A Long Haul Trucker
Delivering Folk Music
Stories from the Road
© 2016 by Charlie Parr
Little Judges Publishing Co.
© 2016 by Charlie Parr
Little Judges Publishing Co.
On the way to the airport I was reading an article in the paper about Delta sending their new airplanes to Atlanta and using older airplanes in Minneapolis/St. Paul. So I wasn't surprised when I got on the plane for Dublin and it was older, I had a book with me, those little tv screens make my head hurt anyway. But then the damned thing wouldn't start, so long story short my flight got cancelled and I ended up in this bureaucratic kind of hell where I couldn't manage to get another flight and eventually found out that I couldn't get refunded either even though I had flight insurance (not an "act of God" ... agent didn't appreciate my theological curiousity about that, either). Which brings me to today, apologizing to the nice folks in Ireland for not being there, and quite a bit poorer from where I was on Wednesday. But when I called my Mom to tell her what had happened, she sounded relieved and told me that she'd had a feeling that something really bad was going to happen to me on this flight. I told Emily about that and she said she'd had the same feeling! Not, evidently, strong enough to try and divert me from the trip, but maybe there was something in it after all. Maybe it was really an "act of God".
So I'm home, with some time off to go to the park, take a bike
breathe the air, listen to my Backward Sam Firk record, go see some
Homegrown shows, and cook some lentils (at home, on the stove, for
Sorry I missed you in Ireland. I'll be back at it next weekend at Clyde
Iron Works, the Steyer Opera House in Decorah, doing a workshop on
blues guitar at the Northland Folk Fest, plus an evening set, and
working on getting Lula her own big-girl 2 wheeler. Plus the folks who
live on my street have jumped the gun and started mowing their freaking
lawns already, so I'm thinking it's going to be time to see if mine
will even start - I made it into a mulcher with a cut-up kerosene can
and a bunch of duck tape. I'll keep ya posted.
15 years ago I had a '73 Ford F-250 with a straight 6. The exhaust manifold was like a shelf, you could lay a burrito on there and it wouldn't move no matter how fast you drove. Now I've got a Dodge Ram with a V-8 and the manifolds both come out and down at such a steep angle that it's really hard to get your dinner to hold on at freeway speeds. So I'm thinking about making a little rabbit-wire cage and attaching it to the manifold in such a way that I can just drop my burrito in the cage and go. I need the torque specs on the manifold bolts ...
Thank you Nevis and Fargo, I had a great weekend. Looking forward to playing in the Shitty Barn, Spring Green WI on Wednesday and heading for Steven's Point the next night. Trying to talk brother Dave into taking the ride (there's a burrito in it for him ...). Friday's the Turf Club with Mikkel and Mike Gunther and Saturday I'm heading out to Forada MN. Stop by if you can.
Meantime I gotta go to the hardware store for some rabbit
wire. Then I'm gonna make some salsa. I'd better clean something, too,
or else Emily's gonna make me get a job.
I played a set at the Root Note in La Crosse last Saturday. I love the Root Note, it's a great place all around and they also make the best granola I've had. So at the end of the night they very kindly gave me a bag with some granola and some coffee beans from a local roaster to take with me. It was too much for me to resist and I'm barely onto the freeway when I start fumbling around in the dark for that bag. There's a can from Kickapoo Coffee Roasters, and there's a brown bag, that's what I got to work with. So I open the bag and grab a big handful and cram it in my mouth and I'm munching on coffee beans. The night ahead stretched out before me. I would be awake for all of it. The beans were too good to spit out, so I washed em down with liquid coffee and finished up my meal with granola from the can. Then I drove to Winona and read most of a book, answered several emails, worked on a new song, organized my backpack, hatched a plan to convert my truck into a small sailing vessel, and finally slept for a while dreaming of crossing North Dakota in my truck using only a sail and steering with a rope tied to the wheel.
Anyway. Dave's got the weekend off, so we're playing Beaner's
on Friday, Amici's in Ely on Saturday, and then picking Mikkel up and
heading for Winona on Sunday to do 7pm at the Arts Center and 10pm at
Ed's. I'd better go, Lu and Elijah are gonna be home soon and they said
they'd help me find old sheets and build a mast.
