The vagaries of public transportation schedules mean that I often have to rise at ridiculous hours, and don’t always get to pick how, exactly, I’m going to ride. My destination of Goshen, IN is not a highly-visited burg, so I had only one choice of getting there, which was a Greyhound departing Chicago at 6:20 am. An Amtrak leaving at, say, noon would have been my preference, but that was not in the cards for getting to the second show of this tour.
I roused myself before sunrise and hopped in a cab. I’ve become accustomed to the subway in New York, which can pretty much get you anywhere at any time, but the bus and the El demanded a circuitous route at this hour, so I instead ponied up five bucks to arrive in style at the Greyhound. It felt utterly wrong since my bus ticket only cost *six* dollars…
Greyhound has stepped up their game a bit since the arrival of Megabus and Boltbus, with electrical outlets and even wifi on some of their coaches. I was lucky enough to get a seat to myself, and a plug that worked, so I took care of some computer tasks and stared at the flat, flat scenery of northern Indiana, so unlike the East Coast.
My schedule had me arriving at 10 a.m. in Elkhart, then playing in Goshen that night, about 15 miles away, then catching a midnight Amtrak. There were no public transportation options that late at night between the two places, so my choice was a pricey cab or a cheap rental car which I’d be able to use all day, and I chose the latter. As we neared Elkhart on the bus, I called the Enterprise office to arrange for them to pick me up, a nice feature of that company.
When I got off the phone, a man with a small child several seats ahead of me turned around, and asked with a smile if I knew the exact location of the Greyhound dropoff in Elkhart. I walked up the aisle and showed it to him on my phone, and he thanked me gratefully. I dropped back into my seat, feeling like I’d done a minor good deed for the day, when I noticed the tattoos on his neck. Letters an inch high spelled out “1488”, which I remembered from a random Google search years ago. The first two digits of 1488 represent the 14 words of the White Power creed, and the two eights stand for the eighth letter of the alphabet, code for “Heil Hitler”. As a final touch, at the side of his neck were the lightning bolts of the Stormtroopers, with “for life” inked atop. He was a genuine Indiana Nazi, and I felt sick to my stomach.
As we got off the bus, he was met by a woman who greeted him and the little boy with hugs and kisses, and they walked to their car, chattering warmly. They were a picture of a happy family, but those marks of hatred on his neck were the only thing I could really see.
A dark feeling stuck with me as I checked into a coffee shop and computered away most of the day, and didn’t fade until I climbed back into my little Nissan in the late afternoon and took a sentimental tour of the college campus where I’d spent a year and a half playing in bands, testing the typical boundaries of the frosh and never declaring a major. The day was grey, which is the only weather I ever remember, but I had to smile as I passed icons of memory; party houses and riverside paths and dorms of midnight bull sessions over microwave popcorn. There were a lot of new buildings, and the kids seemed far younger than they did in my day, but it still seemed like the same old place, and I cruised around to everything I remembered.
I met up with some friends for a great dinner of conversation and Costa Rican gallo pinto, complete with prized Salsa Lizano, then headed back to campus to set up for my show. The cafe where I was playing didn’t exist when I was attending classes, and I was a little glad to be able to leave the reverie behind and focus on the business of playing a show in a new venue. It’d have felt awfully funny to play a stage that I’d played as an undergrad.
I’d arranged the evening with a student, who was very helpful and enthusiastic on the phone, but I was disappointed to see that the posters I’d sent him were absent on the main bulletin boards. Worse, the “full PA” I’d been promised turned out to be one of those plug-the-mic-into-the-wall-for-announcements setups. I seethed with regret at the fact that I’d left my heavy direct box at home, figuring I’d enjoy the lighter bag, but now it meant I wouldn’t able to plug in my guitar and I’d have to perform standing still in front of a microphone, which I hate. I need to be able to *move* when I play.
There was a soccer game going on that night, as well as a Garrison Keillor performance, so we’d agreed to have me start at 9:30 when both of those events would be wrapping up. When the time came to begin, though, the only people present were my few friends and two or three others. It was not a promising situation, all around, but I bit my tongue and smiled and launched into my set. From my spot in the concrete corner, all I could hear were muffled echoes, but I tried to trust that my friends told me the sound was fine and I mimed the songs as best I could, hoping at least things were in tune and in time.
After five or six songs I was beginning to consider bolting the scene after one short set, but just then more students started drifting in, and a good number of them seemed quite interested in what I was doing. I started feeling better, and forgot about the annoyance of standing still in front of the guitar mic and the bizarre sound waves bouncing around the corner, and began to actually enjoy myself. By the end of my second set, the place was pretty packed (the soccer game had gone into double overtime) and the energy was so upbeat that I played even longer than I’d planned. The manager of the shop presented me with a gift basket of coffee and iced tea from the shop, with a very complimentary handwritten note inside, and after talking to a number of really nice folk I dashed off to the car, returning it just in time to make my train. I was blessed with a seat to myself and I settled in, enjoy the sight of the sleeping little towns in moonlight before I joined them in dreamland.