We leave Weimar in the afternoon. I make a quick stop at Brenner’s to get some barbecue. I have now eaten at all three non-chain restaurants in Weimar. Some of the locals have denigrated Brenner’s for being too expensive, but I am in Texas and I can’t not get whatever the barbecue in town is. It’s for science! I get brisket with beans and potato salad, which is indeed on the pricey side compared to Real Deal Soul Food.
The brisket and sauce are excellent. Meat is smoky and has that lovely pink ring around the edges that tells you it was done proper. The sides are pretty much flavorless. Still, the meal as a whole is satisfying, and above all we are excited to be moving again. We almost can’t believe it. We have two days to drive 20 hours and make Friday’s show in Orange County, and even though this is a terrible amount of time to drive, the thought of playing a show again is invigorating. The van sputters and lurches and still feels like a fucking Lamborghini under the circumstances. Our renewed enthusiasm is short-lived. On the second day of driving, it becomes clear that something is amiss. The van is not maintaining its speed, and making a troubling sound. When we stop to investigate, the overflow tank is whistling like a tea kettle. We are in the desert, miles away from another human, let alone another human with automotive know-how. Well, shit. Our chances of making the night’s show evaporate as we wait for the tow truck. We are towed to a mechanic in San Simon, Arizona, where the population is supposedly 165 but I do not see another living soul besides the mechanic. It looks like one of the places Walt and Jesse go to cook meth on Breaking Bad. They know they will not be disturbed. We wait. Something is up with the coolant tank, which the guy claims to fix, and takes some money and sends us on our way. We are not driving for fifteen minutes before it becomes clear that nothing has been fixed after all. The whistling sound is still audible. We are only a few miles from Bowie, another small town that purports to have a mechanic, and we are genuinely concerned about whether we will make it. If we wait for another tow, it will be closed, so we have to chance driving if we’re going to make the next show. We get there, barely, and see the weathered old mechanic’s face fall as we approach. Clearly he was looking forward to closing up for the day, and we came in right at the tail end. But he takes pity on us, and agrees to come back and work on our van after feeding his horses. His horses. Where the fuck am I?
For the second time in a day, we find ourselves killing time in the desert hours away from civilization. Bowie looks like a movie set, with beautiful vistas and just no people anywhere in sight. Most of the buildings are boarded up, even. The only other business we can find open is a store that sells wine and pecans. We do a wine tasting and get some unhealthy snacks with which to eat our feelings. I get a lovely pistachio fudge. I consider asking the lady if she can just cut the pretense and pour all the wines into the same glass and keep ’em comin’, but decide against it. It is too early to start really drinking, and critical thought may be required of me later if another situation arises. She confirms our suspicion that we are in a ghost town, saying a lot of business owners died without any heirs and the businesses went with them. Fucking bleak. Also we learn that “Bowie” is pronounced like “buoy”, which I guess is useful to know should I ever find myself here again. We go to a playground and swing on a jungle gym, and I realize it is the first time I have moved my body in weeks. I resolve to exercise more when I get home. It feels good, motion. The mechanic identifies the problem, which is that the thermostat was stuck shut and coolant was not circulating in the engine. He shows us the coolant flowing in the radiator and tells us how to fill it and monitor it ourselves. He spends about two hours on the thing and only asks for fifty bucks. We give him a hundred and thank him profusely. The last guy took more and didn’t even fix it. The possibility of playing now a distant memory, we decide to reroute to Tucson for the night and shoot for the following show instead. Julian’s brother is there, and we can sleep in a comfortable house with people we know and try to shake off the latest setback. Again. In the morning we can drive to LA and play the show we’re supposed to play. Maybe.
Julian’s brother Sam lives with his girlfriend Chelsea and two whippets in a sort of apartment complex. The house is large and comfortable, and I am pleased to drink a beer in a house and interact with dogs, even though one of them is quite suspicious of us and not really trying to hang. Chelsea has made us a sign saying “WELCOME TO THE SCOTTISH INN” in preparation for our arrival, with a plaid-based font and everything. It’s little touches like this that demonstrate a high level of hosting ability. After a few beers, we head out to Losbetos for some late-night Mexican. Losbetos is a chain, but because we are in Arizona it is supposed to be of rather high quality. The more I travel, the harder I find it to defend New York Mexican food. It’s just a fact that Mexican food just gets demonstrably better the closer you get to Mexico. I have places in New York that I love, but it’s not the same. I order a chorizo torta, which I hadn’t realized meant the chorizo was scrambled into eggs.
