Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Snarf and Nickels


It was a Tuesday afternoon, so there was no band set up on the stage. The day drinkers leaning on the old mahogany bar, put their feet on the brass tube below the red sparkle upholstery and both forearms across the marble like they were bracing for rough seas. Swizzle straws, odd pieces of duct tape, cut guitar strings and chips of drum sticks, covered the small stage. The shag carpet looked like matted fur on a feral dog. I tested the dryness with my hand before I sat down, knowing my brother would not be on time. He owed me sixty bucks and if I didn't get today, it would be another week, or never.

The braless bartender laughed at the old men making no effort to hide that they were looking at "the twins" "the girls" "ta ta's" or whatever other cliché they had decided to call her large tits. She was leaning over as she talked to them, in an effort to increase their tabs. Sometimes for big tippers, she'd pull down her shirt a little, for a quick peak and a shimmy. Her cigarette popped up and down like a conductor's wand as she giggled, pouring free hand shots, into thick octagonal glasses. Her over tanned face, lined and freckled, scowled even when she forced it to smile. Outside it was three O'clock but in "Partners" it was always midnight. No windows, dark wood and red carpeted walls prevented even the brightest sliver of light from invading the bar. It was as if no one knew there was a day waiting, just beyond that heavy front door. Jennifer had worked there for a few years and her family was well known in town. Her mother died of cancer and her brother was hit by a boat in the river and drowned swimming out at The Tree, the swimming spot for the kids that didn't like the rules or lifeguards at the public pool. One summer she was a redheaded little kid, the next she was the girl in a see through bikini that dated the tough older guys. To me and many others that had incurable crushes on her, she would always be that sweet girl in the lime green bathing suit. She was still beautiful, but she had aged, like her skin had been left in bad weather and hard winds. She caught me staring and gave me a knowing wink. I waved, and looked away. Her smokey laugh, rose above the murmur of small talk and I heard her say;

"Hahaha, Lil Snarf! You are still the same kid you've always been. A few old guys turned and bounced as they struggled for enough air to laugh, cigarette vapor seeping from them like steam through a factory grate.

Lil Snarf was my inherited nickname. Snarf was my brother's nickname and because I was younger they added Lil to it as if I was the smaller carbon copy. Snarf was a name he had earned eating it, after surfing a huge wave one winter. He supposedly made a "snarf" sound when he broke threw the surface, sucking for air. I didn't really mind being called that, I was happy to have any nickname other than Pee Wee, Mighty Mite, or Short Stop. My brother and Nickels, his best friend, bragged about fucking Julie. They loved telling stories about shit she did when she was drunk. They howled as they told the story of how she got up in the middle of the night, squatted in Nickels closet and filled his favorite Tony Lama boots with piss. They loved how uncomfortable I was with the vivid details, of the twisted sex games they played, after filling her face with cocaine. They would coerce her into lifting her shirt and rubbing her tits on me after they'd cornered me in some sticky booth in the back. It was a game they never tired of playing, and laughed harder every time they pulled the gag. I couldn't help the feelings that surfaced when I saw her tan lines, and pink nipples. Some tender connection occurred, every time they used her as a prop in their joke. Those beautiful secrets had been there all along, even when she was a sweet and innocent kid. We swam together in the coffee colored waters of the St. Lucie River. I remembered the kiss she gave me when no one was looking as we hung from a low branch, floating like kites against strong current, where the banks narrowed. When they lifted her shirt I only saw the girl I chased down the trail to the tree, and not the battle scarred woman she had become. It was impossible to look at her face and imagine we were the same age.

I kept all my money in a pickle jar on my dresser. I kept meticulous count of how much money I had. I was saving for new cymbals all summer. I was only about a fifty bucks away from having real cymbals for the first time in my life. I looked at pictures of famous drummers in magazines and on album covers. I wondered what kind they had and if mine would sound as good. I worked at the surf shop, mowed lawns, washed cars, and weeded walkways, for each dollar that was added to the jar and I fretted over where the next would come from. My brother never thought twice about grabbing a fist full of my money when he was short, and cackled like some evil woman when I'd confront him about it. He said it wasn't stealing because he always paid me back. The truth was he almost never paid me back in full, it was always a little here and there and it never added up to what he took. He'd contest the amount and accuse me of cheating him. If I complained, I got a slap or a punch for being a pussy about it. I had never found a spot to hide it where he couldn't sniff it out.

