The Perils of the Tour

The Perils of the Tour– Road Dog- Winter 2005

Just how does it come to be that I am presently hunkered down in the Greenstone Motor Lodge, a badly shopworn establishment located no more than 10 feet from the old highway, (before Interstate 95 bypassed it as the main tourist corridor)? Built in the 1950’s, indifferently maintained in the 50+ years since, and, worst of all, 200 miles south of Orlando, where I had hoped to be staying (and playing) tonight. And most curious of all, why is it that I so thankful to be here?

Let me back up. It is late September as I write this, in Florida, which had hoped to be in the mid stage post-hurricane cleanup right about now. Instead we all find ourselves bracing for the imminent return of Hurricane Jeanne, which took an earlier swipe at this battered peninsula, swept out to sea, then gained strength and came back again two weeks later for another go-round. Its first punch, along with the impacts from Charley and Frances and Ivan, left significant damage across wide sections of the state, coincidentally erasing several of my tour stops. Its anticipated return tonight and tomorrow will likely bring considerable new devastation, and additional musical cancellations.

This is bad tour planning on a colossal scale, of course, but its hard to say that I, or anyone, should have anticipated this situation things more than a year ago, when I made the first concrete commitments to visit the Sunshine state in September. The initial concert, booked in summer of 2003, was a radio and TV broadcast event in (now Hurricane Ivan-wracked) Pensacola. I learned earlier this week in a late-night cell phone conversation that the beautiful historic theater/venue for this long-planned and promoted Pensacola show had just lost its roof and had taken in a foot or more of rainfall. The local Taylor dealer, my Pensacola workshop host for the day prior to the concert, has yet to answer his phone more than a week after Ivan’s invasion.

(The tally, from my current vantage point in Homestead, which sits at the bottom of the state and directly north of the Florida Keys, is six cancellations: my Pensacola concert and workshop, two workshops in other storm-battered areas, and my Orlando concert and masterclass. More cancellations will undoubtedly follow. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up to the tour’s beginning.)

There was the poor beknighted flight from Salt Lake City to Atlanta, with two hours of delay to the boarding process followed by 3 more hours of sitting on the tarmac in a fully loaded 767 in 90 degree weather, as we waited for air traffic control to allow us to leave for Atlanta, which was getting lashed by strong winds from Hurricane Ivan. The 5 P.M. scheduled landing turned into a midnight arrival, the last hour of which was spent circling Atlanta waiting for landing permission, then banging down on the runway to general relief and applause from my cattle car section of the plane.

My first workshop was at Music Depot in Jacksonville, which had been closed earlier by Hurricane Charley (or was it Frances?) for a number of days, yet which still managed to stage a great clinic, to attract a good audience, and to keep everything together. Great job, Shawn (sp?) and Jimmy. The next evening was scheduled for Total Entertainment in Daytona Beach. As I drove towards the shop, I began to see real damage. Just about every business or highway sign that stood more than a few feet high was shredded, and many trees were lying at odd angles. Such signs as still existed had been re-lettered to thank the disaster relief crews. My hotel, and most of the lodging that remained undamaged, was filled with the workers who had driven to the area for cleanup, for restoring power and cable and covering roofs and generally getting the area residents back on their feet. Mine was one of the few cars in the hotel parking lot without an official disaster relief sign on its side. Total Entertainment had plywood in its display windows and had also suffered through two weeks of closure, but they managed to make it happen, with a houseful of eager Taylor fans and interested guitarists from the Daytona area. Big thanks to Brad and Steve for going above and beyond.

The next evening brought my first cancellation, as the Taylor dealer in Boca Raton had sustained too much storm damage to stage a clinic. The folks in Taylor’s PR department did yeoman’s work in sending out notices to let all of their earlier invitees that this clinic had been canceled, and so absorbed the forced day off and headed for Stuart, FL, for my scheduled workshop the following evening at Schumacher Music.

As I drove south on I-95 from Daytona Beach, it became apparent that the hurricanes had done more damage here than they had further north. When I reached Stuart, and went to my usual hotel, one of the newer chains of which I am so fond (see Road Dog, summer 2004), I found it closed and under repair, as I subsequently found every hotel at that freeway exit. I drove to the next rest area, and grabbing a hotel listing publication from the lobby, began calling every one of them, starting with the ones closest to my present location and moving south, away from Stuart and towards Palm Beach. It took 15 phone calls and a fifty-mile drive to the south to find the Flying Dutchman Motor Lodge, another of the same sort as the motel with which I began this narrative.

So that’s why, against my own advice from summer’s Road Dog article, you found me at the Flying Dutchman Motor Lodge and the Greenstone Motel. Painted-over knotty pine walls, nice antique gray and white bathroom tiles, (except where they have fallen off and been replaced with tiles of different colors), moldy caulking, balky air conditioning, and cool artwork from Florida’s first post WWII tourist boom. It does appear that someone has replaced the motels’ original carpet, as that 60’s shag is no longer with us.

Let’s give thanks for small favors, shall we? I got the last room in each place. And tonight, as I stay in the closed and shuttered city of Homestead, peering out at the beginnings of Jeanne’s visit through room 105’s taped-up window, I give thanks for my motel’s concrete roof, which survived Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and shows every indication of doing so this time around as well.

I got lucky. The television is telling us all of the stories about travelers who will be sleeping in their cars tonight, of millions who have lost power and phone service, of hundreds of thousands of folks who have sustained damage to their homes, and of a state which is struggling to put its biggest pieces back together.

So it’s day to day around here, as it should be in such an aftermath as this. Given the capricious path of the hurricanes, I have given up trying to predict where the damage will occur, what will happen with each tour date, where I will lodge, beyond tonight’s event. I am keeping in touch with the venues, the concert presenters, the Taylor dealers, and with Mary and Amy in Taylor’s Public Relations Department, all of whom have thrown themselves into this effort to keep the concerts and clinics on track as best they can.

Still we can only do what we can do. Whatever that effort is, it pales in comparison to the struggles of those who live here, who have suffered Charley’s and Frances’ and Ivan’s and Jeanne’s wrath. As the winds pick up and the rain lashes my taped-up picture window in this truly dumpy motel room, just being able to up a guitar and play a song or two seems pretty cool to me.