THE TROY TRIP
This is an extremely lengthy blog, so prepare accordingly.
Last weekend we drove to Troy, New York, to see John Prine in concert. The tickets for this show were a Christmas present from my endlessly thoughtful wife, and within the realm of reality I can’t think of anything I would have rather gotten for Christmas. John Prine is probably my favorite music person of all time (certainly my favorite songwriter), and going on long road trips to unfamiliar destinations is one of my favorite things to do, so most everything about the whole deal couldn’t help but be perfect. She gave me tickets well before Christmas, so I’d been anxious pretty much the last two months of 2007, and last week it all happened, and it, of course, ruled.
We rented a car, because our car sucks blood-drenched, puke-infused shit out of a leperous penis. This was the car.
We had wanted, and requested, a small car. We did not get this. They were out of small cars. So we got a mid-size 2008 Pontiac Something, for the price of a VW Rabbit or Yugo or whatever we would have ended up with if things had gone according to plan. It was undoubtedly the newest car we’ll ever be given the opportunity to drive. Very clean, and quiet, and operational. We felt very badly when a passing flock of inconsiderate birds thoroughly frosted it with their dung while it was parked in the hotel lot a couple days later. The stereo system was clear and booming. I made several CDs, mostly John Prine, and we listened to them on and off over the course of the trip. They eventually became tiresome, as mix CDs on a car trip will, so occasionally we tried out the radio, which was its usual cozily uninspirational self. For the most part, we stuck to rural routes as opposed to much interstate travel, because it’s fun to look at weird stores and people’s houses. The car had a digital display that would occasionally display messages regarding how it felt about the current driving conditions, such as “Low Traction Possible”, “High Incline”, and “Jesus Christ, Look at THAT Guy’. A smooth ride, something we’re unused to with our 1826 Hyundai, which is at the point where it’s displaying wingdings on the odometer, and is currently making a metallic scraping noise whenever we selfishly decide we want to turn right. How fine it must be to make a livable wage.
When traveling in this fashion, I am pretty annoying about the conditions under which we should stop to eat. At home, we can eat dollar menu shitburgers from McDonald’s till the cows come home (home being the toilet, in this case), but on the road, I desire quaint local greasy spoons. Diners populated with garrulous old men, grouchy waitresses, and breakfast served all day. The kind of place where the coffee mugs have unfunny cartoons and ads for local orthodontists on them, the menu is a laminated double-sided one-sheet, and you have to take your check up to the cash register and pay there, probably right next to one of those plastic crying hound dogs imploring you to insert a quarter into the slot gouged in his nose to help fund room and board for his downtrodden friends at the Humane Society. People, myself included, are prone to complaints about how there are no more Mom N Pop type places to eat, but it’s not true. You just have to be patient, and be willing to cross initially terrifying thresholds. Most every city and especially small town has at least one colorful establishment where you can get a good unhealthy meal for six or seven bucks, and we needed only glimpse the Chelsea Royal Diner in Brattleboro, VT, to know, immediately know, that it was a beaut.
The food could have been horrible and it wouldn’t have mattered. This is exactly, EXACTLY, what I’m thinking of when I want to eat in unfamiliar places. I think we could have just sat there in the parking lot and gazed lovingly at it if we’d been less hungry, but we could hear the sirens of artfully plated lard calling to us, and we made our way inside with giddy haste.
Anytime you have the opportunity to have lunch in an authentic dining car, for Pete’s sake, do it. You just can’t have a bad meal in a dining car. Broiled child head would be good in a dining car. You can’t go wrong. The host hustled us inside and sat us in a booth at the very rear of the place, so that I had an excellent view of the full house of contended albumen-slurpers, an advantage I tend to appreciate far more than Annie, who isn’t big on people watching her eat. Also convenient was the fact that we happened to be located right next to the beverage station, so we received drinks the instant our selection left our lips. I remember nothing about the waitress other than that she appeared to be wearing spandex bicycle shorts and almost gave our change to a neighboring table.
As breakfast was offered, breakfast was had. That’s typically how it goes. I had something called the Royal Feast. It consisted of…well, here, look at it!
