All Things Must Pass
It was the last night of a 46-show tour and we were in Richmond, Virginia at a venue called “The Yerb,” which wasn’t a venue at all but a dilapidated house in whose living room somebody had built a stage where the fireplace should have been. The floorboards were warped and dirty and the kitchen was heaped with crusty dishware and outside in the dirt yard kids with tattoos stood around under strings of dim Christmas lights smoking and drinking beer.
We had arrived late that afternoon from Maryland and passed the last daylight hours drinking in Cary Town with Little Tybee, the band with whom we’d been touring for the past two months. It was just another day on the road, except that by this time tomorrow we’d be home, separated from Little Tybee,and separated from each other and separated, in some ways, from ourselves. We drank and reminisced on our travels and did not talk about tomorrow.
When our set began the kids came in from the yard. The PA system was cheap and half-broken, farting out the low notes and missing the highs altogether, but nobody seemed to mind. They pressed against the rim of the stage, they stood in couches and crowded the kitchen and spilled into the hallway and made stadium seating of the staircase and the house grew hot and sweat-fogged and at the end of every song came an eruption of applause so that by mid-set I had slipped into that state of blurred and furious bliss we all so coveted and in fact had pursued to every corner of the country.
Little Tybee played next. I stood watching from the back of the room. And so pure appeared their pleasure, even after all those shows, that my bliss was extended, absorbing the worry that usually works over me at the end of a tour, the concern about money and the future and the questions of what have we accomplished and where do we go from here and will we ever “make it” and how long before we’re forced to move on, disband, get jobs, start families, and what happens if we never do?—all was forgotten, the unceasing and all-consuming passing and passing and passing put on hold by the shere force and holiness of the moment.
But then the show was over and we began to pack our equipment. We’d done it so many times by now that it had become a completely thoughtless process. That same late-night, half-buzzed weariness. The slow fade of the onstage high that leaves you feeling scooped-out and lost. We moved around one another like ants in a nest, putting instruments in cases and hefting them down the staircase into the street where Ryan, as always, had climbed up into the back of the van to direct the last of the nightly routines. It was a perfect spring night and the streets were quiet, the nine of us standing about on the sidewalk in that middle-of-the-night stillness, talking idly, smoking, handing up each piece of equipment to Ryan as he announced it. And when all was loaded we piled in and rolled out, our van leading and the Little Tybee rig following. It was three in the morning and six hours to Asheville.
Ryan drove first shift. Dan laid out on the bench seat and Halli and I shared the homemade bunk in the back. We unrolled our sleeping bags head to foot and I was asleep before we hit the interstate. I woke somewhere near Chapel Hill. Dawn. My turn to drive. I shambled into the gas station and bought a coke, passing on my way in a group of truckers where they sat outside at a picnic table sipping coffee and eating doughnuts and smoking cigarettes while their rigs stood huge against the glowing rim of the horizon.
Soon it was full light. My mirrors consumed by a molten sun exploding behind me to the east. The van chasing its own shadow westward toward the mountains. Strange to think about going home, being home. What’s home? Asheville? No house there, no lease, nobody awaiting my return. Everything I cared about was here, in the van, and I wondered whether it was toward home I was heading, or away.
Ryan was the first to part. He was catching a flight that very morning to California where he would be staying with his girlfriend (a woman he met on a previous tour) for the duration of our three-week break. He was flying out from Charlotte. The Tybee guys were going to drop him at the airport on their way home to Atlanta. We stopped at a gas station in Statesville to make the switch. Ryan standing among the pumps in nothing but his boxer-shorts, rummaging through his suitcase for something halfway clean. People gawking at this ragged half-naked figure dousing himself in deodorant and brushing his teeth with a jug of water. This was also goodbye to Tybee. We hugged, said our farewells.
Now three: Halli, Dan, and I. And a hundred miles to Asheville. Dan drove, I slept in the back seat. Woke to the sight of mountains out my window as we pulled into the driveway of Molly’s house (Dan’s girlfriend). She came skip-running out the door. They embraced in the walkway. After awhile they turned and approached the van. “Hi, guys,” said Molly. Halli and I looked out, squinting into the bright sun. Reading Molly’s expression I saw that we stank.