Nickels walked in the bar like he owned it, and Snarf coasted behind him in his wake. Nickels had a million dollar smile and could charm the pants of a guy's wife right in front of him. Everybody loved him so much they didn't seem to mind. He was called Nickels because he sold weed from the time he was thirteen and he dealt only in five dollar nickel bags. His last name was Nicholson, and so he became Nickels. He even had a license plate with "Nickels" on it. Snarf slapped forty dollars down on the stage and said:

"There ya go fuck face, forty dollars. Now stop whining like a fucking fag about it."

"You took sixty." I said.

Snarf laughed and held the last twenty over my head, making me jump for it. The gallery at the bar chuckled out veils of smoke. Then he crumpled it up and threw it on the floor.

"Fuck you asshole!" I said, grabbing the money and heading for the door.

Nickels yelled my name and I turned just in time to see him lift Julie's shirt, juggling her tits in his hands, as he hid behind her back. The bar roared, as I swung the heavy door open to the burning light, the summer heat, squinting and shielding my eyes.

W.B.Z.N.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

My Favorite Mistake


My memory of the Flag Loop (out old Centerville Road, over the Georgia line and back) was a happy one. We did the ride at night last winter, when I was in really good shape. It was the only night clay ride I've ever done. Not long after, a plan started to hatch in my brain about connecting it and the Kilearn/Dirt Proctor route, to make it a long solo ride.

The stars aligned and I slept nine hours Saturday night. I felt like Sunday was a perfect day to take a shot at it. I was up early enough and it was cool and clear out. I started out slow feeling sluggish after my first real week of riding in a while. I got lost looking for the back door (a cut through some private roads, off Bradfordville Rd.) to Proctor. I figured it was about ten miles out to Centerville, but when I got there I had about sixteen. I was so preoccupied with my incorrect mile count, that I forgot to get water at the Bradfordville Country Store, before I headed out on the clay. My plan was to turn around if my odometer read over thirty miles by the time I reached the first turn on Metcaff. I cruised thought the Old Centerville Road clay and looking at houses and plantation gates. I wondered what it would be like to live out there. I hit the pavement at Springhill and quickly realized the climbs were tougher and longer than I remembered. At about twenty eight miles, I came to the stop sign and the left turn onto Metcaff. Another cyclist rolled up to the intersection across the street and we chatted about where we were from and where we were going. He had never ridden the Flag Loop, but he knew the roads and came with me to make sure I got the next turn correct. At the next dirt section we said our goodbyes and I was on my own again.

About this time, I started to feel a very uneasy stirring in my gut. It's that rumble and cramp, we all recognize from awful previous experiences. I began looking for a place to desecrate. In my preoccupation with impending doom, I missed my left turn and ended up on 319 a few miles south of Thomasville. The one bright spot was, there was a gas station across the road and I was thanking (Deity of choice) that I would be able to evacuate the evil in a civilized manner and also get water. At first I didn't notice all the plastic bags on the gas pumps, or the lack of cars, but when I looked into the dark pad locked carcass of the store, I said "no fucking way!" loudly to no one. My mind and bowels were already in launch mode and I had to find whatever spot I could to exercise the demons, that were coming with or without my consent. I squatted next to an A.C. unit, praying that no one would see me doing something, National Geographic would edit from a Hippo documentary. I always carry paper towels with me (for just such a party) and was thankful I had done one thing right. I walked away from the crime scene as though nothing happened, vowing never to admit guilt for the havoc I had unleashed.

A quick check of the map revealed I missed my turn by one mile and I headed down Forshalee, thankful that at last, I was headed home. This is a narrow and nearly house free road with a couple good climbs and bombing (thirty mile per hour, plus) downhill's. I was feeling so relieved that I actually got out of the saddle on a couple of the hills and forced myself not to touch the brakes going down. I got to the left on Sunny Hill and drank down my last swallow (which put Kenny Rodgers "The Gambler" on loop, in my internal radio station).

