A Break from Travel Writing

My travels around the United States took place in early spring and since I’m really taking my time writing about each day, it’s important not to let myself get backed-up so much that I never write about the present. Lots has happened since I returned from across the country. Many bridesmaid duties, a Fleetwood Mac cover band, recording projects, impersonating Roy Orbison on any given occasion, hanging out on Lake Ontario, new jobs and the re-assembling of  Pleistocene’s line-up.

Doing Roy Orbison covers at a house show.
Doing Roy Orbison covers at a house show.
Durand Beach with my best buds.
Lake Ontario with my best buds.

Becca and Sandy are in Brooklyn and headed to grad school in Canada, respectively. Pleistocene’s new line-up had our first show last Saturday at a dive bar in Rochester NY. It was really fun but the sound was garbage and they didn’t really pay the bands. I consider this to be the bottom of a new uphill climb.It’s interesting, as a musician, how often you end up feeling like you’ve been knocked back down to the first step of a very complicated staircase. But if you’re like me and your mind immediately went to “Harry Potter” when I said complicated staircase, then you’ll understand when I say that the longer you’ve been at Hogwarts, the more efficient you are at navigating your way around them. Anyways, who cares if Pleistocene is starting from scratch? It’s about the people and places you encounter as a musician and what you gain musically along the way. My first long term band, Paul’s Grandfather was reunited this summer. We’ve all grown musically since we were in a band together and I can’t help but wonder what it would be like if the three of us formed as a band today, knowing what we know now. Here’s us 6 years ago and here’s us this summer:

One of my first bands, Paul’s Grandfather in 2008.
July 2014 in Rochester NY
July 2014 in Rochester NY

Anyways, it’s good to have Pleistocene finally take off. Here’s a little video that we put out featuring a song from Pleistocene’s album “Goners.”
The beach that it was filmed on is where I’ve spent a lot of my summer days. I even have my own spot, prime real estate for dog watching. Besides the location, this song really sums up the summer for me.


The Turning Point

I believe that the morning that we woke up in Sonoma was the first morning on the whole trip that we woke up after 8. For me it was 9, but for the other girls it was more like noon. Since I had the whole morning to myself I took my car into town to get an oil change. At this point we had put about 4,000 miles on the car so I figured it would be a good idea. I waited at a coffee shop across the street and caught up on internet things that I really hadn’t had a chance to do until now. We’d been on the road for over two weeks now and I was surprised how little free time I actually had, despite only having one true job everyday, which was playing shows.

While on my computer I took a look at the map, checked the weather for Eugene Oregon, read my emails and abruptly realized that we were kind of screwed. Awful snow storms were beating the Northwest Coast, roads we’re out and detours were few and far. On top of that, our Portland show fell through. The way I saw it was that we could drive another 700 miles or we could start heading back East. For the next hour or so I sat and thought about the trip, now that turning back was an option, I started to feel a little homesick. Funny how that happens. Portland sounded so great but I found myself trying to come up with reasons why it would be better not to make the Northern trek.

When I went back to Becca and Sandy I told them about all the little glitches I had discovered and about my inner turmoil. I was surprised how all the realizations I had in the coffee shop were only reiterated by the two of them. We all decided that re-routing would be a good idea. For one, Becca’s sister and my brother both live in Denver, so instead of spending those four days driving through the Northwest, we could spend time in one place with people we don’t get to see enough as it is. I wasn’t at all sad or defeated by this decision, it just meant that touring West would have to happen again.


Everything's good..
Everything’s good..


We got ourselves some fresh fruit..
We got ourselves some fresh fruit..


..And we headed back into SF for one last afternoon on the West Coast.
..And we headed back into SF for one last afternoon on the West Coast.

The highlight of my day was when we got done exploring the city, had a little more wine and decided to record a cover song with Lauren. She has a great recording set up and a sweet guy who was more than generous with his time. They set up some mics and he filmed us singing this song. We decided on “Car” by Built to Spill, because we have a shared love for the band, and the song lends itself to harmonies.

A few other highlights of our last day before going East:

An excellent sushi place on Valencia St, SF
An awesome sushi place on Valencia St, SF. Rochester NY just can’t compete.
"What's an It's It?" I say. And everybody in the whole store laughs.
“What’s an It’s It?” I say. And everybody in the whole store laughs.
Our host with the most, Lauren O'Connell. Come back to Rochester to visit soon!
Our host with the most, Lauren O’Connell. Come back to Rochester to visit soon!

Sonoma CA

The night that we played the show in at the Hemlock in San Francisco, we had the choice between going to a Saturday night party in Oakland or driving an hour North to wine country where there were promises of couches and fold out beds. We picked the latter, not just for the elevated horizontal dream slabs, but for the thought of waking up in wine country’s motherland.