So your eyes do not deceive you, that is both pancakes AND a Belgian waffle on that plate. I know! Both! What kind of crazy place lets you buy a breakfast containing both pancakes AND waffles? The Chelsea Royal Diner in Brattleboro, Vermont! Also present are stolid mainstay scrambled eggs, which I flat out cannot enjoy without ketchup, some very satisfyingly cooked bacon (not too crispy, not too floppy), and hash browns (which I find to be far superior to their bland and far too filling cousins, the dreaded home fries). A damn good breakfast, missing only a couple sausage links and maybe some corned beef hash to achieve perfection. But I wasn’t looking for perfection. I was looking for exactly what I got.
LUM-LUM GOODY! That’s a nice cold glass of lemonade, stage left. I hesitate to mention this, but I turned down the waitress’ offer of real maple syrup. I know, I know: I’m in Vermont, I get pancakes, and I specifically request the fake stuff, Aunt Jemima please if you have it. I fully expected to be publicly denounced by the governor of Vermont, then pelted with Chubby Hubby and tied up and left for dead in an ice fishing shack, with only a boom box cranking “Bouncing Around the Room” on repeat for company. Instead, they just plunked down a huge opaque squirty thing of the fake stuff without comment. I love that I didn’t get any attitude for my tacky taste, whether I deserved it or not.
This is what Annie got, incidentally. It was called the Cajun skillet. I had a bite of it. It was nice and zingy. Annie: “It was delicious, and it gave me cankers.”
What a great place to eat, and what a good weekend on which to discover it. It really set the mood for the entire trip. In lieu of playing nearly three hours of flawlessly rendered folk ballads, John Prine could have doused the entire audience in gasoline, threw a match, flipped everyone off and ran, and the trip still would not have been a letdown, thanks to the Royal Diner and their fine breakfast.
We left fat and happy (having entered fat and uncertain) and briskly strode to our rented automobile to recommence our holiday.
The rest of the way there, not much happened. I believe we stopped once so we could go to the bathroom and I could buy a Slim Jim. Oh wait, there was this:
We didn’t notice that “Free Moose Coffee” sign until we looked at the picture on the computer when we got home. Otherwise we would have stopped. A guy dancing (fairly impressively, I might had; here he seemed to be doing a fluid “cabbage patch” variation) in a moose outfit is certainly worth digging the camera out, but free moose coffee is cause to pull over. A unfortunate missed opportunity, forever captured on film.
We got to the luxuriant Best Western hotel in Troy, an old, sad town with a lot of nice old buildings but not much going on otherwise. A bustling community could assuredly be cobbled together amid its pleasingly old-timey atmosphere, but either that’s still in the planning stages or just not going to happen. Nonetheless, elusive charms and threats lurk around every corner, and from what we experienced the city doesn’t deserve all the terrible things that people are saying about it on the internet.
Speaking of that, once we got to the hotel and checked in I got out the laptop and began feverishly researching my new surroundings, having been somewhat unsettled by the crumbling, boarded-up buildings and shady characters lumbering around I’d noticed out the window while we approached our accommodations. This proved to be a mistake. Promises of burglary, rape, and gangland warfare. This little article here (which was, of course, the first article I found while searching) surely didn’t calm me down much, either.
I began to freak out. We would be killed. It got to the point where I was too frazzled to even order take-out over the phone, as the person on the other end of the line would be from New York and thus rude and threatening. It was extremely pathetic, and looking back on it is sobering. I am not a brave man, and it is safe to say that the word “my” does not belong in front of the phrase “street smarts”. But the people at “I Love New York” (which thankfully had nothing to do with the VH1 program, or if it did they didn’t inform us), the pizza delivery place I called, were friendly if no-nonsense, and soon we were excitedly waiting foods. To pass the time, Annie took pictures of me leaping onto the king-size hotel bed.
Hurrah! I’m overweight!
God, that’s unappealing.
A soiled, imposing George Costanza type character appeared at the door to deliver the following foodstuffs:
Beef pizza. Oh, look at that last topping option on the lower right of the box. Free Checking. The whole box was a big Washington Mutual ad. What could compliment a bread disc of tomato sauce and cheese better than a steaming dollop of complimentary financial management?
Barbecue chicken wings. Incidentally, this is the desktop on our computer at the moment.
We didn’t do any exploring our first night there. In fact, we didn’t leave the room. There was a marathon of “America’s Next Top Model” on VH1, which was viewed in its entirety. This might have been at least slightly more understandable if we didn’t get VH1 at home, but we totally do.
