Bye, babies…..(sniffle) — by Mike Fornatale
December 7, 2003
Okay, this first part will bore the living bejeebers out of you, but it’s a story I must get off my chest. You may actually find it interesting in a perverse sort of way. It’s all about the Seamy Underbelly of touring with a bunch of musicians.
I’m really good at a lot of things, okay? One of ’em is organization. I can arrange things, without pen or paper, in such a way that three people can effortlessly do the job of twenty.No one recognizes this skill in me and I never get an ounce of credit for it. So GRRRRRR.
The last 15-or-so hours of the tour were going to involve some rather fancy footwork if everyone and everything were going to get where they needed to be when they needed to be there. Consider what we have:– A bunch of people, (“My Babies”), for whom I have grown to feel responsible — that need to get to an airport on Friday. Okay, easy.
— Rented equipment that needs to be returned, in New Jersey. Okay, also easy.
— Three rented vehicles that also need to be returned. Hmm. Two of them were rented in downtown Manhattan and one was rented at Newark Airport.Not quite as easy.
— A fuzzy-headed guy who will not be staying in NYC after the show, but needs to drive home and doesn’t have his car with him.He could go home with Wendy, but then she has to hang around later AND an un-listed California driver would have to drive the white van and park it in midtown and pay for it AND I would then have to drive back, the next day (in my car), ditch the car (and pay for it) and drive the band and orchestra to the airport AND come back.
None of this works.I flip it around in my head fifteen different ways and finally there’s ONE way that actually works, and it goes like this:
Gene takes the minivan on Thursday night.He drops Arthur and Leon off at the hotel, and then drives the minivan uptown to where he’s staying.Pete drives the cargo van, as he has been doing, and parks it in a garage by the hotel — full of rented gear — and crosses his fingers.I drive the passenger van, loaded w/Babies, to the hotel in midtown.I drop off eleven Babies.Eschewing whatever revelry may take place thereafter (about which I’m pretty bummed, make no mistake — it’s the final night that everyone will be together — everyone except me) I then drive the white van HOME to New Jersey and park it, for free, in my driveway.
All of this goes off without a hitch.The next part is the only part over which I have no control, and here’s what has to happen:
The next morning, long before we leave, (and long before I get to NYC) Pete must drive the cargo van to SST Equipment Rentals, in Hoboken, right on the other side of the Lincoln Tunnel, and return the rental gear.He then comes back into the city, at a leisurely pace, and returns the van to the rental place, and then takes a cab back to the hotel.We can’t return the van later on in the day, because there’ll be no Pete to drive it.Then, Gene and I arrive at the hotel at about 2PM, load up the Babies and all their own personal gear that they brought with them (I will remind you just this one more time about the tremendous amount of Cosmos Displacement involved in the transporting of a cello in a road case) and head for Newark Airport.Here we will drop off Babies, then drop off the minivan Gene is driving, and then Gene will ride with me back to NYC to return the white van.This’ll be a minor inconvenience for me, because I’ll have to take the bus home.But no big deal.
Anyway, this all fits together like a comfortable leather bondage ensemble, and it doesn’t chafe as much.
UNLESS PETE DECIDES NOT TO BOTHER RETURNING THE GEAR AND CARGO VAN IN THE MORNING.
Now I love Pete, but apparently I hadn’t impressed him with the vital nature of this part of the campaign.And I did not find this out till I rolled up outside the hotel with the passenger van.Which was about one hour after I spent half an hour (with Wendy) cleaning the thing out.Babies, it turns out, are Piggies.Wendy was unamused.
Well, at least we got some Free Ginger Ale.
So I coast up outside the hotel, plenty o’time to spare, and rather proud of myself.Till I find out Pete hasn’t returned the gear and the cargo van.
Okay, okay, we can still do this.I sweep all the little soldiers off the chessboard and onto the floor, then reassemble ’em till I get something that works, to wit: we all caravan to Hoboken.We return the gear.We park the cargo van there and hope it’s still there when Gene and I get back. We drive the two remaining vehicles to Newark, we drop off the Babies, then we return the minivan.Gene and I drive back to Hoboken, and Gene then gets in the cargo van and the two of us caravan back to Manhattan.Yeah. Okay.This still works.A bit of a stretch for time, but it still works.
Well, we’re all milling about on the sidewalk outside the hotel, as I try to convey the revised plan to everyone.My Babies are now a bunch of Weeblings — a curious combination of Weeble and Lemming.Daddy-O is vexed, and legitimately so, that there’s seemingly no plan.There was a great ol’ plan, said I, with hackles raised, until suddenly there wasn’t one.This gets straightened out and I get all the Babies in the big white thing, for the last time.
