Carrollton, KY

Carrollton, KY


Long John Silver's is not actually a good idea for a road trip.



I was telling someone from the label about my feelings for Lionel Richie, how they've surged over the last three months since seeing him twice in Nashville. "I was never not a fan but now I think I LOVE him," I said, "I can't even believe how excited I was to see him sing at the Ryman. I totally fanned out." "I know," she said, "I feel the same way. He seems like the nicest person."

"This is how he smiled when I saw him at the hotel," I said and stood from the chair I'd been slumped in. I walked past her but kept my eyes locked on hers the whole time, a huge smile plastered from ear to ear. "It looked genuine, too."

"Do you remember the video for Hello from the eighties?" I asked. "That's what I keep thinking of. That's Lionel Richie to me."

What makes me laugh about Hello the video from 1984 is the suspension of disbelief, that Lionel as teacher can sing his love for his blind student right there in the middle of class or the school hallway and no one gives a dang. He paces and broods and creeps around and makes silent prank calls to his student's home while she reads braille in bed WHEN HE'S NOT SINGING IN EVERYONE'S FACE ABOUT IT LIKE A CRAZY MAN. And he has the same exact hair as the object of his affection. Her bangs-on-mullet are slightly longer, that's it. The saving grace is that she loves him back and sculpts his likeness in clay, her blindness notwithstanding. Without this sculpture he'd be just a horny love-struck teacher on the verge of getting cited by the administration.

Also, it's been 18 years and his hair overall is shorter but his mustache is exactly the same as it is on the album cover that I got in the mail today.

"Hello? Is it me you're looking fo-or?"


Waking up in New York

Laughing quietly to myself

About how at 5:30 am I asked a security guy at the Today Show where the coffee is and he said, "This dirty ass shit?" and held up the cup in his hand. "This shit sucks, I'll be honest. Right this way." AND GOOD MORNING, SIR.


Afterstorm light

It was a sunny day that turned grey and by the time I left the house in late afternoon there was a full-blown lightning storm, the kind of storm that stands your hair on end to see the electric crack at the end of the street. We hurried down the sidewalk in the rain, pulling our shirts and jackets closer, huddling into ourselves. By the time we got home the storm had passed and the night sky was falling, pierced by light only in places.



I was totally going to keep it on the down low that yesterday was my birthday. Matthew pointed out that since I'm back on Facebook that might be hard (good point) but he didn't tell me that he'd already texted Rob because Rob would NOT miss the chance to embarrass me. Nothing embarrassing to a normal person happened but since I'm bashful about being born, it was plenty: everyone I work with pretended like they didn't know all day until they'd gotten a chance to buy cake and balloons and when I was lured onto the bus by someone who acted like she was upset and needed to talk, I climbed aboard holding a case of spring water only to be met by everyone singing and laughing at me. Then I tried to blow out the trick candles and wished I'd showered or changed my clothes from the night before since I was being filmed. It was super sweet.

The night before, as we were driving to Wichita, I talked to Sara on the phone because her birthday is the day before mine. We always laugh about her idea that even if birthdays don't seem like a big deal, there might be a tiny part of us that is disappointed when there isn't a parade in our honor and that the Mayor doesn't declare some sort of holiday. She called a few minutes before midnight and said that we should always talk to each other during the transition from March 15 to 16 and pass her birthday off to mine. "Your float is slowing down and dropping to the back of the parade and mine is taking the lead," I said to her. "Shit, I think your float just crashed into the bleachers." She disagreed and said her float parked safely so we argued about that for awhile.

My birthday ended up being a very busy, very hectic day. After things calmed down around dinnertime, I finally made it inside to the locker room to take a shower. I took a second to check Facebook and saw all the messages from friends so I took a few photos of myself to post on FB and say thanks. Someone asked me if I'd had a good birthday and I said, "Yeah, it wasn't bad. It was good." I've had worse. The Maryland potato chip debacle and the three-hour flat on the side of the highway spring to mind.

Patton Oswalt's take on why we should only celebrate 20 birthdays per lifetime here.


Old and new

This photo is so Nashville to me. Crumbling building in foreground surrounded by neglected lot, barbed wire fence, and debris spilling out of doorways. Upscale building in distance, part of The Gulch, the first neighborhood in the South to get LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Neighborhood Development certification for green building, new urbanism, and smart growth.


Sorghum Tornado Relief Mix

I haven't experienced a tornado but I remember my mom grabbing me from the bathtub when I was very young, wrapping me in a blanket, and carrying me into the basement where we stayed for what felt like a long time, waiting out a storm. Growing up in southern Ohio there were regular tornado watches and warnings but none that came close to my home so I came to recognize the strange colored sky that precedes a storm but never felt or heard the rumbling of a funnel cloud on my street.

Two weeks ago, I woke up in a hotel in Birmingham, AL to blustery winds and contradictory news reports. The local news instructed us to take shelter while the national forecast said the tornadoes would pass to the north of us. I asked the hotel what their plan was should a tornado touch down and they said we'd all be corralled in the first floor ballroom but the guys at the concierge desk didn't seem worried. Within a few hours we were driving south to Florida, watching the Weather Channel. I checked in with my mom and she told me that Cincinnati had been spared and that the tornado cut a path south of the city, moving east.

