CatFromWi’s Musings From The Road To Wilkes-Barre
(Or How I Found Love, Laughter & The Meaning Of Life Driving Through 5 States In 3 Days)
Sorry for the delay in submitting my recap but I got really sick with the flu the day after the concerts & I’m just now recovering.
I know most reviews say Part One etc. but I wanted something a little more substantial. Okay, maybe more pretentious is more like it. But this is the intellectual blog, isn’t it? But what you are about to read is true. And it all happened in 3 days.
The plan was to leave here on Saturday morning, drive the 12 or so hours to Wilkes-Barre, see the shows on Sunday & drive the 12 hours back on Monday. I didn’t say it was a good plan. There were definitely a few of those “what in the H-E-double hockey sticks was I thinking” moments. But that was the plan.
So through no fault of my own, I ended up going by myself. It was the old last minute can’t get off of work thing. I’ve quit jobs for less than this but that’s me. Luckily my new ride has a navigation system & I had preprogrammed all of the addresses I needed. And nothing was going to stop me from seeing my first LMBO show. So it would be just me, a bunch of CDs & 800+ miles of asphalt for the next 12 hours or so.
I left Wisconsin about 5:30 AM. It was still dark & a bit foggy. In about 2 hours I would be in Chicago. I find myself giving an actual thumbs up sign and a “woo-hoo” as I enter Illinois, my second of 5 states. This is a tradition I continue the entire trip. I hit Chicago where the construction & traffic are a bit stressful. Now I should explain my navigation system a bit. It shows the road as you’re traveling & every once in a while a guy with a Simon like accent says “continue on I-80 east” or “right turn ahead.” Luckily, he doesn’t critique in a Simon voice “you’re driving is absolutely dreadful.” The cool thing is it also shows how many miles to your destination and the time remaining. The miles keep counting down but the time can fluctuate with how fast you are driving. So it may say 7 hours 42 minutes remaining & then you have to slow down with construction and it may go back up to 8 hours 17 minutes. I found myself driving like it was a video game where I had to get the minutes down. Get out of my way people I need to complete this level!
Now on to Indiana. Straight & flat. But thanks for the 70 MPH speed limit Indiana. Although I think that maybe even you realize that there ain’t much to see here & the higher speed limit will get people through faster & maybe they won’t notice that fact. Sorry Indiana, we do notice. But thanks all the same even though you charge $4.15 for the privilege of driving through. Lots of fireworks signs. One says “Fireworks & Cigarettes.” Sounds like a dangerous combo to me, but what do I know. I spot another Wisconsin plate and see that it’s personalized “Fun Guy.” I glance over and the guy does not look like all that much fun. I think to myself: there should be some kind of rule about personalized plates. Some sort of written test or a “prove it” clause. Anyway, I turbo pass “Fun Guy” and watch as he becomes a tiny, little speck in my rear view mirror.
Ohio. What can I say? Ohio, you have really nice Wayside rest stops. They call them Service Plazas & they all look exactly the same. Bathrooms, a few restaurants, a coffee place, a little store etc. And then gas pumps & easy access back on the interstate (I was so intrigued by these places, I did a little research when I got home & read that they were designed like little malls). But I must say that when I got out of my car I instantly notice that something smells funky in Ohio. Not inside the building but in the outside air itself. Anyway, I go in to use the facilities & in the stall someone has etched in the door “I need dick.” Is it just me or is maybe a ladies room not exactly the best place to advertise this particular need? You’re not really hitting your customer base in there. I mean, what can I do about it? Introduce you to “Fun Guy” so you can see if he’s as fun as he claims to be?
Now’s as good a time as any to ask, have you ever spent 12 consecutive hours driving by yourself? I never had & I was taken aback at how it affects one’s body & one’s mind. I expected my body to get a bit sore & stiff here and there. But what I didn’t expect was how my mind reacted to that dangerous concoction that was equal parts loneliness, fear & boredom. Your mind gets so sick of all the endless asphalt that it starts to look for those magical places inside itself for entertainment. And when it exhausts all of the places with puppies & rainbows & unicorns it has no choice but to enter the dark, cobwebbed corners. I found myself thinking of shit I didn’t even know I knew like listing the names of all 5 members of New Kids On The Block? How do I know this shit & why is surfacing now? I need my Mommy!
