Friday morning I wake up and have this strange feeling. I’m not used to it. I feel content. I had such an amazing day in the studio yesterday at Hansa. I walked through Potsdamer Platz at night and just floated.
I have felt this way at other times in my life but it’s definitely been a while. There’s always so much running about we tend to lose the moments we’re trying to hold on to. I made a conscious effort yesterday to be in the moment and I’ve been able to sustain it like a high.*
Making my tea I decide to just go explore Berlin like I have not done before. I’ve been here enough that I’m not doing touristy things. I’m just going to walk the city, pick up a scooter** when I get tired of walking and see where I end up. I put a 50 note in my pocket and start heading towards the old section of Prenzleburg. It’s about 3 miles, I walk a bit, I scooter a bit, walk a bit and I’m there in no time.
The Prenzleburg is definitely the “hip” section of town with fancy stores and shops. It was originally a pretty beat up area of town when the wall was here but now it’s thriving.
I don’t really know how far I walked today but I’ve got good tunes in the headphones and it doesn’t matter. Before long I find myself by the East Side Gallery. As I walk along the art gallery that was once the symbol of the Cold War I find myself thinking “when is this wall going to end? I want to get to the river.” And the absurdity of that thought pattern is not lost on me.
The Spree is beautiful today. It’s a perfect day for me to get a Mustafa’s doner, I start walking that way and then just keep going. I wasn’t up for waiting in line for an hour even if it is the best doner in the city, if not the world.
I pick up another scooter and ride a bit. I’m stopped at a red light with about 10 other riders and all of a sudden WHAM! I’ve just been rear ended by a woman on bicycle! I was literally just standing there and she didn’t see everyone stopped or something and crashed into me. I’m fine, the scooter is fine but she went over the handlebars and is, well, she’s fine too but she’s very embarrassed. She’s checking to make sure I’m fine. I think her bike hit the scooter and she hit me in the air.
I know how to keep it interesting.
Back at the Airbnb my hosts have a friend staying and we all talk until after midnight. They have so many questions about the USA. Mostly about gerrymandering*** and the healthcare system.****They tell me how they couldn’t stay in Russia and have a good job because you’d get hassled by the police just for having a car. Police would stop you and just say “do you have money?” And shake you down because they can see you have some money. They would say to them, “You can pay me now or I can find drugs in your car.” “But I don’t have any drugs.” “That doesn’t mean I won’t find drugs.” And it’s just blatant blackmail and extortion. They say the police are different to tourists but it’s very hard to be just a normal person in Russia. This exact scenario has happened to all three of them.
I should’ve been packing and getting ready for my train in the morning but I’m really enjoying these folks. I sign my first album with a Russian “thank you” on the cover. Sleep comes easy.
My train from Berlin to Herdecke is scheduled for 9:42. I’m at the train station by 9:15 and I’m watching the big board. It’s supposed to be on track 14 but at track 14 it’s showing it being late. I’m talking to a doctor and he’s just retiring in 6 months and is taking a long weekend away to see some friends. He asks about what I’m doing in Germany. “If I could do it again, I would have definitely persued music and not medicine. I’ve had a good life but I wish I had stayed with my music.” It’s something I hear all the time and it always makes me sad for them. I mean, I know he’s going to retire and be comfortable and I will most likely never retire - that’s the trade off. He tells me some of the challenges the past two years have been in medicine and he is excited to be retiring while begrudgingly knowing he will contribute to the shortage in the industry.
And then there’s the announcement that ALL Trains are canceled today.
There is a mad rush to the ticket machines as folks try to get refunds and other things. My doctor friend and I stand there and watch. I wasn’t clear on what was said but he translates for me. We both just stand there watching everyone scramble. Even the screens aren’t being clear.
I don’t know what I’m going to do but whatever it is, it will work itself out. There’s nothing I can do about it. The Doctor doesn’t know what he’s going to do either, he may just go home. I tell him I’m going to find a seat and have a good think on it.
