An Aussie, two Brits, two Norwegians, and four Americans walk onto a bus in New York City; each at separate times, climbing the steps eagerly in anticipation of being “home” for the night.
No one goes out tonight because we have an early bus call and we’ve already been in this city for four days. We played three sold out shows at Irving Plaza and we’re dispersing the contents of a box of socks the venue gave us to commemorate the occasion.
One by one, we find reprieve in beers. Beers and conversation. Beers and iPhone screens. Maybe tonight will be one where Dagny is successful in convincing me to play cards. Probably not.
I watch Brad, our bus driver, expertly navigate through the densely packed streets; a grid of horizontal and vertical lines that were never meant to bear the girth of a 12 passenger bus and trailer. Right when we hit the tunnel, moments from the deep breath of the highway, we find ourselves stopped behind an eighteen-wheeler that got stuck in the tunnel. Brad is yelling obscenities at the man who neglected the height warnings before the mouth of the tunnel.
Maybe he’s as anxious to get out of the city as we are.
It’s an off day. I wake up on my own accord, no timeline to abide by. Although on the bus I always feel pressured to get up whenever I hear someone else up. It’s like being at a sleepover – you don’t want to be the lame kid who’s still passed out with his mouth open while everyone else is eating pancakes.
I probably make coffee. I probably make a PB&J. I’ve lived on sandwiches this tour.
This part of the morning we all dazedly stare at our phones or just straight ahead, all of us in various stages of the morning routine; like watching yourself wake up nine separate times.
Look outside the window to see where we are.
It’s beginning to dawn on me that I’ll be leaving this tour tomorrow; the full weight of that thought finally sinking in. But that’s tomorrow, today we have infinite possibilities in the great city of Pittsburgh.
I was teaching a lesson when I got a text about the audition. It was for an artist that shared the same name as the main character in my favorite book. Over the course of the next week, I recorded the audition, waited, and got an email back saying they’d like to have me out. I was ecstatic. I immediately started cramming for the rehearsals that were about to start in six days in LA.
Then three days before rehearsals, “do you know any keyboard/guitar players?”
I called Scott and asked him if he wanted to go on a two-month tour with a Norwegian singer. He said he had to think about it and call me back. A few minutes later I got a text:
“Dude yeah. Music is real fun. Who do I talk to”
I walk to the hotel. Pittsburgh is actually an amazing city. Rivers layered and cut perpendicularly with yellow bridges, all surrounded by densely wooded, steep hills with houses and trams built into the side of them.
By the time I make it out of the shower, Thomas and Lewis are there, and both of them are staring out the window. There’s a man with a drone, surrounded by a slowly developing crowd of people. He sends the drone fifty feet into the air at a cautious pace and then returns it to the ground. That’s it. We make fun of him.
An Uber takes us to a diner across the river where the rest of the group is.
Everything is doused in pink and family photos. A photographic history lesson of the town of Pittsburgh set on a backdrop of fluorescent tackiness. The portions are huge and disgusting, the coffee is weak and cheap. I love it.
We take a family photo of our own.
There are too many characters in this story to introduce individually. I’d rather refer to them as one functional, thriving organism because that’s what they are. They all have their specific tasks and collectively work towards the same goal: Put on a great fucking show. But even on a day off like this, a day spent entertaining ourselves and each other, each personality makes up one essential piece of the group’s kinetic communion. Like how the Power Rangers are dope on their own, but they’re way doper when they form Megazord.
It’s hard to describe the magnitude of camaraderie I feel with these people, especially since we’ve only known each other for a few weeks. But maybe the time aspect plays a large part in the significance of it. Not the beginning, but the inevitable ending. The very specific date of November 12. Like a summer fling that you know won’t last beyond the sunny months, you squeeze every drop from every moment. The expiration date puts an added pressure and appreciation for the whole situation. When you know time is limited, you fall hard and fast.
Driving across the wide open nothingness of Utah and Nevada in my red hatchback towards LA, I knew that my timeline would be more condensed than anyone else’s. I was filling in for Dagny’s drummer, Harry, while he waited for his visa.
At the time, I had no idea what to expect in terms of the people I was going to be living and working with. It was my first time playing and meeting any of them besides Scott. I prepared myself for the worst possible scenario and told Scott that we would at least have each other. Regardless of what the situation ended up being, we would rock out and go for walks in random directions after sound check per usual.
After the diner, we set out to explore the streets like any 9-person family of various citizenship would. We don’t make it twenty feet before we stop at a rack of bikes for rent. After toying with the idea of how fun it would be to ride bikes around the city, we quickly give up after a half-hearted effort to get the machine to work. We keep walking and browse cheap sunglasses and souvenirs from open storefronts; floating in and out, looking more for things to make each other laugh rather than to actually purchase.
Someone spots a candy shop across the street and we begin to fill our agenda-less day by perusing rows and rows of sweets. Dagny buys me some German chocolate as a going away present.
