Some years back, I played rock ’n’ roll for a living. Every day, I woke up about noon, had my breakfast when most people were getting done with lunch, then watched cable TV and loafed around motel swimming pools the rest of the day. Soon after it got dark, I drove to a night club and played five hours of loud funky guitar with an excellent band. After that, I washed down a giant chili-cheese-and-onion burger with a quart of ice-cold skim milk, then conked out in front of the TV. Next noon, I started the routine all over again. Believe me when I tell you, it was a fine life for a 25-year-old boy from a South Carolina cotton-mill town.
The first winter that the band was on the road, our agent booked us into a string of Florida night clubs. We hit Venice Beach, Sarasota, and Deland. While people back home were suffering through temperatures in the 40s, I was actually getting paid to wallow in the sun all day and play rock ’n’ roll at night.
There were four of us in the band. We all had serious girlfriends back home. We tried to work our road trips into a pattern that got us home every three weeks, because we were pretty sure that if we stayed away longer than that, we’d just bust wide open, like four microwaved pot pies with no fork holes poked into the crust. It was always during that third week on the road that the guys in the band would start lusting after girls who weren’t their regular girlfriends. They came up with stunning rationalizations, like the 50-mile limit and the rub-it rule. (“But we’re so far from home. And she touched me. There.”)
OK, you might’ve noticed that I said “they” rationalized. That’s because I have a long-term history of being extremely loyal, like one of those dogs who sits by the railroad tracks for years, waiting for his master who got run over by the train. I might’ve had naughty thoughts when I was 25, but I managed, somehow, to keep the crust on my pot pie when I was on the road. Ask anybody who was there. I promise you, their memories of those events are too dim to contradict anything I say.
Anyhow, we had sincerely mixed emotions when our agent called and said he’d booked us for a fourth road weekChristmas weekat the Wreck Bar in Daytona Beach. The upside was that the Wreck Bar was a biker bar, a real outsider’s kind of place. The band always went over well in places like that. The downside was double: A fourth week without girlfriends, and we wouldn’t be home for Christmas.
Truth be told, we didn’t really have any choice about working that week. First, we were a new act, and we couldn’t risk turning down work from our agent. Second, we needed the money just to get home. It was taking every cent we made just to pay for food, motels, laundry, and gasoline.
So we went to Daytona.
We did not draw big crowds. The first part of the week, we were lucky to see 50 people all night. The good thing was, they were the hard-core night crawlers, pierced and tattooed types who went out rocking and drinking every night. These weren’t people who were worried about looking good while they were dancing. They were there to get walleyed; buy, sell, and trade pharmaceuticals; and generally support anything that altered their consciousness, including a band that might play the first two verses of “Hot Legs” the regular way, then finish it up as a swing number.
Every night at closing time, a fireplug-shaped waitress named Chubby would turn up the house lights and yell, “Show’s over! If you ain’t humpin’ the band, hit the door!”
Our last night at the Wreck Bar was Christmas night. The place was full, loud, and busy, and a whole lot of people were commode-huggin’ drunk. At 2 a.m., Chubby turned up the lights, ran out the last of the non-band-humpers, and looked over the empty room.
“Boys,” she said to us, “it’s Christmas night. And just like they do every Christmas, people have gotten drunk and left their nice new leather coats here at the Wreck Bar. Y’all go out there, walk amongst the tables and chairs, and find something nice for yourselves and your girlfriends. If you find any money on the floor, that’s my money. Bring it to me.”
And so we did. I got a nice, spanking-new bomber jacket from Sears, and I found a fine new full-length leather coat for then-girlfriend, now-wife Brenda. They kept us warmand sharp-lookingfor years.
Of course, liberating the Daytonans’ coats is nothing to be proud of. Well, actually...wait a minute. I am proud of it. I never did get along with that hard-drinking, dope-dealing bar crowd. They weren’t my friends. They kept offering me dope, even when I told ’em I wasn’t interested. The girls kept pulling their shirts up, even in that critical third road week. They yelled at me to play “Free Bird” and “Smoke on the Water” and that damned “Stairway to Heaven.” Every night. For nearly 20 years.
I’m glad I copped their coats. I’d do it again.
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