Tunabunny in the UK, part one
The next morning Brigette and I wake up at 8:30. Helen graciously offers us some bagels from her freezer, and we drive off towards Bob’s flat, where the rest of the band is staying. Shrag’s label Fortuna Pop has reserved us a van that needs to be picked up between 10:00 and 11:30. Bob and I head off via the subway, transferring to a train, out towards Wembley Stadium. The guy at the van rental had to come in specially to meet us, and he is far from happy to be there. He basically tosses us the keys and heads off. It is at this point I notice that the van is a manual transmission. I haven’t regularly driven one of those in over 10 years. And it damn sure wasn’t a nine-passenger splitter van in England. Fuck. I tell myself I can do this. I have to do this. Otherwise there’s not going to be a tour.
Bob gets into the passenger seat. It’s an hour’s drive back to King’s Cross, where everyone’s waiting. The van pulls out onto a steep hill (of course it fucking does). I’m fine in first gear, but every time I go to shift into second, the engine stalls and I’m rolling back down the hill. A line of cars quickly forms behind me. I put on my hazard lights and wave them around. I stall again. This process repeats itself a half-dozen times before I accidentally find second (it turns out I have been too worried about throwing it into reverse). There seems to be an English tradition of giving people rental cars with near-empty gas tanks, so we pull into the first petrol station we can find. It takes us five minutes to locate the gas tank. Then we’re back on the road. One of them was so narrow that I bumped another car, but I’m pretty sure it was harmless. As we get closer and closer to King’s Cross, I start to feel more comfortable. Then, three blocks from Bob’s flat, we see the road narrow near a park. There are two poles on either side of the road, exactly seven feet apart according to the sign. Of course neither of us have any idea how wide the van is, but it looks like it’s going to be very, very close. I line it up best I can and, with our heads hanging out of the windows, barely squeak through. We have now determined that the van is 6′ 11″ wide.
We load up the van. Mary Jane from Tunabunny will be driving the car from this point on. I’ve been trying to boost her spirits about this for the last couple of days, but she’s still worried. And driving out of London on a Saturday afternoon, with a six-hour drive to Cardiff ahead of her thanks to the traffic, she probably should be. But like I said earlier, the people in Tunabunny are pretty good at sucking it up.
We pull into Cardiff right on time. The venue is in the center of town, so much so that we have to park on a cul-de-sac, get a trolley cart from the venue and push it three blocks across cobblestone sidewalks to load up our gear. It turns out that Wales, of which Cardiff is the capital, and England are in the middle of a rugby match. The first thing I see when I get out of the van is some guy pissing against the wall in broad daylight. I jokingly tell Bob from Shrag that he should get a picture. The pissing guy’s friend laughs and says, “You don’t want to get a picture of that thing”, to which I reply, “It’s OK, my friend’s camera has a zoom lens”. It turns out penis jokes are funny all over the world, especially when it’s told to a drunk guy with a shaved head and the body structure of a fire hydrant.
As I’m leading the cart into the venue, a bump sends it lurching to the left and my hand is promptly slammed hard into the wooden doorframe, causing it to bleed instantly in a round cut across the back of my hand like some kind of stigmata. I head back to the van, angry and frustrated, pissed at the world. Climbing in, I lay down on the floor and sleep for an hour. Waking up, I head back to the venue only to find it locked. In the bar above the venue, there is a man standing dressed in what appears to be a banana, but I quickly realize is a replica penis with two ball-sized bulges just above his feet. I have no choice but to stand in the bar, looking down the stairs to the window of the locked door, waiting for someone to appear and let me in. It takes 15 minutes, but it feels like a lifetime. While I’m waiting, Wales closes out their victory against England and the entire town of Cardiff erupts in cheers. It sounds amazing, like they won a war or something. And I think to myself how surreal it is to be standing 10 feet away from a man dressed up like a penis, surrounded by ecstatic Welshmen, about to play a show with a band that started playing in my living room, with no ambition beyond maybe one day playing a show. It’s moments like these, beyond good or bad, beyond happy or sad, that are the real rewards of touring.
That night at soundcheck, as I hear our band playing a song we’ve never played before, I start to tear up at the strength of these people, how fortunate I am to be surrounded by people who are funny and talented, and unwilling to allow setbacks and obstacles to hold them back. At the end of the show, the audience begs for an encore. The same thing happens the next night (which is to say earlier tonight) in Preston. The drives are getting easier, but we just seem to take our extra energy and only destroy our bodies further, falling and jumping all over the room.
The skies have been blue for four days now, the weather outrageously and unseasonably warm. I’m worried I’m going to return to the States with a suntan and everyone will think I was a liar. But we’re heading over to Sheffield tomorrow and then up to Glasgow. I have a feeling it will be getting colder and darker. I hope the worst is over, but when you’re out on tour you quickly learn that you have to be prepared for anything.