We were in Tulsa OK when my machine stopped working, I remember the exact moment when I realized what was happening. I’ll spare you the untidy details, I tried to save Mikkel from them as well but since he and I were in close quarters it was a discussion we eventually needed to have. And then it was an obsession, a “any luck today?” check-in, it was funny at first and then it was not funny anymore at all, my patience wore thin and I was crabby but there was no one to blame, no one I could lash out at, no “my God why have thou forsaken me?”, and nothing worked. You forget about the comfortable ebb and flow of the system, go about your day having breakfast and lunch you never really think about how efficient it all is until the day comes when it stops working. Oh, the shows were great, the weather was glorious, we had inspirational moments and caught up with great friends, took walks, selected foods high in fiber, Mikkel was sympathetic but I know it must have been trying for him. We are long-haul truckers delivering folk music, riding in the cab of a pickup truck all around Texas and there’s this gloom hanging over us, this heaviness seeping into all of our time together and sneaking up onto the stage and following us into coffee shops and grocery stores and interrupting our conversations. Time is short, I regretted having took it for granted.
The dam broke on our way home. We left Austin TX in the night and drove home, stopping for gas and food but that was it. Somewhere in Missouri, I think, at one of those big old truck stops we got gas and some coffee and the power came back on, I felt the crank turning and the gears shaking off their sleep and I rejoiced and cried joy tears and made promises to cherish every day and take better care of myself. I was lighter than air, didn’t want to be in the truck anymore I just wanted to ride my bike and lay around in the grass, but we had to keep moving. Until the next truck stop where I realized that the machine was trying to catch up and every morsel I had consumed would need to be accounted for and I would be sorry for being on the road all that day. I was grateful for Mikkel’s company, but he was grateful, I think, when the ride was over and I dropped him off and went home myself, feeling hollowed out.
Now I’m packing again, playing a little send off for myself at
the MIA in Minneapolis tomorrow at 6, playing the Widow’s Peak fest in
IL on Friday, then flying for Berlin on Saturday and when I come home
in mid-June it’ll be time for that bike ride and a good long nap in the
Emily took Lu to Disney World in France and bought her a pink dress complete with a hoop and big puffy shoulder-things. Also a bright pink set of mouse-ears. When I got to Paris she was all decked out, and I only wanted for Elijah to be there and I would’ve been as happy as I could get. So the 3 of us along with Ken and Mikkel went for a good walk around Paris to see the sights and since Lu and I have a regular arrangement of her riding on my shoulders until I can’t lift her anymore and then we’ll switch, I hoisted her up and got her settled and everything went black. The hoop dress came down to about my midsection, making it pretty tough for me to navigate, and I wasn’t about to suggest cutting eye holes in it (which would’ve been pretty cool, honestly) and so we had to kind of tuck the hoop part around my head so that it looked like I was wearing a giant pink bonnet on my head that resembled a big pink mouse with sparkly pink ears. They say that fashion comes from Paris and flows to the rest of the world, but I think maybe Lu and I started something new as far as accessories for Dads.
Now I’m in Edinburgh, on my own again, Emily and Lu and Ken
are still in France and Mikkel went to Spain, but things are fine and
everyone’s been extremely kind to me and we’ve been having a great time
at the shows and all. There are too many people to thank, I’ve been
trying to say it in person anyway which I think is better, and only a
few shows to go but I’m looking forward to seeing Nottingham again, and
getting back to the pub in Burston with my buddy David and then on to
London where I’m gonna get me a copy of that Spider John record he
recorded here last year, plus play 2 shows and hang out with Francois
and Julien at Rough Trade Records before I fly home and see if Joe will
give me my truck back.
