The Great American Road Trip Pt. 2

I had one good day at the beginning of this last road trip where it seemed like everything was going to go off without a hitch. I did a show for a little crowd at this chilled out Charlotte sports pub, ate some fish, read a little. Then I was on the road again. It was going alright for a while, but pretty soon there was a sense of dread. Why had my car tires been doing this weird stop-start thing for a few seconds? It was probably nothing. I’d been stuck in a deluge of awful goddamn rain the previous day, and figured that had jammed up the car a little, that it’d wash out as I drove. Pretty soon I was too tired to drive. The first two hotels I tried were total pieces of shit, with awful cracked up parking lots and the veneer of places you would only stay for a good story. But they were sold out. On this Memorial Day weekend I couldn’t even get a room in the middle of bumfuck SC.

Finally I found an Econo Lodge – and for under a hundred bucks at that. Crazy. I slept pretty well and did a bit of writing that night.

In the morning I drove for a few more hours. Bright cloudless summer day on a holiday weekend and we were in lockstep. My tires were still being a little bit odd. I stopped finally after about two or three hours in Walterboro, where I got some snacks and a bottle of water. Sat there for 10 minutes in the parking lot to take a break. The plan was to stop again in St. Augustine. It all seemed like it would be alright. Then the car stopped in the middle of traffic as I was trying to leave and the car horns started coming. I restarted the car and managed to get it to the parking lot of a strip mall with a sushi place, a clothing store, a KFC, a Walmart and this random sports bar type of place.

For the next few hours on this holiday weekend I tried to call every auto place in the area to find somebody to help. Of course they all were gone pretty much, even at like 11 a.m. on a Friday. The blacktop was scorching and the sun was relentless. I don’t understand white supremacists at all if they’ve ever had to stand in the sun like this. It’s very clear what the truth really is – I got scorched like a fucking lobster out there.

Finally I got a tow truck guy to drive me and the defunct car, which was suffering from a transmission failure, all the way down to Savannah. I was redoing the whole plot of PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES, except with no trains. I was determined to get to Florida. I had some shows to do, and a bachelor party to get to. At a hotel in Savannah on Memorial Day weekend, I drank beers on the roof lobby and then sipped a tiny rum bottle as I was watching GOODFELLAS – Ray Liotta had just passed. Usually I’d be out with the nightlife. This night I had no energy for anything. Completely drained. I woke up and took a plane back to Orlando.

I was able to rent a car to get to Tallahassee on the 31st to do shows with my friend Erick Lutz. We stayed in a weird hotel that was something like a labyrinth, with about three distinct parts that appeared to be upstairs and downstairs areas, even though the parking lot was a continuous downward slant. It appeared to be some sort of place for people to stay long term – there were families in the pool, cooking on grills, all kinds of stuff. The room was small and the WiFi didn’t work. There wasn’t even anybody in the lobby past 11, so if we’d gotten there too late we would’ve been fucked.

And the coffee shop where we camped out before the second show, it was swelteringly hot, with seemingly no air conditioning. Erick dabbed at his head with ice cubes from his drink and I was sweating on my computer trying to work. That whole day I was also on the phone with three different people trying to get my car moved to a transmission shop. I told the AAMCO to use their towing guy, thinking the AAA guy I called had not showed up. The AAMCO guy called me, irate, at 7 pm, saying the car was gone. I rested in satisfaction knowing that the transmission was broken, so no one could’ve stolen it at all, and it must have been taken by the AAA guy after all (It had been.)

The comedy shows went off like gangbusters. The crowds were fun and we got the satisfaction of being traveling bards in a foreign land. There’s a sort of recklessness, in a good way, you get when you’re performing somewhere nobody knows you. It elevates you and the material becomes fun because you know they’ve never heard it. The stage makes you forget all the car troubles and weird tribulations of the trip. One show was at this arcade bar place and at that show there was a woman who heckled everyone. Earlier in the night she’d made a weird crack at the bar on how she couldn’t come see the show because she’s blind. Erick is blind and took this as an opportunity to riff on it all.