We continue walking in a way that reminds me of my friends in high school. Direction-less youth in a vanilla suburban biome, our wanderings tracing etch-a-sketch shapes with the soles of our skate shoe clad feet in desultory directions; like an apathetically magnetized compass.
We pass a fish market and countless Steelers apparel and memorabilia shops. We pass an Irish bar and only marginally decide against going in. We spend significant time in a three-story building that sells comics, movies, action figures, and vintage Playboy magazines. Pick something up, show it to somebody, put it down. Look at something somebody else picked up, comment, watch them put it down.
We continue walking in a part of downtown that can’t be seen by the river. Harry claims he knows which way we need to go to get back to the bus, so I don’t think twice and follow his lead. We admire the architecture and stop only to take pictures, mostly of each other.
We cross one of the giant yellow bridges back to the bus and watch the sun submit to the hills as the day closes in on us. Dagny and Harry head to a studio in town to track some vocals. Alex sets off to work in the hotel room. The rest of us think about finding food and seeing a movie. The choice of activity is ultimately irrelevant, as long as the day ends with a feeling that we did something with this day of nothing.
A couple of beers later, we find ourselves on a tram going up the side of a hill. I take us to a place way too far out of the way. We share drinks and dinner and a heaping plate of nachos that we didn’t need.
It’s bizarre how much I enjoy every one of these people. It’s bizarre that, out of all of us on this tour, there isn’t one guy that has too short of a temper or gets bummed too easily or doesn’t work quite as hard as the rest of us; that our tour ecosystem was pristine from the beginning. That’s what it is – an ecosystem. Especially when you’re working all day together and then living in bunk beds in the same room together, things can easily turn into an episode of The Real World. But it never did.
The fact that we are all on the front lines with the same goal in mind of course creates a basic need for teamwork, but I think the feelings of belonging and togetherness come from a deeper place than team spirit. As people who willingly submit our bodies and psyches to often last-minute and frantically unpredictable events, we share more than a common task and goal: we share a lifestyle that is fueled by deeply rooted ideals.
I can only speak for myself, but I think most of us are the type of person that never quite fit in; the status quo was never enough or didn’t make much sense. I remember at a very young age seeing my dad work from an office he had in our home and knowing I could never do that. It's a feeling I still get in my chest when I pass a cookie-cutter apartment complex or hear friends my age talking about retirement.
That makes it seem like it’s a part of my DNA. Like I never have doubts about it. Like questions about getting older and doing the right thing don't come up regularly on the bus. We’re all internally chaotic, driven, emotional, self-critical beings that find solace in people who share the same fears and doubts; in people who are propelled forward less by checking off life milestones and more by the fear of being consumed by the nameless shadow that we've stayed one step ahead of our entire lives.
We’re free-wheeling vagabonds, but we’re doing it together. Justification for our communal insanity comes from being shoulder to shoulder with a human that’s made the same choice, shares the same convictions and is taking on the same risks - even if you’re not sure where those convictions came from or if they’re even valid.
There’s a mutual respect for one another’s mental instability. Deep down we all know that this is crazy. Deep down we all hear those voiced doubts from people we’ve heard our whole careers and watch as our peers check off socially sanctioned life goals. Each night together acts as a silent nod to the deliberate neglect we commit.
I absolutely want the security and stability that top the list of most people’s priorities, but actively deny the means. I define my own means, putting me at odds with the parallel reality. It’s a constant foot-race between my ideals and the bullet points to happiness I’ve been force-fed my entire life. Most of the time, when I’m by myself I feel like I’m losing, but when I’m with my traveling commune of musical carneys, I feel like I’m winning.
Together we form a tribe based on the commandments of self-doubt and ingrown fear. A culture of self-analyzing, self-contextualizing, and rarely rationalizing beyond the gut feeling.
We find comfort in each other’s uncertainty because we share the same question marks.
Validation rarely comes from the outside and true acceptance comes from within the group. None of us know how long this will last, but when we’re together it makes the future seem irrelevant. It’s enough to know that right now was created by nothing but each individual’s own want and will.
I’m indescribably grateful for the brilliance and compassion of these people. The gratitude I felt mostly just put me in a state of awe; dumb and watching descriptive words lose shape and melt away, leaving me only the option to abandon thought and open my eyes to the silver screen of my actual life.
I don’t remember much of how our night in Pittsburgh ended. I remember we met back on the bus and Jesse ordered pizza for everyone and, as every night, we trickled one by one to the bunks, like a reenactment of the morning routine on rewind.
In Detroit, in the morning, we get coffee, exchange hugs, and I get in an Uber to the airport. It's a period on the end of this journey, but an ellipsis on my relationship with these unique human beings I didn’t know existed a month ago.
I'm a touring drummer. I live in hotels and venues to be on stage for one hour a day. That hour is why I do this and the only part people see. This is a documentation of the other 23 hours.