I believe that’s Bianca there. Despite rampant bitchiness, I found her to be the most attractive, so I wanted her to win. I fell asleep well before a victor (victette?) was decided, but from what little I observed through my grogginess, I don’t think I backed the right horse.
So the next day, after a middling continental breakfast, offering, among other things, “Malt-O-Meal”, we hit the deserted streets of Troy, got a coffee, verified the location of the concert hall, and avoided eye contact with passerby. I didn’t end up taking many pictures, although there were lots of cool buildings, but here are a couple:
No one will ever mistake my work for Ansel Adams, but fiddle-dee-doo, it was a nice walk, capped by a visit to Uncle Sam Lanes, the bowling alley that was right next door to our hotel. It was surprisingly exciting to have a bowling alley six centimeters away from our hotel, and after determining that they were in fact open we took advantage of their suitably grimy equipment and lanes.
Here are two incredibly crappy pictures of us bowling:
That’s Annie. The lighting wasn’t so hot there. I don’t think enabling the creation of cherished photographic mementos is high on Uncle Sam’s priority list.
And there’s me, showcasing my perfected technique of gently placing the ball on the floor in front of me and hoping for the best.
Annie beat me handily most of the time. I love bowling, but I really, really suck bad at it. I suck bad at lots of stuff, but my bowling badness stands out fluorescently against the many other things I suck at. I won the last string, but as you can see it wasn’t a gleaming victory.
Having bowled, there wasn’t much else to do but hang around our room and wait to be in the same room with my favorite musical performer on Earth. I tried taking some avant-garde pictures using the mirrors in the bathroom to kill some time.
Finally it was time to go. We got all gussied up and took an adorable self-portrait before heading out into the hopefully assault-free night.
Awww, what an adorable barbecue sauce stain on my right cheek! And I never tire of that precious second chin. Oh well, at least the sweater and the wife both look good. By the way, that’s my “breathlessly excited” face.
So after all that, I’m sad to report that I have no pictorial evidence that we ever even saw John Prine. You’ll just have to take my word for it. He definitely gave everyone their money’s worth. It’s great to see a performer with such a vast and impressive arsenal of songs to choose from, and half the fun was in wondering what song I loved he was going to play next, and how would he tweak it, and what engaging story would he bemusedly drawl before launching into the song. The audience was, amusingly enough, mostly made up of dudes who looked a lot like John Prine, or like this:
Old former hippies with bushy ‘staches and funny hairdos. Not a bad bunch to see a show with, really. Calm. No crowd surfing. No standing, even. Just some head-bobbing and lyric-mouthing, an occasional polite attempt to make a request. The music hall we saw it in looked like how you’d imagine the Muppet Show theater to look if it were actually a real venue you could go see shows at, right down to the little balcony box seats that Statler and Waldorf sit in. They actually had those things, and people were sitting in them.
Very cool. The acoustics were amazing. He played everything, and he sounded great. Just him, a guy on a stand-up bass, and a lead guitarist, who also played a nice little opening set that I probably would have been more willing to patiently enjoy had it not been prolonging John Prine.
He’s been around forever, but not many people could really name any of Prine’s tunes. A couple months ago, I tried to excitedly tell people about the awesome concert we were planning to attend, but it never elicited anything other than a “Who?”, which invariably angered me. I might as well have been telling people I was going to a Fernald McGlontysnunts concert. He’s got a very laid back sound, with simple chord patterns, a pleasing croak of a voice, and lyrics that range from funny to bizarre to frightening to poignant and back again. In short, I love him, and I want to put him in my pocket and take him to town. It’s not very modern or hip, his stuff, so mayhap you’ll find little to enjoy about it, but I’m kind of an old man in a lot of ways, so it appeals to me very much. I would happily hand out albums of his to everyone I know, but if people didn’t like it I’d probably snap and start hammering the CD into their anus with a cinder block, so it’s probably best that you experience him on your own time. I’m going to dedicate an entire blog entry to him one of these days (then EVERYONE will know who he is!!!!!! sigh…), so I’ll stop yammering about him for now, but here’s a YouTube clip of him singing something awesome:
All right, that’s all the blog you get for the next eight years. My eyeballs are falling out.