|San Sebastian, Spain|
I had a really bad feeling about this impending bus trip. I knew that the inability to lay down vertically, plus having to worry about bathroom stops to accommodate 18 people, meant that I and the band would not get anything resembling a good night's sleep. Plus, I hadn't slept on the flight from New York(I normal can't sleep on planes) so I was already extra jet lagged and extra cranky. ( And to be fair, I wan far from being the only one in the band complaining!)After a lot of dramatic complaining and wondering if Dave Holland's big band( they were also playing in San Sebastian) had a better bus than we did(ha!), 18 of us reluctantly and somewhat angrily boarded the bus for our more than 10 hour trip to the south of Spain.
At this point, some people reading this might say, "Hey, I toured with (insert Ghost Big Band name here) and all we did for three years was travel on buses like the one you're describing." Indeed, I aware of the fact that, although I have paid a substantial amount of dues on the road and as a working musician in general, I have avoided many of the indignities (extended cruise ship gigs, touring with low paying Big Bands, playing in the New York subway) that other musicians have. ( I did work in food service in the 80's, but that's another story....) Also, I think if you are are a teenager, or in your twenties at least, any kind of travel is exciting, even if it's slightly less comfortable than you would care for. I was in my late 30's at this point in the story. Also, I'm a white suburban soft spoiled American crybaby.
The next day, I got up, had breakfast, and walked around the Spanish beach town. The crappy Mingus Band bus was scheduled to leave in the mid-afternoon. I was somewhat in denial about the impending full day bus ride. As lunchtime approached, I started to wonder if there was a way out. How much would booking a last minute flight cost? How would I even arrange this? Would anyone at the front desk of the hotel speak enough English to help me? I was beginning to be of the mindset that I would pay any price not to have to sit on that dingy, sweltering, crowded, toilet-less bus for 24 hours in a row.
It turned out that there was an alternative. A train was my way out; actually, three trains to be exact. I would have to take a 3PM train to Barcelona, then an overnight train from Barcelona to Paris, and then another train from Paris to Nantes. The overnight train had a private car with a bed. Well, actually, the completely private cars were sold out. I would have to share a room and a bunk bed with a stranger. I decided that having an actual bed, AND access to a bathroom, even with an unknown roommate, would be far superior than that godforsaken bus. So, with a clearly better alternative, I gathered my bags and hailed a taxi to the Almeria train station.
I plunked down a wad of Euros and boarded the train from Almeria. I made it to Barcelona easily. I was a little nervous; I've traveled in Europe alone, but I had never strayed from an band itinerary out of the need for comfort. Part of me wondered whether the other musicians would think I was some kind of "diva", liked I needed to "travel in style", or something. Maybe they thought that I believed I was "above" traveling with the band. Honestly, I just wanted to sleep, or at least not feel like crap for 24 hours. And I was spending my own money. I was just hoping that some unforseen snag, like getting on the wrong train, or a train breaking down (it's happened to me in Spain before), or some other problem, would cause me to miss the gig in Nantes. I tried to stay optimistic while I waited in the Barcelona station for the overnight train to Paris.
Finally it was time to board for Paris. I found my compartment. A young man, my roommate for the evening, was already in the compartment, moving some of his things around the small area. He said "Hello" in what was clearly English, and also with what I detected to be a slight Southern accent. I said, "Oh, you are American?"
"Yeah, I'm from Atlanta. What brings you to Europe?"
"I'm a musician. I'm touring with a band."
"What band? What kind of music?"
"It's a jazz band. You probably never heard of them. The Mingus Band."
"Oh.....as in Charles Mingus?"
"Wow, that's right. Yeah"
"Yeah, I'm into a lot of different music. Is the whole band on this train?"
"No......see, I'm taking this train because, well, it's a long boring story......we were in San Sebastian, and we had to ride on this crappy bus to Almeria, and then they wanted us to take the same bus to Nantes, which is a 24 trip.....I just didn't want to be on that bus for 24 hours, so I splurged and took this train on my own. That bus was so uncomfortable. Uhh......what brings you to Europe?"
"Well, I'm in the Army. I've been serving in Iraq for a year and I have 6 weeks of leave time."
Serving in Iraq for a year, he says. Just my luck. I felt like a complete schmuck.
I haven't had so many interactions with anyone serving in Iraq (although my cousin Cordis served as an Arabic translator), so I thought this was a great opportunity to hear about what's really going on in Iraq. I invited the young man, whose name was John, to the dining car. We had a nice conversation, although John didn't want to talk about Iraq so much. He seemed pretty calm for somebody who had essentially just come from the front line(not that it's a front line as in Normandy Beach, but still.....). What I gathered from John was that the War in Iraq is very different from what we think it is. And that a few days before coming to Europe, his convoy had been blown up and some of his regiment had been killed. Other than that, he seemed to prefer to talk about music, or anything else besides War. I also got the feeling that he was not a fan of George W. Bush. He had come from a military family; although he was not totally gung ho about it, he served because everyone in his family had served.