There’s been so much going on this last week that I’m not sure where to begin or even if I remember any of the good stuff but I had a great time hanging out with Mom and listening to Woody Guthrie while we played cribbage with Julie and Porsche. We ate tomatoes from Super Fresh and I rode my bike around town and felt like I was about 10, which these days seems almost normal for me, but also means that my son, who‘s turning 12 this week, will be older than me. My sister and I went to the thrift store and she found me a shirt that looks like it’s made from a curtain out of an old RV, she said “eww” and handed it over to me and now when the weather cools off to RV curtain wearing weather I’m gonna be the best dressed fellow on my block. Most things would pale in comparison to that, but then I got in the truck and headed for Spring Green to play in the barn and drove on from there to Friendship Indiana for the Whispering Beard Folk fest where I saw the Chicago Farmer play twice and I slept next to the creek with the crickets playing all night long and then steered north again and drove most of the night and parked in a rest stop somewhere in Wisconsin next to a guy in a sedan who was snoring so loud that even though he had his windows rolled up I could hear him in the back of my truck. In fact, I had to keep checking to make sure he hadn’t climbed in there with me it was so loud. I didn’t sleep much, if any, but took a nap in the parking lot at the Porcupine Mountain Folk fest and then rode my bike as far as I could up the hill before my set and slept like a rock listening to Superior move around in it’s own bed. I’m satisfied, I’m going home, I’ve been home all this time.
So I’m heading back to Duluth and playing at the Underground
on Tuesday at 7pm, it’s a new place in the depot where the children’s
museum used to be and I’m looking forward to trying it out. Thanks
Crystal, for having me, I will try to do a good job.
Perth is a pretty amazing town. I spent the morning walking
my homesickness all through the funky little neighborhoods, poking
around bookshops (the owner always knows I'm broke, I must just smell
that way) and watching the river and being grateful for getting to see
Kelly Joe Phelps in Fremantle last night. Reuben would like this town,
she'd probably menace the little dogs walking along the mall downtown.
The Hare Krishna's run a restaurant here that I love, I'd join up just
to eat like that every day, but I hate shaving. Tonight's the Perth
Blues Club, tomorrow it's the Brass Monkey in Cronulla and then a long
ride to LA for a few shows and the Amsterdam in St. Paul Sunday night.
Thanks, Australia, you guys have sure been good to me. See ya in
The final death knell of my pickup sounded a lot like the chime that goes off when you leave the key in the ignition and open the door. Only this chime was going off while I was hurtling down I-5 somewhere in California and was accompanied by a flashing light shaped like a little engine. I turned up the radio and rolled down the window. I couldn’t smell anything yet and there wasn’t a plume of smoke behind me so I figured all was well and made it to L.A. with a top speed of about 54. All across the desert I planned what I would do when the end came, but it never did. The bell chimed and the light blinked but the gauges were flat and I could coax about 54 mph out of it so I kept the radio on and the windows down all the way through Texas and on up to Wichita where Judd presented me with a beautiful orange Schwinn Sting-Ray and my problems were solved. When my truck coughed up it’s last lung-cookie I’d just get on my bike and ride away.
I made it home, somehow, and bought an economy car. The tour was great, by the way, and thanks to all the great friends I saw along the way and hope to see again real soon. I don’t want to start a list I can’t finish but I gotta tell you, Betse Ellis is my hero.
I’m heading for Milwaukee and Chicago next weekend, I just
gotta figure a way to get my bike into this tiny little car in case
something goes haywire.
So I’m sleeping in my little car in a rest area near Detroit Lakes and I wake up sometime as the sun’s rising really needing to pee, which is why you want to sleep at rest areas, by the way, and I’m kind of squashed up against the door and when I open it I fall out onto the pavement. My entire left side is pretty much completely numb and I have to lay there for awhile before the feeling returns and I can hobble to the bathroom. I’ll have to think about maybe removing the back seat. The good news is that this car will be perfect for cooking, the exhaust manifold is flat and easy to get to and only needs a little wire to keep my dinner off the freeway. I’ll keep ya posted, I‘m starting easy this weekend, maybe a burrito or something.
Other than that I’m trying to keep myself moving and shake a real dark mood that’s come over me. We said goodbye to Aunt Mid recently and since I was out west during the service I’ll sing her a Mississippi John Hurt song soon when we bury her. I’ll always remember her wonderful laugh and her absolute dedication to her family, she was solid as a rock and I know I’m better for having known her. I’ll miss her, though.
I’m going downstairs to ride my stingray from the door to the
washing machine and back when I oughta be practicing. This weekend I
get to be on Tent Show Radio, play at the historic Silver Dome Ballroom
with a bunch of friends, and finally return to the Mousetrap in Eau
Claire after too long away. The world doesn’t owe me a thing.