The line for the automated ticket machine wraps the length of the Hauptbahnhof, turns the width and then back up a bit of the other side. I feel bad for the folks that absolutely have to be somewhere today. I mean, I have a gig but the world isn’t going to end if that doesn’t happen. My absolute first thought is maybe I’ll just stay here two more nights. That’d be ok. And then my phone starts blowing up with folks offering help, info on what happened, different options, places to stay, available flights and my aunt and uncle in Germany even call me.
I feel so loved and I feel so bad - all my friends seem way more concerned about how I’m going to manage than I do! The train got canceled and my number one concern was “where am I going to sit down for a while?”
I could get a flight that would get me closer for about $40, but I’d have to get to the airport and then get another train that may not be running. I could rent a car for 2 days for like $170 a day and drive the 5.5 hours to the show. That doesn’t sound appealing either. I can stay in Berlin for the two nights and take a different train on Monday and that would cost less. It’s nice to have options.*****
I know this is serious at the train station because the announcements that are typically in German and English have stopped being in English and they sound a bit frazzled. My comprehension of the messages is limited but I keep hearing “alle Zuge ausgefallen”(all trains canceled) The updates keep coming in and I hear that they are going to have it fixed today but don’t know when. The info counter only has about a dozen people in line now. I get to the front, ask about my options, get put on a later train and am told that my reserved seat will no longer be reserved and to anticipate the train to be very full.
I wait around a bit, it’s a couple hours actually and go to board the carriage that I have booked but it’s all backed up, the first class carriage is less full. I wander in, find a empty seat, ask the dude sitting next to it if I can sit there. He mistakes my inquiry for me saying “that’s my reserved seat.” And I motion for him to take the second seat. “you are not reserving this one too?” “No, I was supposed to be on an earlier train, I just wandered into first class.” “Me too.” He says. And he and I have a nice comfortable ride in unclaimed first class seats.
This is all good for like two hours or so, I even fall asleep, until we have an unscheduled “everyone off the train” and then it’s pandemonium again. And I have to ask folks what’s happening because my German is not good enough to understand what’s going on. “We all have to get off this nice fast train and get on some shitty slow train.” Says a guy in a nice suit next to me. And it’s standing room only after that as we have 2 more unplanned stops and transfers and all along the way picking up more and more football fans until we are so jammed in, everyone is just leaning on one another. One group has brought a boom box and are playing the psyche up music for Dortmund. It’s shitty techno that the majority of people on this train seem to be enjoying. Most everyone is drinking beer and someone even has an empty plastic bin for collecting empties. For the most part all empties are handed over to the person nearest the bin.
We stop in Dortmund and 90,000 people get off the train. A dude walks thru picking up the empties that didn’t make it to the bin, picks up the bin and the train is nearly clean. I look around and there are 3 of us left in this car. We all look at each other with the looks of survivors.
Herdecke train station is a small stop. I mean, Herdecke is a small town of about 25,000 people. The train stops, I get off, the train pulls away and all that’s here is a small overhang to keep you dry from rain and a ramp to a parking lot.***** I have the advantage of GPS that I didn’t have when I was a kid and the Shakespeare Pub is less than a mile away, GPS says 15-20 minute walk. Easy.
And I swear to dog, gps took me thru some folks backyard trail. It was definitely quicker but I could’ve stayed on the road and the sidewalk.
Nathaniel is waiting for me when I arrive. He owns the Shakespeare Pub. He makes me the BEST cup of tea ever.****** and orders me a pizza. We’re joined by a couple that saw me here the last time I played here…5 years ago - Andreas and Silke. It’s been stumping me about this place - I know I’ve played here and now I’ve been inside and I still have no memory of it. And I remember lots of things. So it’s bugging me. And then it hits me. I didn’t play inside, I played outside. I stop mid conversation and say “Wait a minute, I played right there.” And point to the sidewalk area in front of the pub. Andreas says “Yes. It was too hot to play inside so you just sang on the sidewalk.” Wow. He remembers! They tell me they were excited to see that I was returning and even double checked on my website to make sure it wasn’t a mistake! Having fans is the best.
