Delicate balance

The truth is, sometimes you need to go to museums and look at art and read challenging books and sometimes you need to lay on the couch and drink wine and watch The Girls Next Door marathon on the E! network.


Keep your shoes on

When bus touring you must remember that you're living with (in my case) ten other people in a very small space.You have your own bunk but it's the size of a coffin and you don't have doors, you have curtains, so don't talk on the phone. You're sharing a room with ten people. They may be friends. They may be colleagues. Either way, shut up.

Do not leave open bottles or cups on the kitchen counter. Or large party-sized glass bottles of gin and/or vodka. They will slide off the counter when the bus takes a turn and that is sad.

Clean up after yourself. Whether you are a wildly famous television star who gets 50 lbs of gifts every night from fans or you're a faceless member of the crew, don't leave your stuff laying around. It will be thrown away and you will be cursed, both to your face and behind your back.

After a long day it's perfectly natural to want to kick off your shoes and take a load off. Please be aware that if your feet stink because they've been cooped up in your disgusting shoes all day, someone will notice. Someone will notice, not because they want to notice, but because you've put them in the position of noticing.

See above: tiny living space for lots of people. See: unavoidable situation involving your feet.

I was in the front lounge last night with Neil and Geoff. Neil and I were on the couch talking when I caught a WHIFF. I stopped talking and did a slow motion wave beneath my nose while casting wide-eyed glances towards Geoff's feet which had just lost their Adidas.

I read Neil's mind, "Oh, NO."

We stared at each other, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, and silently rose from the couch. He disappeared into the bathroom to grab the Glade. I found the industrial-strength Ozium in the kitchen cabinet but Neil beat me to it and sprayed the hell out of Geoff's feet beneath the front lounge table.

"Yeah? You have a problem?" Geoff said while tearing his socks off his feet and flinging them at Neil's head.

I shrieked and ducked into the bathroom.

In the bathroom I sensed that something was up on the other side of the door. It was unnaturally, suddenly, quiet.

I peeked out the door and saw Geoff sitting on the floor with a camera. Another bad sign. I yelped and closed the door.

"You can't stay in there all night!" One of them yelled from the other side.

I opened the door again and crept out with my hands cupped around my eyes. I looked through my fingers at them, didn't see anything, turned around to close the door, looked up and screamed.


Looking forward, moving ahead

Cullen Sculpture Garden
The Menil Collection
Houston, TX

meet my boyfriend, KYJELLY (not as bad as it sounds)

While on the subject of Kentucky, I want to ask a question of Mr. Kyle C of Steak 'n Shake number 258.

Is your job so lame and boring that you have to invent names for your customers just to stay awake when they order a strawberry shake and Diet Coke at 1 am?

Because I'll understand that.

I mentioned this receipt to someone and she said, 'Oh yeah, when I was a server I made up names to remember who was who...like...Bald Fat Fuck.'

Wow. When I was a server I would have just called BFF Table Five or something but that just shows how much more polite I was when I was 21 than I am now. I said to her, 'Was Bald Fat Fuck printed up on the receipt?'

No. No, it wasn't.

So when Matthew got his receipt at the Steak 'n Shake in Indianapolis and saw that Kyle C had named him KYJELLY, we got a kick out of it. First and foremost because Matthew was visiting me from Kentucky. Hee.

But moreover, what is the deal with us and Steak 'n Shake? I hadn't been to one in maybe ten years and all of a sudden, it's like our PLACE or something.

It started with our first date which at one point had us driving aimlessly around my parents' neighborhood at 3am wracking our brains for something to do in a place where everything closes.

Except Steak 'n Shake.

And who says you can't totally behave like a teenager even though you're more advanced in age? Who says you can't stand in the parking lot and make inappropriate first date jokes about organ harvesting and then go in and order a shake with two straws?

And make your 60-year-old server go, 'You guys are sooo cute,' and look at her like, 'Yeah we are. We noticed that, too.'

Because you can.

Einstein in the window

Lexington, KY


Waking up to Tropical Storm Fay

It's funny when you're the first person to wake up on the tour bus in Central Florida, driving south, where there are warnings out for tropical storms, tornadoes, and possible floods.