So now it’s Pennsylvania. I’ve never been here before. Very pretty scenery. Lots of rolling hills and pretty wildflowers along the road. I keep seeing signs that say “Rumble Strips” which are some kind of bars on the road. Maybe to slow down trucks on all of the hills but who knows. Note to self: add The Rumble Strippers to list of possible names when you get around to starting up that awesome band. It evokes both sex & violence & we all know that these 2 things are a license to print money. Note to self #2: promise never to write a song called “I Need Dick.” Although I must admit, it sounds like a hit.
Anyway, major boredom & dark thoughts are creeping in again. I decide that I should stop playing CDs & turn on the radio because each song will be unpredictable & this will hopefully distract me from my plight. Did I just sing “Come On Eileen” at the top of my lungs and know every damn word? Did I do hand and arm choreography too? No, trucker in the 18 wheeler next to me, I was just stretching my arms. But now it seems like every other song or so is a message from beyond that’s telling me I am meant to be here. I hear “Wanted Dead or Alive,” “Midnight Train To Georgia,” “Black Horse And The Cherry Tree,” “Drift Away,” “Savin’ Me.” & “The Theme From Shaft.” This has got to be a sign (except for that last song which I’m pretty sure meant absolutely nothing).
Finally I’m getting close to my destination. I’m staying at the Hilton right near the Wachovia Center. Simon the nav system tells me what to do and I’ve finally arrived. Thanks to Simon I didn’t have any wrong turns and didn’t have to look at a map once. Simon the nav, you rock. I’m checked in to the Hilton by the two indifferent girls behind the counter. So do people who work at hotel front desks come with no personalities or is that something that is surgically removed when they’re hired?
It’s Sunday and my ass still hasn’t forgiven me for what I put it through yesterday. But I’m sure it will come around sooner or later. I go to the venue so I can pick up my ticket & check out the area. A lady gets to the ticket counter just ahead of me & she’s looking to buy the cheapest tix available. But she wants really good seats. Don’t we all? Then she has to call someone on the cell phone to see if they want to go. This conversation goes on for several minutes until she says “I gotta go, there’s a line behind me.” I say “a line of one” since I’m the only one there but she doesn’t respond, gets her tix & leaves. I ask the ticket lady where the best place to park is so I can get out of there fast. She says a lot of people park at the mall & walk because it’s free. The venue parking is only $5 so I think that Pennsylvania peeps must be cheap as hell. I think I paid $15 in Milwaukee. But we want to get out fast so I drive around and see how far the walk would be. I find the closest lot which is about a block away & enter the address into Simon the nav so I can find it later. Then Simon the nav directs me to the Woodlands. I notice some buses and a bunch of fans standing around so I park & get out. After about a minute Ace comes out & starts signing autographs. He’s very nice (not to mention good looking) in person. He signs “Ace” with a heart (swoon). It then starts to rain so everyone takes off. I get in my car so I can park in the front & I see Elliott getting on one of the buses. Time to check in & luckily I can take a little time to relax before meeting up with some of MJs crew.
It’s almost 5 and time to meet for drinks. I meet Kay (sharon8) who gives me some sparkly bracelets to wear. This whole thing started when we discussed if we should have name tags or something. Kirsten on this blog had some wacky & funny suggestions but she also mentioned wrist bands. I thought this was a good idea but I’d only wear one if it’s sparkly because of my fondness for bright & shiny objects. That was all Kay needed to hear because she bought some in bulk. I’m not kidding, she had a couple of dozen on her wrist & she handed out 2 each to everyone in MJ’s crew. Someone really should get Kay her own sitcom because she’s very funny. And everything she says is made even more funny with her Texas accent. Better yet, she should have a craft show as she made a really cool LMBO necklace. Next time Martha Stewart goes to prison I think Kay should take over her show. TV would never be the same again. And I mean that in a good way.
I also met MJ & some of the posters like Winnie, Beesims, Soulpatroller, 3girls, Janice the lurker etc. Some of the people were a bit quiet & I had the feeling that if we were all sitting there with our laptops & writing on the blog some may have had more to say. Or maybe I noticed any silence because I was so starved for conversation after spending 12 freakin’ hours in a car by myself. But soon the hour was up & it was time to go to the concert.