It is wet and messy and fucking delicious. Eggs are a good way of beefing up and spreading around the flavor of a strong ingredient like chorizo. I top it with an assortment of sauces, of which the green chile is the best. The torta roll is longer and softer than that of a torta back home. The bread is griddled, which is an excellent touch, and the whole thing costs four dollars and comes with unlimited chips and salsa. I could get used to this. Sam has made arrangements for his friends who are mechanics to come and take a last look at the van to make sure nothing else is obviously wrong. They roll in at midnight and park with their headlights pointed at the hood. We need some more water and coolant, which we put in, and I learn more about how the radiator works. On top of everything else we are leaking transmission fluid, so we top that off as well. We are advised to take it in and get the temperature gauge fixed, so we can tell when it is running hot before steam starts escaping from the hood. And we will have to monitor the coolant level, because if it goes down that means something potentially bad is happening. Other than that, it runs fine and we are okay to drive it for the immediate future. This is really a next-level service to have provided at midnight free of charge, and I thank them profusely. I sleep.
We make it to LA without incident. Our show is at Pehrspace, a DIY venue nestled in a strip mall in Glendale. I can’t believe we are actually playing a show after all that. We play. It’s a blur. I think it goes well. People love it, and even a lukewarm reception would feel triumphant after the events of the past week. Some old friends from high school come through, and it is good to hang. They bring me a nip of Jack Daniels. Everyone knows people in LA, so most of us split up to sleep in different places. We stay with our friends Greg and Tracy in Echo Park, and I eat this for breakfast.
Short rib hash with home fries. It hits the spot. Short rib might be my favorite cut of beef, and these appear to be braised or something in such a way as to be tender and juicy. Perfect home fries, too, and egg yolks nicely runny. I wish I could remember the name of the restaurant. This is one of the things that goes when life intervenes and I can no longer post contemporaneously. We drive Marie to the airport. I am sorry to see her go, and sorry that she had to come along for the both hectic and weirdly static part of our journey. However, I am not sorry to have the extra room in the backseat. That is clutch. You can sleep comfortably back there if you put your feet on top of some bags.
One restaurant I’ll always remember is Zankou Chicken, where we stop for lunch after dropping off Marie and picking up Felicia. I’ve written about this place before, so I won’t dwell, but look at this beautiful thing.
I will never tire of this exact combination of foods, slathered liberally with garlic paste. The thing to do is slather the pita with garlic paste, wrap some chicken meat and skin in it with pickled beets and the other vegetables, and dip the whole assemblage in hummus. Hot damn. Fortified with the perfect amount of every food group, we set off for Santa Barbara.
The show in Santa Barbara is at a batting cage. It is all ages, so there is no alcohol, but bands are able to bat in the cages for free. My excitement at this novelty quickly fades to frustration and disappointment when I remember I royally suck at all sports and particularly baseball, particularly the hitting part. I have a flashback to Little League, where I believe I hit a double exactly once in three-ish seasons, and was at best tolerated by my more athletic peers. Fucking dark. I connect with three balls, of which one connects directly with my fucking third and fourth finger in an intense and painful manner. I must commend all the adults in my life for not placing much emphasis on sport during my childhood. It would have done irreparable harm to my self-worth. I ended up being acceptably good at soccer, where I was a solid defender because that requires more tenacity than precision. Then puberty hit and I started playing music and that was the end of even trying with sports. My shoulder hurts.
Before the show, we get a hot tip about dinner: Super-Rica Taqueria. This place is a local institution, and multiple people have mentioned it to me. I am encouraged by a line out the door. I will say that the menu is rather confusing, making it unclear which items are sufficiently large for a meal and which are mere sides. I basically luck out with one of the daily specials, pozole, though the bean taco I get on the side turns out to be completely unnecessary.
I rarely miss a chance to get pozole, and this pozole is pretty deluxe. Note the presence of avocado, radish, and red cabbage along with lime. I am a little disappointed by the broth, which is not as flavorful as I’m accustomed to without adding the provided hot sauce. Why don’t they just add that to begin with? It’s not that hot, and it is necessary. It almost tastes like the pork was cooked separately and added to the stew later, or they didn’t use enough bones or fatty bits or something. However, the amount of hearty pork shoulder and hominy make this a satisfying dish overall, plus the vegetable fixins, and it’s not a bad deal at six bucks. It’s just not the pozole I’m used to. Fun fact: the best pozole I have yet to find in the city is at the Super Taco truck at 96th Street and Broadway where it is one of the daily specials (Sundays, I believe). The broth is clear and rich and sinus-clearingly spicy and there are usually bones still attached to the meat. If you have a better one I’m all ears. I am heartened to for the first time taste a Mexican food item on the West Coast that is not as good as its New York counterpart. So thank you, Super-Rica, for that.