Inside Nathaniel shows me my green room/bedroom. It’s a couch upstairs and it looks pretty comfortable. He has fresh sheets and blankets for me too. He informs me that there’s a big football match happening tonight and it will likely effect attendance. I am well aware of the football match.*******
When I start playing, it’s not a packed room but near every chair is occupied. I try to tell some of my stories and they seem to be falling flat. There’s less English speaking done here and you can tell. I try to change it up a bit, play one with slower delivery of words and it goes better. I rock it up and they dig that. I take a quick break and talk to folks and they are understanding pretty well, they are just being super duper German reserved. It is a thing and it makes it hard to read a room. With that in mind I launch into set two and have a good go and get a great response. There’s a couple of dudes filming me perform******** and two young guys have popped in and they are really into it. I finish up and make the rounds. There’s a guy on the left that has played in Nashville at Roberts and he was the only one that had heard of Lucinda Williams when I told that story. Then Andreas and Silke, who are so nice, buy a couple of cds before leaving. Nathaniel has stated he’s buying a record and the two young dudes, Philipp and Thomas are pooling money together to get a record too. Philipp has lots of questions about everything. He’s so sweet. He’s a guitar player and he’s trying to get his best friend Thomas to start playing in a band with him. We talk guitars and inspiration. He asks me to recommend some music to him, so I name half a dozen things I dig and he starts following all of them in his phone. He speaks great English. And I mention this because he’s a dude that has decided that he wants to be a musician and a singer/songwriter and knew that if he was ever going to travel with it - singing in English is super helpful for him to reach his goals. He started by watching the Ellen Show to practice his english without an accent. It is truly inspiring to see someone take on a challenge like that for a dream. We talk guitars for a while and he got into the mini acoustic guitars because of Ed Sheeran and confesses to never really playing a big acoustic like mine. “You want to try it?” And you would have thought I gave him a hundred euros. “Serious?” I slide a chair over and he plays my Gibson. Thomas gets his phone out and starts recording him. “The sound is so big and this neck - it’s so easy to play!” And then it goes guitar geek - he’s asking why and how, what’s it made out of and I do my best to teach him and it’s incredibly rewarding. “I will never be as good as you, I started too late.” “When did you start?” “I was 14.” “Well I started when I was 17 so you got three years on me.” Now I don’t know what he will do with it but he acted like I just gave him permission to get good at guitar. I compliment them on their newsboy hats, I get mine out and we snap a photo together.
Nathaniel is turning out the lights and tells them it’s time to go and here I am, closing the bar again, here I am sleeping above the stage, there I go, turn the page.
Nathaniel has an early meeting so he tells me he’ll make me breakfast downstairs in the bar at 8:15 but he has to leave by 9.********* Walking across the old wooden beams he hears every step I make before descending the stairs. He has a cup of tea waiting and we have a nice morning chat. He asks me what I would like to listen to this morning and Sunday mornings for me are made for Kris Kristofferson and “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” He cues it up and I sip tea and stare out the window at the Sunday morning sidewalks of Herdecke wearing my cleanest dirty shirt.
His player shuffles to Guy Clark’s “LA Freeway” and my mind travels to Baton Rouge, LA and the Red Dragon Listening Room.********** I show Nathaniel some pictures of the place and he admits that he wishes he had some instruments on his walls for folks to play. I tell him he’ll probably end up with one of my mandolins at some point and that makes him smile.
I check my email. I wrote to Windmill Lane Studios*********** in Dublin asking about a studio tour, told him who I was and what-not and he said “You know we have a three hour block open that day if you want to put something down.” I, of course, said yes. So I have that going for me, which is nice. Now I have to write another song or two to record there. Be great if I could find another mandolin before then.
Nathaniel hands me the front door key and tells me to lock it up when I leave and drop the key in his mailbox. He leaves and I feel like I should sweep the floor or something. Instead I pack up my bags and walk the 15 minutes journey to the train station, but it takes 20 minutes - it’s all uphill this way and the pack and guitar are feeling pretty heavy this morning. The train and I are both early and it’s an easy ride into Cologne where I sit in the shadow of the Köln Dom Katedral (big church), drink tea and write this book wishing lord that I was stoned.