MJ & Winnie & I drove over to our little secret parking spot. On our way I spot a car next to us with a boy of about 10 in the backseat. He’s just staring at us so I give him the rawk hand & get no response. So I say “peace out, brother.” The kid must read lips because he then gives me the sideways peace sign all gangsta like. The kid then breaks out in a huge grin & we all laugh. His parents are oblivious to the whole exchange which is probably just as well. We park & start walking to the venue when we spot a family of 4 walking in front of us. They all have tie dye AI shirts on & I say that as long as we follow these people back out we will be able to find the car. I said we’ll be desperately searching for them & I start mock yelling “tie dye family, where are you? We need to find my car.” MJ says I should post more because I’m funny. But I had the feeling that what she really wanted to say is “are you drunk?” As we’re walking along a kid runs up to Winnie & hands over her sunglasses that she had dropped. To our surprise it was the gangsta kid. Thanks & peace out gansta kid.
Up near the doors we notice a really long line. I say that I don’t believe in waiting in lines & we should walk up a bit. Sure enough there were shorter lines on the other side of the doors. Did you know that the average person spends about 7 ½ years of their life waiting in lines? Okay so maybe I made that statistic up but either way, I’m not about to stand in a line just because that’s what other people are doing. Lines are for ducklings following their mother not for MJ & her posse of VIPs. Once we’re almost in I notice that they’re searching people’s bags. At the 2 midwest shows I went to no one searched any one & security was really laid back & nice. But here I notice that the woman security guard is giving a full body search to the woman and young kid in front of me. She dug around in the woman’s purse & made her hold her arms out & patted her side pockets. I have a heavy, bulging purse with a camcorder and camera on the bottom of it. But to my surprise she just asks me what’s in my purse (I smile & say “a lot of junk basically”) & she looks around a bit in it & waves me through. Once inside it’s time to go our separate ways as MJ & Winnie’s seats are on the floor a few seats away from each other but my ticket is lower level near the left side of the stage. When I get to my seat I strike up a conversation with the woman next to me. I say I’m alone but I met up with some blogging buddies so I don’t seem like a total loser. She asks what blog & I find out she’s “crazymelon” on MJ’s. She was there with Mr. Crazymelon who said he was going to nap during the show. I was in seat 1 & I ended up giving that seat to her husband so I could maybe have more cover from security. But that didn’t really matter as I ended up getting busted anyway during Mandisa’s set (meanies). Security then gave me the skunk all through the first set so I can only take pics.
Here are a few tidbits on part one of the show.
Mandisa: when she said she had a crush on someone on the tour I instantly thought of the drummer. I always thought they’d make a cute couple. He’s actually my fave band member because he’s always smiling & looking like he’s having fun & not just doing a job. The funny part was when they made him sit on a chair center stage & Mandisa started singing to him. All of a sudden the cymbals were being played & he whipped his head around like “who’s playing my drums?” But it was just the bass player using his fists on them. Mandisa said that if he said yes to dating her she would give a thumbs up later in the show. I didn’t notice if she did or not but I read later that according to Mandisa’s myspace it was thumbs up. Good for her.
Ace: hot as ever. During “Father Figure” a bunch of his fans in the front rows started blowing bubbles at him. He said it was his Mom’s birthday & I was just a little uncomfortable as he sang a very sexy version of “Happy Birthday” to her.
Lisa: she thanked her brother for helping her out on the tour. During her first song there was a girl of about 5 a few rows in front of me who jumped up and down while holding a teddy bear above her head. Very cute.
Paris: she & Lisa really seem like good friends and seemed to be holding back tears as they realized it was their last performance together. I’m struck by the fact that out of all the idols, she’s the one who has a different look for every show that I saw. Different clothes, hair & makeup while the others are usually wearing the same thing.
Bucky: during “Drift Away” Bucky walked down by the audience and suddenly Chris popped up and started singing too. They ended up walking up on the stage together & finishing the song. It was a cool surprise.
Kellie: when Kellie asked for the house lights to go on about 5 people stood on the stage riser & shined flashlights on her. She was totally oblivious & kept asking to turn the house lights on. Finally she noticed and she said something like they’re always playing tricks on me. She really didn’t seem to find it all that amusing for some reason.
During intermission I decided to move to seats that were farther away from the security goons near the stage so I could video. I ended up behind a young gay guy & his girlfriends who bounced, danced & sang through the entire 2nd half. Except they got nachos during Elliott’s set & sat down and looked utterly bored during “Do I Make You Proud.” But from these seats I was able to video the entire 2nd half.
A few random thoughts on the second half.
Chris: he got a great crowd response. The crew had taped his mike stand to the stage as a joke. And Bucky drove out on a scooter to hand him a bottle of water before “Wanted Dead Or Alive.”
Elliott: Instead of coming out right before he starts singing the duet, he came out before Chris even started “Savin’ Me.”
