It's Dec. 12, 2022. 122222. I'm back home after a second week-long run up to Nashville through Alabama. The first one, in November, went pretty well. I managed to pick up enough spontaneous tips-gigs in coffee shops to keep eating and have enough gas, and when a coolant hose blew in my van, my old man helped me out with a tow and covering the shop bill as my Christmas present. Thanks, dad.
The second round went differently, starting with a Dec. 9 show in Gainesville that I went to and from via motorcycle in the same day, not heading off proper (in the van) until the Jacksonville show on the 11th. Gainesville was an actual show instead of me cold-calling some coffeehouse. The guys from Painted Lady records, Quincy Allen Flint and Kyle Keller, held down some rock solid sets of finger-picked campfire country and honest lyricism. I did whatever my acoustic set consists of; decent songs offset by a bitter and harsh sense of humor. After a very cold ride back to Ormond through the densest fog I've ever been in, I made it back with a few extra bucks the people there were kind enough to give me and called it a successful night.
Jacksonville was a good yet quieter show, but mostly because there were much fewer people there. There was a bike race happening somewhere else in the city that night and some football game going. Rambler Kane, the original Jacksonville local, had to drop off the show due to Covid, but Quincy Flint happened to be in the area and sat in for the second set to help me out. An old friend of mine from high school who lives in the area came out to the show and treated me to dinner at his apartment with his fiancée and their two cats. We smoked a bit of grass and got into it "trading notes on the journey", and apologizing to one another for the unceremonious falling out that had occurred some six or eight years earlier. Amends were made, and a mutual appreciation seemed to be shared all around. That was nice. His girlfriend called me out once, quite accurately, saying "you have issues with women, don't you?" I responded, "fuck, I'd hoped it wasn't that obvious." Steak was eaten (delicious) and laughs were had. It was a healing night for me, reconnecting and smoothing things out with an old friend and seeing how far he's come since we last knew each other.
I saddled up and drove through to Tallahassee that night after dinner. I got there at like three in the damn morning, quietly pulling in behind the same Cracker Barrel I stayed at the last time and going to sleep. The next day, I woke up and an unpleasant part of my reality hit me. I hate when it does that. I'm sleeping in the back of a van behind a fucking Cracker Barrel, I have very little money and no show to play in Tallahassee. I got myself out of bed, eventually, and rode around looking for a cheap breakfast. After swallowing a couple McGriddles and coffee, I went to the Planet Fitness and got a decent arm and shoulder workout in. Laterals (which I can do with 20s now, quite proud), preacher curls, overhead tricep press and machine overhead press. I needed something that felt like candy, so I trained arms. Cut me some slack.
I showered and went off in search of something to do. Had a period of reflection in the park, going over the night before and feeling all the well-deserved self-hate for the guy I was the last time my friend and I knew each other. I have grown a lot and become much more than I was, but that mother fucker is still in me somewhere and I struggle with him all the time. Every time I stub my toe or spill a drink, the little voice in the back of my mind whispers "You're a piece of shit and you make everything worse for everyone around you, you don't deserve to live and you should kill yourself. All you do is make other's lives worse and use people, so for the good of humanity you should eat a bullet."
That little bastard used to run my life, now he's more of a pest that comes around every so often to make sure I don't forget him. Walking around the park, trying to film something for TikTok about how I'm "all about being honest about who I am" and how "radical honesty" is the best approach I've found to personal and spiritual growth, I became aware that I'm still the big fraud I always was before, at least in part. I have grown a lot and brought much more interesting and positive stuff inside the warehouse of my personality, but the dark dusty corner is still there. Might always be. My inner work, at least for now, consists of learning to love myself despite those aspects and to forgive them and soothe them instead of letting them win. I'm making progress and gaining ground, getting stronger. Going for it with music the way I am is helpful, despite how stressful it is.
The next day I did a little thing in Tallahassee at Square Mug Coffee, but I played maybe five songs then bailed. Ms. Donna, the owner/manager, gave me some food for the road, $20 and a free coffee. I felt horrible about bailing, but knew with the mood I was in, things weren't going to improve. The handful of college students there weren't really engaging with the music and I didn't have the jing to win them over that day. So I left, rolled slow up to Montgomery, taking my time and enjoying the back roads, calling places up there to set up tips stuff for the next few days.
