Thursday, April 28, 2011

Coast To Coast #8: Running Man's Bible

It's a beautiful day here in Nashville, where I've got a little time to kill before the finish line this weekend: Friday night show in Nashville, Saturday night show in Memphis.  And then I take a nap.

Meanwhile, I wanted to take stock of the last several weeks on the road.  This month, I've seen a lot of things.  I've heard a lot of things.  And, often despite myself, I've learned a few things.  So, before I closed out the tour, I wanted to pass along some rules of the road, some helpful tips, some recommendations, and all the little things that made 6,000 miles-in-30-days a little easier. 

Here's the (abridged) Running Man's Bible!

Rule #3: The Gentleman's 77
Don't speed in New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming, Idaho, and any other place with 75mph speed limits.  There's no traffic in these states, everything above 70 is a bonus, and you've got all day to get where you're going.  Cruise, enjoy the scenery, and wave at the cops.

Rule #28: The Continental
Don't pay for breakfast.  Ever.  If you're hungry, or think you will be hungry, and you're passing an exit with multiple hotels, stop.  Get a bag out of your trunk.  Look like the disheveled traveler you are.  Then walk right into the lobby of that Hampton Inn and take their food without hesitation or remorse.

--If you're there in the morning, you can enjoy the entire continental breakfast.  All major hotel chains will have one.  I prefer Hampton Inn's, because they've started packing to-go bags for guests rushing out the door. You'll recognize them as the paper sacks on the front desk.  Take one.  They're just more efficient.
--If you're coming at an off-hour, most hotel chains will still have some breakfast remnants available in the lobby.  Usually, a big bowl of apples and bananas, plus coffee and juice.  Hit that up.
--Don't expect much out of the coffee, anywhere, ever, but it is free.  Beggars can't be choosers.  
--In case you feel weird about any of this, I find it actually helps to talk to the folks at the front desk.  Then, and only then, will you realize how little they actually care about the final destination of their foodstuffs.  A few times, I've even bonded with the Front Desk Person enough to have a frank discussion about just this issue.  In one case, she took pity on me and made me a care package (thanks, Tiff).

Rule #28 (Article B): The Cookie Addendum
Know the cookie situation.  Several years ago, Doubletree Hotels began giving out complimentary cookies to guests.  Not packaged cookies, mind you--they bake fresh cookies a few times a day and keep them in a little warming oven behind the counter.  You check in, you get a cookie.  You pass by the counter and make friends with the concierge, get a cookie. 

You don't even know.  You DON'T EVEN KNOW!
I don't know what to tell you other than this: Doubletree Cookies are the Greatest Cookies in the World.  I know, I know: "...but my Grandmother Grammsie's 4,000 year old recipe!"  To which I say, FORGET your Grandmother Grammsie.  What?  You heard me.  Forget it.  Doubletree solved all the world's problems with this cookie.  Someday, this cookie will bring peace to the Middle East.  It's the baked-goods equivalent of Michelangelo's Pieta singing Beethoven's 9th while curing cancer.  The last time I ate one, I swear to God I saw a unicorn.

Needless to say, the other hotel chains felt some heat.  Now, many (including Hampton Inn) supply their own cookies, refilling a display case a few times daily.  They're not as good as the Doubletree Cookies, but, to be fair, 1) you're stealing and 2) absolutely nothing else in this world is.  Nothing.


Rule #61: Ask a Local
When in doubt, ask a local.  Always.  Need a recommendation?  Ask a local.  Biding time in a new town before a show?  Talk to a local.  Checking out at a gas station and notice that the cashier's friendly?  Take ten minutes and ask them about their hometown.

I always hear--especially among an older generation--that people are less friendly than they used to be.  Strangers don't help strangers.  Everyone's got their phone out and their earbuds in, and they don't interact with the outside world.  Kids these days, and whatnot.

And you know what?  That might be partially true, especially on the coasts.  But my experience is that this country's filled with friendly, decent people that still interact openly and honestly and unassumingly.  I can't tell you how many times I've had time to kill in a coffeeshop or diner or venue or bar before a show and suddenly found myself in a conversation with a local.  There are two things everyone loves talking about: 1) themselves and 2) their town.  All you gotta do is ask.

Rule #88: Rocket Fuel
It's a long drive: know your caffeine/sugar needs.  Oddly enough, I've gotten a staggering number of emails about which energy drinks/shots/etc I prefer.  If that sounds weird to you, that makes two of us.  But I guess I've become a de facto aficionado at this point.  So, here's my little breakdown:

--Coffee is king.  Unfortunately, I can't drink much on show days, because that much caffeine's hard on the throat.  Show days: one small cup in the morning to start off the drive.  Off-days: um, more than one small cup?

Of the gas station coffees, my favorite is Exxon.  Shell's alright.  Texaco and Phillips 66 always seem to have that lone glass pot with the orange top and the white styrofoam cups.  And I don't even know what an ARCO is, man.

--5 Hour Energy.  For long drives on show days, I take a 5 Hour Energy in the morning and one in the afternoon.  That's usually a good-enough coffee substitute.  My favorite flavor is "Berry," for what that's worth.  Which berry, you ask?  "Berry," man.  Go with it.