Guys number: during “Patience” Bucky kept motioning for someone to come onstage & Kellie finally did. Chris jokingly said “get her off the stage.” She stood by Bucky & sang into his mic but I couldn’t really hear her singing.
Katharine: I hadn’t heard “Think” before & it was cute when Lisa & Paris came out to sing with her. It was nice to see her wearing something besides that long black dress too.
Taylor: the crowd went absolutely nuts when he came on. I noticed some people on the floor in front of me spinning in circles & dancing like crazy during “Jailhouse Rock.” They weren’t even looking for him in the crowd. They were just dancing like crazy. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Taylor’s performance was very energetic & playful. “Hollywood Nights” was longer than the other times I’ve seen him. The girls also came out for some back up singing & Taylor started bowing with his arms above his head like a preacher. Or as Simon would describe it “a drunk preacher.” It was a very energetic set all the way through.
The show was over & time to meet up with MJ & Winnie. On our way to the car Winnie tells me that she caught Bucky’s pick. I tell her that if she doesn’t want to walk to the LMBO show she better hand it over. I hope she knew I was kidding or else I must have sounded like the biggest be-yotch ever. When we get to my car I notice that no one else is parked in this lot so I start to think we made a terrible mistake. But we get on the main drag within seconds and are on our way to The Woodlands. I can’t believe that after spending less than 24 hours in this town, I found such a good place to park that not only got us out fast but was free as well. It pays to do a little research before the concert, fo sho.
When we get to the Woodlands, LMBO is playing their 2nd song. MJ’s crew ends up on the right side of the stage near the speaker. I forgot to bring some cotton so I go to the bar in the back & grab a napkin so I can tear it up & put some in my ears. There’s a lady standing right next to the speaker plugging one of her ears so I give her a napkin & motion to my ear. She puts some in her ears & tells me it really helps. A little later a guy squeezes through & stands right in front of me. I tap him on the shoulder & inform him that he’s “too tall.” He keeps saying he can’t hear so I offer him a napkin & motion to my ears. He says “I’ll just leave then” & I’m happy when he does. But a little later he returns & stands right by the speaker. He then picks up some almost empty plastic cups that are sitting on the speaker & he throws them at the band. Then he stands there with his middle finger raised. Before I could dwell on the fact that I had tried to talk rationally to a drunk, a security guy came over & ejected the guy.
All of a sudden Taylor was on stage. After the band ended their song one of the members said “uh oh, the boss is back” & Taylor smiled. Some people in the crowd chanted “no more pope tarts” & Taylor said “cheers to that one” & went on to mention that his faves are the plain blueberry poptarts. He was really cracking his band up. Taylor did quite a few songs & the crowd loved every second of it. LMBO are a really good band but they really are transformed to greatness when Taylor joins them. It was a thrill to see him in his own element & just jamming away with his band. I especially loved his harp solo but then I always do.
The sound really was loud by the speaker so I decide to move more to the center. Because I was alone & away from the MJ crew I was forced to be outgoing & talk to the other people around me. I’m actually glad I did because I met some cool people. One lady had caught Bucky’s hat at the show. I talked a bit to a man & his wife who raved about LMBO & said that Taylor & them are so good together they can’t split them up. And then there was this lady who was right in front of me who was looking at her pics in her digital camera. It was intermission so I started talking to her about her pics. She had some great shots of Taylor that she had taken that afternoon. There were pics of him playing golf, sitting in a field playing harmonica, posing with her & her husband etc. I don’t know how she was lucky enough to get them but they were really great shots. A little later after the band came back on she turned to me and said she just deleted all of her pics. I was in disbelief. She said she had gone to delete one pic & accidentally deleted all of them. I don’t know if this was attributed to the fact that the camera was new or if it was because she had had several beers. I wanted to tell her that you never delete at the event & always wait until you have them saved on a computer. But I’m sure she didn’t want to hear the rules of Digital Photo 101 from me. I mean, there was a Walmart down the street, save them to a freakin’ CD. Or lock that memory card & buy a new one. The woulda, coulda, shoulda of it all really made me sick & they weren’t even my pics.
During the show they auctioned off a guitar with Taylor’s signature & it ended up going for almost 10 grand. They also had other autographed items you could buy raffle tix for. When they were calling off the winning numbers a bunch of drunk women were chanting “we want Elliott” over & over. Finally they had to ask them to be quiet as it was for charity. Damn drunks.
