Alec Stephen, Dave Varenka, Tony Lee and I climbed into
our hulking gray Ford van and left the greater Big Apple metropolitan
area. It was 8 pm as we drove over the George Washington Bridge
and on through the hills of New Jersey. We stopped around
midnight at a motel in Pennsylvania and slept (two registered
and two through the back door)
CLEVELAND -- the Grog Shop (4/13)
Cleveland is Alec's boyhood town. Alec reminisced aloud
while he navigated us through the rainy streets ("There's
my old school," "oh yeah," "hmm," etc.)
The show went fine that night. Later, we did an interview
with a local radio station. The guy didn't have a tape recorder
so he borrowed mine. His girlfriend said "that's like
getting Don Johnson's autograph and asking him for a pen and
We found lodging across the street with some true-to-life
slackers. One guy complained that in Cleveland you can only
collect unemployment for six months and then you have to get
off. We feigned sympathy. A brown sock and a half-eaten bologna
sandwich lay at my feet on the carpet. I found room to sleep
by brushing them aside.
CHICAGO, IL - The Empty Bottle (04/14)
We opened this night for the Cows. The place was
packed and we played well. Afterward some big deal record
industry type introduced himself and said he enjoyed the show.
Even though he was part of the proverbial "they" as in "they're
putting a mall here" or "how can they charge so much?!" I
was still civil to him.
We had our picture taken the next day by a guy from Alternative
Press. He took us to an industrial area where they was an
old boxcar (get it? "Railroad"...). We wore our new gas station
shirts and threw rocks at pigeons.
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - Uptown Bar (4/16 Easter Sunday)
My folks live in Minneapolis so when we're in town
we stay with them. My old man was hoeing the garden as we
pulled in and mom was at a League of Women Voters meeting.
We had time to kill so my brother Rocky came over and we shot
MOORHEAD, MN / FARGO, ND - Ralph's Bar (4/17)
Riding through central Minnesota was an unremarkable
thing, but for the fact that all my relatives are from there.
All around was flat brown farmland. I recognized the names
of towns where Uncle Dick and Aunt Rita lives, or Uncle Elmer
and Aunt Vonnie. This was my roots (Root rhymes with foot
I counted 103 cars on a freight train that passed as we
were nearing the club. We had to wait 20 minutes for it but
it was worth it.
The next morning I noticed two police officers scrutinizing
our van. We watched from the motel window as they took photographs
and wrote things down. "We've done no wrong," I thought to
myself, "Why are they hassling us, man?" The next thing I
know we get a phone call: "This is officer Peterson," the
voice said. "Is that your van out front?"
"Yes it is, " I said.
"We're wondering about the graffiti on the side on your
van. Did that happen here or somewhere else?"
"It happened in New York."
"Okay, I'm sorry to bother you. We've been having a problem
with graffiti here and we're trying to crack down on it."
How's that for cutting edge police work?
WINNIPEG, MANITOBA, CANADA - The Pyramid (4/18)
At the Canadian border there were work papers waiting
for us. However, it wasn't so simple as that. Because we were
a rock band, they gave us the third degree. When Alec Stephen
tried to go to the bathroom they had him searched. He even
had to take off his shoes. Then they questioned us individually.
"Have you ever been convicted of a crime?"
"No," I said.
"Come on, I'm serious," he said. Jeez! I thought.
"Look," he said, "let's get this over quickly. Tell me the
truth. You smoke pot, right? Where is it?" I denied it and
he proceeded to tear apart our van in search of drugs. When
it was all over they found nothing and were forced to let
Canada is an altogether different country. It is
hard to put your finger on it. Even the trees look different!
Canadians speak the same language, though, except they add
an "eh?" at the end of their sentences. This is not an exaggeration.
It was cute in a way. As we drove into Winnipeg we saw the
American embassy with the familiar golden arches and playground.
That night we played at the Pyramid Club. The Canadian audience
was receptive an enthusiastic. They yelled "Encore, eh?" and
we gave them one.
CALGARY, CANADA - Night Gallery (4/20)
There were a good many people there to see us and
we were overwhelmed by their enthusiasm (some even knew the
words). The Canadians in general (or Canucks, as they are
called) were very hospitable. American club owners and fans
seem to be more jaded.
About 5 pm the next day we were at the U.S. border. We smiled
and felt a false sense of security as we gazed upon our homeland.
A stuffed bald eagle greeted us inside the interrogation center
while an inspector unscrewed the handle of Tony Lee's cane
in search of cannabis or other substances. The cane was empty
but he did find Alec's oranges, which, of course, were confiscated.
SEATTLE, WA - Crocodile Cafe, Seattle
Land of espresso, grunge, and the band that started
it all -- Pearl Jam!
PORTLAND, OR - Satyricon (4/22)
In Portland we played at Satyricon while Faith No
More played across the street. A sort of battle of the bands
you might say.
With two days off we thought we'd visit the Pacific coast
and the Redwood Forest which are reputed to be very beautiful.
In fact they are and I should know; In my hitchhiking days
I had the privilege of visiting the area. To this day I cherish
the memories of those times. The beauty of the region is incomparable
-- mountain vistas, dense forests, virgin shoreline...all
these await the adventurous traveler. And apart from the men
who wanted to "blow" me in exchange for a ride, I recall fondly
the many wonderful people I met there.