But before we could enjoy any of Sonoma’s fine treasures, we had to get the hell out of San Francisco. A few memories I would like to recount from that journey:

1.Driving up and down the hills and at one point taking such a steep incline that we couldn’t even see the stop sign at the top, followed by all of us screaming like a bunch of goats. In our defense the car was crammed with instruments thus making a little back-heavy.
Frisco from an incline
2. Following the signs for a detour and not realizing where we were until the light of a passing car shined upward to reveal humongous red beams. Somehow we ended up halfway over the San Francisco Bay without knowing it. We quickly fumbled with the ipod to get the Full House theme song going. Luckily the Bay Bridge is so long that we ran out of song before we ran out of bridge.

3.This quick and adorable succession of events:Becca's hasty transition

The drive was lightless and sleepy. Halfway there it started to downpour and since we didn’t really know where we were going it took about two hours instead of one to get to Lauren’s house. We rolled in to find the land of wine and beds nestled in a quiet little neighborhood, the kind that probably deserved more notice and appreciation than our tired little brains could handle. I could’ve crashed anywhere after a day like today but it was nice to be crashing here. We had woken up in LA that morning at 7am to a film crew, driven all day up Highway 1, played a show and finally come to a stop 409 miles later. And even though it was past 2 am, we made time for some California wine and a game in which we each said a word and searched the combination of what was said in youtube. What else are you gonna do when you’re delirious?
Good night!

Surfer Girl

Being on the West coast put me in a peaceful mood. Contrary to the East coast, which is more gradual in its changes, the landscapes here seem to morph at every turn in the road. From LA, we of course chose to take Highway 1 up to San Francisco. Even though we knew that for time’s sake, we shouldn’t. Although Highway 1 isn’t terribly variant of Route 5 when it comes to distance, the curvy mountainous roads can cut your average speed in half. In our case, probably a quarter.

All that beauty...
Look at all that beauty..

One of my goals for the trip was to avoid having to drive at night, because in my completely snag-free plan, there would be no reason to. Of course, life is made of snags, most of them good ones. In this case, it was finding it hard to resist the relentless slew of scenic overlooks that we passed along the way.

Wild elephant seals!
Wild elephant seals!

Even though I felt like a slave driver at times on this trip, even I couldn’t help wanting to just spend the day sitting by the ocean rather than continuing forward. The day was perfect. About 60 degrees and sunny with some patchy stratus clouds, the kind that are ideal for sunsets. We drove through the better part of the day, stopping in Big Sur to sit by the water.  On the first few hours of the car ride, we worked on learning a cover for our show. Here is a recording of our first time performing an a cappella version of “Surfer Girl” out on the rocks of the good old Pacific Coast in late February.

We got our quintessential Pacific Coast sunset right before hitting Montery. At this point, it became apparent that it was going to get dark out and we still had a good three hours of curvy mountainous roads ahead of us and only two hours before our show in San Francisco. We made one last needless pit stop at the world’s fanciest McDonalds in Salinas. (By the way, I’m proud to report that this was one of our only fast food stops over the course of the trip.) It looked like a place where one might hold their wedding reception, complete with lantern string lights, a patio and a waterfall. We were beckoned by the fine decor and decided to go inside. Sure, these beach towns are pretty wealthy, but that didn’t stop one guy from trying to get us to by him chicken nuggets. When his friends asked him what he was doing he turned and said ‘I’m trying to get these hot girls to buy me nuggets.’ Tactful!

It was at this moment that we realized that it was officially dark out and we were officially late to our show. We booked it the rest of the way there, looking only at the road and ignoring all things scenic. We made it into San Francisco in good time. While Sandy drove directly into the city I must have fallen asleep, very uncharacteristic of me to do in a car so that’s how I know that I must have been abnormally tired. I woke up to signs for Polk Street, along with bright lights and loud music. Polk Street is where our venue, Hemlock Tavern is located. Once we were parked, we literally had to run up one of those iconic city hills with all of our instruments in our arms.

My view after waking up on Polk Street.
My view after waking up on Polk Street.

We arrived at Hemlock out of breath and relieved. The bouncer smiled at us and said ‘good timing. You’re on!’ And that we were. We ran up on stage, set up our instruments in fast-forward mode and proceeded to play our set. All of that adrenalin and the fact that I was still in a dreamy haze must have helped in some weird way, because we played a really fun show. Lots of people, lots of grooving.

The best part about playing in San Francisco was that all of the bands who played were from Rochester NY. It was an interesting juxtaposition seeing old friends all the way out here. Two of the people, Dave and Laura used to be in a band called the Dads in Rochester. They moved to Oakland about a year ago and started a band. This was their first show as a band called The Jerfs.

The Jerfs  Photo credit:  Kathryn Russell
The Jerfs
Photo credit:
Kathryn Russell

The other act was that of Lauren O’Connell. Another friend from back when I was in a band called Paul’s Grandfather and even before that, when I was in Little Beast. We used to play house shows together all of the time when I was probably just out of high school. Although we sadly missed her set, we know that she is an amazing artist so you should all go check out her music: http://laurenoconnell.com/

After the show, we were pretty exhausted but we stayed for a couple of Dark and Stormys, my favorite kind of cocktail. Lucky for us, we had nowhere to be in the morning, so another day of adventure in San Francisco awaited us on the other side of a long, overdue sleep.

This Ain’t No Disco. This is LA!