We stay with the promoter and his girlfriend at their nice on-campus apartment. They are pleasant people and fine hosts. I sleep in a giant beanbag chair even though arguably more comfortable spaces are available because I just can’t resist. In the morning I make a bunch of coffee and we drive. We’ve decided to stop in Santa Cruz on our way to the next show in Davis. It is a pleasant and scenic drive, and we seriously luck out with our hotel. It has a balcony and a pool, and is within walking distance of the boardwalk. Carlos and Becca and I go out for a walk late at night. The boardwalk looks like Coney Island, only empty and almost creepily well-maintained.
You can walk right onto the beach, and we do. In the distance we see shapes, and hear a peculiar sound. It is sea lions. We are surrounded by sea lions, the light just barely bright enough to make them out. They wriggle and belch and splash in the water. I am floored that so close to where people live there are just sea lions chilling like it’s not even a thing. In Santa Cruz you can coexist with sea lions as you would squirrels or pigeons, and a local probably wouldn’t give them a second thought. The abandoned boardwalk, the beach, the night sky, and the sea lions create an uncanny sensation. I walk away from my companions and touch the water. I experience a moment of extreme gratitude for all the forces that have brought me here. It has been a rough week, but now we are okay. The van is fixed and we have a plan and we are doing it. We are going across the country to play music we made. I am proud of the music. The music is widely available and my name will be on it forever. I have a job that allows me to do this, and a good woman back home, and in a few short months I will have my first solo apartment. Good things are happening in my life, and I acknowledge them and bask in my own acknowledgment of them. I am in a good place. I rejoin Becca and Carlos, and we make our way back to the room to sleep. I sleep extremely well, and wake up rested. We have to take our van to the mechanic to get the temperature gauge fixed and give it a once-over, and then it’s off to Davis.
The mechanic tells me it is bad, real bad; totally fucked, in fact. The head gasket is shot, which was one of the potentially bad things our friend in Tucson told me to look out for. It would take fifteen hours to fix and we do not have nearly enough time to spare even if we did decide to spend the $1500+ fixing it. Without fixing it, coolant will continue to leak into our exhaust and eventually we will belch white smoke out the back and it will stop running and wherever we stop is where we’re stuck. He gives us good odds on getting to San Francisco. In San Francisco we can either scrap it or sell it for a pittance, since any buyer would have to pay for the expensive repair. Either option involves getting the title Fedexed to us and haggling with scrapyards and if we’re lucky individual buyers and it has to get done in the middle of playing shows with no days off and is only possible because we happen to have consecutive shows in San Francisco and Oakland. On top of all that we have to either rent or buy another vehicle to allow us to continue the tour, and of course the current van sucks so bad because we bought it under a serious time crunch, so if we buy something we open up the possibility of this happening again.
It is a great object lesson in the dangers of the narrative fallacy. Good things are happening in my life, but another thing that is happening is Julian and Carlos and I sitting in the office at the auto shop with our laptops frantically searching for rental companies in or near San Francisco that will allow us to rent a van for several weeks on extremely short notice and drop it off across the country. No one has any vans available that meet our needs. Two cars, perhaps? Julian finds two cars. It will be a huge expense and a logistical nightmare but we can do it. We make the reservation and pray everything fits. It takes hours, and I apologize profusely to the mechanic for filling his office with freaking-out people all day. He takes it in stride. If your car ever breaks down in Santa Cruz, take it to Advanced Auto. Ron knows his shit and he’s a real mensch, refusing to even charge me for the coolant he gives me as a stopgap measure to get us on our way. At very least, we ended up at a good mechanic and happened to have the day to spend there, but that fact only reinforces the extent to which we are at the mercy of chance. First in Weimar, then in San Simon and Bowie, and finally in Santa Cruz, we have been forced to confront the fragility of our situation. What a crazy, stupid thing, to go so far from home in a vehicle nearly as old as we are, with a long drive nearly every day, and too much gear to even make giving up and flying home a possibility. How do we do this? How does anyone? My joy has hardened into grim determination. We will finish these shows, by any means necessary. We pile into the van and head to Davis, mostly in silence.