Car Trek


Sunday September 30th, 2012 – Columbia, SC/Kenosha, WI

   There’s nothing like an 832 mile seven state epic trek in a rental car to blow the cobwebs out of one’s brain pan. I knew I was in for this drive today, so I tried my best to prepare for it. In the old days I used to make drives like this all the time, but those days are over. Now, I’m just plain old.

I tried to take as long of a nap as I could this afternoon, but it wasn’t that long as I rediscovered Columbia, SC after being away for so many years. I tried to find where The Punch Line club was located, but I couldn’t. I did manage to run across a delicatessen called ‘Groucho’s’ that has been open since 1941 and I remember eating several meals there with comedians when I worked here.

It was a favorite hangout for comedians because it was loaded with gorgeous college girls who worked there as servers. The food was mediocre at best, but the women were incredible and we’d eat there frequently. Hooters has made billions with the same formula, but Groucho’s did it first.

There was a new crop of scorchers working who may well have been the daughters of the ones I flirted with in my 20s, but now all I wanted to do was get a meal. My waitress was smoking hot in the looks department but ice cold everywhere else. She knew she didn’t have to work at being a good waitress and she didn’t. I’m sure she thinks cuteness will get her by forever. Don’t we all.

The opener last night was a nice kid out of Washington D.C. named Jimmy Meritt. He handled himself quite well, and totally reminded me of myself when I was starting out. There are a whole other set of circumstances to deal with from the opener’s standpoint, and he’s cutting his teeth as we all have to do. I wish him well, as I do the other guys who opened for me the rest of the week.

I tried to make it a point to spend at least a few quality minutes talking with all the openers this week, as I recall how good it felt when headliners would talk to me when I was in coming up the ranks. Not all of them did, and I totally see why now. But back then it made me feel like an ass.

I didn’t realize back then all that goes into being a comedian, and sometimes it’s just nice to be left alone to one’s thoughts. I’m sure a lot of those headliners who ignored me then didn’t do it to be mean, but now that I’m in that position I always try to find time to at least say a sincere hello.

Funny itself has surprisingly little to do with the comedy business in those early years. It comes with time, but the early years are about getting used to everything else. There’s a lot to learn, and I look at kids like Jimmy and wonder if I’d do it all over again if I had to. I can’t say I would, but I can’t say that I wouldn’t either. I’d do a lot of things differently, but that lure of stage is strong.

Being on that stage when it’s going well is quite simply the most thrilling feeling I’ve ever felt. People say the same thing about sex, and I guess there are a lot of similarities. A lot of effort gets put forth making circumstances just right so it can take place – but then it’s over way too quickly.

At least with comedy a lot more people feel good, and I’m glad I chose to make it a part of my life for this long. I’ve taken it from total beginner status to now being one people go to for help.

I don’t mind that role at all, and in fact I relish it. I love being the big brother figure to as many young comics as I can, because I totally get their mindset. Most of them are dented cans like me, and I can talk to them on a level few others can reach. I’ve done exactly what they’re aspiring to.

What I didn’t aspire to was making 832 mile drives, but that comes with the territory. I needed to get back to Kenosha, WI by 8pm today to host The Mothership Connection radio show on AM 1050 WLIP. I had a jam packed lineup of guests ready to go, and it was too late to back out now.

I was packed and ready to leave right after the show, and thankfully the club manager squared up with me quickly. Once in a while they fart around and make us wait, and there’s nothing to do but sit around and stew. They’ve got the power, and we don’t. Tonight it worked out perfectly.

I’d already gassed up earlier in the day – another lesson I learned the hard way. Columbia isn’t a small town, but sometimes it’s hard to find a gas station open late and more than once I’ve had to sleep over in a town when I wanted to get on the road and start driving. But that was long ago. It’s been years since that’s been an issue because I always gas up as soon as I arrive in a town.

I did allow myself a treat and stopped for a quick bite at Waffle House on my way out of town. Any northerner who misses a chance to experience the Waffle House misses a lot. It’s a Southern institution, and I’ve loved them for years. My diabetes diagnosis makes it a lot tougher to choose acceptable menu items, but since I hadn’t been there in a long time I knew it wouldn’t kill me.

Food is only part of the Waffle House experience. Watching the array of unusual humanoid life forms continuously wander in and out is endlessly fascinating. These are definitely not the pretty people in life as a rule, and it sort of reminds me of an indoor carnival or bus station with meals.

I’m not saying they’re bad people, they’re just interesting to observe. For example, my waitress this evening was a lady named Rainbow who had a Mohawk. No joke. She was a very sharp lady actually, and my order was perfect in every way. It was a dinner/show combo, and I enjoyed it.

I would have loved to go back to the hotel and relax, but I knew I needed to cut mud and drive. I didn’t need any GPS because I knew the route from my years on the road. I-26 to I-40 through Asheville, NC and into Knoxville, TN. Then I-75 north to Cincinnati and I-74 up to Indianapolis.

I wish I didn’t have to miss the scenery around Asheville and Knoxville by driving at night, but I had no choice. I listened to some country music on the radio, and let my thoughts wind through my brain like my rental car wound through the mountain roads. I got lost in thought and kept the car moving until I couldn’t stay awake anymore which was about an hour north of Cincinnati.

This trip really put a lot of closure on many things in my life. I was able to get a good measure of how far I’ve come in comedy and life, and know that I’m not going to be pounding it like this much longer. The shows are still fun, but what it takes to get there is just not worth it. I’ve had a hell of a run, but now I need to prepare for whatever is next. This was fun, but it was also work. I like working, but this isn’t very efficient. If I’m going to drive like this, I should be a trucker.

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