It’s just past 7:30 am and I’m on my third train of the morning. My second train got canceled so I’m putting together my own itinerary using the Deutsche Bahn System and the intercity system from Mechelen to Brussels and currently I’m on my way to Welkenraedt on the Belgium/Germany border in hopes of catching the 9:41 to Aachen, and then the 10:22 to Düsseldorf and then the 12:12 to Bremen.
Which is completely different from my itinerary through Cologne.
All that said, it’s annoying for sure but there’s still trains going where I need to go. I have the means to figure out another way, I still have my ticket that was canceled that I’m hoping will work out for any other rides.
But here’s the thing about touring - things change. Like, all the time. You have to be able to adapt and go with it. This is also a metaphor about life but I’m getting ahead of myself here.
Yesterday, there were canceled trains too - but I got to my hotel/Airbnb room in Mechelen. I found a place that was super close to the train station because I knew I had to catch a 6 am train* and it was something like .4 miles away from the train station. Which is not far but it is far with two backpacks, guitar and mandolin.
The room is super clean and nice and I’m told that it’s on the first floor which if you’re American, that means second floor. And this is the most comfortable bed I’ve had so far.** I disassemble some of my bags so that I can just bring what I need in my small backpack and order an Uber to go the 3.6 miles to the gig.
After waiting for 10 minutes I get a message from the driver, “I can’t come get you.” Ok, so I try again and wait another 15 minutes watching the app find a driver, cancel a driver, find a driver, cancel a driver. This is insane. I pick up my stuff and walk back to the train station and get a taxi.
We have a nice conversation about how the town is changing all it’s traffic flow into one way streets and it’s confusing for old timers like him that now have to relearn how to get places but he does concede that once he learned it - it is actually better!
Then his GPS starts going a bit wacky. He’s going towards Zennegat 13 but he’s spun. It’s at this point where I tell a local taxi driver how to get to someplace in his town. I’ve only been to Zennegat, four, maybe five times in 10 years but I know this backroad better than him apparently.
“No, go up there.”
“but that’s where the canal is.”
“Yes, you drive along the canal.”
“Is that for cars?”
“Yes, don’t worry, there’s a place to park and turn around at the end.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“I’m trusting you.”
I’m about 80% sure he got lost leaving there.
At Zennegat 13 I’m greeted by Jan who is just a beautiful crazy dude. He used to work in movies, as a cameraman, AP roles and lived in Costa Rica for a while. Once drove to Death Valley, CA in a Mustang and could feel the change in altitude in his head, just like he can tell when a ship is going through the canal in front of Zennegat because of their radar hitting him. He’s tuned in to his surroundings.
He makes me a gigantic bowl of spaghetti and as I sit down I’m joined by Johan, a friend of mine from the altcountryclub.*** He was here last year too. We talk some guitars, bands, plans for the future and have a great catch up. I feel so bad right now, I want to say Ilke was there but I know that I’m getting her name wrong. She was here last year and was hoping to get an I heart Toast sticker today but I’m all out of them. And she was there with friends too and is so sweet. And then this dude comes up and introduces himself as my friend Astrid’s dad and takes a selfie with me.
Now here’s the thing; Zennegat 13 is remote. It’s a cool spot but it is OFF the beaten path unless you’re in a ship traveling the canal and using the locks in front of the place. To get to a place like this and find it is one thing but to get here and have folks come to see you - that’s something even more.
I set up outside, we move a couple of tables and I just go for it. Before I start I do a rough count of folks outside listening and there’s about 50ish people here. Maybe 60 and they’re all listening. I have no PA. I’m just singing in front of the restaurant and it’s great.****
I’m trying to at least set up a guideline of a set for myself so that I’m not thinking about the next song while I’m playing a song. I can go without a setlist easily enough but there’s always that moment of “what should I do next” that I hate. It’s easy enough to play a different song but - whatever, I’m just always trying to get to the place where I can be completely in the moment performance wise and I really got there a couple of times last night.
While introducing one song I mentioned how it’s a bit of a L.A. song about moving on and leaving things behind and when I get to the chorus I was overcome just thinking about my buddy Jeff. He just popped into my head with the lyric “I guess friends sometimes go” and I just lost the rest of the chorus. I’m not being melodramatic here when I say I was caught off guard.
It’s a good show all around and it’s nice to be able to sit down and have a chat with folks after the gig. Jan comes out from the kitchen and is just a story unto himself. Johan has offered to drive me back to my hotel and I’m very grateful. It’s been a long day but for some reason I am wired and cannot fall asleep in the most comfortable bed yet. I set 2 alarms, a timer and leave a message for Tracy to call me because I’m really afraid of oversleeping my alarm.***** The fact that the alarm is going off in less than 4 hours is also not good.
I proceed to wake up every hour until it’s time to get up.
And that brings us to now. Somewhere on a train in eastern Belgium almost to the town of Welkenstraedt. I have a show tonight that is 220 miles away from where I am right now and I’m really hoping I make it to.
To quote player/coach Reg Dunlop “I got get some shut eye or I’m gonna get killed out there tonight.”
It’s now 9:48 am and I’m on my fourth train heading to Aachen, Germany. The conductor said my ticket is not valid for this train, I am not on a Deutsche Bahn line but he lets me stay anyway. I’m off my set list and winging it on my way to Germany.
It’s always good to have a plan even if you don’t stick to it.
*This seems to be the opposite of foreshadowing.
**I think I forgot to tell you that the bed in Amsterdam was so soft, I mean, no support at all - I ended up taking the mattress off the frame and putting it on the floor and sleeping. That was also when I discovered broken up stroopwaffles under the bed. The room seemed clean but the stroopwaffles dispelled that myth.
***The altcountryclub is an online discussion group of musicians, mostly all guitarists, from around the world. There’s about 30-40 of us in this group that was once a subset of The Gear Page until TGP moderators turned out to be all super Christian gun loving right wing weirdos (that for some reason have a problem with swearing) and kicked us all off the page for calling out their hypocrisy. But our group has been the same group of folks going back to about 2008. Don’t try to find the page, it’s like Brigadoon.
****I will say that I find it easier both mentally and physically to do a tour AND then have vacation because Tracy and I just had vacation and now I’m touring and that was a hard shift as I haven’t really played much in the past week and I felt, not so much rust but just a stiffness in my performance, like running before you stretch out first or something.
*****I typically don’t use an alarm. At home something wakes me up nearly every morning about 5:30 am. It might be something outside or Lena, I don’t know. And when I do set alarms, they usually don’t work. I tried setting up the alarm on my FitBit but couldn’t figure out how to do it.