“We’re rolling backwards”, I said, trying to sound casual. “We’re rolling BACKWARDS”, I said again, noting with some alarm the traffic lights receding into the distance as Bobby’s station wagon drifts tenderly close to the car behind us. Predictably, indignant honking bursts forth from the anxious driver. “Okay lady, I know”, Bobby mutters, throwing his arm out his open window to gesture in a reassuring ‘calm down and shut up’ sort of way.
The light turns green and my heart lurches along with this tin can death-trap as Bobby throws it from park into first and guns it. “It’s the transmission”, he offers by way of explanation, a beautific smile spreading across his calm face. “And the brakes,” he adds thoughtfully.
A tidal wave of anxiety rises high into my chest, which seems to be corseted by my ribs from expanding enough to take a good deep breath. I am on my way to meet up with the rest of Parlour Steps. We are departing for a short tour, playing some shows in Seattle and Portland. If I can get myself and my keyboards to the rendezvous point without becoming involved in a fatal car accident. I was lucky that my dear friend Bobby was available for gear and Maira transport. I was unlucky that this was the day, the minute, and the hour that his vehicle decided to go bat-shit insane.
“It’s much worse today than it ever has been”, Bobby keeps saying apologetically and with genuine surprise as we lurch our way across town, me praying for green lights and no hills. Absolutely typical, I think amidst the the intermittent blasts of terrified honking as we roll steadily backwards at every red light. We sit and wait for the car to find first gear and leap, as a station wagon would if it were a gazelle, across a great succession of major intersections. At the beginning of rush hour. It would hardly feel like going on tour if there wasn’t panic and the acrid taste of fear in the back of my throat. Getting to the departure point was now questionable, in so many ways.
What if I’m late? What if I forget how to play the songs? What if they hate me and I hate them and we can’t function with continuous contact in small enclosed spaces? Did I mention I’m the newest member of this band and this is my first out-of-town excursion with them? Do I need to tell you that I’m a extremely meticulous obsessive compulsive sensitive little worrier?
We shudder to a halt outside Caleb’s house, perfectly on time. I exit the car slowly, with great deliberation, as if it were the calmest most unremarkable day of my life. I am the first one to arrive. There is time for Bobby and I to go for coffee. My stomach begins to unclench a little. When we return Rees and Julie and Rob are there. Time to load up and get the hell out of Dodge. We are a little caravan. Rees and Caleb travel with the gear. Julie and I travel with Rob. I have no idea where exactly we are going. In this band, I am in charge of nothing. My responsibilities are:
1. Play some kick ass keyboard parts
2. Sing some kick ass vocal parts
3. Show up on time with keyboards and voice
So far, so good. Until a small gray box is thrust into my hand. It’s my new friend Tom-Tom, a small GPS device that is supposed to guide us to the venue in Seattle. Of course, someone has to program it first. That someone is me. There is no instruction manual. I start pushing buttons. I hope feverently that Tom-Tom and I are smart enough to guide us to the Jewelbox Theatre, 2322 2nd Ave SW. I remember the address because I typed it in about a hundred times over the next few hours in true Maira obsessive-compulsive fashion.
Well, at least I wasn’t bothered about ‘will I hate them/will they hate me?’ anymore. Now it was ‘holy fuck, they’re relying on ME to get us there!’ Will we ever see Caleb and Rees again? Did I enter the right address (2322 2nd Ave SW 2322 2nd Ave SW 2322 2nd Ave SW)? Does this thing work? Is it too late to apply to law school, which was sort the original plan and now seems infinitely more relaxing than the indie rock experience.
I’m traveling with people I’ve never spent longer than three hours with. All of my gear is in another vehicle and may or may not be confiscated at the border. I’ve been appointed chief navigator and keeper of Tom-Tom. I can almost play about 20 Parlour Steps songs, which means I’ll have to bear down and push my musical mind to the limit to remember all my keyboard parts and patches, hundreds of chord changes, and vocal lines onstage. And make it look fun, and easy. God, I love rock and roll. It should come with a warning label: Caution! May lead to adventure. So few of us embark on real adventures anymore, not like the good old days of pirates and Vikings. My normal life is so structured and routine. I enjoy it, but I’ll peel it off like a dirty shirt whenever there’s an opportunity to travel and play music.
We drive, we rip across the border effortlessly. Tom-Tom guides us to the front door of the venue. The hardest part is finding a place to park. Downtown Seattle is pretty cool. Lots of brick and doorway arches, lots of mercilessly hip restaurants of every kind, lots of people out. I love being in the States. Gritty, slightly intimidating, and not safe. And because of that, very exciting.
We had some time to kill and so ended up at a Mexican restaurant for dinner. I got carded, which happens more often than not but is getting progressively funnier as I age. Now when they look, they do a double take. Or laugh out loud. I am way older than they thought (but still looking good, thank you very much). Dinner was delicious, and fun. I was starting to feel like I was on vacation, minus the spending money. That pretty much sums up the touring experience for me. A very weird, unpredictable vacation during which I have no money.
The show was pretty good. I managed to keep my wits about me and played the right sounds at the right time. We played in a tiny theatre (the Jewelbox, 2322 2nd Ave. SW). Plush red velvet seats, a tiny red-carpeted aisle, a miniature stage. Afterwards, I drank a can of warm cheap beer while watching a blind junkie drummer try to outsmart a hair covered guitar player with a stage full of pedals.
After that, I helped load gear while Rees took it as a personal challenge to score us some weed. I learned, Rees takes a personal challenge very seriously. We found a hotel and slept. The next morning, I observed the American breakfast experience at Denny’s. They have something there called the Complete Three Meat Breakfast. Because you know a breakfast is hopelessly incomplete without at least three meats. Also they put melted cheese on the meat. Actually, pretty much everything had a layer of melted cheese on it except for the coffee.
It was a beautiful day for a drive. Five hours of highway and sunshiny breezes. On to Portland.