Somewhere on Highway 99 in Oregon the tamales came off my manifold. I didn’t notice it, and didn’t open the hood to check on them until I was nearly to Bend and they were gone. I felt bad, Oregon is a very beautiful state, the Ponderosa’s I had just driven through were breath-taking, I hadn’t meant to litter in such an amazing place, plus I was really really hungry and those tamales were the last thing I had in the car to cook for lunch. I stormed into the truck stop and bought some wire but obviously it was too late and for nothing, the tamales were definitely gone. The rest of the tour was great, though, there were black bean quesadilla’s and vegetable curry with rice and even a version of the holy tempeh reuben, all carefully wired down tight. The little car is a great culinary success, and gets the best mileage of anything I‘ve had, but yeah … those tamales would‘ve been good.
In the meantime I’m home and recovering and looking forward to being back at the Brewhouse on Wednesday and then the Mile of Music festival in Appleton WI this Thursday and Friday, Saturday I’m at the Pizza Luce Block Party during the afternoon with Mikkel and then we’re heading for the Bayport BBQ Saturday night to play a show with the amazing Dave Arcari, guitar player from Scotland and we’re all heading for Russell’s in Annandale on Sunday.
Thanks to everyone along the way on this last tour, I’m
grateful that I get to keep at this and I sure appreciate all the help
I got a cup of coffee in New York City the other day, and the money she asked me for didn’t match the money written on the menu. When I double checked the receipt I saw it: “senior discount: 10%” and I couldn’t think what to do. Complain? Say “hey I’m only 47 what the hell is this?” and cough up the balance? Run down the street and get a haircut, makeover, buy some fashionable clothes, work out, get an injection of some kind, dye my hair, get those plugs, buy a motorcycle? I drank my coffee and then got a discounted refill is what I did. Mom told me not to rely on things like that, so I got it while the getting was good. Then I met a woman in Rochester who told me she thought I was 60. Touring must accelerate ageing, but I’m having a good time.
After Philadelphia and Washington DC I’m parking it in Raleigh
for a few days to record some new songs with Phil Cook and play a
couple shows and Emily’s bringing the kids and meeting me there, so I
gotta get young quick. Then we’ll see you in Clarksdale MS at the Deep
Blues Festival on October 16 - Brother Dave and Mikkel are meeting me
there for the early-bird supper.
It’s a solid four plus hour drive between Duluth and Winona,
especially if you include stops in Austin and Minneapolis, but it was
good for me to have some time alone to think, then to get some time
with my son to catch up, and then to get some time with Leo Welch to
hear his story and learn some old gospel songs I hadn’t heard and even
learn some other stuff, too. Here’s what I know now: I’m not in a race,
I’m not in a contest, certain things in life have no measuring stick
and so I have to use what I know to make them work, and the box of what
I know needs to include empathy, compassion and gratitude in order for
me to make the right choices about how to spend my precious minutes.
That’s enough for me, for now, thanks everybody for making the holiday
a good one, thanks Leo for laying a lot of wisdom on me whether you
meant to or not. I’m alive today, walking off Thanksgiving dinner with
Reuben, who ate a bag of bacon out of his Momma’s purse (there are a
lot of questions here that I’m deliberately ignoring). Shows coming up
are listed on the inner web thanks to Ryan, I’ve got a little break and
then a big announcement coming up, and I need to remember when I step
in from the damp cold that there are residents of our beautiful city
who have no warm place to come in to and I hope that I can help out
somehow. “This old building is a-leanin’, I’m gonna move to a better
home.” - Leo ‘Bud’ Welch.
