Thursday 9 June 2016

amERICa Coast to Coast - The Sioux City Howard Johnson

It’s half past midnight and I’ve just checked into a shabby old Howard Johnson hotel in downtown Sioux City. There’s something a bit creepy about the place - corridors lead off in every direction and turn unexpected corners, and to get to the parking garage, which connects with the hotel on the second floor, you have to negociate a skyway. They have skyways in Minneapolis too, that’s where I’ve seen them before - you can walk around the entire city centre through a series of skyways that connect the buildings one floor above the street. They have to have skyways because if you go outside even for an instant any time between late October and the end of March you’ll disintegrate in the sub-sub-zero winter temperatures. Unless you drown in the snow first.

I drove here from Winnipeg. It took nine hours and the road was very straight, apart from when it tilted slightly and unexpectedly and nearly sent me driving off it into one of the redundant looking fields that cluttered the sides of the road. A man could lose his grip out here.

I drove through prairies from Calgary to Edmonton, and from Edmonton to Winnipeg, and from Winnipeg to the US border where the landscapes stops being Canadian Prairies and starts being just one of those far flung places in America where not many people live, a place that breeds Donald Trump supporters, and where America’s most dangerous live off the grid and prepare for Armageddon.

The Sioux City Howard Johnson must have been built in the sixties when it would have been the last word in modern, connected to the city by the skyways, heralding the arrival of the space age to the flatlands of Iowa. Now it’s a sad and crumbling dump and they’re busy with renovating it. A sign in the lobby apologises for the swimming pool being closed to guests and for noise, and somewhat disturbingly smells caused by building work, as this is for the good of the hotel.

My room smells funny - it’s a non-smoking room but it has a mustiness about it - a hint of cigarette smoke, ill-concealed by that spray on/wipe off furniture polish that’s good for nothing more than removing stubborn stains like encrusted semen from teak-effect melamine.

I’m here for two nights. I wish I could open the window but it’s a double glazed panel and it doesn’t open. It’s probably as well, I might get a sudden urge to jump out. Or some unseen force might push me out. This place has been around a while - bad things are sure to have happened here.

So this is how the West was won. I wonder how the early settlers got on without skyways and how they would have taken to them if the skyways had already been here. My mind is jumping around. I think the shows in Vancouver and Calgary coupled with the monumental two day drive through the Rockies to get from one to the other have conspired to disarrange my mind.

I’ve been driving for days. I left the hot summer weather behind somewhere north of Chico in California. I drove for half the night and all the next day to get to Portland, Oregon, in time to play after a sold out show at The Make Out Room in San Francisco. The Mantles opened the show, a delightful band. There was talk of them backing me on part of the set though what I’m doing is really essentially a solo thing - just me alone taking full responsibility, holding myself to account as I work my way through acoustic pop toe-tappers, bizarrely constructed ditties, electric freak outs, weirdness, meanderings and the odd crisis of confidence, hopefully arriving at some sort of triumphant conclusion.

I got The Mantles on with no soundcheck and no real preparation - they ran on with guitars and drumsticks as I started Whole Wide World, played the song pretty well perfectly and disappeared leaving me on my own again as though nothing had happened. I got them back for the end of the encore to play I Wish It Would Rain - they’d told me they knew it and they very nearly did. We had a couple of false starts and they tentatively made their way into it. By the chorus they were locked in. A class act!

I should go to bed - crawl under the covers, switch off the light and disappear this depressing room, but I can’t because the bed is as wide as it is long. There are four small and lonely looking pillows leaned up against the headboard of this monstrous monument to sleeping, or more likely to coked-up sex with four groupies and a couple of roadies. Like I said, things must have happened in this hotel. Adultry, incest, bestiality… it’s probably been used for a porno shoot or two. I think I may even have seen a clip with this room in it.

I turned back the bed…no sheets. So I went down to reception, explained the position and asked to change the room - preferably for one with a smaller bed. Now I’m in the room next door which she said was probably nicer though she couldn’t guarantee it. ‘I don’t go up there very often,’ she said.

Something about the way she said up there worried me but I’m trying to put that out of my mind. Surely I’ve earned the right to be temporarilly a bit highly strung at this point. If it wasn’t for the thought of wandering through the skyways in search of the parking garage and the car I’d find a nicer hotel and check out. Perhaps I’ll do that tomorrow.

If I make it through the night.

Only nine days until the final date of the tour at the appropriately named Grand Victory in Brooklyn NYC - click the link and buy a ticket !!


  1. When is the book of the tour coming out Eric...?

  2. Wonderful read. Sounds grueling. I'd check out if I were you.