Bus Plane Bus.

After two, yes two whole days off in Chicago, we are experiencing a typical early Winter weather phenomenon. Whilst Saturday was touching upon a balmy and humid 70 degrees with scattered thunderstorms, this morning we awoke to an alarming, bright and sunny 25 degrees!

A frontal system came through last night, (as clearly depicted above by Wundermaps) driven by jet stream winds which are dropping quite a way South in the Mid-West, plonking bucket-loads of rain overnight and the sudden temperature drop. Now the weather has truly turned, that’s probably it for me and golf on this trip but I think I’ve managed to do pretty well in getting out there on various wonderful courses. Saturday morning I was up bright and early as a round had been set up at the Evanston Country Club in North Chicago with some high powered local guys (both in golf and humour!). I met them in the bar before our round and they suggested I partake of their early morning pre-golf drink which consisted of Vodka and Bouillon. That’s beef stock. An utterly repulsive concept at first thought but it was actually pretty nice, reminiscent of a Bloody Mary. Two of those in the bag and we set off to the first tee with threatening clouds approaching from the Southwest. After a hesitant, slightly blurry tee shot which ended up in amongst trees off to the right of the fairway, the sirens sounded signifying that lightening had been detected within a five mile radius. Golfers take lightening seriously, it is arbitrary, random and unpredictable. Some five percent of annual USA lightning deaths and injuries happen on golf courses. We weren’t taking any chances so it was back to the bar and another Vodka experiment. This time it was a ‘John Daly’, Vodka, Iced Tea and Lemonade. Actually not at all bad but unless you’re John Daly, I’m not sure alcohol and golf are a good mix. An hour later we were back on the first fairway but 30 minutes after that, the very same storm cell which had halted on the edge of Lake Michigan was heading back towards us for a second time! Sirens sounded and off to the clubhouse we trotted once more. One other thing about this weird golfing day was that I had a caddie for the first time ever. I could get used to that quite easily, no carrying clubs, no cleaning balls, no having to really even think about club selection, just take the club and swing. Apparently at many private clubs in Chicago it’s often mandatory to use a caddie as they are an integral part of the University system. Also, across the US, caddying seems to be a more respected profession, not just for youngsters trying to get into the game. We did end up concluding the round and by the time I’d said goodbye to my gracious hosts, I was back on the freeway and it was getting dark. I think I must have played ten rounds on this tour, all thanks to friends in the golf world who have kindly offered help in setting up some wonderful golfing experiences, in particular Eddie Bullard from the UK, Phil Rowe at Stanford in San Francisco and Pat Goss in Chicago.

So back to today’s Show-Day agenda. A slight technical issue with our aircraft meant a little bit of a wait at the Peninsula before heading off to the airfield and our day trip to Grand Rapids. Scheduled departure time was 1:15 but in the event we left our downtown Chicago hotel at 3:15. It was a good 45 minutes drive for Jason to get the bus to Midway airport so it was 4pm by the time he pulled the bus up to the plane on the tarmac. Yet another ‘airside’ drop. By 4:10pm we were airborne and awestruck once more at the amazing city views as we climbed and headed North-West towards Grand Rapids, Michigan. Only a 35 minute flight but we were heading into Eastern time Zone and lost an hour so buy the time we landed it was 5:55pm.

Saen, picked us up ‘airside’ in the other bus at the newly refurbished and huge Grand Rapids airport, just as it was starting to snow. It’s really Winter now, I thought as we ‘deplaned’. With a good half an hour drive to the venue, our soundcheck was looking less and less likely. In the event, we pulled up in the now settling snow at exactly 6:30pm. It was decided to hold the doors so we could head straight to the stage to do a very swift 5 minutes to check the systems. In hindsight, it wasn’t necessary as our meticulous crew ensured everything sounded absolutely perfect. Then there was a brief dash to catering which always seems to be at the opposite end of the building, a quick taster of dinner and we were readying ourselves for the show.  Our dressing room this evening was a little cramped and the venue seemed to have seen better days, John and Ianto making good use of the in-built hairdryers.

Although the venue was old, it was one of the better stages (sonically) of the whole tour. The dressing room was situated towards the back of the arena and there were gaps or partitions in the hall so we could hear the PA pretty well. What a show it was. Another fabulous audience and a high energy band combined to make it a great one. Maybe sound-checks are overrated?

After Mark had joined Mr. Bob onstage for four songs, we swiftly packed our things, donned our winter coats and headed out, back to the airport for the return trip to Chicago and our final night at the lovely Peninsula hotel. The management had ordered a bucketload of Popeye’s Louisiana Chicken Parts once more and rather than wait to eat on the plane, the poultry feast was devoured in-bus. As usual, my eyes were larger than my stomach and the last ten minutes of that bus ride was spent wondering if I might actually throw up. Fried Chicken is never on the agenda at home, but somehow it seems right on a bus crammed with hungry musicians. Glenn told us a story about a band which shall remain unnamed who toured the US in a bus and gave the driver specific instructions never to go back into their cabin. Obviously, the driver needed to clean up once in a while so waited for a day off when the band were not around and crept back into the bus whereupon he was almost overcome by a strange, awful stench. He wandered into the bunk area where he noticed something sticking out from under a mattress. He lifted the bed back and revealed hundreds of chicken bones. We laughed but in no way did Glenn’s story help settle my stomach. On board the plane with drink in hand, things returned to luxurious normality and we were soon coming in to land at Midway airport to be collected once again by Jason in his bus. Gaining the hour back we lost earlier, we were in the hotel by 11:30pm. And so it was straight to bed for me after a whirlwind day.

Don’t forget to check in on Richard Bennett’s Notes from the Road