This crazy story from the road was written by the singer songwriter, Bryan McPherson. You can check out his story, after the break.
I can’t really think of one story that is so crazy it’s worth talking about or might inspire more than just a few sentences. So I think I will tell you a few tour stories. Maybe some scattered memories of my travels and some of the situations I have found myself in. Let me preface this by saying that between 2012 and 2014 while on tour, I found myself sleeping in Walmart parking lots all over America. I found the comfort of my van to be more enjoyable than the company of strangers or the cost of a motel. In those early days of long-haul touring, sometimes I’d only make 50 dollars and I would need gas to get to the next gig and simple math tells me that I can’t afford to stay at a hotel. But something inside me compels me to do this thing. I took out the rear seats and fitted my ’95 Astrovan van with some padding, a zero-degree sleeping bag, and my friend made some black curtains for me. At the end of a long day, I’d use my Walmart sleeper app to find one that allowed overnight parking. I’d park next to a couple of RV’s and Mac trucks in the back of the lot, hop in the back, and hang the black curtains. Turning my van into its own little cocoon. Sometimes it got very cold. One time in Denver there was a big snowstorm and I awoke surrounded by snow, but I was very warm in my mummy sleeping bag, which covered everything except my nose, which did get a little chilly. I’ve slept in Walmart parking lots through the South in July and August (something I do not recommend). I bought a small battery-powered fan, but that still didn’t do too much. There’s not much one can do to combat the summer heat in Houston or 120 degrees in Phoenix. In Phoenix, it will be 110 at midnight, so I would drive to Tucson and sleep there. It’s usually only in the 90’s in Tucson at night, I survived Florida. Florida was the hottest. I’ve never felt such heat. Money was so tight on that tour I was really combating renting a room, but at around 5am as I lay sweating, thinking about the day’s drive, and my exhaustion, I went and rented a nice air conditioned room. Though I am amazed and find some sort of pride in actually having done it, I would not want to do that again. I wouldn’t really sleep on that tour. I’d always remain sort of conscious and the lines between awake and sleep were blurred. There was really just one state: tired. But I did learn to perform under any circumstance. There’s not much you can throw at me that I can not handle at this point.
I’ve slept in the woods in grizzly country in Montana and heard rustling in the bushes that would send me sprinting back into the van. I hit a raccoon at about 3am also in Montana (before the woods), after a show, looking for a place to bed down. I was a little dazed and it felt like the raccoon just ran into my van and there was nothing I could do. The jolt of adrenaline and guilt and empathy and sadness really woke me up and about a mile down the road I came to a screeching halt when the road was filled with a family of elk. The parents being over 6 ft tall and quite large. If I hit them they would have crushed me. I’m fairly convinced that that raccoon saved my life.
There have been plenty of crazy shows and plenty of lame ones. Sometimes my favorites are the lonely ones. Like being in San Antonio, all day alone and lonely and tired and the sun is just roaring down on me and I can not escape it. I have 7 hours to kill until the gig and nowhere to be. The gig finally rolls around and about 5 people show up. Four just for dinner. I sing my guts out and the bar hands me a 20 spot. I sell 5 CDs and fill up the gas tank and hit the road. I stop at a truck stop, take a 10 dollar shower and drive off into the night. You can not beat a truck stop shower on the road, seriously. You have never showered until you’ve had a truck stop tour shower.
There was that time in Upstate NY when I was playing and someone saw someone they hated and came into the show and smashed a beer bottle on their head. There was a lot of blood and glass on the floor. I just kept singing. The police came and I kept singing. The barkeep came over and mopped up the blood and I kept singing..
There’s the venue, to the parking lot one-night stands, or one-night moments and love on the run, but I won’t get into that. Know that I’ve had some fun, but there are plenty of lonely nights in strange towns where you don’t know anyone and no one wants to know you and you question the point of the whole deal.
Then there are the Cajun boiled peanuts in Florida. The endless salt deserts of Utah. Texas BBQ. The desolate motel 666’s of rest stop Colorado with the wind whipping your face and the cold breaking your skin, shaking the walls on a 50 dollar day off where all you want to do is sleep and can’t. There’s the fairy tale Oregon coast and motherfucking Portland and the mountains and rains of Seattle and all of the coffee. There’s the haunted truck stop in the Louisiana swamp. Yeah, the haunted truck stop. Not entirely sure I was not having an acid flashback… I had been driving all day, exhausted and hungry and looking forward to finding some Louisiana food to finish off the day. I rolled into the haunted truck stop. Now to most people you say truck stop and people think of a creepy, dirty, place full of prostitutes and grime and tumbleweeds and what not and in reality truck stops are very nice and welcoming. Not this truck stop. This is the one people envision. You pull in on a dirt road and wonder if you might blow a tire or a shock, park in the mud, hop out and walk inside past the toothless parking lot girls hoping to make a few dollars providing favors to strangers. I asked if they had a restroom and the man next to me just started cackling and laughing in my face. Not saying anything. Just laughing in my face. The woman behind the counter pointed to a shack across the lot. I hesitantly walked out across the parking lot, passed the girls, and into the shack. Inside there was an elderly couple in their undershorts, ironing clothes half naked and there was the most filthy vile stuff written on the walls, with very large insects buzzing around and prehistoric mosquitos on alert. I handled my business and got the fuck out. It felt like a dream. One of those moments where time warps. I drove past 2 guys sharpening knives in the parking lot of a restaurant and just drive on. I think I ate at Arby’s. The swamp has a way with words and you start thinking about all of the people who have gone missing in those swamps and the history of the slave trade, and Hurricane Katrina and you realize there are a lot of ghosts in that part of the world and they are justifiably unhappy. Far away from the tourist traps and bars the ghosts are singing.