The second show was at a place I’d done before, Bird’s Aphrodesiac Oyster Shack. Small crowd but they were into it. It’s one of these places with a bunch of old memorabilia and posters covering every inch of the wall, so I know those places will be good for me. Now I’ve had two great shows there. I felt like it went well. Erick did great too – he did some wild stuff on stage that the crowds ate up. Just first rate comedy. It’s good to have a bit of camaraderie and teamwork in all this mess.

I did some other shows – one of them a clean show at Sleuth’s Mystery Dinner Theater. I wasn’t told it’d be clean before the show, so I had to do some mental calculations. I was pretty sure a bunch of tourists wouldn’t want to hear about allergy drug addictions or traffic crashes or animal suicide. I’m usually not into having to do this, but it did go off without a hitch and the crowd was fun, probably not even caring so much about the content as the venue did. Erick put this one on, and he really got a great crowd out of those tourists. The other show was a contest which I lost, held at one of these fancy breweries where you pour your own beer from a big wall panel of selections. I had a fun set though.

Then came the bachelor party in Miami, a sprawling three-day adventure of swanky clubs and all kinds of stuff. Lots of swimming. I drank vodka at one club and chatted with a girl who was from Asheville. Way down in Miami just two Asheville residents. That place is probably as touristy as anywhere now. But I like it. The party was for Colin and it was just a few of us, but it was a good time and we lived it up. At one point we were lounging in a rooftop pool owned by Pharrell Williams, the sun murderous, but there were so many beautiful people around and none of them seemed to care. Miami is a place where everyone there is the most perfect physically beautiful people you’ve ever seen in your life. Like you can barely even imagine them returning to work in a random car dealership or insurance office or fast food place. They’re like aliens.

I finally got the car fixed on June 17th. I took another plane out, then had a two-hour layover and numerous delays. Drove through the worst thunderstorm in at least a few weeks. I’m home now and hoping not to fly anymore for a while.

Otherwise… here’s some stuff I’ve been enjoying.

WATCHING – CRIMES OF THE FUTURE is a gloriously dark, twisty piece of film, fraught with meaning, crackling with its own dark ingenuity at every turn. Cronenberg returns in fine form. MAD GOD on Shudder, by visual artist Phil Tippett, is this trippy, violent haze of creative stop motion puppets and animation. Best looking thing of the year. I’m endlessly fucking fascinated.

LISTENING – The new Jack White album I finally got on CD and the lyrics make more sense when reading ’em. Also the band Crass. A brilliant anarchic punk act. They really live their shit, they believed every word. They were the real deal. And Nuclear Death has been intriguing me. This takes everything just so far out and the lyrics are masterworks of just utter depravity and filth. I can’t get enough. I want stuff with that artistic intent.

Road Trip Prelude

I’ve been back in Asheville for a month now and it’s just gone by like wildfire. I’m gonna leave again pretty soon. This time for longer.

My trip back from Houston was a bedraggled mess in which I got COVID and had to work as well as drive 900 miles northeast. I didn’t get hit by the COVID too hard, but it was a pretty ghastly few days. The sun beat down like an unforgiving cruelty, the snacks and water from the gas stations all sucked. I did like the music. And I stayed in a Quality Inn in north Alabama that was surprisingly nice and got to watch a bunch of stuff and finally fucking relax. I almost didn’t care that the country’s rampant inflation and economic insanity made me pay $159 for that. That much money for a hotel right off the highway. What a time to be alive.

The following week and a half of COVID isolation was a blur. I barely remember the separation between the days. It was as though I stepped through a time warp and came out the other side.

Had a brief online dating fling. Didn’t take. I feel like all of my relationships are either toxic as fuck or some kind of penpal-esque thing where it’s awesome conversation but no romantic attraction or even mild flirting. It’s tough out there.

