|Photo by S. Casey|
Tales From the Road – Scot Casey and Havilah Rand’s Desolation of America Road Trip
It was one of those experiences in your life that you look back upon with wonder and terror. I imagine Dante, having just emerged from the horrors of the Inferno, being possessed of the same thoughts. Or Marlow, drifting out of the Heart of Darkness, “the horror, the horror” an insane whisper repeating in his brain. And it all started out so innocent and beautiful…
A month or so ago, I was walking out of the Green Frog after my usual dinner of peanuts and Rainier. As I walked past the Redlight, Havilah Rand, recently returned from Thailand, hollered me down. We shared a bottle or two of excellent wine and that was where it all began: she was moving back from Austin to Bellingham, driving a truck full of her possessions. And seeing as I still had a garage full of books to move up to Bellingham, we decided to go in together on the truck rental and drive back together. And, here was the beauty of the plan; we would try to play shows together along the way. Something like beauty and the beast or the rose and the skull. We would play in truck stops and gas stations if we had to, filming it all with phones and an iPad. It all sounded so nice and easy and what could possibly go wrong - as so many things do after a couple of bottles of wine.
I flew down to Austin a few days before we were to leave, spending a few days saying goodbye to a city that had been my home for over 20 years. Our first show was on Thursday night at The Local (formerly The Texas Showdown and before that, the legendary punk club, Raul’s.) Havilah and I met earlier for dinner and several potent margaritas at Trudy’s. She started off the set at The Local and just blew everyone away – as I knew she would. Her set was polished and professional and full of laughter and lightness, the moon and the surf on a beautiful night. As I took the stage, I noticed a lot of familiar faces in the crowd – more than a few that I mention in some of my songs in a less than favorable light. It was good to be up in front of old friends and familiar faces from when I was a bartender there. However, I felt like I sang like a drunk in a midnight choir.
Afterwards, I was surprised when many of the people unfavorably mentioned in my songs came forward to say how happy that I put them in a song. A dozen or so shots of tequila sat on the bar for Havilah and I. Around shot six and some challenging conversation about music for graveyards, we found ourselves in route to the Texas State Cemetery, where we played an inebriated set on Arch Stanton’s grave. It was well attended by the living and the dead.
We left the next morning, insanely hung-over, irritable and probably still half drunk. My skin smelled like Tequila and bones. The truck was filled with books, guitars, and whatever had remained for each of us in Austin. The city was burning in 100-degree heat. The whole world seemed to be black and white with sharp razor like teeth that chewed into our eyes and made our brain ache with pain. We kept language to a minimum. I thought several times about just driving 90 mph straight into an embankment to just put myself out of the pain.
We stopped in Marble Falls at the Fuel Coffee House to get some coffee. Havilah’s name was there on the door for a show that got flooded out earlier in the month. The coffee was good. We grabbed our guitars and headed over to the main plaza with the imposing courthouse and clock tower. There was a small car show going on. We chose a spot under a shady pecan tree and played for about an hour, earning some extra gas money. It seemed a good omen and we were in much better spirits when we got back on the road. There seemed to be wildflowers everywhere and even the cows were smiling in the fields, horses waved at us as we drove by and bluebirds flew around the truck like dolphins. The world was suddenly a Technicolor dream and the highway was the yellow brick road leading home. For that brief period of time, we had hope.
Somewhere around Amarillo, something happened. Or rather, it didn’t happen. Nothing happened. Let me explain: we had been driving for over 12 hours, seeing all manner of landscape and interesting objects along the way. After Marble Falls, it almost became beautiful. Then, after Amarillo, it was as if the same view locked into place. We kept driving and driving and everything seemed the same. The same Rip Griffin gas station. The same Ramada Inn. The same McDonald’s. The same generic strip malls. Neither of us said anything to the other but by the time we pulled into the Ramada Inn in Pueblo, Colorado, we both sensed the weirdness.
We asked the manager – 22 years old, defeated, burned out eyes of a old man - if we could play a set “for our film” in the lobby. He told us it was against corporate policy to allow music in the lobby. He suggested the Applebee’s down the highway. At the Applebee’s we were also told that it was against company policy to allow live music. We decided to stay for a drink, take some miles off the road before tomorrow. But we were told that in honor of Veteran’s Day, no alcohol was being served. We asked where the Veteran’s might go to drink but only received a shrug as a reply. We headed back to the motel, full of spleen and venom.
The next morning we stopped at a Starbuck’s to have the worst cup of coffee we had ever had from what might have been the most blissfully ignorant and happy barista in the world. We told her we were filming a movie and would like to play a couple of songs in front, outside. She had to ask the manager. The manager, predictably, told us music was not allowed. We pulled into a gas station with fake cactus plants and tried to play a set at the pump while we were filling up. A speaker on top of the pump alerted us with a monotonic tone that if we did not stop playing music, they would call the police.
Back on the road, all suspicions were confirmed: the same view, the same types of cars, same corporate chain businesses. It was as if a Cult of Sameness had infected all of the United States. We kept trying to find one diner, one local restaurant, god, please god, a local bar, a musical venue. But there was nothing. It was all the same. Even the landscape seemed transformed into one long long road leading into the horizon, sky full of featureless clouds, all around us… aspects of the Waste Land.
Havilah and I started getting a little deranged. To pass the time we made podcasts on the worst things you have ever tasted, smelled, put in your mouth. (You may, if you care, listen to these at: http://soundcloud.com/scot-casey ) The phrases, “a dead dog’s butt” and “a prostitute at 4 in the morning” caused uncontrollable laughter. We listened to the Hunger Games, cracking up at particularly brutal passages, playing them over and over. Time and again we stopped to play music and were told it was against policy, not allowed, forbidden, illegal. Havilah was almost arrested at a rest stop outside of Cheyenne, Wyoming for refusing to cease and desist while performing.
Everything became a horrible desolation for us. A hell of sameness and no music. Then, after nearly 40 hours of driving through this we pulled into Bellingham. Home. Finally. We drove down State Street: Shakedown, Honey Moon, Redlight, Green Frog. Music everywhere. We stopped at Cap’s. O Sweet Nectar of Life! Tequila, beer and popcorn never tasted so good.
Later, we walked to Railroad and Holly and played a few songs each to an appreciative crowd and two cops on bicycles. So damn happy to have escaped the Horror of Sameness, the Desolation of America and back to a city with local identity, eccentricity and beautiful insanity.
Originally published in What's Up!