--Cokes N Stuff.  I've got an unhealthy love for 'Nilla Coke.  In rare, euphoric moments, I'll find an Orange Crush in a glass bottle, and the angels sing, and heaven rejoices. 

--Water.  I think drinking a lot of water gives you more energy, or something.  I either read that somewhere or just made it up.  Anyway, it's essential for the ole vocal chords, so I do it.

--Energy drinks (Rockstar, Amp, Monster, etc.).  I don't drink these things if I can avoid them.  I'm not prone to "crashing" after a lot of coffee or sugar, but these things make me crash, bigtime, which isn't safe behind the wheel.  Also, they taste the way a Japanese arcade looks.  Also, they make my stomach hate me, actively, for hours after consumption.  Other than that, they're awesome.

But, if I absolutely have to, if I've gotta make the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs, I prefer Rockstar.  For obvious reasons.

(Editor's Note: Reps for 5 Hour Energy, Coca Cola, and Rockstar energy beverages can contact for endorsement opportunities.  Please include "Enabler" in the subject line.)

Rule #104: 3G in 3D
AT&T lies to you.  A while back, Verizon advertised their coverage map across America.  It was impressive, because it covered basically the whole country.  AT&T countered by saying their coverage includes "95% of Americans."  But that's different from "95% of America."  Because when you're driving between places, you still need a signal. 

In fairness to AT&T and the 3G and coverage maps, I rarely had an issue.  But what I noticed was this: hills are a problem, mountains are not.  Driving through the Rockies?  Full bars--huzzah!  Molehills in New Mexico?  Forget about it. 

The Golden Rule: The Soundtrack
It goes without saying that music is my top priority on any road trip, much less a month long trip across the country, twice.  If you're like me, you like to have physical CDs to play in the stereo.  If you're like me, you have three carrying cases full of CDs, plus two cases reserved for mixes.  If you're like me, you also keep your phone current with music and podcasts, ready in case you need a change of pace or a backup option if the stereo malfunctions.  If you're like me, you also burn additional mixes for each leg of the trip (e.g. "California Songs," "The Heartland," etc).  And, if you're like me, you give all of this a little too much thought.

So, here are a few notables--old classics, new favorites, etc--that helped me walk the miles:

Most Played Artist:
Teenage Fanclub, oddly enough.  I'm as surprised as you are.  It's also worth noting that I've revisited the entire Lucero and Pearl Jam catalogs, plus half the Beatles, and all of 60's Dylan. 

Most Played Mix(es):
Some of you might recall my 96X Anthology.  I've listened to all of it this month, too, though not in chronological order.  And if you think for one second that I didn't have a very accidental--but very real--"moment" with "Champagne Supernova" at dusk somewhere in Northern California, hi, I'm Chris, and we haven't met yet.

Most Played Song:
Probably something off the first half of the first mix I made for the road.  I made that mix for the Arkansas-to-SoCal stretch of road that lasted two days.  The mix was entitled "Spring Tour 2K11: No Rest For the Wicked," and its first half rocked me all month long.  Here's the track list:
1) Fleet Foxes, "Helplessness Blues"
2) Cage the Elephant, "Ain't No Rest For the Wicked"
3) The 88, "At Least It Was Here"
4) Sleigh Bells, "Rill Rill"
5) Vampire Weekend, "Holiday"
6) The Strokes, "Under the Cover of Darkness"
7) Dr. Dog, "Keep a Friend"
8) Monsters of Folk, "Say Please"
9) Rolling Stones, "Plundered My Soul"
10) Paul Simon, "The Only Living Boy In New York"

From there, it transitions into a much more mellow, pensive listen.  But that A-side kept giving me an energy boost when I needed it.

Favorite New Discovery:
My Morning Jacket's new single, "Circuital."  I can't stop listening to this, and I couldn't be more excited for the new album in May.
Honorable Mention: Chris Bathgate's "In the City."

Favorite Old Rediscovery:
Bob Dylan, "I'll Keep It With Mine." 

Marc Maron's free podcast, WTF.  For those who haven't heard him, Marc Maron is a longtime stand-up comic.  He hosts a podcast where he talks to other comics about comedy, their careers, their background, and anything else that comes up.  He's one of the best interviewers I've ever heard--because he's often interviewing longtime friends and peers in the comedy world, the conversations are unpredictable, raw, and very candid.  They're fascinating.  You can read more about his podcast at this NYTimes piece.

Anyway, my friend Will recommended the podcast to me, and thank God he did.  About halfway through the month, I started getting weary of my CD collection and tried out WTF.  I'm telling you: a good podcast can make an 8-hour drive go by in a hurry.  Really fun listening, and great company during some rough, weary stretches of road. 

Other podcasts I've enjoyed (all of these are free, and you can subscribe on iTunes):
The BS Report (Bill Simmons, aka The Sports Guy)
Adam Carolla Show
NPR's All Songs Considered (which introduced me to Chris Bathgate's "In the City")
Firewall & Iceberg (TV critic Alan Sepinwall's weekly pod)

Obviously, there's much more to the Running Man's Bible.  But that's a start.  If you got any rules to add, let me hear them.  I'm always anxious to make the road easier.

Here's to glory (and survival),

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