*Kind of like the character in Office Space when he gets hypnotized at the beginning of the movie. At least that’s what I think of. The only other time that I can remember this feeling lasting like this was the week we got married.
**There’s the rechargeable scooters all over Berlin. I downloaded the Tier app and there has been a scooter seemingly whenever I look for one. It’s super easy and you just stay in the bike lane, obey the bike lane rules and stoplights and you’re good to go.
***Using three envelopes on the table I’m able to explain how one envelope can be split by the other two and lose and be underrepresented. It’s a simple explanation that I’m quite pleased with how I pulled together quickly and they are both like, “that shouldn’t be allowed.” ‘Yes, I agree and most people agree but they aren’t able to get in a place to change it because they keep voting themselves in.” “That’s messed up.” Yes. It is.
***When I explain how a “fee schedule” works and how if you don’t have insurance a hospital can pretty much charge you whatever they want. It blows their minds. “But that’s unethical.” Yeah. It is.
**** That’s a Slap Shot Ned Bredon quote.
*****This reminds me of a 1990 concert that Jeff, Dennis Hart and I went to in Boston. We saw the Church with the Blue Aeroplanes opening. It was an absolutely spellbinding concert, Def Marty Willson-Piper tore all the strings off a guitar and sent it sliding across the stage in the solo for Hotel Womb. I couldn’t believe that kind of intensity in playing guitar. We left the Orpheum and started walking across Boston to get to North Station but for some reason decided to stop at the Hard Rock Cafe on our way there. We chatted up a couple of girls who offered to drive us home. That’s cool, means we don’t have to rush to catch the last 11:59 train back to Billerica. Dennis and Jeff order steamers. The plate of crustaceans arrive and they dive in. The two girls look at the steamed clams and decide they no longer want to hang out with us and split. The three of us pretty much run from the Hard Rock to North Station and arrive just in time to see our train pulling away. Dennis is pissed at us. I don’t know why. It was just as much his idea to stop for food but now he’s comically pissed at Jeff and I. We survey our options. We can call home and tell our folks that we missed the train or we can problem solve ourselves but we’re not yet smart and we’re only 17 years old. We see there’s another train leaving for Fitchburg in 10 minutes and we can take that one, get off in Littleton near route 495 because surely that is closer than Boston to Billerica.
There’s only the three of us in this train car and Dennis won’t sit with us because he’s so mad. The last thing his mother said to him was “don’t miss the last train home.” We get off the train in Littleton, the train pulls away and all light is gone. We’re in an empty parking lot and don’t even know which way anything is. This may have been a bad idea. Picking a direction based solely on where it looked like light was coming from, we start walking. And walking and walking until we find an office complex and a night security guard that I convince to let me come in and use a phone. Where I do not call home but instead call my friend Brian Major. It is past 2 am and he answers the phone. “Hello?” “Brian it’s Bobbo.” “Where are you?” “Littleton.” “What the fuck are you doing in…you need a ride don’t you?” “Yes.” There’s a pause. “Ok, where in Littleton?” And he comes and gets us. My parents were pissed. Jeff’s parents didn’t wake up and Dennis’ mother asked him what happened and he said “You don’t want to know.” And so she didn’t ask any further questions.
******The Rare Tea company’s “Speedy Breakfast” blend.
********I always wonder what happens with all that footage. I see phones out all the time and recording going on. But I never see what is filmed. It’s a weird thought to think that there is video of you existing in other people’s phones all over the world. Like, that is the world we live in and it is both cool and weird.
*********The couch was incredibly comfortable. Sometimes I think I’m made for couch sleeping.
**********The Red Dragon was a great room already but Guy Clark telling folks about it really put it on the map. So much so that they still have a sign out front that says “Reserved Parking for Guy Clark” even though Guy Clark died in 2016.
***********Windmill Lane Studios is where U2 recorded their first three albums, The Waterboys. Van Morrison, Kate Bush, Rolling Stones, Cranberries, Sinead O’Conner, Elvis Costello and many many more.