Except one Baby is missing, and no one knows where he or she might be.Several attempts to reach him or her in his or her room have failed — the concierge claiming that no such person is registered.Aaaaargh.This goes on for a while, until someone finally reaches him or her on his or her cell phone.It turns out that he or she was accidentally registered as “Lucas” instead of “Clucas.” And, again, do not ask me which of My Babies this was, for I shan’t tell you.
Okay, we’re off and headed towards Hoboken!
Or, more correctly, “Brooklyn.” ???!???!!!!!!???!!??
Because, you see, Mayor Bloomberg has just recently had this lovely idea to ease gridlock in Midtown by disallowing turns — left OR right — on most avenues during weekdays.Nice theory, yes.Most gridlock is caused by folks being unable to make their turn because of pedestrians in the crosswalk (or NOT in the crosswalk) and traffic just piling up behind them.If they have to go all the way crosstown before turning, this problem is alleviated.
Only thing is, now you have to drive all the way across town just to make a stinking right turn.So, we head East on 46th street, instead of just making the right turn on 5th Avenue and then doubling back.We have to go all the way over to Second Avenue.And, know what? All those cars, trucks, and buses that couldn’t turn on Fifth — or Madison — or Lexington — or Park — or Third — are now right here with us, and the gridlock reaches heroic proportions.It takes about twenty minutes to go two blocks.Thanks, Mr. Mayor.I do appreciate your smoking ban, but THIS idea is a dog.
Okay, so now we’re headed all the way BACK across town, towards the Lincoln Tunnel.And getting into the tunnel is a major hassle.We sit at the entrance for a very long time, but finally, whee-hoo, Hoboken.Or, more correctly, Weehawken.I pull up in front of SST, stop, and wait.Our three vehicles have, of course, gotten badly separated in the Crosstown Melee.Gene shows up after not too long a wait, but Pete has vanished into thin air.Cell phone contact is made, finally, and he assures us that he is in fact on the way.Silently, I call down curses on these guys who can’t seem to make these simple traffic maneuvers.
Do remember that, it’ll be important.
So, anyway, we couldn’t do anything at all till Gene got there, of course, since he was the rentor.He goes in and deals with the paperwork and such, and finally here’s Pete.We unload the gear, for the last time, and I tell the other guys to follow me to the airport.We still have plenty of time.
I will point out that, this entire week, I have done an exemplary job of making things be where they’re supposed to be, when they’re supposed to be there.Anything which may have been entrusted to me has gone off without a hitch.And then some.If somebody else faltered on something, I grabbed it and fixed it.You want perfect? You got it, buddy, and cute as hell too.I have been flawless.
Which is why now — when it is MOST important to not make a mistake, because My Babies have to get to the airport by a certain time “or else”……
I inexplicably — and I STILL cannot figure out just what exactly happened to my poor little brain at this moment — aim the van back towards the Lincoln Tunnel, back to the city, instead of up the helix to the right.By the time I realize my error, I am heading inescapably towards the toll plaza.Gene, frantically blowing his horn, moves over to the left and is allowed by the transit cops to make a U-turn and get out of there.I, unfortunately, am several lanes over to the right.What the fuck have I done???
Well, I pay the toll, while explaining to My Babies just how badly I have screwed up.Just past the toll booth there are two transit police.I stop, smile at them, and make the following speech, which is burned indelibly into my cortex for all time:
“Hi — um, don’t laugh TOO hard at this request, okay? I’m a complete idiot, and I just made a wrong turn, and I’m supposed to be going to Newark Airport.”
Their eyes begin to widen a bit.
“And now that I’ve taken my lumps by paying the toll, I wonder if there’s any way at all you could let me turn around???”
It’s not really THAT ridiculous a request.There’s no barrier — because, like most of these commuter-nightmares, they have to keep changing the number of lanes in each direction to keep up with traffic patterns.I’m a mere four lanes away from the line of orange cones to my left.But traffic is very heavy at the moment.
The two cops are now in their own little Jack Benny show.They slowly look at each other, then back at me, then at each other, then at the oncoming traffic, then at each other, then one of them rolls his eyes and breaks the spell.
“Nah, no way, sorry.Any other time, maybe.” “Yeah, with the traffic like this…..”
Okay, fine.I still retain SOME shred of superiority to the average chowderhead, in that: when I’m wrong, I mean REALLY wrong, and I get in trouble over it, I don’t try and argue my way out.I take my lumps gracefully.So I smile again and say thanks anyway, and off we go, back into the tunnel.And when we get to the city we have to brave those same three blocks of traffic that caused us so much grief the first time.