After a day of down-time and more venue calling, I managed to swing three shows in a two day period. Two afternooners at a Vintage Cafe on Cloverdale, and an evening slot at Goat Haus Biergarten that ended earlier than I'd been booked for, but ended at the perfect time. The folks at Vintage Cafe were particularly kind, especially one of the managers named Jud, a 25 year old guitar wizard who shared some grass with me, took me over to his place after the first day to jam a bit.
It was a great time, I got to play around on his drums and we played for about an hour straight just letting it happen. I got a bit paranoid and had to dip to go get some introvert recovery time before hitting the Cracker Barrel for dinner and sleep. The next show at Vintage went about as well, I sold a shirt and made some tips and new friends/fans. That night at Goat Haus, I ended up playing at the same time as a holiday party for a bunch of Airforce folks. At first the pairing seemed like a miss-match, but they warmed up to me quickly and tipped me very well. A few folks who knew me from my first roll through in Montgomery knew I was playing and came out to see me, buying another shirt.
I'm looking forward to going back to Montgomery to play more shows, the people there are really kind and genuine. The holiday party came to the bit where they do various games and present-swapping right as I was ending my set, so I took the que and headed out a bit early. There was a four hour drive left to do, plus dinner to find and gear to load before I could hit the road.
The van held up fine almost all the way to Nashville.
Roughly ten miles south of Franklin, however, my volt meter suddenly started running about ten volts; it usually holds about 14 or so. I was still a long way from Nashville and the next day's show. AAA offices were closed at that hour, I was too broke to afford a tow and I really wanted to make it to the next day's show.
I knew the alternator was wearing out and would die eventually, but why now? was all I could think. I started praying out loud, loudly, saying "Please, Lord Jesus Christ, just let me make it to street parking on McGavock behind the venue for tomorrow's show."
He was kind. I made it, barely. I don't know how I managed to get there without running out of juice first, but it worked out. I conferred with a concierge running overnight at a hotel across the street who said I should be fine to park where I was through the night and probably the next day too. She gave me a hug; she could tell I was a bit shaken.
I arrived at the parking spot around 2, finally fell asleep in the cold van around 3 after all the late-night partiers had gone home, and slept pretty good until my alarm went off at 8:30 to get ready for the show at 10 AM. I got dressed, grabbed my music stuff, toothbrush, pomade and walked around the corner to the venue to get cleaned up and play.
The folks at Just Love Coffee on Music Row are really kind. They gave me coffee and breakfast for free and listened to my set despite there being basically no one at the shop that morning. Only about twenty bucks made it into the guitar case that day, so I called it around 12:30 in the afternoon and opted to try getting the van to an AutoZone about three miles away. By sheer Grace alone, the van cranked. After a very tense fifteen or so minutes watching the volt meter creep slowly toward the red on the bottom end, I got her parked in a spot in the sunshine where I could work on her.
I'd checked before I'd left to see if the AutoZone had a new alternator, low and behold they did.
$186 for the new alternator. I put out a plea for help on my Instagram Story, some kind listeners sent in money and I ended up with a bit more than I needed! I got out my tool bag and went to work, removing the fan shroud and getting it out of the way, removing the serpentine belt and pulling the mount bolts for the alternator. Once the old one was removed, which took some doing because of time and corrosion, I got the new one installed. With everything battened back up, I said another quick prayer and hit the ignition. She cranked to life immediately and the volt meter read just over 14! We were back in business.
I nearly cried. It was stressful and I'd never replaced an alternator before.
I took some of the extra money and got dessert after dinner at Cracker Barrel. Slept good that night.
The next morning, I went back to Just Love and did another short set, but it was a Sunday the week before Christmas in a tourist town. It was pretty dead. When I'd figured no more folks were coming in, I took a look at my prospects for more road time and decided it would be better to call it and head on home. I hit the road for Daytona that afternoon and got home around 2 AM. Still breathing.