Livin la vanda loca - 32 Days on the Road
5 shows in the span of 5 days, 1500 miles and 26 hours in a van. Breaking it down like that, it doesn't sound unmanageable - an average of 300 miles a day. In an ideal world we would drive half the distance or teleport to as many great venues. Six hundred miles of it wouldn't be gig to gig. And we would not be waving at the beach in Miami as we drive by before doubling back to New Orleans. Routing can at times be a tricky thing; in the end you do what is most worthwhile and grab all the adventure you can get. In any case, there's always a lot of time to fill in the van.
--White Lightening aka Betty White--
We are fortunate to have a 13 passenger van - one of the best investments we've ever made. It has two bench seats, so two people can lay back to sleep on a long drive, making it a luxury for a small touring band. Behind the bench seats there's room for gear, merch and luggage. It keeps fuel costs down. Its easier to maneuver and park than a vehicle pulling a trailer on steep inclines and narrow city alleys. There isn't the worry of your trailer and gear all being stolen (trailer robbery is an epidemic in some cities). When there's just two of us we can sleep comfortably at a rest stop for a few hours. We love our van!
(White Lightening AKA Betty White on Lake OC Fisher Lake in San Angelo, TX a couple days after we bought her in Fort Worth. Our friends at Fifi Dubois loaned us their truck to drive to see her and pick her up in 2016.)
--What do I do in the van?--
Rest - make sure you're getting enough rest so you don't get sick.
Respond to emails (phone)
Create graphics and promote shows (phone - I use Canva)
Locate cheap gas w nearby food options (phone - Gas Buddy, Google Maps, and Yelp)
See what friends are up to on social media (phone)
Put on make up
Help navigate (phone - Waze & Google)
Catch up on news (phone)
Watch the world go by
I pretty much have attempted everything except shave my legs. I've even brought 3 pound weights with me to try to exercise in the van. Some people bring books or movies and play games to pass the time. Dylan drives.
(The yellow zone is my open concept/kitchen/office/sleeping space. There's a lunch cooler under the seat and paper plates in the pocket behind the front seat. My Carry-on with most my clothes are under the seat and I keep a bag with a change of clothes, accessories and necessities (like cheerios and a hairdryer) thats easier to lug into a hotel handy).
Being sedentary and staring at a phone for hours day after day can become tiresome (and unhealthy). The number one saving grace and a perk of the gig is outside the window, especially when the interstates take us through rural areas or we end up on county roads, driving through small towns and landscapes we would otherwise never see. I'm infatuated with old city squares and towns that were once wealthy and time forgot, sometimes remembered again. I wonder what it would be like to pull over, unpack and stay. It is truly amazing to travel the U.S. and see bayous, snow capped mountains, grassy plains, canyon lands, cityscapes, white sand beaches, quiet brooks, deserts, and remember its all one country.
Besides the view, there are essentials that can make 10 hours in a van more comfortable: long charger cords & portable phone chargers, a pillow and blanket, a lunch cooler with healthy snacks and utensils, bottled water, Yeti or thermos, a bag with a quick change of clothes and toiletries, a notepad, something to read, comfortable clothes and flip flops or slip on shoes. I live in yoga pants and use rest stops as a chance to walk laps or use whatever I find to do steps/stairs, even if its just 5 minutes (bonus time if someone takes a little longer in the bathroom :D) Being prepared and multi-tasking at stops also keeps things on schedule when your in a time crunch. Its van/band etiquette.
---Baton Rouge - Jacksonville - Miami---
Dylan had the van pulled up to the front of our hotel in Baton Rouge at 5am sharp and after 3.5 hours of sleep we were off to make our show in Jacksonville on time. We left before breakfast which was a bit of a bummer because the breakfast at this particular hotel is fantastic and missing it puts a kink in my healthy food foraging. Fortunately i had an apple, carrot chips and a tuna salad kit I had saved from a few days prior so I would not have to rely entirely on truck stop food. I tried to stay awake but I dozed off in the front seat until the sunrise around Gulfport, MS and slept on and off during the drive. We made a few short stops, crossed time zones and arrived in Jacksonville around 3:45 to unload with a 6:30 stage time. It couldn't have gone smoother, and Dylan is nothing short of amazing for doing all the driving and not missing a beat on stage.
Sunrise in Gulfport
We were pleased as peaches to perform at the new Mercedes-Benz offices in Jacksonville for a kind of grand opening/company event. We hadn't planned to head to Florida but the opportunity came our way while we were still booking the tour. We also got to see our friend Tom who ran sound for us. It was a great time for their employees and ourselves. We were fed some great food and watched fire-fighters practice with the jaws of life and cut a couple cars in half (one $300,000 AMG GT).
(Our beautiful drum kit/wedding gift at the Mercedes-Benz gig. Mercedes and Jennifer Westwood and the Handsome Devils - A winning pair? Thank you for having us!)
Around 10pm we were loaded up and headed to Melbourne, FL about 2.5 hours south. We opted to make the drive there where we have family rather than sleep in Jacksonville. It also put us that much closer to our show the next day in South Beach. We dropped GS at his uncle's home and the rest of us stayed at the Dunbar outpost. Its a wonderful thing to stay in an actual home and be with friends or family.
We slept late on Sunday, enjoyed showers like never before, Dylan and I did a little work and then we headed to South Beach around 12:30. Along the way we diverted to the A1A through the Palm Beach area (home of Mar-a-lago) to take in some ocean breezes and see how the 1% lives. We've driven almost every inch of the A1A over the last year and it is one of our favorite drives in the U.S. There's small towns, unspoiled coast line and so much of the drive between Palm Beach and Miami the wealth is utterly mind-boggling.
Palm Beach - watching the world go by with all I need to survive in a van
I know I say it often, but Miami has become another stop we love. Its a world class city. We've met great musicians and have had them stand in as Handsome Devils. The scenery and architecture is amazing, the food incredible, and the people we've met are so friendly. The novelty of having a pool at a gig has not worn off this Michigander. And, we never fail to run into a fellow Detroiter. This time we were so surprised to have some dear friends from Michigan show up that had found a deal on airfare and decided to fly down for a couple days to come to our show. Incredible! And so great to see people from home! Its reassuring to know people back home care about us. The weather was the best we've had there and we couldn't ask for a better night.
Pool in South Beach - post gig
It was an early show and we were headed back to Melbourne around 10:30, taking in the ocean air and the short, sweet drive back to the freeway for the 3.5 hour drive. Its so hard to leave a great town without spending a day to see things and spend time with people. There is so much of the world to take in. We are beyond fortunate to see so much of it but I'm realizing more everyday that there is no substitute for a vacation (or at least a honeymoon).