By the time I got to Old Centerville again I was really thirsty and hungry but I couldn't force down a Cliff Bar with no water. I came to St. Phillips-Primitive Baptist Church of Christ and rolled under the chain at the gate. I found a spicket and turned it on. A slow stream of brown water sputtered out of the pipe and turned eventually to a milky white water and air mixture. After a few minutes it finally became a clear clean (looking) stream. I filled my bottles after a smell and taste test. All seemed well. I decided I would not drink that stuff after suffering my previous intestinal riot, and planned to haul ass (as best I could) to the Bradfordville Store. When I finally got there, all my monkey brain could think of was RC Cola. I went in and bought water and two sodas. I staggered out to the porch and inhaled the first and then the second without a break. I slammed down the bottle on the railing, only then noticing a man and his wife looking at me in equal amounts of disbelief and disgust. I apologized and told them I'd been out of water for about an hour. I filled my bottles with fresh water and felt like a new man (after a couple dinosaur burps).

When I got back to Proctor, the idea of going back over my tracks seemed dumb, so I headed south to Crump and the Miccosukee Greenway. The idea of not dealing with cars and shaving a couple miles off my ride home seemed sound. By the time I got to the top, and the end of that trail, every root and patch of sand was causing me to spit and curse, and I swore I might never ride it again. I coasted down the sweet paved hill and back up the last climb on Woodgate, to my hood. Sixty three miles (about twenty more than I estimated) and four hours and forty five minutes were in the books. Considering all the missteps and calamity, I felt pretty good.

There is something about these long solo rides, on new routes, that make them seem bigger than they are. I am always afraid of getting dropped and lost on group rides and I figure this is good therapy for that. It's nice to know you didn't sit in and shut your brain off on another group ride. In the end you did it alone (however slow) and for this old dog, the feeling of accomplishment is very rewarding. I guess you can always do a lot more than you think you can. I need to remember that.

W.B.Z.N.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Just Take Your Medicine (and don't complain)



Halfway through my second lap at Tom Brown, I realized I would rather be doing anything than riding my bike. Big Worm and Tiny D had dropped me about ten seconds into their medium pace regimen. They are prepping D for the Tom Brown race next week, and I am here to see them. Worm is aggravated, no one is hearing what he is saying and he's just trying to help. D warms up slower than any completive cyclist of her ilk, but when she flips the switch she can red line as long as she wants. They are invisible in the distance and I am going so slow the roots on the one technical section of Cadillac, almost force me backward. I am completely and utterly unenthused with mountain biking. This activity has become some monotone dirge and I would rather watch game shows than pedal one more minute.

It was not like that when I started. Some of the trail heads were marked by no trespassing signs and for the first time since I was a skateboarder, I felt that great taste of five finger candy. To steal something was always sweeter than to being invited. This was also true of my favorite surf spot back home; The Power Plant. We you had to go down dirt roads around a gate and then finally down a perilous sand double track in my old VW bug. After navigating that maze then, and only then, could we pick the fruit of that grand emptiness. Dark gray waters awaited with great lefts and rights with no one around for miles. It was a huge oasis from the rat cage that was my home break; North Jetty in Ft. Pierce. At the plant you could catch as many waves a you wanted, and we laughed and yelled paddling as fast as we could, back out to the empty lineup. The dream was short lived as word got out and the gallery brought the bullshit by the truck load. All my favorite skate spots were illegal too. You came to a fence, looked at your friends, threw your gear over the wall, climbed it and reaped the rewards. We skated big pipes, empty pools, new construction roofs, and bone dry fountains at dilapidated hotels. The skate park, lay within minutes of where we were trespassing, but for us the rules, frozen pizza, and Steve Miller on a loop, where too much to bear.