Comedy is good. Had a great set the other week as the first show of my run for the beginning of summer. You chase the high of the laughs, and there’s an inner satisfaction in pulling off an execution of a set really well. I did a podcast the other night with some guys here in town. Fun time. I really feel like I am getting into the vibe of Asheville. It’s a good thing for me; I am drinking less, comparatively anyway, and I feel more at peace with things. Florida always had too much chaos for it and I fed off that, and it led to a lot of negative interactions with people, and I was not very happy a lot of the time. I hope I can move on and keep doing well here. There’s just places you fit into better, and maybe this is one of them for me.

But I am about to leave again for Florida for a few weeks, for comedy, seeing old friends, a bachelor party and Key West. More soon. I’d be happy just hanging around here longer. I feel I am cultivating something and there’s something to be said for a humble life. But I also do want the adventure stories. It’s just a shame I have to drive all this way on fucking Memorial Day weekend, a day I swore I’d never drive on again after the horrific traffic jam in Florida exactly a year ago. Memorial Day weekend and all these holidays are pure bloat and nonsense. It’s better to stay inside if you can. Or at least off the fucking highway.

Then of course there have been the myriad political situations. This atrocious shooting. Like, we’re all just powerless, so you get the same things every time, a lot of people who are grieving with nothing to do but post on social media about it. It becomes numbing and it’s good to take a break. The whole situation is so pitch-black awful. It’s nihilistic in the ceaseless violence. The country is mired in a toxic mix of gun worship, a kind of religious thing, along with a lot of paranoia. Then add in the fact that there’s no safety net and the government, both parties of it, have primarily served to enrich the rich and protect property and capital, with the cops their arm of that. And so you get this stew of white supremacy, hate, rampant violent paranoia.

I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t think anyone really does. Banning guns would maybe be nice, but I don’t really know how you’d enforce that, especially not when the police seem to be either on the side of the shooter or completely ineffectual.

So instead we get this thing where the country wants you to have the baby no matter what, but wait, there’s no guarantee he won’t get shot in a school shooting.

You can find all manner of similar points everywhere. I’m aware I’m saying nothing new. But writing’s the universal constant. We can be united in our ideas here.

The Rest Of Our Lives

The pandemic’s not over – there seems to be the undercurrent of this virus that will continue indefinitely or for some time longer, anyway. I think about it often, how there wasn’t much for us to do about this after a while. Wear the masks, get your shots. That’s all we could do. I think movies gave us all a main-character syndrome where it’s like we began to think going back to regular life during this was some sort of betrayal, like we didn’t care about the virus or something, like there was something more important we should’ve done. But much of all of this was completely out of our hands. There was nothing for the common people in previous pandemics to do either – there was no time where people weren’t just going about their lives. It just keeps going. This isn’t to defend any bad behavior or downplaying of the pandemic. But I just don’t know what else to do about it at this point.

It really feels like this year is kind of a waking-up after a two-year-long haze of sorts. Like there was a lot of stuff I just wasn’t dealing with at all for most of the past two years – like the pandemic just gave me this excuse not to focus on the long-term goals in life. I don’t know how much longer I can use the bizarre allergy-drug addiction period of 2020 as an excuse anymore, though. I think it’s already just about spent.

I think that’s been the biggest thing fucking with my head lately. That and the impending months of activities hanging over my head – big anticipation.

Ultimately I feel like I have to start thinking about the future more. Building a good life and whatnot. I don’t know what that means. I just know I spent a shitload of time alone writing and reading. And that’s fine by me. But it’s good to have a real community and a richness to life in whatever capacity. I wasn’t finding it for a long time. My friends are scattered everywhere. A lot of the communication is through text now. That might sound like I’m complaining. I think it’s an alright life. I think I’ve chosen solid people to surround myself with overall.

***

I’ve been on the road for days. Going to Houston to do some comedy and see the Hell’s Heroes festival, full of all these bands I’ve liked since high school for fuck’s sake. It was a long dreary haze of the driving. A mass stretch of churches and Dollar Generals, long empty plains, gas stations, cars driving erratic, one incident of a Fed Ex truck that looked to have had a bomb go off inside it off on the shoulder of the road – a burnt out wreck that delayed traffic for a bit. This is such a big country. It’s unfathomable how huge it really is. The great vastness of it.

