Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why The Road Sucks

One of the sights in Milan I won't see because I'm looking for a laundromat
There's an old saying:"How do you get a musician to complain? Give him a GIG!" Well, it's funny because it's true. Musicians are either moaning because they aren't working, but they might moan even louder if they are working. I've been enjoying my gigs more lately because I get to play music so much less than when I lived in New York and was just freelancing. However, the things that surround the gigs still suck. Well, it's not all bad, but especially when it comes to traveling, that's starting to become more annoying, and only because I'm becoming more comfortable in my home, and being home more than being away. For most of my years in New York, I was on the road about 50 percent of the time. So the road was as much home as my apartment was. Since I, my wife and son have moved into our house in Southeast Portland, it's become way too comfortable for me to want to leave. This makes the unpleasant parts of traveling more unpleasant psychologically.

Don't get me wrong, it's a privilege to get the opportunity to get to tour with Jack DeJohnette, a true legend in jazz drumming. Besides the musical experience,there are the practical advantages; Jack is, like most jazz greats, much more appreciated in Europe than in the U.S., and is treated fairly well when we tour here(I'm in Milan at the moment). We stay in mostly 4 and 5 star hotels, get free excellent dinners before every gig, and all of our instruments and sound is set up before we get to sound check. It's nice to get the star treatment. It's not like we are The Rolling Stones or anything, but we are treated with respect.

Still, there are things like jet lag, getting on and off planes, in and out of airports at ungodly hours, changing money of various currencies(Not everyone is on the Euro over here), dealing with lost luggage, getting a roaming plan for your phone so you don't get a bill that costs more than you are making for the tour, trying not to catch a cold or anything worse, hoping there is a gym in the hotel and if there isn't looking for one that doesn't charge 60 Euros a day( there is one in Milan that does!). Getting sick on the road, even just a cold, really sucks because you have no choice but to keep moving; you can't just say, "Sorry guys, I need to rest up and drink some chicken soup. You guys go on ahead to Berlin; I'll catch up to you when I'm feeling better...." Nope. I now pack tons of Vitamin C , Zicam, Oscillococcinum, Ginger Tea, and Amino Acids to prevent getting sick, and NyQuil and Dayquil in case I do get sick. Just hope you don't get something intestinal because if you are driving 4 to 12 hours a day and you have the runs, you are going to be miserable.

But the kicker is laundry: How do you go out on the road for weeks and get your clothes washed so that you don't feel and smell as funky as Parliament Funkadelic? Finding a laundry can be
Joey Barron, known for great drumming and traveling light
challenging, especially when you are doing constant one nighters; there is such limited time that you fly in, check in to the hotel, go to the soundcheck, play the gig, go back to the hotel, get up the next morning and do it all again. There just isn't time. Some people bring clothes that dry quickly and they spend a lot of time washing their clothes in the sink of their hotel room. The legend is that drummer Joey Barron brings only one change of clothes on a tour; he wears silk clothes which he can wash and dry every night. Barron also doesn't even bring cymbals; he apparently just uses whatever cymbals the promoter provides and just puts tape on them to make them sound really dry. I suppose he got tired of lost luggage all the time, so now he travels light.

I wish I could get to that point. I have three bags. One is a large suitcase full of clothes and two pairs of shoes(dress and running). I also have my vitamins in there. I have a computer bag(which is actually brand new, I had to buy a new one in Oslo because the one I bought finally broke after 10 years. Oslo is expensive so the new one cost about 4,000 dollars.....) which has my computer and various electronics and my passport. Then I have a shoulder bag which I put my pocket trumpet case inside. I might also put a sweater or a jacket in that bag so I can have it on the plane if they have the air conditioning blasting(which they often do, apparently to keep the flight attendants awake). I spent about a week making sure that the large suitcase was well packed but not over 50 pounds; that's the overweight limit before you get charged extra. I bought some undershirts, underwear and socks as cheaply as I could at Target because I figured maybe if I can't find laundry I'll just throw it away and try to find the European equivalent of Target-meaning a place to buy dirt cheap undershirts, underwear and socks. Sounds like a waste? Well, many years ago I spent 110 dollars having the good people at the Hotel Rey Juan Carlos in Barcelona wash my undershirts, underwear and socks. I'll give it to them, those undershirts, underwear and socks came back gift wrapped and smelling like an angel's underarm. The hotels can't rip you off with phone calls now that we all have cell phones, so they make up for it with the laundry service.

Now, if you do have a little extra time in one place, as we do in Milan( this is our second full day here), then it's possible to venture out and try to find a laundromat. There are a few problems; one, I only know two words in Italian: "Bongiorno" and "Corleone," the later which is just a name from The Godfather, so it doesn't really count. (It's a shame because supposedly I'm a quarter Italian.) Second, I don't know my way around Milan at all. (We are staying in the Chinatown section of Milan, which is actually kind of interesting. There are a lot of Chinese grocery stores, but I didn't see any laundromats. )Third, the people at the front desk are somewhat clueless; they did a search for
This is what I want, not a drycleaner, darnit!
"laundry" on the internet and printed out a map, however, all of the laundry listings are actually dry cleaners. But I didn't know this until walking around for about an hour to 4 different places. I followed the map, carrying a big bag of stanky clothes, hoping that the next one would be a coin laundromat. Also, I had drank a pot of coffee at breakfast, so now I was not only lost but I had to use the bathroom. I was starting to curse the people at the front desk of our hotel. I came across another hotel, a Best Western that was called Hotel Mozart. I figured that they would have a bathroom and also possibly help me find the proper laundry.

It's already bad enough that I'm walking around aimlessly with my bag of clothes feeling like a schmendrik, and then having to beg to use a toilet, or having to figure out how to get the point across of needing to use the toilet as a non-italian speaker is just too much indignity for one morning. The guy at the desk of the Hotel Mozart is laying for me: I have a plastic bag of clothes and I look like I'm not from "around here."

Me: Where is your bathroom? You have a toilet?

Hotel Mozart Jerk: Sorry sir, what room are you in?

Me: I'm not staying here but I really need to use the bathroom.

Hotel Mozart Jerk: I'm sorry sir, but the bathroom is only for guests of the hotel.

Me: Ok, then, (raising my voice) can you help me with something else then if you won't let me use the bathroom?

Hotel Mozart Jerk: Perhaps.

Me: Is there a coin laundry around here?

Hotel Mozart Jerk: Go out and make a right and a left.

Me: (Walking out and cursing under my breath)


I finally got someone at yet another dry cleaners to show me where a coin laundry was. It said "Self Service," but there was a guy there who looked at me and could tell I wasn't from "around here." We communicated ( I think) that he could wash my clothes by 3pm for 10 Euros. And he had a toilet around the back of the store. I thanked him, "Molto Grazie" and said I would be back at 15:00. I hope he's washing my clothes; who knows, maybe he interpreted our conversation as " I want you to burn these stinky clothes, burn em up, I say. I'll give you 10 Euros to do it, and I'll be back at 3pm just to make sure you've done the job. Too many bad memories with those sweaty undergarments...."

 At home, we have a washer and dryer. I take that for granted; when I want clean clothes, I just have to walk down the hall. On the road, it's a terrible humiliating ordeal. I wonder what will happen if I need a laundry when we get to Bosnia? Maybe I'll just wash them in the sink......

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