Sunday, March 8, 2009

Shells From The Beach - Chapter 5


“Sailing round the world in a dirty gondola

oh, to be back in the land of Coca-Cola!”

-Bob Dylan

So the days turned into weeks and the and one day I woke up and it was June 2nd. I was scheduled to go on another tour starting June 3rd in Boston and then continuing on out west until Portland Oregon. The goal was to just have a fun summer out on the road by myself and hopefully make enough money to be able to afford a plane ticket back east at the end of it all. But with my half eaten wife buried in the ground the tour was looking doubtful. I had been obsessing about it in the weeks since the funeral, begging my parents to take Addie for the summer, but they insisted that she needed her dad right now. I knew they were right, but damn it, it took me three weeks of pleading phone calls to book these shows. I knew she needed her dad. I just didn’t know how.

It was a warm, wet Friday as I loaded up the old Chevy conversion van with the essentials I would need for the tour. It wasn’t quite raining but a mist hung silently in the air, tiny drops of moisture stubbornly refusing to fall to the ground. I placed the guitars and amps in first followed by the enormous amount of snack foods we would be living off for the next two months in next. These were procured the night before at the wholesale market where you could buy things like 100 individually wrapped bags of chips and a five gallon drum of ketchup. Finally the luggage went in. It was fine Italian luggage we had received as a wedding gift and looked out of place in the back of that old rusty van, but it was the one present we received that day that I had always cherished. It spoke of world travel and of endless journeys together. It was easily the nicest thing we owned.

Addie had given me no opinion on the tour. Over the past month since her mother’s death she had sat back quietly watching my reaction to gauge what her reaction should be. I had no reaction, so the two of us went on toward the warmth of impending summer like not much had happened. We operated like two robots whose human master goes out for milk one day and never comes back, mechanically going through the preprogrammed routines of our existence. If she was happy about me dismissing her from school two weeks early to join me on tour she never let on. Conversely, if she was upset about leaving her friends for the summer she never hinted toward that either. I had just told her two nights before that we were going and that she should pack her clothes and she obliged without comment.

I closed the front door to my house and left without bothering to lock it. Let the wolves have at it, I thought, and Addie and I climbed into the van. I started the engine and we both stared straight ahead into the mist. We were both somewhere else far, far away. I wondered if where our emotional selves were, where ever that was, if we were as far apart from each as we were in this tiny van. I didn’t really want to go on this tour. I didn’t want to get on stage and sing for lousy college kids or middle aged hipsters at coffee shops. I didn’t want to be famous, not anymore. I didn’t want any of it. I just wanted to get away from this house, this city, this life, as fast as I could.

Shells From The Beach - Chapter 4


“In the Federal City you been blown and shown pity
For secret, for pieces of change
The empress attracts you but oppression distracts you
And it makes you feel violent and strange.”

-Bob Dylan

In all the movies I’ve watched about all sorts of people living in all sorts of places I have never quite seen a city quite like New Bedford, MA. A once quaint fishing village with roots that traced back to Melville and the great whale. Growing up in New Bedford in the late seventies and eighties was like being orphaned and forced to live with your sickly grandmother. You just hope she stays alive until you are old enough to take care of yourself. That’s the way I felt about New Bedford. I spent my childhood hoping it would just survive long enough for me to escape it.

New Bedford made many odd choices throughout its history to bring it to its sorry state. There was the giant hurricane barrier which protected it from violent tides, but also left the harbor dead with stagnant water. The vast amount of waterfront property on the inner harbor, which should have been extremely desirable, would just assure its resident a constant stale smell. The inner harbor weaved its way down to what is known as the Acushnet River. At one point this small river was one of the most polluted water ways in America. This was in large part to the booming textile industry of the 1800’s. The giant brick mills still litter the landscape near the river. Crumbling relics that represent all of what America is. The brilliant brick facades showcase the brilliant, booming face of commerce and capitalism. Then the market and the world change and the jobs move away and the beautiful brick buildings are left to ruin. No one can tear these buildings down because like the river the land beneath the mills are filled with PCP.

And just ensure that New Bedford would have the most useless historic working waterfront in the country, the city went ahead and built picturesque Route 18. A fully fledged freeway connecting the North and South ends of the city, and completely cutting off the waterfront from the residents. So let’s say you happen to be visiting our historic downtown, perhaps our Whaling Museum, and decided you would like to see the waterfront where the brave men depicted in the museum launched from. Perhaps you wanted to see the scores of brave men who still depart from those same docks to live and battle at sea for weeks at a time. That wouldn’t be a problem except for the super highway separating downtown from the docks.

If I’m hard on the city it’s only because it could have been great. It could have been Newport or Provincetown. It could have been a post card. Instead it’s the same decaying three deckers of South Boston, just with a longer commute to the city.