Ethan was stoked on driving for ten hours through winding mountains and then having to figure out how to navigate the Jam Van into my parents’ driveway. Definitely fucked up the neighbor’s lawn, trees, maybe mailbox, but that neighbor throws too many yard sales, so we never did like her.
Day one found us doing some menial “mandatory” tasks, like getting Ethan a haircut. His inch of silver fleece had grown too disheveled for the Navy’s finest. We had to get him some toiletries too, captivating stuff. We grabbed some tacos in the Arts District, which coincidentally was just an abandoned sketchy building district the last time I lived in Asheville (c. 2001). I once drove down River Road which runs adjacent to the area and upon turning into the heart of what is now the Arts District, I passed a horse corpse that had been ripped in half and lay about the road, but that’s neither here nor there. Asheville is Asheville now, it’s happenin’—I dig that.
Early evening found us at Highland Brewing Company’s brewery, which used to be a failed film studio that I once upon a time had an internship or part time gig or something at. Now they make beer there, no more movies, although you can still see the old BR Films logo faded behind a new coat of paint on the water tower.
They were hosting a fundraiser for the National Parks Service, hence our presence. Unfortunately, they stuck us in a corner of the facility that nobody really seemed to be interested in. Instead the crowds flocked to the main entrance through which they’d find the night’s entertainment.
So Morty, Ethan, and I answered a few questions from some devoted Jam Van fans (a whole 2 of them) that actually did find us and then we did what you’re supposed to do in a situation like that, we packed up and hit the road. Again, Ethan had to park in my parents’ driveway. This time he only did damage to my dad’s holly bush, which I’m pretty sure everyone in the family is over anyways.
By late that evening the rest of the crew had arrived. Eric booked them a crappy Days Inn on the outskirts of town (whoops). The following morning would find us up early at a parking lot outside of a Blue Ridge Parkway welcome center. This one was by far the tightest of all of the National Parks events that we did on this trip. That’s not just a hometown call either, although I did sucker my mother into being one of the chefs in our Dole series. Sorry about that ma, it was too damn hot out for that nonsense.
Throughout the day there was a steady stream of heads at the event. I even saw a bunch of what looked to be Amish people there. Which brought me to questioning how the Amish got to Western North Carolina and even more so how they got up the Blue Ridge Parkway without a car. Which lead me to determine that they might have been Quakers.
The tunes that day were top of the line. That area is a breeding ground for a diverse type of good music. We linked up with The Broadcast who we’ve been trying to get in The Van for a minute. They got the seal of approval from my father, who is not usually fast with the compliments. He also dug The Fritz, a band that when they were in The Van recording, all of the other musicians that were still hanging outside were listening in appreciation and commenting on how good it was. That’s kind of like going to a Chinese restaurant and being the only not Chinese people there, you know it’s going to be legit.
One of those bands hanging around was Stoplight Observations, a group whom we met one summer at Bonnaroo in the artist camping area. They were crashing in tents next to our tents and we booked them a session in The Van and it was a solid summer that year, I do remember that. These kids were young back then, man, I’m pretty sure I was kinda young then, and here we are a few years down the road, nobody as young anymore, them still a band, just a little different looking and sounding, us still filming bands and writing down the shit we do to keep listening. Our videos also a little different looking and sounding. Each of us a bit further on down the line.
A thunder storm kicked into high gear right as the Stoplight Observations’ boys were loading gear into The Van. Thunder and lighting is like the call to action for the park rangers. They cleared every damn body off that parking lot with a quickness. I ducked into The Van to sit in on Stoplight’s session, a fortuitous coincidence. Those boys know how to have fun and they know how to play instruments. They also know how to have fun with those instruments. When the session was over, so too was the Thunderstorm. That’s NC Summer for you.
Another National Park event was done. A lot of chocolate covered pineapple chunks were handed out. A lot of music was played. A good handful of people enjoyed it. A lot of people will continue to enjoy it on the internet. Roll with it.
After the event we stuck around in Asheville for a few days before the next leg of our ride. We’d added Jon to our travel crew for this stretch. He works our second camera.
For much of the week I bunkered down at my parents’ house. From that there’s not much to report. I took the fellas hiking with a buddy from grade school. He took us to a spot that he kept calling “skinny dip falls” so I thought we were going somewhere new, but when we got there I immediately recognized it to be Mile Marker 416, which my friends and I had been coming to for a swimming hole for years. Nobody skinny dips there. It’s cold as shit. The type of cold that snatches your breath when you break into the water. It feels good when you get out, but you can’t get out quick enough. That type of cold.
Other than that I just took a mom and pop week, which is sometimes the best way to spend a week. I picked Morty and the boys up from their Air B & B on Friday morning. Morty told me he found some magic for everyone at “Funk Night.” I took that to mean they had a good week and enjoyed Asheville. From there on we were back in the same bubble… for the most part.
