If you think back hard, I figure every story you ever heard that made you laugh till you wet yourself, cry till you felt better, or stand in front of a mirror for a sec and tell yourself to cut it out, all tend to either begin or end with the exact same words:
“It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Ten years ago today, June 9, I gassed up my minivan and drove down old Route 66 with a photographer. We published a book about the trip. See above.
Backstage with a band at a rock show in the VIP room at a club in Chicago. He had shot the album cover for the band I was reviewing that night. I was working for this little suburban magazine at the time. It involved showing up about twice a month and cleaning out my mailbox, which, with all the typical press releases and tickets to shows from three weeks ago, usually included two kinds of CDs. Either a black and white cover with five balding guys from Westmont standing in front of a brick wall, or the latest major label failure that after three months of launching them and Letterman won’t book them they find my damned address somewhere.
I used to sort the CD’s into two piles, one for the locals, and one for the majors. I figured give the local guys a little love just to support the music scene, and seriously, there just ain’t anyone on this planet that has enough money to make me go see Third Eye Blind-again.
Then there is this woman on an album cover. Pearl earrings, necklace, red dress, draped across a theater balcony. She’s got the sort of legs that go all the way to the ground, and the tone of her skin is almost exactly the same as the gold on the balcony. I wouldn’t know good art if you snuck up and broke it over my head, but I just remember thinking, wow, that’s a really nice picture. I threw the CD it in the major label pile, because obviously no indie band could afford that kind of artwork. Then I got around to listening to it.
The band was called Oo Oo Wa, and I mean….if you really tried hard, you couldn’t have come up with a stupider idea for a band at the time. They signed their record contract on the day Nirvana released Nevermind. While everyone else was doing a heroin nod on the pavement in their long johns holding a reissue Fender, these knuckleheads were out touring in suits, playing New Romantic stuff. A touch of ABC, a bit of Steely Dan, maybe a scent of Thomas Dolby. Their first album, “Screen Kiss" is one of my guiltiest guilty pleasures. I listen to it often. I’m listening to it right now.
So anyway, my main contact with the band was the keyboard player, Darren Callahan. He’s a real nice guy, once you get over the desire to beat him to death with your bare hands. In the last ten years, I think I have got about one email a month from him announcing a new novel, two new CDs, and whatever his latest play being produced for NPR is. I consider him a very good friend. In the same respect, if he writes another damned book or play, I’m either going to have to get a paper route or kill him.
Darren and I had stayed in touch over the years, and when I got this Route 66 thing, I emailed him and said I needed a photog, he suggested Jim. He had introduced us at the show, I remember standing there thinking he was kind of a hipster, then the head of the record company stood up and cracked his head right into a light fixture. The fact he was bald made it even better.I think Jim and my ent ire conversation that involved me asking if there was any beer up here.
Fast forward a bit, I call Jim and leave a voice mail message saying heydarrensaidishouldcallyoucauseigotthisroute66bookprojectthingwannagoforarideleetsmeet.
Election night, Chicago 1998. About $125 worth of Guiness at some bar in Wicker Park. I have a pretty good outline for the book, he’s got a pretty good camera and some money for film. It’s a deal.
I think Jim had a whole better notion of what he was going to do than I did. I wrote from the gut, and he shot from whatever knowledge center he had, whether it was just good schooling or plain instinct.
I rousted him out of bed about 5 the morning in June 1999, and we took off. Our plan was just to hit the interstates and go to where we needed to interview folks, but once we hit Old Route 66, we never got off. It really was the trip of a lifetime. Whether you want to believe it or not, there’s just a whole damned lot of America out there, and its fun to look at.
Wheat fields, Oilfields, Canyons, Deserts, Battlefields, Swimmin Pools, Movie Stars, and one gray afternoon on Santa Monica Pier where neither of us could really speak to each other of the enormity of what we just did.
So anyway, we’re doing it again. Both of our lives have changed a lot since that first trip. I think they will change a little more after this one.
We’re going out loaded for bear this time. I think Jim has already spent more on new technology than I made for the book back then. It will be online in many places, and there will be a longer form piece coming in a while, assuming we get back alive.
You know, there’s a lot of hoo hah about the romance of a road trip. But the damned truth is they suck. You have to trade off driving so you don’t get all sunburned just on one side, sooner or later you have to take a crap and realize you’re in Texas and the next gas station is 90 miles up the road, there is a point where you start to miss your family, you don’t have any more clean clothes and the entire car smells like feet.
But for all the hell and high water you meet along the way, you get a thousand or so miles into a trip like this and you realize there are two kinds of friends you can have in this world. One will call your wife and tell her what jail you’re in, another will help you get rid of the body in the first place.
When the guy walked out and pointed a gun in my face in Amarillo, I knew I had made a good choice of running mates. (so it's clear...no one died, or were harmed in the production of Rt. 66...much - Jim)
I’m going. Jim’s going. We leave this week.
Want to come along?
p.s. This really does seem like a good idea.