Well, inexplicably I manage to get us through the tunnel, turned around, and BACK through the tunnel in pretty good time.Fine, then, I’ve made my one mistake for today and there shan’t be any more.
You may as well remember THAT too.
But in the meantime, we head up the helix.My Babies are worried that they won’t make their plane, or at least that they’ll have to really hustle.Ana voices this fear, with some measure of panic in her tone.But, luckily, I’ve left so much extra time in this big equation that even all these screw-ups and mishaps are not going to cause any plane-catching problems.Meanwhile, though, they’re all so intent on my answer to Ana’s question that they do not notice the spectacular New York Skyline view to their right.I have to change the subject and point it out, and cameras are suddenly whipped out and wielded.
Of course, the entrance to the Turnpike is jammed solid, and we lose even more time.But finally, here we are at the airport, at the correct terminal, and with plenty of time to spare.
Normally, I would have insisted that Gene and I spend the few extra bucks to park, go inside with Babies, and make sure they don’t run into any hassles — even though Pete’s there and he’s used to being a shepherd for these kinds of things — and, also, have the opportunity for a Leisurely Goodbye.But nope — as it turns out, Gene has a deadline for the return of these vehicles or he’s going to be charged for an extra day, and thanks to our Colorful Afternoon, we’re late.
So we empty the van of humans and their possessions, at the curb, and with a few hurried embraces they’re gone.Gone! My Babies are gone!! This actually sucks worse than I had expected.But I did manage to hug every one of ’em, male and female alike, before zipping away to the rental returns lot, where Gene sheds his vehicle and hops in next to me, and I rocket off back towards Hoboken.Once we get to SST, Gene will get out and take the cargo van, which we have left there, and we will head off together towards the Lincoln Tunnel (on purpose this time!) and return the two remaining vehicles — which, thank goodness, are both going to the same place.A combination parking garage/rental facility on Broadway around 9th Street or thereabouts.
As we’re about to merge onto I-495, traffic is really bad.Gene calls the rental place and assures them that he will in fact be there soon, and please don’t charge him for an extra day.
We creep and inch and creep and inch along, till we’re fairly close to the place where three separate roadways come together to form I-495 East, in Union City. We’re in the center section.There are narrow concrete barriers here — not upright dividers, but just the height of a tall curb, and as wide as a sidewalk. Like traffic islands, sort of.And up ahead of us, we can see the source of the difficulty. There is a bus, stopped, in the right-hand lane of our two-lane section, with his flashers on. As we get closer, we can see that there’s a car stopped in front of him as well. Must have been an accident. Anyway, our two lanes are bottlenecking into one, towards the left, and that causes the people in the two-lane section to our left to also slow down. Because people, when they finally get to the front, are darting immediately leftwards as soon as they reach the end of the concrete barriers.
Why am I telling you all this? Because of what happened next.
We’re only about twelve or fifteen vehicles away from victory, now, after waiting for about half an hour on this ramp.Gene has taken this opportunity to write out my check and hand it to me.This helps a little.But THIS doesn’t: three vehicles back from the Victory Line, there’s another bus.The driver, whose brain is working even less efficiently than mine had been back at the tunnel earlier, says to himself: “Say — if only this concrete divider wasn’t here.’Cause the traffic to my left is moving just fine.Oh, yes, I know that I only need wait about another 45 seconds and I’ll be home free, but you know what? I’m driving a big bus, and I can make it over this concrete divider RIGHT NOW and be outta here! Why, I think I’ll do that! My passengers will be oh-so-very happy and they will empty their wallets onto my lap, and all the women on board will want to shower me with kisses, and also they will maybe even go buy me an entire pie.I love pie.”
This was a good theory, as a theory.And yes, he could certainly have gotten over that measly little island wif them big ol’ wheels.IF he had just driven across it at, say, a 20-degree angle or better.Instead, he went just ever-so-slightly leftward, got his left front wheel over it — and me and Gene are both going “Ohhhhhhhhhhh no….,” and then he got his left REAR wheel over it, and it’s Game Over.He’s now straddling the barrier, parallel.Had he been straddling the barrier perpendicular, he would have had enough horsepower to make it the rest of the way over.But now he is stuck for real.He can’t go any further forward, either — because the barrier does not just end, there’s a light pole at the end of it.He’s trapped, and now he is blocking an entire lane on our side and entire lane on the left side as well.
And he happens to be RIGHT NEXT TO THE OTHER STOPPED BUS.
