I had taken the Van Galder bus from Madison and arrived at Union Station in downtown Chicago around 7:30 in the evening on Monday, December 1st. I hailed a cab and took it out to the East Village, where my Flame Shark friends live. Mike, Justin, and Rusty all live together, along with Rusty's girlfriend Erin. Luckily, I arrived at their home during a rehearsal and was able to hear some brand new Flame Shark tunes in the making! We got to jamming a little bit, and worked on a few of my new tunes as well, before heading out to the bar for a few drinks. The picture below shows a well-dressed Mike "Goldenwings" Meske, prepared for the slushy streets and some whiskey cokes.
I woke up on Tuesday with a pretty much free day in Chicago ahead of me, as my train didn't leave until 7pm that night. Justin Jahnke, who is Flame Shark's lead singer, has collaborated with me frequently, most recently joining me as a duo for a music conference in Omaha back in September. Rusty and Mike were working, so the two of us worked on some songs, and hopefully I can coerce Justin onto my next album as well (he plays guitar and sings on a couple of the songs on Our Love Was Made For Canada).
After deciding to take a walk around the neighborhood, Erin recommended that I check out Alcala's, a western store just a few blocks away. If you ever find yourself in Chicago with a need for western wear, you have got to head over to Alcala's. You will find yourself among rows and rows of cowboy boots, leather belts, wide-rimmed hats, and western shirts (with both cool and tacky options). The only time I've seen a bigger collection of western wear was at a store in Amarillo, TX, where my brother bought a $200 pair of boots. Now I thought that my brother had spent too much on a pair of cowboy boots (at least more than I was willing to spend), but I was amazed at how much you could spend at Alcala's. There were many pairs that cost more than $1000! Who in their right mind spends that much on cowboy boots? There were some especially ugly boots made from alligator skin.
After a trip to an excellent Polish restaurant (one of my new favorite ethnic foods) with Justin, Erin, and Rusty. My belly full with pierogies and kielbasa, I said my goodbyes to my gracious friends and hosts, and hopped on the subway, headed back to Union Station.
(Pictured below: the wonderful "Shit Fountain" found in Flame Shark's neighborhood, I was getting REALLY hungry on the way to the Polish restaurant)
My train left Chicago just a bit after 7pm, and I was on my way east. This train (the Capital Limited) would take me as far as Pittsburgh, where I had a 2-hour layover before catching the Pennsylvanian to Philadelphia. Unfortunately, I knew that I was set to arrive in Pittsburgh at 5:30 in the am, so I'd have to be wide awake at that point, and I knew it wasn't going to be a great night for sleeping. If you've ridden the train before, or more specifically, the coach class on Amtrak, you'll know how hard it is to get a good night's sleep. Its just like airplane seating, the admittedly a bit more comfortable than that with wider seats and more legroom, but you are most likely sitting right next to someone you don't know, just like on an airplane. Lets just say the guy next to me liked his elbow room, but since I knew he was getting off at Toledo (around midnight) I figured that I would just wait for him to leave so I could take both seats before attempting to sleep.
I decided to head to the sightseeing lounge to drink a beer or two and enjoy the wonderful nighttime sights of Indiana and Ohio. As I drank my delicious Miller Lite I could not help but overhear the political discussion that was raging a few tables away from me. Now I was not trying to eavesdrop, but these folks were being incredibly loud, and the things they were saying were quite disturbing. Here is an excerpt from what I remember of the conversation:
"anonymous man from Arkansas: I think that we should've just nuked Iraq
and flattened it to the ground, then we would be done with them and wouldn't
have any more problems.
a little later on...
anonymous man from Arkansas: I'm not a racist or
anything, but I never thought that we would see a black man elected president in this country. I think that he'll probably be assassinated.
anonymous crazy woman: Well if he is assassinated and then rises again, we'll know he really is the anti-christ!"
Amazingly, in the entire 5 or 6 person group engaged in the "political" discussion, not a single word of protest was said after that sort of bat-shit crazy talk! Even from the token "democrat", who did a horrible job of defending his positions. I mean seriously, that is absolutely crazy talk, even for the far right. If somebody went on Sean Hannity's show and said stuff that crazy, he would dismiss them and call them crazy, thats how crazy it is. Nuking Iraq? Obama as the anti-christ? Wow, at that moment I realized I was riding that train with some of the least intelligent people in the world. It saddened me, and I considered rebutting, but realized that my efforts would be entirely lost on this brain-dead crowd.
A little later on I heard another man talking loudly about protesting a church in Oregon that was allowing gay marriages. The man talked nonstop about the Bible, sinning, gay people perverting marriage, and other lovely topics. He talked so loudly, and was so offensive, that I had to bite my tongue not to get into it with him as well. I realized again that I would get nowhere, would probably get into a longer talk/yell than I would like to, and would miss my chance to go back to my seat and get some rest. As we hit Toledo and I returned to my luxurious two seats, I pondered the interactions in the sightseeing lounge, and realized that even in the post-Obama-election-winning-world, America can still be a very disturbing place.
We arrived in Pittsburgh, and after waiting a couple of hours, got back on another train to Philadelphia. A smaller and more commuter-style train, it took about 7-8 hours to cross the state of Pennsylvania and arrive in Philly. The picture below was taken somewhere in central Pennsylvania from the train.
My good buddy Kyle Swartzwelder was waiting to pick me up at 30th St. Station, and we headed north to East Stroudsburg, PA to play our first gig at the state college there. It was the best paying gig of the tour (college shows always are), and made the whole trip financially possible, but it was an awful show. It was finals week at ESU, and there was absolutely nobody there to listen to us. We packed up our guitars and headed back south to Wilmington, DE, where Kyle lives.
That covers the first three days of the tour (Mon., December 1 - Wed., December 3) and I'll fill you in on the rest in a couple or so more entries. Next time: John heads to New York City, hot damn!