U.S.A. Tour Diary – Ants!

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As I look out of the window of our van I see open blue sky, unblemished save for the occasional wispy cloud and the odd bird of prey soaring above a vast expanse of Arizona desert littered with cacti, some reaching 25ft high. They’re the stereotypical kind you’d draw if asked to draw a cactus. A tall pillar with two offset arms held in a surrender. The mainly flat desert is interrupted by craggy mountain ranges. There is not one building as far as the eye can see. A small twister whips up a column of dust close to the road. I imagine you wouldn’t have to look far to find a rattlesnake. This has been the scenery for most of the day. We’re on our way to San Diego from San Antonio – an 18 hour drive that we’re tackling over two days. Last night we stopped over in Las Cruces in New Mexico and were back on the road at 9am this morning to smash the remaining 699 miles. It’s the longest drive of the tour so far but by now we have become so accustomed to spending our days in this van that we are relatively unfazed by such an undertaking and we’re excited to reach California.
We spend our time in the van in different ways. Some of us might binge-watch a tv series to while away the hours. Sometimes the constant hum of the van might lull you into a snooze. Sometimes we learn about a place we’ve been or are travelling to, or sometimes we’ll get stuck into a debate on important matters such as “The ultimate toasted sandwich”. Earlier on this drive we attempted to remember all the places we’ve been on this tour in chronological order, and any notable events that took place there. This took some impressive powers of recall and killed at least two hours!
We are a mere 10 days away from completing this 3 month adventure and our time with Blackberry Smoke has come to an end. San Antonio was the final show of their tour but all good things come to an end and we must now go it alone as we venture west.
We had a fantastic time with the Smoke boys (as well as The Ben Miller Band) and, if they’re reading this, would like to thank all the band members and crew again for being so hospitable and unfailingly helpful throughout the tour. We marked our final show together by all piling onstage, Parliament-Funkadelic style, for a version of “Streetfighting Man”. Doug from Ben Miller Band’s trombone solo was a highlight and, for me, secured the trombone’s place in rock’n’roll!
I last left you in Dallas where, if you remember, I was struggling to get up off the bed. We’d just returned from a couple of bits of radio promo which had both gone exceptionally well but after the previous night’s show and subsequent long drive followed by the early lobby call, I was feeling a bit depleted and would have been quite happy to have stayed in my room and staged a John and Yoko style love-in…minus Yoko. Unfortunately, this was not possible and we assembled at the van to throw our cases in the back and travel to the venue. Iain Graham had been given more of an incentive to get up as he had discovered his bed under attack from ants. Paul was witness to a highly agitated Scotsman hurrying towards the elevator past a housekeeper exclaiming “I’m covered in ants!” Her brilliant, dead-pan reply, was “I’m sorry Sir, would you like me to take you to a hospital?” This unexpected offer caused Iain to stop dead in his tracks and politely respond with “Oh, no thank you, it’s only ants!” We couldn’t work out if she was genuinely concerned that Iain might be in mortal danger from the ant attack or, she was just displaying a highly developed sense of sarcasm – I’d like to think it was the latter. Iain showed us a video of the invasion. It was undoubtably traumatic for him to have been violated by so many creatures, there must have been at least six or seven of them!

…it is now 24 hours later and I’m sitting in sunny San Diego. We made it! The remainder of our drive took us through a constantly changing landscape. We drove through areas strewn with giant boulders, areas of lush green agriculture and miles of Kalahari-like sand dunes. At one point, not long before we reached San Diego, it looked like we were driving across the surface of the moon.
Myself and Luke celebrated our arrival last night by jumping strait into the hotel pool which interestingly was designed by Tarzan – or rather the actor and competitive swimmer who originally played Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller. After our refreshing plunge, we ate a delicious dinner, drank a tasty beer and retired to our comfy beds.
We crossed two time zones to get here so found ourselves waking earlier than we’d have otherwise chosen. This was actually a positive though as it gave us more time to enjoy a delicious Californian breakfast and take another dip in Tarzan’s pool before setting off for a full day of promo. It feels good to be here. Not that it’s necessarily better than anywhere else we’ve been but there was a real sense of achievement when we arrived. We’ve been out here since mid February and have survived brutal sub-zero temperatures, driven tens of thousands of miles and made it all the way to the other side of the country. This tour has been an incredible experience and an amazing chapter in our story which continues to unfold daily. There’s probably a couple more diary entries to go before the final one of the trip so stay tuned, it’s not over just yet. Next stop – Los Angeles