Well, with a shred of intelligence you would decide to either wait for help to arrive, or shoot yourself, or SOMETHING.But no, he decides he’s going to try again to get over this thing.So with a bus full of passengers, he essays to rock back and forth diagonally in an effort to get one wheel, any wheel, back up on the divider — which would then have given him enough leverage to get off it.Only problem is: it’s impossible.The divider is almost exactly as wide as his axles, and he ain’t goin’ no-WHARR.You can’t fight physics, y’know.Any effort to try and get one of those tires up on that divider was going to accomplish one thing and one thing only: tipping the bus over.And won’t THAT be fun??
I can only imagine what must have been going on inside that bus.Suffice to say I don’t think he got any pie.
After a harrowing few minutes during which I was absolutely certain the bus was going over on its side (with a full load of people — it was well into rush hour now) he finally stopped trying and came to rest.And by the way, where are the fucking police?? The accident (remember the accident???) has been sitting here for well over an hour now and still there are no cops.
Finally the disgusted passengers off-load and start wandering around the middle of the roadway, which makes for even MORE fun.And the space between the two buses is quite narrow and the drivers ahead of us are afraid to chance going through it.Finally the bus driver who was in the first bus, the one who had had the original accident, comes out and starts directing traffic.He sizes up each vehicle and decides whether or not they can make it.They all can, thank goodness.
But can my white van make it? I am sweating bullets, because of the consequences if I damage it.And I’ve been so lucky (or skilled) this entire week.Well, if we CAN’T make it, we’re screwed and so is everyone behind us.I check the rear-view.Four vehicles back, there’s a panel truck.He is NOT getting through.No way.But are we?
As it turns out, yes we are — after I fold down my side-view mirror (thank goodness it folds) I have literally three inches to spare on either side.We squeak through without contact and zip off towards SST.I am completely spent now and just shy of shaking.I am mentally drained, and my faculties are shredded.Just a little bit more to do, and I can put these last few hours behind me where they belong.Meanwhile, I’ll be getting home several hours later than I thought.Maybe I should call Wendy and ask her if she wants to see our friends the Grip Weeds play at Arlene Grocery tonight — then I can walk there, drive home with her and skip this distasteful mass-transit concept.I file this thought for later.
We make it to SST without incident, and Gene gets in the red van.And here we go towards the tunnel, now, on purpose.
On the other side of the tunnel, in the city, traffic is an utter mess.Gridlock-o-rama.Somehow, Gene manages to stay right behind me this time.And we are ALMOST ALL THE WAY TO THE GARAGE……when…..
At a badly gridlocked corner, I make a very tight turn and manage to graze a pole with my two passenger doors. Ohhhhhhhhhhh…….
This may be okay, though.The doors already had a crease there, quite a noticeable one too, when Gene picked the van up in the first place.
Well, we drop off the vans, Gene says nothing to the guy, and I melt off into the night, shaking visibly now.Well, THAT was fun.Shit. Shit.SHIT.
Okay, I am in no mood to get on a bus.I call Wendy and yes, she would like to see the Grip Weeds.Thank goodness.I leave out the part about creasing the van, for now, and I stride on down towards Stanton Street, about a twenty minute walk or thereabouts.It’s nice out, and I’m not carrying any baggage except the trusty iPod and Gene’s check.I stopped at Katz’s Deli, where I’d never eaten before, and stuffed myself to bursting with some Huge Pile Of Meat or other, and read the New York Press.I realized that I had forgotten, so far, to expend my very last bit of mental energy worrying about My Babies on their cross-country airplane flight, so I now put the last nail in my Exhaustion Coffin by doing so.And the brisket sandwich is only marginally restorative.Still, I feel somewhat elevated when the Zelig-like waiter comes back to my table and says, stunned, “You FINISHED dat???” Of course, this may well be an act he puts on for everybody, I dunno.But yessir, I cleaned my plate and I’ll be needing that Diet Coke now, to dilute my abdominal contents sufficiently that I can actually MAKE IT to Arlene Grocery without having one of those nasty episodes where you lose all feeling in your right side.
Well, a stroke is NOT forthcoming.I make it to Arlene’s, meet up with Kurt and Kristen (of the Grip Weeds) and tell them all about the tour.Wendy arrives, we see a great set, and I feel considerably better.I even drive home without hitting anything.There’ll be time enough to tell her about the last part of my Tour Experience some other day……
I have loved writing about this stuff almost as much as I enjoyed the tour.What an amazingly nice bunch of folks were My Babies.The law of averages dictates, especially with professional musicians, that there absolutely MUST have been at least one complete asshole on the tour.But My Babies were and are magnificent people, every one of ’em.So who’s the asshole??
Guess it must have been me then!
Somewhere in New Jersey, buried under snow
December 7 2003 3:51 AM