Our driver, Brian, joked, "Wanna take the wheel for awhile? It's a nice open road to practice on."

"Yeah," I said, "Because everyone else evacuates while we drive right into it."

No, really, it's hilarious.



A man crossed the street in front of the bus when was sitting in the front next to our driver Brian and we watched him take his sweet time. If I were crossing four lanes of Philadelphia traffic I might look up once or twice. I would not amble. I would definitely consider the 40,000 pound tour bus barreling my way. But this guy was not worried.

"C'mon pimpstick, go!" Brian said. I started laughing.

The man WAS using a cane and he did not appear to be either terribly old or crippled. He was somewhat pimping.

"I've got to start calling people pimpstick," I thought.

I'm pretty sure I've called someone a pimpsqueak (Matthew) but this is good, too.


I BELONG on the unicorn bus

In what can only be described as a horrible oversight, I don't get to ride on the unicorn bus.

Baltimore cloudgazing and the art of travel

Baltimore, Maryland

It was Monday so the American Visionary Art Museum was out.

I considered the brains and human bodies exhibit at the science center on the harbor but the hundred children running around the lobby turned me crotchety. I wasn't feeling like a kindly spinster; I was the kind who rolls her eyes and wonders why people breed such little hellcats.

"I wish all these KIDS would get out of the children's museum so I could ENJOY MYSELF."

I walked along the waterline, past the sand volleyball court and the trapeze school and up Federal Hill where I settled into the grass at the top. From here I could barely hear the traffic. The red and white striped carousel turned below and the tinkle of carnival music rose and fell, first blotting out the noise of cars then chiming softly, almost inaudibly. The skies were blue with billowy clouds. Past the trees to my left were rows of brick townhouses, the historic district of Baltimore, and to the right downtown and the harbor.


Behind me, on the sidewalk, a woman in an Army shirt followed orders from a guy who made her do sit ups and push ups. "Run down the steps, do fifty jump ropes at the bottom, and run up the hill. Take a breather and do it again."

"I should get a personal trainer," I thought for about five seconds, tops. 

"Or I should not get a personal trainer because I will hate the personal trainer for ordering me around to do more than sit in the grass and stare at clouds."

Having settled the personal trainer issue, I pulled out a book.

I last read The Art of Travel in 2004. That time, I underlined favorite passages. This time I highlighted some of the same words, plus new parts. The first time I read the book, I'd traveled enough to know that trains are my favorite transit and that my brain chemistry alters when a plane takes off.

I know that I won't be a different person just because I'm in a different place, no matter how much I want to be. I've tried that and it doesn't work. There is, however, a a correlation between the expansiveness of thought to the expansiveness of view.

Expansive views can be big: Yosemite's El Capitan, the edge of the Grand Canyon, or Baltimore's Federal Hill. They can be small: a room that's foreign in touch and feel, the sounds leaking under the door from the street outside. The room might be dingy and tiny but it is new and so, therefore, are your thoughts.

Alain de Botton, the author of The Art of Travel, says that large thoughts may require large views and new thoughts, new places.

I thought I connected with the book completely in 2004. This time, though, as I picked through the sections devoted to hotel rooms and airports, I laughed anew. Alain de Botton NAILS IT. From unexpected angles. With pictures! This book was either written for me or I wish I'd written it myself.
Would it be creepy to legally change my name to Alain de Botton? Would I seem like a stalker? Would it be worth it?

Now that I've spent several years touring, living for months in a another hotel room in another city, I want to give this guy a high five more than ever. Or, since he doesn't seem like a high-fiver, just cock my eyebrow and say something extremely witty and dry.


17% alcohol

This is my old friend, Halle, introducing me to my new friend, mini Sake.

Waking up in Hartford, CT

I don't complain about hotels because a) How bad is it, really? and b) What's the point?


The jackhammer on the parking garage roof outside my window two days in a row, early in the morning? I can't decide who to smack upside the head harder: Me or the poor guy who's just doing his job. His loud, loud job. At seven am. Outside my window.

I tried to drown out jackhammer with the iPod but at volumes that high, Ravel sounds like rave and I felt more like buying a ten-dollar pill from someone in the bathroom stall and slamming vodka red bull than sleeping. So I got up.

