleep. I am on a harder surface than the night before, but this time it comes immediately. Thank God. I have weird dreams I don’t remember in the morning, and when I wake up a mysterious beetle is crawling up my arm. Not even conscious enough to be grossed out, I gently pick it up and put it on the wall. I either need coffee or another three hours, and I know which one I’m going to get. Back in the van, we set out for New Orleans.