Day off (4/24)
We woke up at the Econo Lodge in Crescent City, Calf.,
which is on the coast. We visited a 150 year-old lighthouse,
then drove down Highway 101. The road led us through various
redwood national forests where redwood trees towered awesomely
throughout. To say they are big trees is simply an
understatement; they are, like, really big, if you
can imagine it. (One tree had a hole cut in the trunk which
you could drive through for $3). You feel like a dwarf or
a hobbit or something in these forests. Apparently the squirrels
there are as big as dogs but we didn't happen to see any.
(Slept at friend of a friend of a friend or a friend of a
friend's house near San Francisco.)
On our way into San Francisco we drove by San Quentin prison
where Charles Manson is kept. Coming over the hill we
saw Charles Manson walking in the exercise area! (at least
it looked like him) He looked very sad. We felt sorry for
him. But then we remembered all the crimes he did and we felt
that it was probably good that he was sad. Maybe he regrets
it now, the bastard.
LOS ANGELES, CA - Spaceland (4/27)
Spaceland is in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles.
The drummer from Vita Pup (opening band) said our show was
"very punk" that night. "Thanks," we said, "so was yours."
The weather was very "LA." if you know what I mean
(which is fine, but, come on, 365 days a year?!?) We stayed
that night at Gabe Soria's apartment two blocks from the club.
A year ago Gabe interviewed us for Fizz magazine and asked
us questions like "Are you a communist?"
Gabe decided to go to San Diego with us to gather material
for his book on rock and roll. He brought along his lap-top.
When you reach southern California the vernacular changes
drastically. Words such as "stoked" and "killer" (adj.) come
into usage. The one that really takes the cake, though, was
"right on." Yes, it is borrowed from the early '70s, but nowadays
it is pronounced with the emphasis on the "right."
ALBUQUERQUE, NM - The Golden West (4/29)
After playing Albuquerque we had two days off so
we took our time getting to Austin. The first night we stayed
at a Motel 6 in El Paso on the Mexican border.
Mid afternoon we came upon a U.S. border checkpoint (actually
it came upon us --unexpectedly). The officers made us get
out of the van and stand while a drug-sniffing dog went through
it. The dog choked suddenly and then yelped and then his eyes
watered while an officer held up Dave Varenka's laundry bag.
"Is this yours?" he demanded.
"Yes," we said and then he suggested that we seal the bag
in the future. Imagine our relief as we drove away free men.
Dave lit up a joint then and we drove to Ozona, TX.
In Ozona we got a motel and went to the local steakhouse.
Pick-up trucks were parked by the side of the road and Jimmy
Buffet's "Margaritaville" wafted into the warm thick Texas
air. We were informed by the waitresses that to purchase beer
we had to buy a membership for $5. "Hogwash" I though, but
we relented and paid for the stupid card that allowed us to
drink. Locals in full cowboy regalia watched us suspiciously
as we ate and drank. We watched The Fugitive later
AUSTIN, TX - Emo's (5/4)
You couldn't find a more hospitable place if you tried.
Yessir, Austin made us feel right at home. Our show went without
a hitch and many people came up to us afterward to shake our
hands (It was then that I wished I had my joy buzzer.)
In Texas everything is done "Texas style." Texans are fond
of letting you know this too. They have "Texas portions,"
"Texas barbecue," "Texas toast," "Texas justice."...even the
Mexican food can be done Texas style! After a while you expect
everything to be Texas style, then when something is not,
you are shocked.
NORMAN, OK - Cafe 66 (5/4)
We crossed the Red River (named for its reddish coloring)
and entered Oklahoma. Several famous people have come from
Oklahoma, most notably Will Rogers, Woody Guthrie and Tony
Randall. That night a guy who makes the fanzine The Dumb
Okie put us up. His dog and two cats sniffed at us as
we slept on the malodorous carpet.
LAWRENCE, KS - Replay Lounge (5/5) Can't say much
for Lawrence that hasn't already been said.
On our way to St. Louis we stopped for gas at a Shell station.
I went to the restroom. It was there that I first encountered
the writings of the "Shithouse Poet." On the door of the stall
was written: "They paint these walls to stop my pen / But
the shithouse poet strikes again." I was moved by these words
and from then on I was to recognize more work by this prolific
scribbler on restroom walls across the country.
CINCINNATI, OH - Sudsy Malone's (5/7)
Another six hours of driving brought us to Cincinnati and
the club called Sudsy Malone's. On the street in front there
are small speakers everywhere and the government (or whoever)
pumps from them classical music. Presumably this is to deter
the more violent impulses of the people in the area. It seemed
to work too. I happened to see a typical criminal type on
the verge of doing something or other that was illegal when
he strayed beneath one of those speakers. Almost instantaneously
he was transformed into a passive law-abiding citizen like
you or me. It was impressive. Other cities should take note
of this novel approach to behavioral control.
KALAMAZOO, MI - Club (5/8)
Up north again we were back in chilly temperatures.
The trees were leafless and ugly.
We did one last show in Kalamazoo and our U.S. tour was
over. We were eager to get back to get back to New York and
the next two days we spent doing just that. Eight hours on
the Indiana and Ohio toll roads brought us to Pennsylvania
where we slept at a motel. Another day of driving led us finally
to the Holland tunnel where we could see the NYC skyline just
across the river.
Ah, home...We dodged the ricocheting gunfire and various
other urban hazards that go on 24 hours a day and made it
back to our practice space where we unloaded and sat down
and commenced to write new songs.
Railroad Jerk 1991
Railroad Jerk 1993