The Last Lecture

I sat on a concrete step on the south side of Pittsburgh and wondered who to call. I wasn't in the mood for small talk. My brain felt heavy, at least 10 lbs, more than its usual three. That's right, I weighed it. It was bloated.

"Gail," I wondered, "Where is she?" She'd sent me photos from Alaska. I didn't know if she was back in Minnesota but I'd been thinking about her ever since Salt Lake City. When the tour got to Salt Lake a couple weeks earlier, I called Gail and left her the message that I could see her and Dave living in Salt Lake City.

It was probably the mountains but right away I thought, "I have to tell her they could live here."

Later, on the phone, Gail told me that she'd quit her job and her family was going to move, probably to the west coast but they'd been considering Salt Lake, too.

I've shared parallel moments with Gail ever since we met in Minneapolis in 1994, all kinds of little similarities in thought and detail, many of them from a distance.

So it made sense that at the end of that phone call she mentioned a book, The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.

She told me that it was a lecture by a professor who died of cancer, who spoke not of death but of life and how he lived. "That's exactly what I've been thinking about today," I said, "Living and dying and optimism."

I didn't really know what I meant, my thoughts were playing bumper car in my brain and probably still are. I definitely didn't know that Randy Pausch had died only three days previous and that he'd been a professor at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. I was on his turf.

The book looked small when I bought it. "Uh oh," I thought, "I hope this isn't chicken soup for the soul." I was skeptical because a lecture on achieving your childhood dreams sounds treacly. The fact that he'd been watched by millions of people on You Tube and by another few million on Oprah didn't, in my mind, help.

But that is an example of me being too cool for Oprah. Sometimes I have to get over that.

Do many popular inspirational writers make me want to choke myself with the crayons that I'm so whimsically instructed to color with? Yes. SARK, I will let you know when I'm in the mood to "build a fort with blankets" and "giggle with children". Or better yet, I'll just go ahead and DO THAT STUFF without consulting your magical poster first.

But guess what?

I appreciated The Last Lecture. A few people told me that it was "heavy" but it wasn't heavy. It was LIGHT. Surprisingly, I didn't mind. I usually like it when books make me work harder. I mean, Randy Pausch was smart - nerd smart - but these stories are simple. No need to refer to your engineering or philosophy degree to get it.

He was dying of pancreatic cancer when he gave the lecture, stories for his kids that he wouldn't get to tell later, on how to take your dreams seriously and set a high standard for yourself and not settle. How to keep learning and having fun while doing hard things and being a big old kid.

National bestsellers are almost by definition accessible to lots of people, easy to read and easy to follow. I can be a snob about it when I'm not stooping, Steve Martini style, but I didn't get all SARKed out by this one.

I just felt psyched that someone so shamelessly dorky about computer science and virtual reality and f'ing Disney World, where I never even wanted to go when I was 10 years old, and football - FOOTBALL - made me sit up straight.

I don't think it hurt that I started reading in the cafe of the American Museum of Natural History when I had time to kill between the space movie and the dinosaur movie I'd bought tickets to.

Thanks, Gail.


Loading dock poetry

As captured with an iPhone.
Albany, NY 


Bad karma shirt

Today I woke up and mentally recapped the night before in New York: Wine, more wine, enchiladas, Guinness, more Guinness, Times Square chicken-on-a-stick, minibar M&Ms, minibar Kit Kat, not enough water, not enough sleep.

So I'm not feeling all that well this morning. I should have immediately pounded water, swallowed a handful of vitamins, and jumped in the shower when I woke up. Instead I skipped the shower, pulled my hair into a ponytail and sprayed on perfume. I cut the neck out of the Cincinnati, Ohio shirt that our promoters offered me from a charity donation box and went to work.

I walked into the promoters' office and they said, "Look what she did to the shirt we gave her! She destroyed our present to her!"

"Your present!" I said. "You stole this from an orphan!"

"They aren't orphans," they said. "Just poor."

"You are not helping," I said, guilt setting in.

So, yeah, I'm an asshole but at least I get to look like Flashdance's Jennifer Beals, minus the flawless skin and ability to weld steel.