When I started riding fifteen years ago, it was an adventure for me. Tom Brown was covered in head high grass. The unregulated trails broke off and crossed back over themselves, while others dead ended into old buildings. Cadillac was private property, rooty, brutal, washed out and fantastic. If I saw a cyclist out there, he was always better than me and everyday there were ten obstacles I dreaded. If there was a storm and a tree came down, it laid where it fell and you had to find a way over or around it. Out past the levy, in the no mans land beyond the tracks, lay the bucket loop bordered by thorns, berries, crooked fences and occasional hunters. Weems trails had four wheelers with no helmets, rich high school pricks drinking beer by fires, standing in the trash they never cleared. Beyond them lay the abandoned Fallschase development with burned out carcasses of berm houses and paved roads to no where.

All my favorite pastimes have an element of fear attached. I was afraid every time I skated a big half pipe, took off on a set wave, or reached for the top button of a girls jeans. That thrill of waiting for a sigh or screaming denial was (and is) the "thing". I was able to keep that demon alive on my cross bike by riding more dirt, on an unsuspended skinny tire beast. For a little while this year, that feeling came back. Even the smallest section of soft sand is a white knuckle death ride. I also found the feeling out on long road rides alone, wondering if I had enough legs to get home. I felt the tingle with every passing car and every turn, down roads I didn't know.

I have unfettered dreams of cashing in my retirement and becoming a dishwasher in Missouri, hiding in a rural house writing the novel, no one will read. I have to fight my steering wheel anytime I get near I-10 to keep from driving away into new, unauthorized single track. I always remember there are bills to pay, a great wife to kiss, and boys to support on their new trail. After all, I have had every opportunity to take all the shots I've wanted to take, with little or no resistance from anyone in my life. Still, I pace back and forth in my office like a caged cat that once ran wild. I peek through the blinds and wonder what they'd all say if I disappeared again, like I did back in 87'.

In the end, I am a good dog and I know where my bowl is. I ride the rides and take the easy route around the logs. I dutifully get out of the saddle on the ten foot wide oyster shell horse path. I run the fence obsessively and howl at real and imagined threats beyond my borders, like I am actually defending some sacred ground. More than anything, I fear that sound in the distance is just a branch in the wind, scraping the fence, and all the barbarians beyond my gates, have died.

W.B.Z.N.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Miles

My blood is running past the lungs and into the heart and then the brain. Dirty and clean and oxygenated and pulsed to the limit of the old man that owns it. Past the breaks that tried to kill him and it. Past the houses of the new rich and old southern money. Past the gates I trespass, climbing the hills, up to tasteless monuments of perceived success. Past the people who work harder than me and wonder what it would be like to sweat for fun, instead of need. Past the gates I am poor, down the south streets I am rich. If you ride far enough you see all things.

I am standing, pushing harder than I should, alone on the bike, the place where there is nothing but wind and breathing. The memories flood back and there are still no solutions. No matter how hard I think about the past gaffs and missteps, there is only one more hill to climb and ten more miles before I turn for home. There is a point where I am purified. Where the silence lives and beyond it, peace and absolution. If I just push a little more, it waits for me.

The clock is running in my pocket. Someone will feel like he is better than me tonight, but he knows nothing of my scars. No one knows all my stories. The stories of the times I counted waves and forced myself past the white water. The times I fought to get to class with out a bloody lip. The times I didn't defend the girls on the bus, from the older boys at the top of the food chain. They don't know the moment it all went wrong . I do.

I am rushing for the green light at the top of the hill. I am watching the car that may not stop in time. I am thinking of Dave and his son. I don't want to be another cautionary tale. I have already done that. I don't like the attention or the questions or the looks of pity and fear of contagion. I like the look of frustration. When you realize the poor bastard just beat you. When you are forced to re access. Its okay if I loose. I am the guy that shouldn't be here.

So I am running. I am riding farther than I want to. I am alone in the wind. I am unafraid of getting lost. Because I have made it home from worse than this little ride.

W.B.Z.N.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Somewhere In The New Past

THE FOLLOWING IS A FIRST PERSON ACCOUNT OF MY TRIP TO LIGONIER PA. THE WRITER IS A TWISTED SOUL (PEDRO) WHO SEES THROUGH APRICOT GOGGLES. HE IS THE GONZO WRITER RESIDENT OF THAT TOWN, A CYCLIST AND A LIBRARIAN OF OBSCURE MUSIC TRIVIA. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK..... USE YOUR DECODER RINGS KIDDIES.  
 
 
the irish-floridian brothers were ostensibly in town to help their cousin George pack his worldly belongings (including wife, kids, cats) for their move to Colorado.  But if you were to ask Davey’s guitar, she’d say that everything they do is for the music…Were you to pose the same question to his younger brother Terry, the enfant terrible of a sextet of Clark dudes, he’d pull you into a swirling vortex of explication, positing sound dynamics, voodoo, and marihuanical standard deviations.
 
