Smells Like America
September, just prior to leaving Seattle. Photo by Una Simone.
For the past month Rachel and I had been giving some serious thought to the question of what we’d be doing with ourselves now that winter was finally coming. It isn’t just a question of comfort—there’s a practical limit to how cold it can get and still have functional fiddle fingers, and how cold our audience can be and still be interested in sticking around long enough to enjoy us. And as the warmth slowly seeped out of Italy, the question suddenly seemed even more pressing.
Our first instincts were to travel to Istanbul, a busking-friendly cosmopolitan city full of vigor and life and slightly warmer weather. But looking at the projected weather averages made it clear that even in Turkey we would be faced with many, many days of not playing at all. We’d have to write off any time spent there in the winter months as a loss.
But we were saved by a deal on airline tickets, and an offer from a friend. If we were willing to fly a circuitous route, on December 12th, we could get a flight to Orlando for an incredibly low rate, which would include a return flight to Rome in the spring. Orlando just happens to be my hometown, and after a little discussion with our friend James, it was clear he would be happy to put us up for a while. So we snatched up the tickets and tried to prepare ourselves for the reverse culture shock we would surely experience returning to the States.
Looking solely at the weather, it would seem like this is clearly the right choice. There’s nowhere in Europe that’s as warm in the winter as the southern United States, and just holing up and hoping for the best seemed less and less sensible in the face of affordable travel, and as our days of not being able to play due to rain or cold mounted up. But coming back, we would be dealing with a completely different set of problems, namely, busking in Orlando proper is, as far as we know, completely illegal, seen by the local government as some kind of coercive and intrusive panhandling.
I’d like to say that these are the thoughts I was having as we set off for the Roman airport, but the reality is both of us were too occupied by the prospect of our torturous day of travel—three flights sandwiched between two car rides, for a grand total of 25.5 hours of travel.
And it was just as brutal as you might imagine, although made nicer by the easy-going attitudes of the Italian and Spanish flight and gate attendants, who were more than helpful in getting our instruments safely aboard the plane. Our second flight was the transcontinental one, from Madrid to Dallas Texas, and lasted nearly twelve hours. Rachel spent eight hours of that time snacking and reading the first draft of my new book. I spent the same amount of time on the lyrics to a single song, obsessively completing verse after verse, working and reworking and discarding as I went. At the end of the eight hours I had completed the lyrics, which had only existed as a chorus and a melody before we boarded the plane. In the past I’ve found it very easy to write on planes, probably mainly because of the enforced stillness, which keeps me from troubling distractions like exercise and other people. But in this case, I mainly kept going to ward off the feeling of entrapment, which threatened to overtake me as soon as I was done.
Rachel and I filled the remainder of our flight with catching up on the world of television. (spoiler—it’s still not good. At least, not on an airplane.)
By the time we arrived in Texas, we were stumbling, exhausted wrecks, and still four hours and one boarding short of our destination. “Smells like America,” Rachel said as we walked by one of the airport’s many restaurants. Apparently America smells like fried food and black coffee and recycled air.
Mercifully both of us were able to sleep on our last flight, only waking up as the wheels of the plane were hitting the tarmac. One disembarkment later and we were at last in Florida. It was warm and lovely and stepping out of the airport into the beautiful night was the first moment I knew for certain that we had made the right decision.
So how does this return to the states affect our trip? Strangely enough, it’ll probably end up resulting in more playing than if we had remained in Europe or headed to Istanbul, even given the legal state of things in Orlando. We’re a road trip away from half a dozen buskable cities in the southern United States, and we’ll have other performance opportunities as well. The first of those will be happening this Friday, as we’ll be performing alongside members of Orlando’s the Silver Fleece at Stardust Video and Coffee, trying out some of our new material. And there are plans afoot for us to provide the music for a few plays while we’re here as well.
And there’s a part of me that would like nothing better than to challenge the status quo here, give my hometown some idea of what real busking looks like and why it’s worthwhile. We’ll certainly be taking (and writing about!) the first steps in that direction in the next few weeks. But in the meanwhile, we’re both just grateful to be in a place where we can go outside without wearing everything we own simultaneously. So long Italy! We’ll see you again when you’re warmer.
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