CHEAP EATS First windmills we saw were in Wyoming, and I was in the back of the van writing about Don Quixote. So that was cool. I like stuff like that. Then in Nebraska it was my turn to drive and we went through a tornado. It was just getting dark out, and at first this was amazing. Lightning was everywhere all at once not just bolts but balls and flowers and roadmaps. Explosions of pure pyromania, like fireworks or a war zone. One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
I was in the van by myself. For a while we had two cars, and Phenomenon was in the other one with Fiddlesticks and our fearless leader, Chief. So they had all the bravery with them, but I had the snacks.
The van goes like a boat in the wind. I was giggling and hooting, scanning my music for something to live up to the light show. I had snacks and iTunes. When a speed limit sign twisted out of the ground and flew away, things changed for me and I very immediately had back problems. Neck. Shoulders. If I lived, I was going to need a massage.
Besides bravery, the other car had all of our toll money and leadership skills, but for some reason me and snacks were calling the shots. So long as I didn’t see any actual twisters, and I didn’t, my strategy, now that we were in it, was to just keep driving. The lightning was indistinguishable from the thunder, or anything else. Everything was just light and noise, rain and us, all rolled up and rolling. My knuckles hurt.
Drive, drive, drive, drive, drive, and then right when we’d finally outrun the mayhem, my fuel light came on. I got off at the next exit and gassed up, sirens whooping from all the nearby Nebraska towns and the wind whipping plastic cup can lids around my ankles. The food mart woman was standing in the doorway of the store saying, "Tornado."
"Which way’s it coming?" I asked.
"From the west," she said. Like us, meaning: my massage would have to wait. Not wanting to tempt the tempest, we skedaddled. We dragged that weather system all the way across Nebraska and never got wet.
I ate some wonderful food in Youngstown, Ohio, of all the crazy places. My hometown. We played outside in an alley at this café called Selah, and they fed me ricotta gnocchi with fresh spinach and cream sauce that was as good as any gnocchi I’ve eaten in any San Francisco restaurant. So I take back everything I ever said about my old hometown.
Even though technically Selah is in Struthers.
And then this morning I woke up in my other old hometown, Portsmouth, N.H., where I ate brick oven pizza that rivaled Tomasso’s and top-notch carne asada burritos across the river in Kittery, Maine (of all the other crazy places). Loco Coco or Coco Loco. Southern California transplants, I believe, but they do put rice in their burritos, and I’d just as soon have another one of those than anything I can think of in the Mission.
I’m not saying all this to dis my city. It’s more like: Hey, look at this! Or: Wish you were here. It’s a postcard. And I do wish you were here, and also wish I were there, instead of in the back of a van spinning down the East Coast now, Earl Butter at the wheel, Phenomenon all neck-cricked next to him, drooling into his western shirt.
We lost our fiddler and our chief, Chief, and picked up Mr. Butter, who is rapidly becoming every old person’s favorite young person. On the other hand, he’s not entirely certain he’s a licensed driver anymore. And he’s driving. I backed into a deck a couple days ago and sharded our back window into all our gear and sleeping stuff. Now we’re counting on plastic and duct tape to keep our stuff in and the weather out.
After seven shows in three days in Bangor, Maine, I’d had it up to here with outrageous friendliness, mosquitoes, and "King of the Road."
If all goes as planned, tomorrow we will wake up near an unpronounceable, unspellable tidal river in Rhode Island, and we’re going to rake for clams and hopefully have some homemade chowder for breakfast.
Then: Providence. Then: Albany, N.Y. Then: Bikkets’s wedding, and then, old folks be damned, we start sallying slowly back to home-sweet-home and my new favorite restaurant. *