After 20 hours of Ameri-roading from Tallahassee, the brothers made it to cousin John’s hacienda in the hollow here in the wilds of Pennsyltucky.  John is better known in these parts as Ratzo, Rat, The Ambassador of Boulder (AoB), but his most accurate appellation is  “The Mayor of Unsavory Characters”. It is this phalanx of philosopher-madfolk with whom we would cavort for two evenings of music, intoxicants, and confabulation.

On Thursday afternoon, Rat, el terrible, and I (Pedro) suited up for a mountain bike ride.  Terry’s more of a cross-country/road wheeler while we are of the Genus/species Houndus rockus.  But the kid rode like Pegasus, flew atop tombstones like Icarus, Christ almighty he rode like a serpentining ellipsis…And we didn’t take it easy on him, either, subjecting him to the treacherous Blood n’ Guts trail, the unrelenting Wolf Rocks loop, and the bone-jarring Wraparound.  Back at the car, we traded musical parries, the enfant preferring his southern soulers, me offering Torontonians…we toasted the good life and tried to let the other raconteur finish his story (this is a particular failing of mine)… 

on Friday, we met again, not on the trails, but on the ramp to a moving van.  The brothers, having drunk and sung their souls silly the night prior, evinced bedragglement.  They’ve been at it for hours and the truck is 62.5% full, but the packing of finery will be left to the felines.  They make a quick exit (was it something I said? halitosis? spectral castigators?) and Jorge makes a trip to the bank.  I’m left in the kitchen, alone save for my music files, and it feels like I’m moving.  Last time our family moved was august ’98, a new record for me…16 years in the same house, same town, same socio-scene…George returns. We load some of my shakily-packaged boxes & reduce storage capacity by perhaps 5.8% and wrestle with a glass top display case, an artifact from his former alliance w/Rat in the goldsmythe thing…

Later that evening Davey, el terrible, and the Rat sit atop picnic tables under the pavilion behind the Runaway (home to the unsavory lads)…Bridey & I have made the short trip up from town  – she caught a few Davey O’Clark songs the night before and has bravely opted to be on the scene, though she hasn’t been up here since her teens, when it was called Larry’s Lair and Rat and Flip used to serve her coterie of lovely lasses before their time…

The crowd swells to a dozen.  Bridey politely declines when offered pipe, then joint, then pipe.  Never a toker, she opines, “I do like the smell.” Eventually, even stoners get the hint. David O’Clark sports a smile that warms the evening air as happy musicianodos split their time between the fire circle and the pavilion. I remain devoted to the man, listening carefully to his keen choices, occasionally closing my eyes to accentuate the aural. I dutifully detail a list of songs on my phone, and offer them here for your perusal:

 

Song                                                               Composer

Does She Mention My Name? (i)                            Lightfoot, Gordon
Past the Point of Rescue                                 Hanly, Mick
Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain                         Rose, Fred
Pancho and Lefty                                           Van Zandt, Townes
I Was Only Joking                                         Grainger, Gary & Stewart, Rod
Colorado                                                        Roberts, Rick (Flying Burrito Bros.)
Landslide                                                        Nicks, Stevie
Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold)          Seals, Dan
Back Home in Derry                                      Sands, Bobby (R.I.P.)
Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald                  Lightfoot, Gordon
Missing You                                                    Moore, Christy
Natives Grace                                                             Ronan
Here Comes the Sun                                     Harrison, George
Don’t Close Your Eyes                                       Whitley, Keith
Did She Mention My Name? (ii)                  Lightfoot, Gordon
Sweet Baby James                                        Taylor, James
Teach Your Children                                     Nash, Graham
When You Say Nothing at All                      Overstreet, Paul & Schlitz, Don
San Francisco Bay Blues                               Fuller, Jesse
Wayfaring Stranger                                       Trad.
Danny Boy                                                      Weatherley, Fred E.
Amazing Grace                                             Newton, John
Old Man                                                        Young, Neil Trilogy:
On the Way Home
The Needle and the Damage Done
Toby’s Holler                                          
Travelin’ Man                                                           Fuller, Jerry 