I spent some time in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. I must’ve been tired in New Orleans, because the whole place gave me a slightly off-kilter energy, and the disparity between the massive shimmering lights of the theater and the grungy abandoned buildings and various homeless destitute folks I saw on the streets, in the exact same area of town, both of these things. But this kind of thing happens everywhere. We have to do what we can to help and alleviate it all. The government won’t help very much. You have to do solidarity, mutual aid, etc. That’s power.

I want to go back to New Orleans soon and give it another go. See what there is to learn. Baton Rouge was peaceful. I couldn’t figure out the energy of Louisiana yet. That interested me. The food was good.

Texas seems like its own whole universe. You could just drive and drive here and there’s still more of it. I did comedy at The Secret Group last night, a big warehouse-like building with a rooftop patio, flashing red club lights, a bunch of various rooms all for comedy. They directed me back to a black wall along a desolate street with red flashing letters advertising THE BOX above a black door blended into the wall. Lynchian – a strange passage for sure. I’ve been doing comedy with only the one hearing aid for a while. That, plus the bright stagelights, made it like doing comedy in a vacuum. You soldier through these things. You just do it with confidence and hope you’re getting the message across. Any hesitation and they will sense it. You have to be impeccable and above the crowd onstage – something beyond human. Then you go in the green room and get a complimentary 4/20 joint as payment.

Trying to get beer after and I learn they stop selling alcohol at midnight in Houston. I got to a gas station at 11:55. The guy working wouldn’t let me in the building at all. He tapped his hand on his own phone which, somehow, said it was 11:59 when mine said it was four minutes earlier. Baffling. Don’t be such a stickler for the rules. Fortunately I nabbed a six-pack at one closer to my hotel, thankfully run by a guy who wasn’t such a rule-minded individual. You find ways.

Time Allotment

I’m very bad at keeping up this thing, which was supposed to be a way to keep some interest in my site. But I haven’t had anything published in a while. And when I tried to upload a comedy video it was annoying and I ended up forgetting to follow through. So this all just seems like a pointless internet vanity project right now.

I can’t help it – I just have more fun actually tinkering with creative shit than doing stuff to build up marketing or whatever. I don’t think I’m alone in that.

It’s been a decent life as of late though. I did a few comedy shows – I drove two hours each way for shows two nights in a row, in different cities. It was like it used to be. There’s something fun for me in the long drives, the playing music, the stopping at random gas stations or hotels. It’s an adventure. I would probably get tired of it if I did it for a living month after month.

The world seems to be a bigger place out here (North Carolina, where I live now). In Florida it was literally narrow – you could drive up and down that state, but it was time consuming to go further. I used to work a desk job as a reporter, and I didn’t have time for it then. I could drive up and down Florida, that thin tube of a state, but the rest of the country seemed a big mystery a lot of the time. It’d been a while since I left.

Now I have the range to drive in different directions and potentially enter two or three other states. I visited Colorado last year and am going to Texas this year. It all seems broader now and I think you need that.

I have been reading a bunch of shit all at the same time – Marx’s Capital and a Keith Richards biography are two of them. It’s not so bad. The Marx is really something – he sure has a lot of ideas. I feel like I’m giving myself the forbidden education that was never in the curriculum when I was in school. I got the old fashioned American dogma so I’m going in another direction now. Here’s hoping a bunch of Republican senators don’t find out. The Keith Richards is good too. He’s a strong writer; funny and to the point. Rock stars can occasionally really pull this shit off.

Politics is the same as ever – endless culture wars dominate while the rich get richer. Seems like the status quo. They are talking about a war with Russia now. I’m sure that’s going to be an entirely noble thing, born solely of good will for the underserved people of the Earth. I’m also very glad our military budget is in the hundreds of billions while nobody can afford rent or health care. Great system.