Near the end of the set Ace & Chris showed up. In the middle of their song, a drunk woman came up from behind me screaming “excuse me, he’s my brother.” I’m not sure which one she was referring to & I’m not sure she knew either. When people tried to stop her she just kept screaming “he’s my brother!” I wanted to turn around and say “well, if he’s your brother you’ll have plenty of opportunities to speak to him. Thanksgiving is coming up & then Christmas & New Years. Why don’t you shut up & let the rest of us enjoy him as he’s not our brother & we may not have another time to see him until who knows when.” But we all know that drunks don’t understand logic. This lady was really strong too & almost knocked a bunch of us over. The lady next to me (who I later found out is a lurker on MJs) said not to let her through & she ended up getting her shoulder scratched by the drunk who tried desperately to break through our human wall. By the time the song ended, security had once again saved the day & kicked the drunken broad out.
Although some people have criticized the Ace/Chris song, I must say it really was cool to see them up close in a small venue. This was billed as a star packed LMBO finale where most of or all of the Idols would attend. I wouldn’t have been disappointed just to see Taylor but I’m glad Ace & Chris showed up. I thought Ace was, as my dawg Randy would say, a little pitchy. But I really enjoyed Chris’ performance. I actually preferred seeing Chris in a small club over his screaming & posturing arena set. But I like Ace on a bigger stage doing his leaping & boy band moves. And Taylor is, of course, great anywhere, anytime, and with anyone. By the time the show’s over I think it’s after 2 AM so we bid our farewells & head back to our rooms/hotels.
I get up a few hours later for the long drive home as I didn’t want to drive through all of that Chicago construction when it was dark. Pennsylvania passes by through the windows. I get a chance to notice the scenery even more now. So many trees & so many mountains. Some of the leaves were starting to change & it’s very beautiful. I would take some pictures through the windows but my camera is not within reach & I don’t want to stop. I tell myself that it’s not like there aren’t any trees in Wisconsin.
Hello Ohio, it’s me again. On my first trip though, I didn’t notice that you have so many corn fields. That’s pretty much all I see. If you’ve heard of Kubler-Ross’ 5 stages of death, I kind of go through what I call the 5 stages of corn. Denial: “that can’t be more corn, can it? There’s no way that that much corn can be in one state.” Anger: “Damn you, evil ears of corn. I hate you.” Bargaining: “I promise to go to church every Sunday & stop having impure thoughts about Taylor Hicks and I won’t be all hatin’ on Kat just please no more corn!” Depression: “I can’t bear to see any more corn. Simon the nav direct me to the nearest bridge now.” And finally Acceptance: “Okay I get it, there’s corn. People like corn and that’s okay.”
Now it’s time to stop at one of your lovely Service Plazas. Hey Ohio, you don’t smell funky today. But what is this I see on the plaza door? It’s a graphic of a gun with a null symbol through it and something about it being illegal to bring a gun inside. Ohio, you’re scaring the hell out of me. I decide to go into the pizza place. They’re playing some oldies & I’m kind of bopping to the music. The cute guy behind the counter says that this is his favorite song that they play in there. And that it’s by the Drifters who also do “Under The Boardwalk.” I like the song but as much as I think we are having a bonding moment over some shared love of music I have to admit I was really just trying to get the circulation going in my legs. I say something like it’s a classic oldie & he says “but goody” and we share a smile. Damn pizza guy, you sure are cute. But it’s back to the road for this weary traveler. I hit the gas pumps & start taking things out of my car to throw away when I spot the receipt from the pizza place. Did I just look to see if cute pizza guy’s name is on it? Yes, I did and it’s Anthony. Sweet Anthony you had me at “for here or to go?” Out of all the pizza joints out there I had to walk into this one and fall in love. But my fate does not lie in a pizza joint just off the turnpike. Oh well Anthony, we’ll always have Ohio. And corn.
Hey look, it’s fireworks signs so we must be in Indiana. Still straight & flat I see. Thanks again for that whole 70 MPH thing though.
Construction and traffic means you’re nearing Chicago. Only one state to go.
There it is…the Wisconsin sign. A damn sweet sight to these weary eyes. Time to reflect a bit on the trip. It sure was fun. Life sure can be annoying and challenging and worse yet boring. That’s why you need to do things that are fun. Did I just stumble on to the meaning of life? Have fun? Never forget to have fun? Isn’t that what “Fun Guy” had tried to tell me all along way at the start of this trip? Who knew that he was the prophet. The prophet of fun. Naw, I’m sure he was just some guy trying to get laid. Anyway, it’s time to quote that great American philosopher Ryan Seacrest….CatFromWi out!