The Stevie Nicks cover is delicious, for he has found a way to match his baritone to the loveliness of the melody.  Personally, I favour the Peter Green days when Fleetwood Mac rumbled and roared, so it’s a revelation and I find new respect for the song. The Rod Stewart number has a similar appeal.  You don’t hear it very often in these days of satellite radio, Pandora, Spotify, 180 gram vinyl, and 24/7 access to all the music ever digitized…It’s a remarkable song, and O’Clarkie’s penchant for inhabiting a tune shines on, crazily…the night air is beatified, and we wake to discover was just a faerie tale… 

Saturday, I get a text message: (WE ARE AT RUNAWAY...DAVEY IS PLAYING..GIT YER ASS DOWN HERE!)

I’ve just returned from a hellacious-by-design ride with el otro amigo – Rosco…he had to miss Friday’s fun as his boy was graduating from hs…we pounded thru some rock gardens on our way up and bombed down at speeds we don’t normally attain, but ‘twas a glorious Saturnalia in June… 

I decide I can make an appearance at The Runaway, but after a couple of songs a local Grimm feller pulls a custom dulcimer resonator from a velvet sheath – and I know I can’t leave… 

the afternoon becomes a seisun – and I’m transported to Waterford, Ireland, or Galway, or any of those places where music grows in the spring…Davey trots out some from the night before, the tunes now more alive with an audience of happy hoisters, mild tobacco smoke replaces Friday’s humo… 

Vince, an acoustic bluesman, gives us “Keep on Truckin’”, as though he had made a pact with Jorma to possess the Hot Tuna mojo…Grimm man digs in on “Pancho & Lefty” and the whole bar howls, “all the federales say they coulda had him any day” and “pancho needs your prayers it’s true but say a few for lefty, too” and, for an hour, maybe 90 minutes, we’ve got heaven on earth, dark pub on a sunny day with the neighboring woods’  resplendence buoying our interdependence…but perhaps the music is the sun and we’re the flora, photosynthesizing the heat of the guitar strings and the light of the patrons’ eyes… 

Traveling south on Rt. 81 in Virginia, the irish-floridian’s car engine quits.  el terrible enfant steers it onto the nearest pull-off as semis shake the Volkswagen. Bang, bang goes something in the trunk.  The elder sibling intones, “I’ll handle this, el hermano diminutivo,” and Terradude pops the trunk. “Oh, Jaysus, she’s done it again,” moans the troubadour. The Martin has popped the lid to its case, the tuning keys releasing their strings so they’re able to slither out and pry the clasps open. “I’m gonna have to play her,” Davey announces solemnly as he re-strings her, praying for the patience of a luthier. 
 
He’s all played out. Played out on playin’. Played out on singin’. Played out on collaboratin’.  Played out on drinkin’.  Played out on drivin’.  But, never, never, are these two siblo-conspirators played out on music. 

The first notes remind him of a dream he had sleeping at Casa Linda on their last night in the valley.   “Hey, listen to this. I dreamt this song, chords and lyrics.”  He strums plaintively and sings;

I’m tired
tired of Tallahassee
tired of the city
wanna live up
on a mountain slope
where everyone
grows uber-dope
the fauna are fair
and the people
never despair

 up among
the conifers
and black bears
where the wind
whispers secrets
only the cognoscenti
can hear 

“You put fucking cognoscenti in a song!,” critiques Terry.  “No, I didn’t. She did,” says Davey and he points to his old friend.
 
They get out and find a deer trail that leads to a large boulder by a stream.  Back among the ferns and philodendron, Terra-brother starts to feel the strain of the road slip into the ether…

 

Davey O’Clark looks up, smiles, and begins to strum: “I’m tired…”
 
PEDRO....

