Long Drives and Bed Bugs

You’ve got a satnav device, right? Or a GPS for our American readers. You know the feeling of punching in the destination and checking the estimated arrival time, only to find that it’s rather a long way off. Like six, seven hours or so. When we entered the address of our Vancouver hotel while sitting in the car park of our Minneapolis one, we were rather surprised to find it was only three hours away. Then we clicked. It meant three hours away – TOMORROW.

Of course we didn’t drive it all in one go. That would have been nuts. It was bad enough in two goes. After driving through the rest of Minnesota (fields, barns, cheese), all of North Dakota (bigger fields, bigger barns, not much cheese) and half of Montana (rocky hills, cows, casinos), we finally reached our motel and staggered into the nearest (well, only) bar, where Fin and I discovered the lengthy drive had briefly robbed us of our ability to communicate with regular humanity. ‘Uhh… beer,’ was all we managed to utter to the barman, who thankfully wasn’t too put off by our thousand yard stare and served us two frothing beverages and a plate of something fried and indescribable that we gobbled up in seconds.

The following day was similar but with better scenery. I hope you Americans appreciate what an astonishing country you live in. Coming out of Montana and into Idaho was so dramatic I almost parked the van and cracked into a few poems. After this lengthy injection of natural beauty, however, a previously unheard of Washington city named Spokane (birthplace of Father’s Day, according to Wikipedia) briefly jolted us back into urbanville; you can picture some early twentieth-century town planner shouting, “That’s enough of this nature shit! I want a ten-lane highway and I want it now!”

I’d be lying if I said time flew as we bashed on through Washington towards Vancouver. By the time we reached the Canadian border at around 10pm we were practically hallucinating. Fin started talking to me about engine mechanics before I realised he was actually sleeptalking (don’t worry, he wasn’t driving). Another encounter with a disarmingly friendly Canadian border guard and we were finally at our destination, just in time to drink some watered down beer in a touristy bar with some molten plastic cheese and brown tomato sauce masquerading as Spaghetti Bolognese.

The next morning I woke up to find I’d been absolutely savaged by bedbugs and was experiencing something of an allergic reaction. I rushed to the nearest pharmacy (via the coffee bar – priorities please) and was promptly sold a box of the kind of antihistamine that’s been illegal in Britain since about 1980. “What the hell,” I thought, downing a couple, then embarking on a pleasant morning off, wandering around Gastown (old Vancouver) and Chinatown. Halfway through lunch I experienced a feeling so weird I honestly thought I was having an acid flashback (particularly strange as I’ve never taken acid). I floated out of the restaurant and realised I could neither focus nor feel any of my limbs, and when I phoned my wife to share the good news I found myself slurring like a drunkard. Returning to the pharmacy, shaking my “fist” (actually a flapping hand) and barking at the pharmacist (“youyevertollmeischwasgonnahaveshiseffectooohme”), she pointed me in the direction of a doctor’s walk-in clinic where I was given* some antibiotics for the bedbugs’ damage and told to sleep off the antihistamine. Sadly we were but an hour away from loading in the gear at The Media Club so I soldiered on. Fin and Rob didn’t notice anything particularly different about me (either they’re rather unobservant or I’m quite frequently a gibbering mess) and after a few more Vancouver-strength coffees I was almost back to normal…

The Vancouver show was storming (have I mentioned how brilliant Canadian audiences are? Not only are they numerous, attentive and appreciative, but they also think nothing of driving for a whole day to see a show… we had guests from Edmonton and Calgary, which is akin to me “popping up” to Inverness for a gig – further actually) and we toddled off back to Seattle the next morning, quite sad to see the back of Canada. As usual with these trips, I saw next to nothing of the place, but the vibe was relaxed and a welcome antidote to the usual madness.

But I was happy that the vibe also trickled down the coast to Seattle. As we drove in, the houses looked nice, the trees were green, there was water everywhere and it all seemed rather fresh and oddly… calm. It took me a few minutes to realised what was missing. Some local progressive hero has banned billboards. For once, we were driving in an American city without being constantly ordered to “buy this, buy that, eat here, listen to this, watch this” – and it might be my imagination but I’m sure we arrived at the venue feeling somewhat happier. Barboza, in the achingly cool Pike Street, is a great little club (despite the colour of the stage curtains) where I think we availed ourselves pretty well. We were in Seattle but at times we felt like we were in Portland as almost everyone we spoke to said they’d travelled up from Portland. We toyed with the idea of saying “Good evening Portland” but decided this might have been pushing it. Afterwards, the newness of our American career hit us again, with more than a couple of people saying “I just discovered you a few weeks ago”, or, “I just discovered you this afternoon”, or “I still don’t know who the hell you are, what’s the band name again?” – reminding us once more that we are not in Amsterdam. It’s a pleasant adventure, this American jaunt, and we’ve got one more leg to go…

*I say given: they actually cost about fifty quid. No NHS here, dear.

Next: The FINAL PUSH… San Fran, LA, San Diego, and, um, Redding…

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