I’ve been thinking more about anger lately. We all have to live in the world, and the last two years if nothing else have spotlighted just how bad a lot of service workers have it. The animosity directed at them. They get the brunt of the anger from short-fused, small-minded idiots and it sucks, because they are just trying to survive. Now, I would occasionally get drunk and send off some kind of angry email to a politician chastising them for being full of shit. But they aren’t reading those emails. The ones who got the brunt of my own wrath were hapless interns or something, also just trying to make a buck. So the anger becomes impotent. If you’re really deserving of that rage, you’re insulated from it. Money can be a buffer in that way and you can go on and do the same horrible shit you were before.

I think there might be a joke in that. This is how I write jokes. I just sort of type out a bunch of stuff and hope a punchline can be gleaned from it like a nugget of gold. It’s a work in progress.

Anyway, this has all been a hodge podge of random thoughts. Here’s some stuff I’ve been enjoying lately:

MOVIES: TITANE was good. Interesting and artsy and vague in the best ways. Art’s supposed to make you feel things and challenge you. This did that.

MUSIC: Right now I am playing the first Jimi Hendrix Experience album. There’s something to the brevity of it all. The simple, direct musicality. He had something to say and he said it. Also been playing some Voivod. Their Post-Society EP is so good. A true free-thinking band.

Starving Artist

I saw this Tweet thread this morning, reacting to the news of the Squid Game creator, who apparently struggled for years, had to sell his laptop, got rejected, et cetera before finally breaking big with his show recently. His show is about the monstrous ills and woes of capitalism, how it eats people alive, which makes a lot of the stuff he went through seem pretty personal. Almost meta.

But then, as the Tweets say, you get this narrative where it’s inspiring. People will say “never give up.” They’ll say “follow your dreams.” It’s a good general way to go about life in that we all need stuff to keep us happy and fulfilled. And maybe once in a while you do get published. I was glad to get the stories I’ve published out in the world. It is possible.

However, there was always the slight voice in the back of my mind telling me this was a bit annoying, the whole follow your dreams narrative.

It’s just in the kind of empty-calorie optimism in that statement. “If you just keep working hard, you’ll be on Netflix or published by Penguin Random House or have your own TV show or your dream job just like that!” I don’t know. There are ways to be fulfilled and there are ways to live a fine life. But the entertainment industry, and breaking big in any way – that’s a tough thing to do. Most of us won’t, in writing or comedy or film or any of it. I’ll see comedians make Facebook pages for themselves a year or so into comedy. That just seems bizarre to me. You don’t even know what you’re selling yet. Some comics do it for 10, 20, 30 years before they really get any success. It seems like deluding yourself.

And the world is full of these stories of artists not making it for decades or something. The entertainment system’s gatekeepers pick what they want at the time and other things inevitably get left behind. Loads of the things I like, movies or bands for example, I can go on their Wikipedia pages and see the same thing like clockwork, like the refrain of a song: “initially the work was panned and critics hated it, but years later it was reassessed as a masterpiece.” It makes you wonder if maybe nothing is ever objective. And it makes you wonder who else we’re sleeping on.

As I write this I’m playing a John Lee Hooker album. This is a guy who made music for literally like 40 or 50 years before finally getting a charting album in his 70s. That’s crazy to me. Inspiring, but wow, I don’t think he was planning on it taking so long.

The industry and art are like yin and yang – we need the industry to amplify the art, but the artistic instinct is very different from a business mindset. The industry, responding to the insatiable need for entertainment, has become a gigantic money-driven machine. This isn’t to make this all some kind of ‘fuck the system’ point – I can do that any old time. I’m just saying that maybe it’s all relative who gets success and we shouldn’t base our worths off that.

Maybe social media has played a role in it, giving us all a platform to feel like we have bullhorns to say whatever. Or maybe it’s just part of human nature to want to be recognized for something, in some way. I dunno. The comedian Sara Schaefer had this podcast where she outlined the details of how TV shows get made, with all the various steps, rewrites, meetings, consultants, people it has to go through – and that sometimes, even after all that, the show still doesn’t make it to the air.

