But Not to Those Who Travel
But for a good-natured and sweet-scented woman to sit the groggy and grumbling beast down, a 3am wake up call would have surely left me foggy and a little wound up all through the long trip to Monaco from Portland. A couple of mimosas and scattered stolen pecks on the cheek, who cared that the sun was nowhere to be found above, I was ready to take on the sky another day.
About seventeen hours later, Trish and I found ourselves in Nice, greeted by a black-clad woman holding up a hand-written sign saying Vannelli. (and with two n’s, what do you know) We snaked along the French Riviera until we arrived at the Roquebrune in Cap Martin, just a few miles south of Monaco. It seemed to me a rather average hotel dug into the rocks and wedged hillside. But once inside, that all changed—a king could not have asked for a more sumptuous gastronomic bounty or a more genial legion of doting matrons who took care of their guests like motherless children. Trish and I spent six long, hot days time adjusting while walking along calm green shores, sipping peach daiquiris, then squeezing tight into a sun bed for one, getting in a bit of pulp while exchanging appraisals of passing yachts. There were those nagging distractions of topless women who would stroll by, having two distinct looks in their eyes. One was: “Pfff! I don’t care what you think, Calvinist!” The other was: “Hey pilgrim, what do you think?” Though I confess to a few snoops here and there, I happily kept my eye mostly trained on the book in hand—defiant ultra-bronzed, elderly hippies sporting bare racks seemed all too much to absorb compared to a simple murder story.
On the seventh day we moved to the Hermitage in Monte Carlo. I have always had this morbid curiosity about hotel suites and how much folks need to shell out for what is usually supplied to me by promoters. In this case the hopped-up wallpaper and double bidets would set back the average man (if we can call him such) 2,600 euros a night—so said the small placard on the door. “Must be that second bidet,” I reckoned.
The Dutch band had just arrived from Holland. We set up and rehearsed all that afternoon. I slowly began to emerge from vacation mode and find my stage legs.
There is always something to discover, to overcome or to capture, even with songs you’ve performed for many years. Of course, new arrangements help fend off the boredom and actually inspire me to keep hitting the stage, but on the night of the show, at the Sporting in Monte Carlo, I had two major fiery hoops to jump through. One was the fact that our show was to begin at midnight. The Monicans, I reckon, are all-nighters—a bit hard to be prancing about during an encore at 1:30 in the morning from my point of view. But the bigger obstacle was something far more pernicious, over and above dumb. By accident, I had overdosed on some spicy herbs meant for singers and singed my chords. Took about a week to heal, but in the meantime I was this close to adding Maggie May to my set. The high point of the night was Karel’s piano solo in Black Cars—Bill Evans with nipple rings and leather chaps.
Tricia and I, along with a hundred and fifty or so brothers in arms, sat—no, liquefied patiently on the tarmac for nearly three hours in ninety-degree heat while waiting for the aircraft to take off from Nice to Stockholm. We touched down just in time to make rehearsals with Robert Wells and his Rhapsody in Rock band of merry souls, about twenty-five or so. What a pleasant surprise it was to hear them all so ready, willing and fine-tuned. From the first minute of rehearsals in Stockholm to the closing moments of the show in Dalhhalla, (a gigantic out-of-commission stone quarry and magnificent place to hold a concert, three hours north of Stockholm) the whole Swedish adventure could be chocked up as, ‘a good one’. Hats off to the crew and technical advisors for just about reading my mind.
Well, there we were again, back at Arlanda waiting to be pointed in any general direction that led back to America, when the announcement came that our plane would be leaving two hours later than scheduled. We were finally nestled into our own private little leather digs, bracing ourselves for the twenty-hour travel day ahead, when the captain announced that the high frequency radio was broken and Lord knew when they could fix the thing— and not an electrician for miles. Some part of you wants to scream out, “Just take off, will you! You must know the road like the back of your hand by now!” But of course, all you do is try your best to keep a stiff upper lip and be a shining example of a well-seasoned traveler to all the summer vacationers who look as if they’ll never see Kansas again.
The cabin room’s air was charged and thick with dark thoughts when, at last, five hours later, we pushed back from the gate and made for the runway. Anger and relief are a strange muddle. One quiets the other while the one being silenced barbs the other, so that in the end you’re left smiling, quietly buzzing and whirring in your seat with a short circuit in your nervous system. Naturally, getting in five hours later than planned, we missed every possible connection to Portland from New York. As if sitting for thirteen hours in that flying heap of metal blowing second-hand air wasn’t enough, now we’d have to find a hotel, any hotel to sleep the night before we could get on another one to Portland.
“I marvel at how easily we can turn from well-mannered John Does who never use anything but skim milk in their coffee, into frantic, foul-mouthed mobs ready to torch the place. Suddenly all you could see at terminal three at JFK was a sea of angry, sweaty faces shouting, “Hey, you *&^%$%^*!!!I was here first!”
We finally got our marching orders from Delta. We were to spend the night at the Doubletree and leave on the 7pm flight the next day. After being pushed and shoved out of the way, then trampled on by a herd of stampeding out-of-towners attempting to board the hotel shuttle, Tricia and I decided to pass on the complimentary ride and cab it, only to find ourselves with an unlicensed cabbie, fresh from Pakistan that hadn’t a clue as to how to get to the Doubletree—presumably fine, providing you’re still parked at the stand, haggling about price and what not, but not so cool when you suddenly realize he has no idea where he’s going in the thick of New York traffic. It reminds me of a trip long ago to Zermaat, Switzerland, as the anxious pilot in the bucking Piper Cup caught in a snow storm finally turned to me and smiled real big, while he prodded his pointed index earthward to a barely visible blot between two giant peaks in the Alps—such was the same with Mohammed Kamal as he happily pointed to the neon Doubletree sign in the dark distance.
How a less than average room could mean so much more than a twenty-six-hundred-dollar suite at the Hermitage with Little Mary Sunshine wallpaper and double bidets, is what ran through my mind, as I set our bags down in the pungent carpet-cleaner-scented room. Realizing there had been only a limited number of rooms available that night, counting all the surrounding hotels, anger was once more mellowed by relief.
On the next day, steeling ourselves for a long day’s wait for our seven o’clock flight at JFK, upon checking in I was reminded of a certain God in his Heaven when two seats suddenly became available on the 3pm flight to Portland.
Get more stories like these in Gino’s Book Stardust in the Sand.