South of the city is Kentucky and one of the towns leveled on March 2 was West Liberty. I just spent an hour watching tornado videos on YouTube, at the raw shaky footage of people going, "Oh my Gawd!" and "Holy crap!" as they film the cloud cover racing in their direction, relatives in the background yelling, "Seriously Jason, get inside NOOOW!" In this situation I would definitely be the screaming relative as there's very little storm chaser in me. In fact, I would be in the bathtub with a hardback book over my head as the tub is now my go-to for emergencies. After last Spring's tornado chewed up Missouri and spit it back out, my friend Neil worked on disaster relief in the area and told me that in one residential plot after another he saw nothing left behind except for the bathtub, anchored to the ground by good plumbing. So unless your tub is next to a wall of windows, take note.

Please also take note that Ellie Herring, a friend I haven't met yet, put together a compilation entitled Sorghum of new songs available for purchase and all proceeds benefit the Mid-East Kentucky Chapter American Red Cross to aid the tornado victims of West Liberty, KY.


Strawberry Festival


We had a little time before we needed to get ready for the show at the Strawberry Festival so we walked through the festival grounds. There was time for one ride and we tried to pass quickly by the stalls selling funnel cakes, turkey legs, and cotton candy, looking for that one ride. Speed loomed over us, just ahead.

"That's it, that's what we're doing."

"You're going on it right, Jess?"


I've come far since I cried on the Camp Joy ropes course in fifth grade, a long line of irritated children waiting behind me for their turn. My breakthrough roller coaster moment was in England in 1986 when I swallowed my fears, stuck my glasses down my pants and threw my arms up for the first time. Despite my fear of heights, I've bungee jumped and would sky dive but still I think carnival rides are the worst. Who made these rides? Who's checking that they're still safe? How tired or strung out on meth are the ride operators I unkindly wonder? For all my love of adrenaline, I have a corresponding fear of carnival tragedy. Am I prejudiced and would I feel differently at Disney World, Six Flags, or Kings Island? Absolutely, yes.

I was using my work brain when I agreed to go on the ride and was calculating how long we had to get back to the trailer to get ready without being late. Anything to move us along and stay on schedule, OF COURSE I'LL GO ON SPEED. The festival director who was leading us through the crowd took our phones and sunglasses. We walked up the steps to the metal grating platform and sat in the bucket seats. A bored carnie who, in fairness, did NOT look even slightly drugged, pulled the chest restraints down so that they locked over our shoulders and I thought for the first time, WHAT AM I DOING I HATE THIS. I checked that my restraint had actually locked by pushing and pulling it repeatedly. "I didn't think this through," I said to my seatmate.

The Speed arm began to move, lifting us up and around slowly so that we were perched at the top while the other end loaded. I would have had a fantastic view of Plant City, FL had I looked around. Instead I closed my eyes and felt the wind and the swaying of the chunk of metal we were attached to. We'd driven through Alabama the night before, through storms that were "capable of producing devastating tornadoes" as the weather channel kept saying. Devastating tornadoes did touch down in Indiana and south of Cincinnati and north of us in Alabama. Our bus took the long route to Florida to stay as clear of the storm's path as possible and though we saw rain and dark skies and most ominous of all, flocks of birds flying strangely in circles, we didn't see any tornadoes. None of my windows back home in Nashville broke like other people's and the ice cubes of hail that pelted the city damaged nothing of mine.

I'd had a conversation on the bus that night with someone who asked me if I'm the type of person who thinks that nothing bad will happen to me. "Nope," I said, "but I used to be." There's an extensive back catalog of stupid stuff I've done while thinking nothing bad would happen to me but that feeling has been slipping away for several years. Ever since the accident we witnessed in December, I'm more afraid of drivers. The Tennessee drivers who don't signal and cut each other off make me nervous. I was in my bunk when David, our excellent bus driver, braked harder than usual. I went up front to sit in the jump seat and he told me a car drove straight into the back of a truck before crossing all the lanes of traffic, right in front of our bus, and going off the road. On our way home, 30 miles outside of Nashville, we stopped on the highway for an accident. When we passed the flashing of a dozen cop and ambulance lights, a helicopter was landing, a body bag on the ground.

I know terrible things can happen to anyone and to me. Swaying in the wind at the top of Speed, pieces of metal and nuts and bolts holding me in place, was enough. "Isn't there enough danger to avoid? Aren't there enough natural rushes to be had? Do I need this whether it's truly dangerous or not?" Then we fell. Backwards at first, we swooped towards the ground, our seats upright for half a turn before they, too, began to spin. I was looking at ground and sky and my feet floating up in front of me and I closed my eyes again and screamed from deep in my throat. I didn't care about the stomach-turning drops and dizzying turns and I never started laughing like I do on other rides. I just didn't want Speed to break, I didn't want to slip out of my seat or be catapulted onto the nearby log flume. I totally failed at Speed and felt nothing but relief when we finally glided to a stop. My hands were shaking when I took my phone back from the festival director. "You looked like you were going to throw up," he said. I nodded.

I went back into work mode, "Okay guys, we need to head back," but my mind was elsewhere. Why go on a carnival ride and be afraid when there's probably nothing to be afraid of? Why not stick to more valid fears, not to paralyzed but to be spurred to action? Like the climate change causing wacky weather patterns all over the world, including the tornadoes of the past few days? Like the political violence overtaking huge regions of the world. Someone said to me recently that if we knew what governments know, we'd never sleep at night. I want to sleep at night but don't want to be oblivious. If I lived another life, would the ride be a welcome escape or a complete joke? Would it be easier or harder to just buckle up and laugh?


Lionel Richie, Ryman Auditorium

Suddenly Lionel Richie is everywhere as in two places I've been lately, which sounds egocentric but that's 200% more Lionel Richie than usual.

Nashville, TN