Cleveland I knew to be an easy one-day drive from Asheville, having traversed a similar route to college in Ann Arbor many times, years ago. Ohio is like a straight shoot up from Western Carolina, and along that shoot you traverse some very scenic, and very rural territory. Most notably, West Virginia.
We did not linger long in West Virginia, but the moments we had require recanting, as it is quite a special place. Our first stop in Coal Country was unprompted. The Van got tired of going up and down hills in 100-degree weather and needed a break. Ideally we could have taken that break somewhere that we could have eaten. Instead, we took it at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. The looks we get at gas stations when we pull up in The Van are always fun. The looks we got in West Virginia were extremely fun.
Morty and I went into a one room, brick, post office which was oddly enough the only thing next to the gas station. The mailman on duty wasn’t sure that he had any stamps… at the post office. He had to check in the back. That was the high point of our first stop in West Virginia, oh, and I got a new type of Funion that I’d never seen before. They were pretty gross.
Our second stop was for lunch in the capital city of Charleston. We didn’t see much, and I’m pretty sure there wasn’t much to see, but there were several teen pregnancy centers and a restaurant that served veggie burgers. Most likely the only one. Morty found it on Yelp, so we ate there, he’s the restaurant guy. They had an ad on the wall for a Three Doors Down concert. Ethan mentioned that he had been to a Three Doors Down concert put on by the US Navy back in his service days. He claims he went to see the opening act, not Three Doors Down. The only crucial information here is that Ethan has been to a Three Doors Down concert. That was West Virginia.
Ohio is just above West Virginia. As a Michigan grad this is something that gives me great joy. Driving through much of Ohio is quite similar to driving through West Virginia, so we don’t need to dwell on it. Just know that we made it to Cleveland, found our parking space and one out of two Uber drivers who knew how to get to our hotel.
Morty and I had been in The Van for like twelve hours that day, so going straight to bed was not our first order of business. We needed to stretch. We got drunk instead. It is safe to say the Midwest is as I last left it circa 2005, very good at drinking. Over the course of our two days there I saw more than a lifetime’s worth of vomit and bachelorette parties. Not necessarily in that order.
The area that we were crashing at is a redeveloped spot by the river called The Flats. Our waitress in West Virginia actually suggested to us that we go there. We didn’t go just on account of her recommendation, but in retrospect it all makes perfect sense. The establishments nearby to our hotel were gigantic restaurants and bars kind of like you’d find at a theme park. It couldn’t just be a taco spot with beer, it had to be a taco spot with beer and beer pong, and corn-hole and a giant chess board out front.
This is where we met the first of our Cleveland acquaintances. Throughout the trip Morty was in the mindset that he’s good at chess. So when he saw the giant chess board it was only natural that he would eventually gravitate towards it. We did so near closing time, and immediately encountered a like-minded challenger for Morty. He told us his name was Jonas, “like the Weezer song.” I’m pretty sure his name wasn’t Jonas. He had a buddy with him who I’m pretty sure did not refer to him as “Jonas.” He agreed to play Morty in chess when we told him that Morty used to have a unique relationship with Bobby Fisher through which Bobby Fisher received mind enhancing substances from Morty. None of this was true but Jonas and his buddy seemed to believe it. So they played giant chess. A normal transaction.
Morty began the game by proclaiming that “white always goes first.”
This did not sit well with Jonas’ companion who was not white. We both called Morty a racist and the game of chess commenced. Morty, as luck would have it, is not that good at chess when he’s not playing insomniac construction workers. My name is Jonas kicked his ass with a quickness. This pleased his companion who continuously kept referencing that there were a lot of drunk females passing by and that he was stuck “playing chess with you mother fuckers.” To this day it seems like a very valid point.
That was the climax of our first night in Cleveland. Morty lost at chess to a guy with a fake name from a Weezer song. It was a damn good night.
The following morning it was made aware to me that it was our production manager, Eric’s, birthday. Eric is usually a business in the front, party in the back type of guy, so we let him maintain a professional heir about himself during our third and final National Parks’ event. As a result, it went off smoothly (aside from a massive thunderstorm which seems to be how we like to conclude these things).
We set up next to that river in Cleveland that caught on fire back in the day. It looked about as clean as a river that can catch on fire could look. Oddly enough, that did not dissuade people from canoeing, kayaking, waterskiing, etc. I guess you take nature where and how you find it in Cleveland.
The music that day was excellent per usual. I’ll highlight two groups. The first was Wesley Bright, a local soul singer with a full band backing him. I watched this session from the comfort of a folding chair beside our merch table. Next to me sat a family of three, the parents may be a few years my senior. It was clear that their kid was getting a bit bothered by the heat but they had come to see Wesley, and his mom and dad wanted to try and wait it out because they said their baby was into “old fashioned music.” They managed to make it through sound check and catch a couple of songs. Sure enough, the kid perked up and smiled as they moved him to the beat. Sometimes when you watch live music you don’t necessarily watch the band.
