In San Francisco, band morale was at its lowest. The air outside felt like Mordor. The air inside smelled like body odour, gasoline and insulation. When we arrived, we unloaded our gear and walked in search of food. “Let’s just walk up Mission,” one of us said after seeing tall buildings on the horizon. We walked, and walked, passed tall concrete buildings with no windows, saw no grass, couldn’t decide where to stop and eat. Fed up with indecisiveness we dragged our feet and fought over which direction to turn or not to turn. Feeling dejected, hungry, thirsty and frustrated, we head back the way we came to soundcheck. People didn’t speak unless spoken to. One of us asked a passerby “is there a park nearby?” No, there wasn’t.
After soundcheck we decided to split up. Little did we know, we were a mere two or three blocks from one of the coolest streets in San Francisco, walking parallel to it for the entirety of the grueling walk. Picture your first visit to Vancouver walking down the ugliest part of Clark St. It was then that I finally saw the city people identified with. The houses were beautiful, yet monotonous in their style. Matty, Charley and Sam explored Mission District while Gina and I took pictures by the Golden Gate bridge.
I really could have slapped a band made, you know, on that first walk. And if Charley tries to recycle that “flowers in your hair” joke one more time… thank goodness for the plethora of handsome gay men walking up and down Castro St.
Eugene looks a lot like Oregon. We found the venue – Sam Bonds Garage – and settled in for half-priced food and a couple free drinks. If you’re reading this and are in any way responsible for giving bands free food and drinks at any time in your life – thank you so very much. We all ate and drank like little kings for about $18.
We played a solid set to a receptive crowd that we later found out was something akin to a high school reunion. Does everybody in Eugene know everybody? A band called Cat Like Reflexes headlined and really put on a great show. The lead singer, Matt, sang a remarkably accurate Shakira cover and seduced me with his hips more than she ever could. They might play a show with us in Vancouver soon, so keep your eyes peeled for them. My favourite part: “When I say Cat Like Reflexes, you say ‘Meow’ or hiss!”
“CAT LIKE REFLEXES!”
After our set, we packed up the van and remarked on how often Charley was sneezing. Ever since we had arrived in Eugene, he had been debilitated with allergic reactions. As if we had spoken her name three times, a woman appeared from the shadows. “You know, they call this place the Valley of Sickness and Death. You know why? The natives wouldn’t come here. They would avoid this place. Maybe it’s the high pollen count attributed to his area, or maybe something else…” She wasn’t nearly as creepy or shamanistic as I described her. She was actually quite friendly and told me that she used to travel with Deerhoof back before they were more popular, as the ex of one of he guitarists. She was cool, but said something about always wanting to leave Eugene herself, just like the story she told me of the native people. Maybe something sinister is holding her captive, or maybe I’ll find myself in a city like Eugene one day wanting to leave but without the courage to take a risk doing something more uncomfortable than business-as-usual.
Next, the band nearly destroys each other’s instruments as low morale strickens the weary travelers in Chapter 5 – Something Something Flowers in Your Hair.
In the middle of the night, tired after playing our first gig, we drove from Seattle through Portland to Wilsonville. To us, this place is special because we recorded our album right where we’d spend the night. But when exhausted and unwashed bodies arrive anywhere near a bed, utility overshadows nostalgia and we all passed out.
Back in Vancouver, Sam had printed out and gathered every single paper he owned with some semblance of his life. Tax receipts, cheque receipts from jobs of the past, acceptance letters. Then, to avoid a costly cab ride and from a lack of nightbus service, he walked from Alma St to Cambie St at around 4 in the morning (it took an hour and a half) then caught a cab to Pacific Centre train station. With record of his previous attempt, the US border guards spared no effort in reading each and every piece of paper Sam brought with him, as if he was a gatekeeper to heaven on earth. Contrary to popular American border guard belief, not all Canadians long to live in the land of the free.
Later that morning, stuffed in a sleeping bag, Charley hears the ding-ding of an incoming text. “Oh God,” he mutters to himself as he feels around for it. It was good news. Sam had made it into the United States of America.
In Chapter 4, as Sam buses down to Portland, the band discovers they are about to enter what one ex-girlfriend-of-a-Deerhoof-guitarist calls “The Valley of Sickness and Death.”
Meanwhile in Seattle, Matty had picked up his brother’s vehicle at a neighbour’s house and spotted a drumset in the window. This is America after all, and not any time to be too overcome with timidity. Matty knocked on the door and figured out the drums belong to a guy named Davie. As Matty and Gina waited for Davie to come home, they began to realize that the house was more of a collective, sort of an international hostel with an open door policy. Friends were made, drinks were had and roasted chickpeas were devoured until Davie arrived- a pony-tailed easy-going dude with calm eyes and a handsomely genuine smile.
At 7:00PM, Davie arrived at the Seamonster Lounge for soundcheck. He helped us unload, got a quick rundown of all the songs and we began. The venue is small, but lucky for us it seemed full and the crowd – a mixture of friends, friends-of-friends, occupants of the collective house, a redditor and a boyfriend – listened not just with their ears but with their eyes. What a relief as a musician to have an audience that cares about music as much as we do about performing.
What could have been a disaster was in fact a borderline success. Sure, some of the songs ended up pretty botched but the majority were surprisingly good and nobody really notices mistakes if you smile enough. Davie did a remarkable job at improvisation and following the axe-chopping action of Matty’s bass in the abrupt endings of some of our songs. Even though we can barely afford this adventure of ours, we paid him for his work because he deserved it and because it’s the right thing to do.
We made a net $12, and that night we pulled up our socks and drove all the way to Portland.
Next, will Sam make it across the border on his second attempt in time for show in Eugene? Look out for Chapter 3 – The Gatekeepers of Freedom and Eagles
He doesn’t look like a vagrant, does he?
As a preface to what I’m about to write, I declare to the Internet and to the United States of America that all actions conduced by “The Riff Raffs” are in full cooperation with federal, state, provincial, county, municipal laws and the laws of physics.
In my academic life, I would normally be very happy with 80% on any assignment or test. However, 80% of us made it across the border which is a bit of a disaster. I won’t beat around the bush – our dauntless drummer Sam was denied entry into the land of freedom. Why? Well, they thought he was planning on taking his seemingly nomadic life permanently south of the 49. They didn’t even search his bag. A border officer took about half a minute to come to that decision. It usually takes me about fifteen minutes to figure out if I want to go on a second date with someone, so I can only gather that this officer is quite the efficient lovemaker.
While the band was scrambling to salvage the situation and somehow figure out how to play our first gig that night in Seattle, I was sitting on our bus holding a frond of wheat in Minecraft and gathering the pigs, cows, sheep and chickens from the surrounding biome. We all have our coping mechanisms.
Next chapter, The RFs try to solve the case of the missing drummer in time for the Seattle gig in The Case of the Missing Drummer.