The Great American Road Trip Part I

The metal fest in Houston, Hell’s Heroes, was a whirlwind. You realize how little you’ve stood on your feet this long in the past two years of the pandemic. Lots of bands I knew since high school and I was seeing them live for the first time. I met Mike Scalzi from my favorite band Slough Feg briefly. My thing with meeting people whose art I like is that I don’t really need to have some prolonged conversation or even a picture really – I like their art and also just don’t want to bother them. That’s all it needs to be. There doesn’t have to be a breaking-down of any walls per se. But I did have to tell him how much I liked his band. That much I had to do.

The whole thing was a pure bonanza. Energy everywhere. So many people in denim and black band shirts. It was essentially the metal version of a comic convention. That’s really what makes life worth living, the nerdy stuff, the niches. It’s what we do to blow off steam and what gives us joy in the drudgery of the work and the politics. Metal music is its own whole ecosystem and breeds passion. The thrill of finding new bands. The blood pumping energy and aggression. Lets off the steam. There’s nothing like a good old 80s heavy metal album. There’s a joy to it. I bought an obscure live album from the 80s from some South American guy who had a whole table of this stuff, some of it I had never even heard of. Chatted with a guy I didn’t even know just because we’re part of an online community about it. This is all a whole universe that large pockets of the world will never know shit about. But to these people here, and to me as well – it was just what we wanted.

I drove out of Houston in the morning after that. It was Sunday and a clear, balmy day. Winter’s gone. I sipped coffee and listened to Mitch Hedberg and some music for a few hours. When I crossed into Louisiana, the clouds started rolling in, a great storm over the swamp and the Gulf coast, violent torrents of rain, sheets of gray, dismal and wild. Pretty tense. But it makes you feel alive. Not quite summer yet, but that was a classic southern summer storm.

Louisiana is a place I can’t really figure out. Not totally – I’m in this hotel in the French Quarter and I had to work through most of it, robbing me of the chance to really explore and get a sense of it better. I like these close-packed buildings and houses, all old wood and seemingly just people’s houses mixed in with random neighborhood bars and restaurants, a real sense of community, stuff to do just sort of there without any kind of adornment, seeming to pop out at you like from a fog, making you feel like you discovered some place cool.

At one bar, the bartender was taking care of a moth they’d found. A sort of community project. Some asshole threw a hard object at it and hit the wall – it went right by my head. He got rightfully reamed out by the bartender. They got the moth delicately, returned it to the outside. You don’t get this kind of stuff by staying at your house. Interesting pockets of life. Good community.

It’s a different side of this place than I first saw when I passed through earlier in the week. That was downtown. It was a few glitzy shining Vegas-esque clubs and restaurants across from pure grungy urban oblivion, the homeless sitting across the street from all this luxury and the big hotels down the street. That’s not a thing that just happens here. It’s the great malaise of our age. The unfairness and the disparity. That is the big evil of the times and maybe of all times – the wealth-hoarders. That’s the real enemy. It’s no different than in Orlando where homeless people are on every corner of downtown next to rich law firms and consultancies and steakhouses and that gigantic fucking convention center, or Asheville’s downtown where you can get $40 seafood or go to an art museum while drug addicts are being chased out of the park by cops. That’s what we have to be united against, the disparity.

I did comedy at a cool little dive bar last night. Lots of women or feminine comics there – like four or five in a row at the beginning of the mic. It’s good to see all sorts doing this. One of them was in a wheelchair and delivered a brilliant set. I think my own set went alright. I’m working on some new things here and there. More personal stuff. Trying to open up all pores of my creativity. I’m writing this now, even, because I’ve reached the end of most of my fiction projects and don’t have any strong new ideas.

After work I found my way into this old 24-hour dive bar pictured above. It was a cool place, just this classic fucking dive. There are maybe more fashionable places, but there’s nothing like a low-key, unpretentious dive with pool tables, metal walls, a clientele just built in who can relax there.

The drive back’s going to be long. Lots of more stretches of green, of dilapidated gas stations and barren stretches of fucking nothing, and it’s interesting and tiresome in fits and starts. I feel like I’m putting it off by writing this. I’ll be back home soon.

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