Monday, March 10, 2014

Mistral Wind




The week started well with an easy but fun ride with Big Worm and Mighty Mite. A lazy stroll with some minor efforts and a couple hard uncontested climbs. I am like a precocious child to Worm and Mite. They watch me go up climbs and they think; "Isn't he cute? Look at him breathing all heavy." MM is one of the fastest women in the state and could destroy me at will. They were saving their legs for a possible Chaires fest on road bikes. They felt no temptation to swat gnats. 

The next two days were awful. MTB rides with no power in the tank. Those kinds of rides where you just make yourself do it, because not riding would be worse. Labor and discipline. There is no happy to be found on days like these, only questions and doubt. There is a candle forever burning, in the window at home. You always feel better than you would have if you baulked.

Saturday was beautiful. I opted not to ride with the crew because I had no faith in my legs. Lil WB (seems funny calling him that since he's four inches taller than me and in college) said he'd ride with me if we went easy and on the road. I had two goals: keep the pace fun and keep him out of the wind. We took a straight route down to St. Marks Trail with only one real climb. He was talking and we were laughing like the old days. He's been so busy with school and music that we usually only exchange grunts, as one leaves and the other arrives. We were about five miles from the coast when he popped a spoke and dished his rear wheel, into the frame. I offset the skewer enough to where it would turn and we back tracked to Natural Bridge Road, where his Mom picked him up. He made faces at me as they drove off and I laughed so hard I started coughing. 

I thought I might as well head up Old Plank to Chaires and get a real ride in. I figured it was fourteen miles. I had already gone twenty eight, but our pace had been so slow I felt fine. Anyone who has ridden that route is probably already laughing. It was twenty six miles of head wind to Chaires. By the time I got there, I was feeling every inch of the forty eight miles and three hours in the saddle. I knew I had twelve miles (most of it tough climbs) back to the house. I decided to settle in and ride at whatever pace felt good. I felt like a cyclist for the first time (that week) when I got home. Success. I had about a hundred twenty miles in for the week. The Sunday weather forecast looked good.

I got up late again and headed out to look at the new trail section the MTB club cut in, and the new bridge over the tracks, out by the levy. I rode slowly and looked around a lot. I stopped to enjoy views. I smiled at people (lots of them!) on the trail. All was right and good in my head, a rarity to be sure. That was two weeks ago.

The following week had two gigs, cold pissing rain, and no rides. The kicker was a fever laced head cold that arrived Friday. Last night I had LSD dreams about a vacation that never happened. The kids were young and we were at some resort with a spectacular view. People were eating seafood by the shore. Then I noticed the entree's were fighting back. A man had a angry crab in his beard. Big blue crabs were crawling up my legs and shirt. I woke up brushing them off my chest at seven A.M. Just in time to hear the alarm. Time to go to work.

Oh, how funny life is. Mine at least is filled with equal parts joy and regret. My hours are spent in wonder or questioning every word I have ever said, and all the choices that got us here. Here where the view is good, but the crabs are coming.....and they are always angry.

W.B.Z.N.         

Monday, February 17, 2014

Down To Earth


I have played this room million times, or I should say, others just like it. They have a secret factory in South Dakota where they are made and shipped out to tertiary markets around the U.S. They are produced to placate the masses so they can survive and get through the week. The fifth tier contenders come here to drink, play music, and work the bar, trying to erase the big dreams and faces of the ones that got away. The stage is a ten by twelve feet, and is twelve inches high. It was built with all the available technology any ten year old would have, to build a tree fort. It looks like a raft floating on a acid stained concrete sea, among the flotsam of mismatched tables and chairs. There is a small dance floor in front of it. I know it's a dance floor because there are no mismatched chairs and tables there. "Yes" I think to myself in silence, I have played this place a million times, like a reoccurring dream riddle from a video game I can't escape. I never seem to get passed this level of the game for long. I can't defeat the dragon at the gates of the tour bus and limo level. I hear the sad trombone from a seventies game show play the "Whaw, whaw, what wahaaaaaw" as my avatar returns to a different version of this little bar. Somewhere in here, I am supposed to unlock the code of ascension. The good news is; it's relatively quiet. After a brief chat with the owner, we decide to load in. The Shackle backs up the van and we start to ferret in the gear like zombies. As I pull open the door, the sound hits me like a wind from a fucked up hurricane. A loud D rated local bands demo is playing impossibly loud. There is one waitress, the manager and us. This a common phenomenon, all bars must play loud music when mops are being used or bands are setting up or tearing down. It is law.

