More Ways to Skate in (a) Town and Country

The Grotto are playing at the Soiled Dove in Denver tonight.  The drive from Carbondale to Denver is on a good highway, well gritted, but it’s hairy at times.  The roads are thick with snow, slush and ice, and the windscreen washers freeze over, forcing us to stop every so often to wash the caked salt off our windscreen.

I try to get some sleep while the guys are playing so we can make tracks straight after the show, which we do.  It’s all downhill from Denver, literally, and there’s a weird euphoria you get, maybe euphoria is too extreme – but definitely a relief, when you get back to near sea-level.  We should be tired, but we drive for longer than expected due to the relief of getting back to our regular barometric pressure! We’re no highlanders, that’s for sure.  We sleep soundly in a small Nebraskan town on our way to Minnesota.

We’re driving north through Nebraska and Iowa to reach St Paul, one of the “twin cities”. St Paul is cold. Very cold. And the drive both towards it, and back to Ames, Iowa are crazy.  Luckily you only have to touch the steering wheel every 20 miles or so on these roads.  They’re straight as far as the eye can see.  The only worry is what exactly it is you’re driving on.  The road surface varies wildly from tracks in the snow, to glassy under the moonlight, to being a fairly thick sludge.  The glassy ice is scary – because traffic is just skating along with a minimum of traction.  All too frequently this tour we’ve seen abandoned cars along the side of the highway … but when you see drivers still in their cars after having just spun off the road, you get a real sense of how treacherous these trips can be.

The show in St Paul is a very quiet Monday night, and coupled with the snow piled three foot high outside the door, it was probably not the most sensible booking of the tour.  Wanting to put the show behind us, and not too keen to return to the pungent Super 8 motel from last night, we head straight for Ames, Iowa where we’re playing at the Maintenance Shop – in the beautiful student union centre of the University of Iowa.  The M-Shop, as it’s known, has been running for about thirty years, and the walls are lined with photos of everyone from Richard Thompson to Arlo Guthrie to Jack Johnson (shock horror).  It’s a beautiful venue, and a great night.  The M-Shop is on the ground floor of the student centre, which is an old 7 storey building, with a hotel in the top few floors.  The M-Shop have a few suites reserved for us, which are colossal.  The rooms seem a little reminiscent of the college dorms in “A Beautiful Mind” or something. I’m afraid to see my “best friend” Paul Bettany appear and start jibbering on about something that non-existent people like talking about… Must remember to only engage in conversation with them until I know they’re real!

The M-Shop show goes well, and there’s a decent turn-out despite it being a night seemingly made entirely from liquid nitrogen outside.  One show-goer informs us that the concert was advertised as “cancelled due to snow”.  We fail to find this information online, but it still worries us greatly.  Is there a campaign of disinformation being waged out there?

We trek onwards to Chicago…

Mostly Harmless – US Tour 2010

Still in driving mode today. We have to make ANOTHER 600 miles today in order to make Carbondale, CO. We’ll be cutting through Idaho, Utah and finally Colorado.

Our day begins in Twin Falls, Idaho, where we pulled in late last night into our usual spot – Motel 6. Cheap and cheerfully consistent. The morning is spent doing laundry and wandering around Twin Falls for some guitar supplies, hats, boots, electronics for Kev, etc. We manage to find a large mall which fulfills our day’s dreams… sort of. I didn’t really have a suitable heavy cold-weather jacket, and really wanted one before hitting the ridiculous blizzards and snow that’s plagued the States for the past while. We heard a news piece that announced there was record of snow in 49 states – that’s every one bar Hawaii. Anyway… I hit an Outdoors-y type store.

An outdoorsy shop in Ireland typically has tents, socks, fishing rods, rucksacks, coats… but this place has everything. Guns, boats, canoes, and the largest (non-music festival) tent I’ve ever seen – suspended from the ceiling. I eventually track down a coat that’s light, warm, and looks pretty good too… and it’s on my way out that I start noticing all the stuffed animals. They’re EVERYwhere. This is a pretty huge warehouse of a place, but it’s lined with animal heads. I’ve seen most of them before – or similar… but the one that really freaks me out is the giraffe. The traditional hunting trophy is the neck and head of the slain animal mounted on your wall… but giraffe’s have some neck. Anyway, it’s another first, albeit a grisly one.

When I emerge the guys are waiting for me, and only when I’m facing away from the mall do I see where the mall is actually positioned – on the edge of a huge canyon. Twin Falls was named such for a reason. We tried to get some shots of Norm – our trusty Town & Country – and the canyon. I’ll upload them asap. As I’m packing my stuff away I notice a little note on the receipt : “no refund on firearms for our own safety”. I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds vaguely threatening.

We leave Twin Falls quite late in the day, and beat onwards towards Carbondale, CO. We catch some of the wild scenery, and even stop in places like Malta. Just filling up here gives you a sense of how remote some of these places are. Interstate bypasses making them seem even more remote. And then the night comes… I hate travelling under darkness like this, and catching brief glimpses of scenery that should be breathtaking. I hate missing the scenery… and I hate briefly summing up a place in a paragraph too. Some of these places deserve much better than I can give them in this blog.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (from the Douglas Adams novel of the same name) had an entry for Earth that read “mostly harmless”. Arthur Dent, the sole surviving human from Earth, is incensed by this measly entry describing his former home. Two words! Just two words?! Ford Prefect, Arthur’s friend, saviour, and travel writer for The Guide, said that in the twelve years he spent on Earth, he improved the entry greatly. It used to read just, “harmless”.

So, I may be doing slightly better than the Guide… but I intend no offence by omitting places and details… We’re going for stream of consciousness, touring jumble here… it’s messy!