Now Halli and I.
“I feel strange,” she said, having climbed up from the back and into the passenger seat.
“Me too,” I said.
“Almost sick” she said. “But not really. Not physically.”
“Not sick,” I said, nodding. “Just, I don’t know. Beat.”
Arriving at Halli’s grandparent’s house in Asheville we got out and removed our bags and schlepped inside without a word. It was eleven o’clock in the morning. We parted ways in the hallway.
“Goodnight,” she said.
First thing I did was peel off my clothes. And standing there naked in the bright light of the bathroom I looked at myself in the mirror. Long hair, long beard. I ran the shower, waited for it to get hot. Sunburn lingering still on my face and arms from the long hot drive through Nebraska. Grass stains between my toes from that park in Maryland where we threw a baseball barefooted till dark. Blisters on the tops of my feet from walking around Richmond in those cheap flip-flops. Grease still under my fingernails from the fiddling I did under the hood back in Wyoming when the van started spewing coolant. Soreness of hips and back from the floors and chairs and couches on which I’d slept. Chicago you come back in flashes. Did I dream you, or you me? New York, you great and powerful place, are the souls you swallow equal to the those you set free? Where I sat atop the van with my legs dangling above the street on a Friday night in springtime Manhattan watching the people pass along the sidewalk, the taxis, the busses, the steaming subway grates—so much desire on a single island it breaks my bursting heart. San Francisco with your streets so steep, I know now your end-of-the-road sadness.
In the shower I took soap to every inch of my skin, turning the water hotter all the time. Afterward I clipped my fingernails and toenails. I flossed and brushed my teeth. I gargled with mouthwash and took Q-tips to my ears. Then I put on a clean pair of underwear and drank a massive glass of water and slid down into the cool sheets of a bed—sweet delicious bed—and put on my headphones and crossed my arms behind my head and closed my eyes.
I woke to the rumble of thunder. Darkness. The flash of lightning striping through the windowblinds. Then came the rain. Whispering rain, shushing everything into wetness. I got up and opened the window and climbed back in bed again. That stormy smell, cool and fresh. The thunder clapping now, loud and overlapping. I stretched my feet to the end of the bed and pulled the sheets to my chin and watched as trees jumped out in the white light like negatives of the night.
And raining still when I finally got up and dressed and went out to buy some groceries for dinner. Dark, dark night and the rain falling hard. Spattering my windshield and hanging like television static in my headlights. Wipers pumping, slinging sheets of water as I squinted to see the lines in the road. The traffic lights bleeding and streaked where they lay reflected in the shimmering black of the macadam. A set of headlights coming toward me all lashed and starry without a car at all to connect them to.
I wandered the grocery store. So long since I’ve shopped, longer since I’ve cooked. It was ten at night and the place nearly empty. The hum of the florescent lights. I fondled some tomatoes, I hefted a loaf of bread. I stood in the magazine aisle flipping absently through an issue of Rolling Stone. I paid for my groceries at the only open register.
Trying to embrace this loneliness. Cross-country tour number two now complete, and while I knew the second one would feel different, I wasn’t sure how. Now that’s it was over I would say only that it feels a little more normal. And because we have another one coming up in three weeks—another six-weeks up the east coast into Canada—I found myself at times looking past this tour before it was over. Not wise perhaps, but helpful in that it makes me less prone to dwell on all the excitement I’ve already used up. I made a dinner of tuna fish and raw spinach and sat eating it in silence at a little table in the basement. When I was finished I washed my dish and turned out the light and went to my room.
Pulling off my boots and how strange that tomorrow I had nowhere to go, nowhere to be. Still living out of my suitcase—will be for some time to come. The road is my home now and I am on it even when we aren’t touring. I laid and listened to the rain. Sometime later I received a text message from Ryan. It read: “Crazy that I just did in three hours what took us three weeks. This morning I was in Charlotte and now here I am on the Pacific. California. Los Angeles. I’m confused about this. Driving seems….more honest.”
“Hope all is well in the west,” I replied. “A strange loneliness I wasn’t expecting. My sadness tonight is for this whole huge country of ours and the way all things must pass.”