Last night we played the Tara Plantation of Atlanta's live music scene; Smiths Olde Bar. It was once a must stop for many music icons. It has great sound, lights, technical staff and a authentic vibe you can taste like a popsicle. The walls are covered with stickers and you can hear the ghosts of all the great bands, as you hang back stage. In it's hay day it was your passport to credibility in the south. Now the maiden still has good bones, but her dress is faded and her face shows the wrinkles of one who knows she's is no longer the southern debutante at the ball. Still, you cannot deny the honor you feel in her presence. This place has everything a good bar should have. It seems so simple but like love, it cannot be forced into existence, it just happens. Venues like her are struck by lightning. Legends and myths rise from these temples, like smoke from camp fires. Smith's has been dubbed the C.B.G.B's of the south for very good reason and like me she is hanging onto the denial, that dedication and love will be rewarded, but we both know it's not enough. The most one can do is look around during the glory days and try to remember the stories. The stories we recant after too many beers. Last night we played like the veterans we are, to a thirty percent capacity crowd that wasn't there to see us. The sound was great. We grooved like demons and sang like angels. We were met with applause and accolades and we were promised another date, in the hallowed main room upstairs. As we loaded out our gear, it began to rain. We carried our cases down the wet fire escape to our van. We drove home drinking the beers we took from our dressing room. The rain and cold air hit the van hard from the side like an omen, but I ignored it. These basking moments are few and even though they be drenched in idealism, they must be chewed slowly. You must savor the juice and it let run slowly down the back of your throat. They are rare birds in this game.

The Shackle is pissed about his mix position. It's in a closet/dressing room. Like me, he has come to the realization that this gig is something we never thought we'd do again. The Shackle works at high levels in the sound world. He has mixed stadiums and huge shows all over the nation. He thought his closet mixing days were over. He is perpetually positive and professional in the face of all kinds of indignities, but even he is showing doubt. He is an even share member of our team and a veteran from the days of limos and buses when I was the singer's manager. The Shackle was the front of house sound man I hired to take care of my boys, for a grand a week. We had deep pockets and an account full of record company money. I laugh at his contempt, because nothing will cheer you up like seeing the shared misery of a friend next to you in the quicksand.

We play our two and a half sets. There is about fifty people at the peak and we end with about twenty. Our singer and guitar player are pretty lubed up on Miller Lite and at the end it gets a little sloppy. The minute we finish playing, the local band demo begins to play again louder than hell through a speaker, three feet from my head. We force feed our gear and cables into cases. The bass player passes on load out and drives home separate with his girlfriend. We drag his name through the shit, as we throw cases in the van. I get paid after hearing a positive review from the manager. I know we will be back. We take perfect back roads, through the timeless rural landscape, towards Monticello and eventually Tallahassee. We make way too much noise unloading at three thirty A.M. in my quiet little neighborhood.

The next day dawns beautiful at noon. I make breakfast for Neil and I and he leaves to install cabinets on a Sunday with his Dad. I pull on Lycra, pump up my tires, and head out to cleanse my lungs of smoke, and my head from the gigs. I am trying to sweat off the clown paint, from my two nights at the circus. The sky is clear, the air is crisp and cool, as I meander around the east side paths for three hours and twenty eight miles. It is obvious, to me and everything in the woods, another spring is coming. My sins of pride and grandeur are washed away and I am reborn. Tomorrow I will rise like Lazarus, and go to work, like the whole caper never happened. I will cycle my lights out in my office and recharge them for that evenings night ride. Soon the time will change and all my rides will be in sun. The visions of the night will fade and another season will decay. There will be other rides in the woods, and gigs like this weekend. I will string them together, like beads on a rosary, hoping for redemption wherever I can find it.

W.B.Z.N.