There’s nothing like dining at the airport to give you a renewed appreciation of life outside the airport. I’m flying Alaska Air from New York to Los Angeles and there’s no food on the flight which is probably just as well because I imagine it would be some sort of exotic marine life dredged up from the Arctic Ocean, not that I’d be eating it - rule number two: avoid eating on the plane whenever possible. Rule number one is drink as much water as you possibly can.
I might actually be doing Alaska Air a disservice here. I was checked in by a flamboyant and quite lovely African American lady - I told her I’d never been to Alaska and she confided that neither had she. ‘You’re shaking my faith in the airline’ I said, and she reassured me that she’d been to Los Angeles a whole bunch of times. And I felt wonderfully reassured. I love Americans - real Americans, not those fake Americans you see cluttering up the news these days.
I got through the security check with very little trouble - they let me go through the TSA pre-check, even though I’m not registered - a bit of charm and a reasonable attitude still seems to go a long way. That and being an elegantly dressed silver haired old buffer. The zips in my Mexican boots set off the detector so I had to take them off and put them on the conveyor belt, and that was a good thing I think because it drew attention away from the fuzz boxes and delay pedal concealed in my carry on, and the fact that I’d forgotten to put my toothpaste in a plastic bag.
I’m in a place called Ruby Tuesday’s. I know... but there’s really not a lot of choice. The grill was broken but they were still serving salads so I had the very salty and presumably pre-grilled grilled chicken served on a balderdash of krispy kale bedded down with over-cooked lightly steamed broccoli and some very cold and clammy sun dried tomatoes. I wish they’d managed to get them in the tin before the sun went in. There was a Caesar dressing in a separate container too, but I don’t want to think about that.
To drink I selected the Nestle Pure Life (Pro-Life?) Purified Water (Enhanced With Minerals For Taste). Who knows what ghastly scenes this champion of recycled waters might have been party to - it may have even been through the President of the United States for all I know, pissed out onto Russian prostitutes, used to flush the presidential khazi... Why! The very Queen of England herself may have once graced it by bathing in it. But boy oh boy, these mineral enhancements taste good!
I wish we could do the experience without musical accompaniment. Places like this always play that incredibly popular music that I’m pretty sure absolutely nobody likes. A hint of heroism, a dollop of soul. There are very few tunes - possibly three basic models - and two of them have their origins in What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor, though you wouldn’t necessarily know that because this music is created by career-driven professionals. So we’re in safe hands there.
They get a strange species of teenage baby to sing these things. They’re bred for vocal nasality and raised in cages to keep them pure. When they get too old to perform they’re slaughtered and served up as burgers at music industry awards ceremonies and sometimes at White House dinner parties.
This plane’s okay. I’ve got the whole row to myself. I’m like a king, sitting here in sumptuous leatherette, five miles above the American Midwest with an empty seat on either side of me. I’m looking forward to Los Angeles. I stayed in a West Hollywood hotel for almost a whole week a few years ago. It was a boutique hotel full of people who looked as though they were trying to break into the fashion business. I was a deep disappointment to them - I could tell by the way they looked at me. It was as though my grubby middle aged presence was sullying their dream of a glamorous utopia. I felt like Bill Murray in Lost In Translation.
My room was on the eleventh floor. I’d share the elevator with the aspiring, the beautiful and the plain grotesque. One morning the elevator stopped on the seventh floor and two wannabe supermodels got in. They looked at me with withering disdain and I looked them up and down. ‘Hello girls,’ I said. I pushed the lobby button and the lift said Going Down!
I spent my days riding the city buses and caught a cold that did nothing for my personal glamour. This time I’m going for a degree of sophistication - I was going to hire a car but the Air b n b super host of the cloistered Hollywood bungalow I’m renting advised me not too so I’ve downloaded the Uber app instead. A rental car would have cost me twenty three dollars a day - I imagine I’ll spend more than that on Uber rides but it’ll be nice not to have to have to think about parking.
I’m flying in the face of all my former traveling habits - no laptop, just an iPad, and in line with the latest airline policy on musical instruments I’m checking both guitars - my acoustic in its usual fortress of a case and the electric in a new fiberglass Gator case which may or may not withstand having the baggage truck driven over it. The rest of my trousseau is in a carry-on case, so I’m just like all the other passengers now with their enormous suitcases full of bricks that they can hardly lift into the overheads. I’ve finally joined the luggage tribe - it’s a great feeling to finally belong.
I brought the Telecaster this time. I’ve been using the Microfrets which turns playing into a mixture of poetry and abstract expressionism. But there are so many flights involved on this trip that I decided on the Telecaster because I couldn’t bear to have anything happen to the Microfrets. It’s a shame because that was the guitar I played last time I was in Australia, thirty eight years ago. It was a lot younger and less battle scarred in those day. It actually sustained its first ever injury at a show in Melbourne back in 1980. I threw the guitar aloft, said goodnight, and as I left the stage I realised I’d left the guitar in mid-air. I turned round in time to see our roadie, a magnificent relic of the road called Keith, run from the opposite side of the stage and catch the guitar centre stage as the band hit the final crash. He was so shocked he dropped it and the back cracked. I didn’t mind - we repaired it with a strip of gaffa tape - the good stuff you used to be able to get back then - and it stayed like that for years until the tape wore off and I had to glue it to stop a weirdly disagreeable vibration.
Keith was a classic roadie - rail thin despite a prodigious alcohol intake, with a nose and chin that practically met in front of a mouth that spilled various pronouncements in a thick Birmingham accent. I remember seeing him slide down a dressing room wall one night, hopelessly drunk and slurring:
‘Fuckin’ hell we’ve got to get out of here - it’s goin’ t’ fuckin’ kill me.
The tour manager burst through the door - ‘Ten minutes, you’re on in ten minutes!’
Keith instantly straightened up.
‘Right! I’ll get these guitars on and put the standbys up!’
We were working for him, we were his band.
‘You’re not the best band I’ve ever been with, but you’re certainly not the worst...’
He’d worked with Slade, The Bay City Rollers, Gary Glitter, The Glitter Band, Roy Wood’s Wizard... When pressed and plied with alcohol, and if he was in a good mood, he had many a lurid tale to tell. He was usually the soul of discretion, the original what goes on the road stays on the road... He often had articles of lady’s underwear flying from the radio aerial of the equipment truck. Yes - we traveled in separate vehicles, band and tour manager in a minibus, crew and equipment, which would quite often include a massive PA system and lights, in a truck.
Keith was a prima donna. Occasionally one of us would upset him with a chance remark or a less than stellar performance and he’d leave the tour. It never lasted - he’d be back within a couple of hours and there’d be hugs and tears and he was back on the job. And every night as I was about to walk out onto the stage, with the band already in the groove, he’d hand me a half pint of gin and vermouth which I’d down in one go. The force of it would blow my head off as we hit the first chorus and by then we we’re flying.
It’s all a bit Saxondale but it’s a story that demands to be told just the once. I wasn’t always a silver haired buffer - once upon a time I was a rock n roll star.
I’ll shut up now.
The silver haired old buffer with his Micofrets guitar (photo by Ted Barron)