I can go on writing forums and social media threads and there are hundreds of comments all talking about their books and projects. About how far along they are and their ideas. All of them miniature universes living in minds and laptops and cell phones. It’s inspiring. I hope all of them get finished to satisfaction. And beyond that there are the mountains and mountains of published works that are not touted as masterpieces or remembered by the ages, but they’re still there, still definitively in the world. And maybe humanity is a vast and wide thing and a great mountain of experiences and the creation and expression of art is its own virtue, and it’s fine just to be happy with whatever you do have, the sheer electric experience of creating and the validation whenever you actually do accomplish something.

But yeah, it’s just Hollywood and NYC that decide everything for us – if you’re not in those cities you’re not making it, apparently. What a small thing that kind of world seems like to me.

Anachronism

I feel like a man out of time.

This isn’t supposed to be one of these ‘fuck all that newfangled social media’ old-man types of posts – but it will seem like it.

Thing is, it seems like everything I do naturally just happens to be the opposite of what you need to do to be successful on social media. TikTok videos have become popular – they’re short by nature. I am verbose and like longer-winded content, big essays and articles. I enjoy words and giving myself the space to elucidate. On Facebook, the algorithm doesn’t seem to like it when you post links. Or at least the ones I post never seem to get much interactions anymore. But I keep doing it. Like picking a scab. I can’t help it. Then I get very little engagements and I just leave the computer and do other things. It’s a never-ending cycle.

The longer I spend online, and the more I just find myself tired of it all anyway. The same old repackaged unfunny memes. Man, I know everyone finds them funny, but after a while, if I see a meme or a joke repeated too many times, it’s physically painful to me. It’s an irritant like my seasonal allergies. I just want to take those really over-used jokes and shoot them into the sun.

And the political stuff. Man, is that eyeroll-worthy. Do you know how difficult it is to change anybody’s opinion on the internet? I can scroll through Facebook and Twitter and these ‘debates’ are primarily just people shouting over each other. Pure ego masturbation. There’s almost never any real value in it but to rack up Likes from others who share your point of view. I’ll find myself succumbing anyway sometimes, as the urge grows too strong. Then I kick myself because it’s pointless. I wasted time arguing for the Likes when I could’ve been outside looking at a lake or something.

So with all that said, over the past few years I’ve tried to really look at my own ways I used social media.

There was a point when I realized there was very little value in just posting serious political missives like “x should do this,” “they should do that,” all this kind of loud bullhorn stuff, as if I am a political dignitary. Last I checked, I wasn’t. It started to seem fake and like I was preaching to a choir, not really moving any dials. These days I just post what I find interesting. I like learning things and reading about what’s happening. That won’t change anything. I’ve realized that now.

And for a while, when I started comedy, I was always thinking ‘well, alright, what content can I do to try and get more engagement?’ That quickly got snuffed out. Thing is, I just couldn’t think of anything to do that wouldn’t seem artificial, corny or gauche to my standards. This isn’t to bash anybody else. I’m just bad at that kind of thing.

My thoughts on that aspect of comedy ends up being like well, why do we need to brand ourselves so much anyway? Is that all there is to life? Branding every aspect of yourself into some manufactured, processed and marketable facade? That’s some creepy, dystopian shit to me. But some people really make it work. At some point I just have to admit it’s a ‘me’ problem. Other people have that skill and I don’t. My brand is just what I choose to post online, and the stuff I post has alienated people all the time and also made me some good friends over the years. That’s all I can cop to here.

I’m not trying to be some old-man bitching about the modern world. I like the connectivity of social media. I try and embrace new things. As a person with hearing aids, I kind of have to like technology. I’d be fucked without it. I hope it goes further and I can fully get bionic ears someday and not even need the hearing aids.

And at the end of the day, despite everything I said about social media, I guess this blog is a bunch of self-indulgence, too. So maybe everything is relative.