I was in Albany NY, standing in the rain waiting for the
“walk” sign to light up when a fellow poked me in the shoulder and
accused me of thinking impure thoughts about his girlfriend (he was
alone, and what he actually said can't be repeated here). He had 25
pounds on me, although I had more teeth than he did, and we both seemed
to shop at the same stores as far as dirty sweatshirts and old jeans
were concerned. Somehow I managed to convince him that I was not
thinking of his girlfriend, or any girl at all just then, just being
wet and waiting to walk, and even managed to turn his anger away from
me to the Albany traffic light cartel that obviously wants to keep us
wet and make us late. We had a common enemy, and I escaped unscathed,
again. So it went on this tour, I outran the snowstorms, stayed out of
traffic jams, successfully navigated Manhattan, found quiet places to
park, ate my beans in peace, met and played with amazing harmonica and
banjo player JD Wilkes, and landed gratefully back in Minnesota. Then I
got the flu. I haven't been this kind of sick in my life, there must
have been heat lines the size of bacon coming off my head. I
hallucinated, heard music that wasn't there, experienced truly
frightening dreams, frequently lost consciousness, and remained in this
state for about 40 hours. Emily thought I was dead. Yesterday I was up
and around, feeling a little like a toddler who'd just banged his head
on the coffee table, but I'm managing. So I'm gonna go to Minocqua
tomorrow and Mankato on Saturday and Lutsen on Monday and repack my bag
to head out to see my friends in Fort Collins CO next week and begin a
tour with the great Betse Ellis hopefully armed with a fresh new
perspective on how to survive in this ordinary world, or at least my
very little and privileged corner of it. When I was in my darkest time,
when my fever was at it's worst, I swear Bob Dylan walked into the
room, his face changing constantly from one popular image of himself to
another, and he said “for cryin' out loud, Parr, haven't you got
another record? This one's been playing all night”.
My plans to write a lengthy diatribe on my anticipated
difficulties getting in and out of Canada last weekend and titling it
“Life Behind the Maple Curtain, a Folk Singer’s Journey along that
stretch of road leading from Grand Forks to Winnipeg” has been thwarted
by how pleasant my trip to Canada was. The border crossing was smooth,
the venue and its staff were amazing, the audience was great, I found a
fantastic Vietnamese restaurant and a mint copy of Pink Anderson’s
“Carolina Bluesman, v. I” nearby, I got to hear Scott Nolan play and he
was inspiring, I didn’t make quite as much of a fool of myself as I
usually do, and I returned to the US without being strip-searched.
Now I’m in Duluth for a little while, and grateful for that and even
happy for the 3-poop walk Rueben and I just had. I’ve just taken to
bringing a bunch of random bags and plastic bits and napkins since
she’s been eating a lot of birdseed out of the yard and now seems to be
producing a great deal of birdseed-inspired waste. I’ve encouraged her
to stop eating birdseed, but so far she hasn’t taken my advice.
Anyway, tonight’s Eddy Gilmore’s big bash at the Red Herring, Brother Dave and I are playing some old songs together and tomorrow night I’m heading right back down to the Red Herring to play some new songs with the Devil’s Flying Machine. So there you go, today has finally arrived; I’ve waited a long time ...
Tomorrow the little car goes to the mechanic. I know just what’s
going to happen, he’ll get in and turn the key and it’ll fire right up.
Meantime I’ll stand there helplessly explaining that there are in fact
other times when exactly nothing happens when the key is turned, that
there actually times (earlier this morning for example) when I’ve had
to push the little car and jump in to pop the clutch and start it that
way. I’ll feel like I’m 9 years old and making up a story even though
it’s all true, but all the while I’m nervously explaining all this the
little car will be purring away and maybe the mechanic will turn it off
and start it again right away and of course it’ll start. It’ll start
every freaking time the mechanic turns the key. Eventually I suppose
I’ll just sheepishly drive away, having wasted his time with my foolish
prank, and maybe I’ll stop for a cup of coffee on the way home and when
I come back to the little car nothing will happen when I turn the key.
So I’ll be catching a ride to Lutsen this Friday to play for the ski
party up there, and on down to Trollhaugen for another ski party with
Jim Randall on Saturday night. Maybe he’ll give me a lift to the House
of Mercy Sunday afternoon to play a couple tunes and ask Jesus if he
knows why my Kia won’t start, then it’s a short walk to the Turf Club
for my last Sunday night show there, this time with Wild Hands from
beautiful Minot North Dakota. Rueben and I are listening to Joe Price
while we finish some chores, then we’re gonna go for a walk .. might
just as well get used to it.