Chris Jones: Letter From The Road

It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks that saw The Night Drivers and me going from Bean Blossom, Indiana to Huck Finn’s Jubilee in Victorville, California and back to Tennessee in less than a week. We did some night driving, some day driving, some early morning flying and some golf cart racing, as we crossed back and forth across three time zones (including that little known Indiana time zone, known as: “Hey buddy, what time is it here, anyway?”).

It was a good trip, exhausted as we felt at the end of it: top notch bluegrass events, good sound, our band name was only messed up by festival MCs 40% of the time (“Midnight Drive” was my personal favorite). We feel very good about it.

I’m reminded, though, that the road is not for the faint of heart. With all due respect to songwriter Bob Lucas, if the road is a lover, she’s a pretty fickle and sometimes dangerous one. Sometimes you wish she’d just up and dump you for a younger and crazier man. And yet, she continues to hang on.

It seems to me that the best way to handle this “lover” is to go into the deal forearmed with a little advice, the kind you don’t get in the magazines in the checkout line at the IGA.

Here then, are a few rules of the road for the inexperienced traveling musician:

  1. You do have to pay speeding tickets you acquire in states and provinces other than your own. The days when states couldn’t share each other’s information are long gone, along with 49 cents/gallon gas and cigarette jingles. I would also strongly discourage trying the line: “I’m sorry officer. I’m from . . . (Kentucky Nevada,  Albania, etc). I think our speed limit is higher there.”  Not only will the officer think you’re insulting his/her intelligence, he may also hate Kentucky, Nevada or Albania, and possibly every other place you’ve ever driven a motor vehicle. Also, keep in mind that you’ll have to pay speeding tickets you pick up in foreign countries too. Those pesky cameras are common in some countries, and trying to reason with one of them is pretty fruitless too.

  2. If a sign by an exit advertises gas, food, and lodging, but you don’t actually see any gas, food, or lodging from the highway, it isn’t actually there. It’s a cruel trick to make you drive into their struggling downtown and gaze at their nicely decorated but completely closed gas stations. There’s some logic to this rule too: if you had a business that was less than half a mile from a four-lane highway, wouldn’t you make sure it was visible? I know this isn’t very mystical of me, but in this case, if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. Drive on to the next exit.

  3. If you’re at a Waffle House (and if you’re driving through Georgia, this is inevitable) and you receive bad service, simply walk over to the jukebox and play $5.00 worth of Waffle House songs. This is worse than giving a bad tip, so only resort to this if they’re incompetent and rude. Do this right before you leave, but stick around long enough to hear “Special Lady at the Waffle House.” That song makes me cry.

  4. If you book a hotel room online, the rooms will never look as good as the pictures, so gauge accordingly. It’s roughly the equivalent to the scale used to determine’s someone’s attractiveness based on their Facebook profile picture.

  5. In general, unless you’re some kind of miracle worker with the “malted waffle” iron, the complimentary breakfast at most road hotels is a reminder that you get what you pay for.

  6. Do not eat Chinese food at a truckstop.

  7. Do not order Mexican food from any server who can’t pronounce “quesadilla.”

  8. When driving through Nashville, spontaneously cut across three lanes of traffic for no reason, without signaling. Otherwise they’ll know you’re from out of town.

  9. Do not drive in Atlanta, except between the hours of 1:00 and 4:00 a.m.

  10. The voice on your GPS isn’t a real person who has ever driven where you’re going. He or she could be wrong.

  11. Airport security is a breeze: All you have to do is remember to have nothing in your pockets if you’re going through the full body scanner, but keep paper in your pockets if you’re just going through the regular metal detector; remove your laptop from its case and keep it by itself in its own tray (usually); remove your shoes and place them in a separate tray (though other items are now allowed in that tray), except in Canada, where shoe removal isn’t required, unless it’s a U.S. bound flight; you no longer need to show your boarding pass, until you get to the gate, and you won’t need ID at the gate if it’s a domestic flight, unless you’re in Canada, where you need ID at the gate and you should show your boarding pass at security; remove your jacket and remove your belt, but keep watches and glasses on, although you’re permitted to remove them. No liquids or gels are permitted, unless they’re less than 3.4 ounces per container, and all containers fit into a 1 quart clear plastic bag (that has never been used to freeze salmon); that bag must be removed from you carry-on bag. Christmas snow globes are prohibited (this is because a hijacker might attempt to hypnotize the pilot with it). Once you’re past security you can bring as many gallons of liquid in the plane as you can carry. Got all that? Also, don’t make jokes about terrorism, bombs, or Cat Stevens, or you could be thrown into airport jail and be forced to drink everyone else’s confiscated liquid.

  12. Don’t ever try to reevaluate your life while wandering bleary-eyed through a gas station convenience store at 3:00 a.m.


Safe travels! Malted waffle, anyone?