Skunks, St. Brigid and Odometers
Our minivan, the Green Hornet, now has over 315,542 miles on it. We have had many vehicles over the years, including the Hell Bitch (named after the horse Gus rode in Lonesome Dove), The Beast, The Little Beast, and the Soyuz Capsule Honda Civic that had over 350,000 miles on it. I think one fan figured we have gone around the moon and back about three times or so with our rambling over the road. I've never stopped to figure it out.
We had just finished a great evening at the James Lumber Performing Arts Center in Grayslake, Illinois. Now the Green Hornet was taking us faithfully out to Wyoming, Iowa for a concert. The Hornet is showing her age. She has a crack in her manifold, so we usually have to open the window to get a bit of fresh air into the car. There's a wobble in the right rear axle. And there's that thing with the anti-lock brakes going out, so we're kind of back to 1950's braking technology. A piece of black tape covers the ABS light. At least we haven't resorted to the cinder block drag brake routine yet...but we're thinking about it. The question is, when do you let go of something that has faithfully served you for miles and miles? You get used to a vehicle after a while and so the inclination is to stretch out the use of it until it falls apart on you, which is what happened to the Soyuz capsule Civic, literally rusting itself out of our lives. To thwart the Hornet's demise, we have some talismans that help us keep it going. One is a blue garter that I think came from a prom or a wedding. Neither of us has a clue who it came from or how it got into the van, but there it is. The other is a wooden cut-out of a steam locomotive that was given to us by the good folks at the Iron Horse Music Hall in El Dorado, Kansas. The secret to a talisman is that it must be given and you must display it to ensure its good luck. How many more talismans do we need to keep the Green Hornet moving?
That was the thought going through my mind as we pulled into the town of Monticello, Iowa. Our Switchback Team representative Jan Hoag from Rochester, Minnesota was there to greet us at the Blue Inn, where we were to stay the night. The Blue Inn is a family run business and if you get to Monticello (pronounced Monta-sell-o and not chello like the place Jefferson had) I recommend it. There's a pool that townsfolk as well as guests can swim in, a work out center, and rooms that are big and comfortable. There is also quite a collection of album covers on the walls in the main hall. The person who collected them must have grown up in the 80's as a lot were of the Men At Work, Warren Zevon, Pat Benatar, and .38 Special era. As a musician, I looked at them with the pleasure of one visiting The Louvre. I think the current generation with its download world has missed a wonderful ritual, that of putting an album on the stereo and sitting and studying the artwork as the disc played. And usually you shared that ritual with someone else, too. "All alone on my I-phone" seems to be the mantra today. Thank God for live music!
We went for a quick bite to eat at a local establishment. We met one of the managers who Jan greeted warmly, since she grew up in Monticello and Monticello is a friendly town. People automatically say hello. The manager was a transplant and immediately told us how she was ready to leave Monticello. "This town is too small. I have heard too much talk about who I have been sleeping with." Our eyebrows raised. "I even heard that my 74 year old employee and I were an item." Eyebrows raised a bit higher. "And when I am at the grocery store in my pajamas shopping, I don't want someone to be asking me 'hello and how's the restaurant?'" Eyebrows now at painfully raised level along with mental image of her in her pajamas. "I'm not there! I am in my pajamas in the grocery store." Mental image of irate manager in pajamas, yelling at friendly Monticellan. My cramping eyebrows! "I much prefer a bigger town. I could shop in my bra and underwear and no one would care." Image too much. I was starting to whimper a bit from the pain, but thankfully the food arrived. The three of us ate in silence for a while.
We did a quick tour of Monticello and then were off to Wyoming. Not the state, but the town where a courageous woman, Marilyn Gray, has created a small performing arts center that she named simply "Fun, Fun, Fun." We have played many different performing arts centers around the country from 10,000 seat majestic theaters to small opera houses, but the former print shop turned arts center in Wyoming, Iowa is one of my favorites. The reason is that it symbolizes to me the spirit of live performance, how it takes on a spiritual level. It takes people who believe that art can bring their community together, that music is vital to the survival of the community. All the big majestic theaters certainly at some point began this way and cultivate it on a much larger scale. But here in Wyoming, Iowa, this is the front-line in the battle for the soul of community, where artists can come and play live in front of a small but appreciative audience. And there was a full house that evening, with people of all ages from all the surrounding communities. Marilyn had put together a wonderful barbecue pork dinner at the Senior Center two doors down and people had a great, leisurely meal and walked over to catch our music. Now you don't get that when you go to a large performance hall!
We were totally excited to see that Katie McClellen, who is the harpist for the Irish band The Celtic Waves had come all the way from Honolulu to join us that night. She was back in Iowa to visit family and came bearing gifts from the Waves: some pooka shell necklaces that we festooned on our guitars and a small hula doll that could sit on the dashboard and dance to the vibration of the vehicle. "Why, it's St. Brigid," I joked. Another talisman to keep us safe on the road.
The concert was fun, fun, fun and we had an evening of fans asking for requests and a whole passel of new folks, who were clapping their hands and barking along with the veterans on Twister In a Trailer Park. (For the record, only 25 seconds, folks.) At the end of the long night we took down the equipment and loaded everything up in the van. We had leftover barbecue with Marilyn and her husband Matt at the Senior Center. Then we bid adieu to our Iowa STeamers Jerry, Angela, and Denise. Along with Jan in the van, we pointed the Hornet west and headed back to Monticello. St. Brigid was dancing on the dashboard. All seemed well with the world as the moon rose over the rolling Iowa hills. At that point I hit the skunk, which appeared out of nowhere it seemed. I did everything you shouldn't--swerve, squint my eyes, and hunch up behind the steering wheel. The thud of the poor critter against the wheels and then the deep stench of skunk revenge. I said a quiet prayer for the skunk and drove sadly onward to Monticello. In fact we were all sad as that stench slowly permeated the vehicle. Since we have the manifold crack, the window had to be opened a bit. Thank God we weren't heading to the gig.
It has been now about a week and the stench of that skunk is fresh and ever-present on the Hornet. Now, I think the talismans kept me there on that road. I don't know why that skunk had to appear or why our fated rendezvous had to take place that night. Perhaps St. Brigid doesn't like being equated with a hula dancer. But I do know that the Hornet is more odoriferous on the exterior than the interior for a change.