First of all, we made it all the way across the country! Secondly, we made it to a place that I never thought I’d have a reason to go see. Well, everything changes and if you’re not a traveler by nature, as I am not, you have to make up practical reasons to get the hell out of town once in a while.

Driving into Los Angeles was a little bit symbolic for me. More so than the other places, because up until this point, I was really focused on the logistics of getting places on time, having a place to stay and playing the shows. But by now we were finally at our half way point and I finally took a minute to actually think about where I was and why.

While driving into the city, the song “It Never Rains in Southern California” was playing on the radio as it started to downpour. It was a funny and surreal welcome. I was thinking about how when I was planning this trip I couldn’t have imagined when Southern California would look like, and if I could, I still wouldn’t have been able to imagine this moment, singing this song with my two friends on a stormy night with what turns out to have been Los Angeles shining in the distance.

Being so far away from home felt like an accomplishment in and of itself but it didn’t feel like pride or even satisfaction. Those feelings are hard for me to connect to, and besides I was still too nervous to feel proud and I knew I wouldn’t come out of it till I was officially home. Instead, I just felt damn good.  If this trip was a painting and my life were the splats of color, then this was me visiting all of the negative space that I’d never really given any thought to. I felt good because I had found a spot that was separate from all of that pre-saturated-colored area that I had accumulated throughout my life back home. I made it to the South West coast and for some reason that was the magic spell that needed lifting.

Compared to a typical show on the East coast, our Wednesday night show in LA was practically on par with Cirque Du Soleil. There was such a theatrical, larger-than-life presence to everything I witnessed. I’m guessing that the sentiments in “You Gotta Have a Gimmic” from ‘Gypsy’ apply especially well to artists in a gigantic city like LA. To elaborate, we played at a bar. But no, not just any bar. A pirate themed bar, made to look impressively like a ship. The first act was a mermaid who sang and played the electric auto harp.

Photo Credit: Becca Ryskalczyk

(She was great.) She sang dark confessional ballads about murder and magic and had to be carried on an off stage in a chair because her fins were too tight. The second band had a trumpet player wearing a gorilla suit…only, she stripped down into a flapper dress and sang too. I spent a few minutes dwelling on the fact that our act doesn’t include a gimmic and I contemplated if we did have a gimmic, what would it be? I can whistle in harmony with myself. I own a gargoyle costume. For shame, none of these would cut it in LA. Anyways, before I could think of one, we were headed North and I let it go.

Photo Credit: Becca Ryskalczyk
Photo Credit: Becca Ryskalczyk

At 7:30 on the morning that we left, we were awoken to a film crew knocking on our friend and hostess’ door. Apparently our hostess had a sketch to film in the room we were staying in. They kicked us out and asked us if we wanted to hold the boom mic. We graciously said no and left the film crew and the mermaid and the trumpet playing gorilla behind.

Tucson 2: Electric Boogaloo

By the time we got to Tucson it was already dark. Sandy’s sister was waiting for us behind a cactus plant outside of her apartment.. We had enough time to brush our hair/do a quick mirror-pep-talk/do whatever else you do with 10 minutes before you have to be somewhere after being on the road all day. Next we walked our instruments a few blocks to the venue. On the walk I marveled at the cacti, which were covered with trash. (It’s a college area, mind you.) But that didn’t really get in the way of my marveling. It’s what’d underneath that counts.

Me and an untarnished cactus. Good riddance!  Photo credit: Becca Ryskalczyk
Me and an untarnished cactus. Good riddance!
Photo credit: Becca Ryskalczyk

We played at a coffee place that was also a bar and a hookah lounge where all the people knew each other. So close that people left their phones and purses laying around and all shared drinks. Said a guy behind me about a drink sitting next to me, “are you going to drink that?” I said no, since it wasn’t mine. “Cool!” he said as he walked away sipping. Seemed like they were close in the Cheers kind of way, and also probably underage.

We did it all in Tucson. We got in some nature, some hiking, some burritos, a sunset and managed to do it all that the same time.

Becca's sunset over burrito masterpiece.
Becca’s sunset over burrito masterpiece.

This stop was one of the only stops on our trip that we got to stay in for more than 24 hours. On our second day we went to a thrift store and ran into some old friends from past bands. Their band is called Dale Earnhart Jr. Jr. and when we first met them about four years ago, they were just starting out. Now they’re doing really well, headlining and all the stuff that comes with it but all the same, still nice, humbled dudes. Turns out we were kind of on the same tour path, with them being a day behind. Now they’ve got a huge tour bus and they joked about putting our car in their bus for practicality’s sake. But jokes on them, that’s actually not practical! Ha! They got us into their show at Club Congress for free. We went and drank Bloody Marys and thanked the heavens that we’re not college kids anymore.

Dale Earnhart Jr.Jr.
Dale Earnhart Jr.Jr.

Tucson was great any way you look at it. I know I say now that I loved the city — to the extent of being one of my favorite American cities that I’ve visited but I’m aware that I say this in winter. Hopefully I’ll never have to experience the desert summer (unless I’m in an air-conditioned space suit) and my Tucson afterglow can forever be preserved in time.