I think it was this year or the last. That the big Superstorm Sandy hit New York City and Long Island. A massive hurricane was heading up the coast and I was right next to it. Literally my tour was a day behind the storm. I was one step behind it in Myrtle Beach, through Virginia and finally New York. When I made it to New York, I was staying at a friend’s on Long Island and it was a disaster. The power was out, trees were down, houses were destroyed, people were shaken up. It was like driving through a war zone. I spent the night in Long Island and miraculously, Dunkin’ Donuts was open. Anyone from the Northeast knows that even in a hurricane people need their coffee. The show in NY was in Brooklyn, so I made my way over. The lines at gas stations were literally miles long and people were getting into fights and the police were stationed to break up the fights and prevent all-out riots. I made it to Brooklyn and hit the old YMCA I used to stay at in Greenpoint. It’s pretty run down, but they have showers. Luckily for us they were letting everyone use their facilities for free. The strange thing about a disaster is it brings people together. It can be a wonderful thing as long as no one gets hurt. The show went on, though without power and attendance was low of course, but we had a good show anyways. A few months later the venue was flooded when the roof caved in. Apparently they had never removed the water on the roof from the hurricane. They are no longer in business.
There was this time I was playing in this old industrial town. I was phenomenally exhausted. This is why I don’t like staying with strangers. You never know what you are going to get. At the insistence of my gracious host, I obliged to come stay at their apartment to get some rest. They said it would be very nice and I could get some good sleep. By the time we got there, on the way up 3 flights of stairs, I was asked if I liked dogs? At which I replied, “Yes I love dogs!” I do love dogs. “Good,” they replied, “I have 3 rescue pitbulls.” Now I like pitbulls as much as any other dog and they get a bad rap, but these dogs were fucking insane. Here it is 2am and I am in a kitchen with 3 large traumatized pit bulls. It is clear that one is the leader. He is the biggest and baddest and we will call him Beast, and if you had any misunderstanding that he was the boss you were reminded when every few minutes he would come over and bite you. Literally bite you. Not full scale, but a nip, just to fuck with you. Meanwhile the other ones are jumping around barking at each other and getting bit by the big one and biting back and the glasses are shaking and it’s just madness while my host yells at them to quiet and behave and I am thinking, yeah it’s really terrible sleeping in my van. How could I possibly sleep in a nice comfy quiet van and guess what, There are no huge dogs biting me in my van!
I was offered my sleeping spot, which was a slice of hardwood floor in the dining room that bordered the kitchen and showed the bathroom that didn’t have a flushing toilet. I layed my sleeping bag on the ground in the dining room and hoped sleep would come swiftly and soundly, meanwhile my host yelled at the dogs and tried to get them to calm down. We wished each other goodnight and he was off and I was left in the dining room. I closed my eyes and a few minutes later I heard a bug THUD from a few feet next to me, there was a second door to the kitchen, the kitchen with rabid pit bulls, and Beast was ramming his head against the door and trying to break it down to get at me! It was like that scene in Jurassic park when the dinosaur is coming and the puddle is shaking. Each time that dog rammed himself into the door the house shook and my glass of water sent ripples to the brim. My host finally came out and shushed Beast and put him in another room. I fell asleep and woke up 3 hours later to his roommates waking up and shuffling through the living room. Good morning. Another day on tour. I think that night I found a Walmart.
Then there’re the huge shows. The Dropkick Murphys call you up and suddenly you’re playing to 5,000 people in Edmonton, Canada. I crushed it at that show. I crushed it on that whole tour, not to blow my own horn. :) Anyways at the end of the show in Edmonton the crowd started chanting “Lose Your Pants! Lose your pants!” I thought they have strange customs up here, so I pulled down my pants to 5,000 Canadians. Next on the bucket list… There is no more bucket list after that one.
Then there’s waking up in Sweden with severe jet lag in a small tour bus not knowing which currency you need to use to take a piss. Sleeping in a small bunk letting the tour bus drift you off into some sort of sleep when the days feel like night and the nights feel like day, but you can still sing and you can still kill it totally exhausted, with jet lag and being nauseous, because you slept in your van through the South in the summer and still played and you almost got eaten by big dogs and all that shit about what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger is all true. I wouldn’t change any of it.
Right now, I am in Germany. It is the polar opposite to the sort of touring I was doing a couple of years ago. We have hotels included and breakfast and dinner and a tour manager and I’m sitting on my laptop writing this in the back of the car. When we get to the venues they offer us cheese plates and rolls and a pot of coffee and breakfast in the morning. A lot of the venues in the States give you an eye roll and point to the busted P.A. in the back of an empty bar.
In closing, Sometimes the worst things end up being the things you have the fondest memories of. Everything happens for a reason and you never know what is good and what is bad. Difficult circumstances can lead to great ones. Pain creates change. Appreciate every moment because in the blink of an eye you might be dead. Anyways if you give me another week I can probably think of some more or some other weird thing will happen, but for the readers sake I will cut this essay short. The names have been changed. Remember what you heard here not what you saw and remember the first rule of Fight Club. Peace out.