The Rules of the Road

The Rules of the Road (Dog)- Road Dog- Summer ’04

It’s time to prepare your for summer on the road- to get you ready for your upcoming tour so that you have great fun, avoid the potential pitfalls that await all travelers, and come home bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Here are some suggestions to prepare you for any upcoming tour, vacation, or summer festival trip that involves a musician and one or more guitars or other musical instruments. Some items are cautionary, some are fun and encouraging, and I hope you find all of them handy.

Lodging:

1) Always pick the newest motel in your price range. If it’s newer, it will be better- cleaner, safer and quieter, than an older one, even if the other chain is a pricier one. Go with newness in all possible cases.

2) Choose the lodging in the smallest town that is practical for you to use, or in the rural outskirts of the large city if that is where you find yourself. It will generally be safer, quieter, and more likely to provide you somewhere nearby that you can walk, hike, run, explore and break out from the sedentary car-to-restaurant-to-motel mode that occupies travelers too much of the time.

3) If you have gear that you aren’t taking into the room, try and pick a motel with outside entrances to the individual rooms, and park as close to your room door as possible. Perps are much less likely to try anything nefarious on vehicles that are near motel doorways than they are on vehicles that are parked in deep dark spaces in parking garages, far from watching eyes.

4) Don’t make it obvious that you have valuables in your room or your car. If it’s possible to get your guitar into your room without being noticed, do so, and if it’s possible to avoid lots of folks seeing your laptop, cellphone, or other gear, so much the better. Make your luggage look dumpy in the car as well, for the same reason. A corollary- don’t have your room cleaned if you are staying in the same place for more than one day. Request of the hotel desk that they not service the room, and keep the housekeepers out of the room. There’s no reason to tempt fate by broadcasting the nature and the value of your belongings.

Food:

5) Consider picking your cuisine with this simple rule in mind- can I see my car from my seat in the restaurant? The food tastes much better when you can see your car, your guitars, and your other luggage as you eat.

6) Choices in cuisine- When in doubt, order whatever the restaurant sells the most of. It will be fresh, and the cooks will know how to make it. In other words, don’t order the oysters in Casper, Wyoming. Try the burger or chicken-fried steak instead. Meatless salads are generally safe everywhere if in doubt.

7) Don’t take high-calorie munchies into the car with you. Boredom leads to serious superfluous eating. Take things like apples, dry-roasted nuts, and good clean water.

Airplanes:

8) Here’s one from the Department of Redundancy Department- Assume and prepare for the worst regarding airlines, and your trip in general. Prepare for any possible breakage, theft and loss, knowing that at some point the unthinkable WILL happen. If you’re performing will you be able to do the gig no matter what is lost, forgotten, broken or stolen? Backup, then backup some more. Have extra gear, extra credit cards, and other important items stashed somewhere different from the rest of your luggage, and have an extra guitar box at home just in case.

9) Try and carry a guitar on your plane. Take EVERYTHING out of the accessory section of your case, as there’s no telling what will be construed as a threat by the TSA folks. Don’t ask if it’s okay to carry it on, just line up to board the plane, and act like you do it all of the time. If the guitar isn’t allowed, ask that it be gate-claimed, and get a receipt from the flight attendant or boarding personnel, and pick up the guitar right at the jetway when you arrive. Either way your instrument gets much nicer handling than it would if you checked it as baggage. See the earlier Wood and Steel articles about plane travel for other tips on how to pack your guitar.

10) Fly nonstops as much as possible. Nonstops minimize the handling of all of luggage by a factor of three, and maximize the likelihood that it will actually arrive at your intended destination.

Driving About:

11) If you have a rental car, get really familiar with controls like lights and wipers before heading into traffic. When someone splashes your car’s windshield unexpectedly on the interstate, or you need your brights in a hurry, you’ll want to know where the appropriate controls are without wasting time.

12) Allow twice as much time as you think you’ll need to get from your hotel to any important destination. Add even more padding in big cities. Ask locals about what interstates or secondary roads are to be avoided. Find the local “news-talk” station that gives good traffic reports, and keep an ear peeled.

13) When in doubt, get off the interstate and use secondary roads. They are slower, but less likely to jam up completely, they offer you many more options if they are crowded than interstates do, and you’re more likely to seem something interesting too.

14) If you call ahead for directions, make sure to specify that you want the “Easy Directions,” not the “Quick Directions.” Locals tend to give you shortcuts that they can find, but that you oftentimes cannot. The best directions are the shortest and easiest ones for you to understand, not the ones that offer the fewest miles to your destination.

15) Get a hide-a-key for your vehicle, For rental cars, get a second key and duct tape it under the chassis. Thank me later when you accidentally lock the keys in the car and don’t have time to mess with a locksmith or AAA.

General Stuff:

16) Wash your hands more than you do at home. You’re a walking germ magnet on the road, eating at restaurants all of the time, shaking hands, handling money, and meeting more folks in more situations than you would do at home in a year. It’s simple and effective preventive maintenance.

17) Never leave your wallet in a health club locker. Leaving it in the car is much safer. Buy a good lock, better than the normal $3 combination type.

18) Ask for help, for directions, for suggestion about places to explore, trails to run or hike, parks or museums to visit. People like to help, and like to chat with people who hail from somewhere distant. They are normally glad to guide you to the features of their home region that make them proud to live there. It’s too easy to isolate yourself with your maps and your car and your busy plans. Striking up conversations with your desk clerk, your waitress, the person sitting next to you at a festival or the employees at the music store just might enrich your trip. Despite the tenor of many of the items on this list, your trip is supposed to be fun, so take care of taking care, sally forth and enjoy!