The other standout from the day was The Lawsuits, both because I liked their music and because they said they’d slept in a Wal-Mart parking lot en route the night before. Gotta respect the fact that they knew where they could sleep in the van and wake up next to a bathroom at any time of the night/morning. That’s a varsity move.
Then came the aforementioned storm. This time there weren’t any park rangers to rush us inside. Instead a lot of us got drenched, including the birthday boy, who worked up until the last band was wrapped. Then he started drinking. Then we took him out to one of those ridiculously large restaurants for his birthday dinner. His birthday food was pretty terrible, but his birthday Fireball shots were exactly what they were supposed to be. I lost count on how many we got him but some chicks we asked in the elevator suggested we give him 16 drinks. In very much the same fashion as Ethan with his steak challenge, Eric did not make it to sixteen drinks.
At dinner that night Jack told us a story about how African villagers tricked him into smoking elephant shit. Only in Jack’s version of the story it’s a traditional ritual and very much a cool thing to do. Also, Morty played some more chess on the giant chess board that was across the street. This time his opponent was our local sound PA for the day. I think they both maybe got a piece of the board from the other person in about thirty minutes. Then food came and they bailed. That is to say, Morty was still bad at chess.
Our next stop on the night was some kind of Dave and Buster’s type place if Dave and Buster’s was bought up by a strip club franchise. There were video games, bowling alleys, again, lots of drunken bachelorette parties, flashing lights, and a plethora of vomit. There were people with vomit on them, there was vomit on tables, there was vomit on the floor, none of that is an exaggeration, Cleveland likes to get lit.
I am not a fan of vomit, so I lasted about ten minutes in that establishment. Soon I was rejoined in the hotel by Morty, who also is not a fan of vomit. We rendezvoused in the lobby where a few of our other cohorts had decided they weren’t interested in vomit either. We’d lost Ethan (no doubt calling his girlfriend), DBell, and the volunteer sound guy. I think he found something during that game of chess with Morty and decided he needed to be somewhere else.
What was left of our group lurked in the lobby during a particularly busy time of the evening. There we met an insomniac from Argentina. She was skyping with a gentleman caller in public because her grandmother was asleep in her room. The dude she was skyping did not look stoked that a pack of five dudes had entered his screenshot.
At the same time there was a steady stream of people flowing back from a wedding that must have been inside the hotel, because earlier I had grabbed a sign that read “Ritzman/Zalinsky Wedding” directing people towards that party. I then had that sign whilst in the lobby chatting with the insomniac and was able to rouse both the Ritzman and the Zalinksy crowd whenever they passed.
What of our birthday boy you ask? He was there, several shades to somewhere. I believe he made his final birthday toast in the vicinity of the hotel lobby couch and it was ‘see you tomorrow’ from there. The hotel lobby was close to as good as it got, and sometimes that’s not a bad thing. After-all, you don’t have to find your way home.
On top of finding his way home, Morty also re-found Jonas. I don’t know how, it was like 5AM, but he found him, on the giant chalk board, and while I’m not a huge fan of bringing random, sort of sketchy dudes, into our hotel rooms (anywhere really), Jonas seemed like he had decent vibes about him (and no gun), so I, or whatever is left of me at 5AM in Cleveland, allowed it. Jonas had a rough look about him, but for the most part everything out of his mouth was pretty peaceful. So it was either a good trick or legit, and sometimes you just let it ride. We did just that and in return we were treated to a bit of Jonas’ life story and a look into his pockets as he was continuously pulling out things, most alarming of which were small bags of change that he’d buried deep into his cargo shorts.
Apparently my man had a kid, so naturally he had a baby-mama, and he talked about them a little bit, but mostly he focused on mistakes that he’d made en route to where he was at that moment, which was in a hotel room in Cleveland at what was eventually 6AM with Morty and I. He seemed to have a strong handle on what he thought about things, so I thought it best not to debate. He and Morty went to Wal Mart towards daybreak to buy a chess set. Apparently he started nodding out in the parking lot and Morty made the decision for him to go home. Jonas kept the chessboard.
The following morning it was doing as it does in the Mid-West, grey and rainy and just as I’ve always remembered it. It matches a hangover far better than California sunshine. Morty and I were somewhere between a hangover and still hanging when we met Ethan in the lobby to catch an Uber back to our chariot.
The Uber driver tried to tell us that RZA couldn’t ride in his car because he’s a dog. A brief discussion ensued and I soon had a damp dog on my lap. When we arrived, The Van was only lightly flooded and all of the bean bags were dry, so Morty and I descended into them and subsequently a hole that consisted of a lot of video games and bad jokes for close to about ten hours a day for I believe four days.
If you haven’t yet seen the other sessions from our cross-country road trip, click here!