Just as we crossed the state line into Louisiana, the heavens opened unleashing a torrent of rain of such biblical proportion that at one point, the car in front became almost invisible as if it had been swallowed by the deluge. As this was happening, jagged arteries of lightning lit up the sky overhead – Thor was having a tantrum. “Are we in a disaster movie?” came Iain Graham’s comment from the back seat.
We’d left Gulfport that morning to continue our 1200 mile journey to Austin. Looking back on the two days of driving, it’s as though they’d never happened and we’d been in some kind of semi-hypnotic state for the duration of the journey then snapped out of it the moment we stepped on Texan turf.
We’d all been excited about Austin. Not only would we have an unprecedented two days off but we’d be in one of the coolest cities in America. Our home for the duration was an ultra cool apartment with rooftop terrace and full length windows overlooking downtown Austin that Mr Graham, our capable tour manager, found on Air B&B. it worked out way cheaper than hotels and was far more enjoyable. Just around the corner were cool bars and a multitude of food trucks. There are over a 1000 of these in Austin and, unlike the late night kebab vans in the uk that occasionally seem like a good idea once alcohol has suitably impaired your judgement, these establishments offer some of the finest food in the city. Anything from BBQ to Mexican to Creole can found and the best of them can attract long lines of customers. They provided much of the catering for our visit.
Everyone in the band found different ways to entertain themselves in Austin. As well as catching up on sleep and doing laundry, we all got to explore and discover the city a little. I hired a bicycle on our second day there and set off in the direction of Barton Springs, a designated spring fed swimming spot along Barton Creek. It was a beautiful hot day and I’d worked up quite a sweat by the time I got there. Plunging into the pool was glorious, it felt like swimming in Evian and despite the initial cold shock, was the perfect temperature for awakening the senses.
I’d made an appointment for a massage later in the day – I occasionally have one to iron out the knots and kinks that accumulate during a tour. The only appointment I could find was situated to the North of the city. I was in the south. I arrived at Austin Sports Massage red faced and out of breath, looking like I’d just completed a triathlon – which I kind of had as I’d also been for a jog earlier that morning. An hour later, feeling suitably tenderised, I was back on the bike and tearing down Guadalupe St to get to Congress bridge before dusk. The reason for the deadline was not that my bicycle might turn into a pumpkin but that at sundown each day, 1.5 million bats take off from the bridge and this was something I didn’t want to miss. I made it with time to spare and joined the large crowd gathering to witness the mass flight. Apparently, the cloud of bats that forms is so large that it is picked up by local weather radar. When the little flittermice decided to emerge it began first as a steady stream followed by a raging torrent of flapping and squeaking. A magic carpet of bats shot by underfoot and seemed as though it would never end. If it had been 10,000 bats I would have still been impressed but 1.5 million was fucking mental!
The following day, i needed to experience what all the fuss over BBQ was about so I headed to the LA Barbeque truck. Much research was done into the best Barbecue in town and the name that topped all lists was Franklins. I had jogged past it on the previous morning as I was out testing my new running shoes and at 9.30 in the morning there was a huge line of people waiting outside – it looked like the launch of a new iphone. People had bought chairs and coolers and apparently start queuing at about 8 in the morning – Franklins doesn’t even open until 11.00, hence why I headed to La Barbeque. Surely no rack of ribs is that good? I’d read that La Barbecue was run by a former chef from Franklins, it had received rave reviews and the lines weren’t quite so long. When i arrived with Ian Graham, a strict vegetarian with no interest in barbecue, the line was still pretty long and it was a good 45 minutes before I found myself at the window ordering meat by weight. I had 3/4 lb of ribs and 1/4 lb of beef brisket with a side of chipotle slaw and I have to say it was the best barbecue I’ve ever eaten. I’m glad I didn’t order more as my stomach would have protested but if any of you get to Austin and don’t fancy camping outside Franklins for 3 hours, LA Barbecue is a good bet.
It was great to get back onstage that night and I think we all felt revitalised after two days of Texas food and sunshine. At one point during Paul’s solo at the end of “Pride”, Phil came dancing over to me, shaking his tambourine and shouting “We’re on our summer holidays!” It did feel that way
So, following the gig, we had a two and a half hour drive to Houston, where we’d stay before an early rise to get to New Orleans. An hour and a half into the drive as I was dozing behind the drivers seat, I was woken by a strange squealing noise and a juddering of the van. It had to happen sooner or later – the tyre had exploded!
Paul was driving and said it was such an odd noise that at first he thought we’d hit a pelican or something and he’d looked in the mirror expecting to see a load of feathers.
Now, changing a wheel on a car is relatively easy. Changing a wheel on a 3 1/2 tonne mercedes sprinter in the pitch dark at the side of a highway is a slightly different challenge especially when the back is full of heavy equipment. Using our phones as torches, we first located the jack and the spare wheel before unloading all the gear onto the side of the highway behind the van. By the time it was all out, it was strewn along the side of the road like a yard sale. We loosened the wheel nuts and began jacking up the vehicle. The jack was being very temperamental and would reach a point beyond which it would stubbornly refuse to go higher even though it wasn’t at full height. We wrestled it to a point at which we could remove the wheel with the spectacularly shredded tyre but realised we would be unable to get the new wheel on unless we could get the jack to go higher. It was at this point that further disaster struck.
Rule number 1 – When changing a wheel on a vehicle, first apply the handbrake!
Unfortunately this rather important rule had been overlooked and as the van rolled rolled forwards off the jack in slow motion we could only stand by helplessly and look on in horror. The van make an awful groaning noise as if it had suddenly acknowledged it’s impending doom but by some miracle the jack wedged itself against the spare wheel which was basically only leaning against the axle and the tyre prevented the van from bottoming out. I’m not sure how we got away with this. By the laws of physics we should have been looking at an undriveable van and probably a missed show in New Orleans. In short, we would have been fucked, but with our history of vehicular malfunction, we’ve always managed to come out smiling. As we had just finished loading all the equipment into the van, a police car pulled up alongside us and seeing that we had the situation under control (if only she’d known) drove off again. We hopped back in and drove to our beds in Houston feeling that, once again, we’d cheated disaster and conquered adversity. We’re unstoppable!
We’re now in New Orleans. Let’s see what adventures she has in store for us…