I drove from my parent’s house in Selbyville DE to my grandmother’s in Huddleston Virginia on June 26th, 2021, it took about nine hours with stops. My plan was to give long-ride offers on Craigslist but my post of “send me a picture of yourself and tell me why you’re not creepy” didn’t yield the results it used to.
The ride to my grandmother’s house was magically nostalgic. It was symbolic how I was wondering if I was going the right way while seeing old buildings I used to know before they were run down. Lightning bugs lit the way as I pulled into the thick woods of large trees and a beautiful view of the lake. When I told my grandmother of the magic that led to the way she explained the exterminator hasn’t been by yet, I asked her not to ruin it for me. It turns out she mistook the word “light” for “bite” and we laughed.
It seems like a weird time in the world because in every city, borough, or neighborhood everyone was hiring. I kept imagining what life would be like if I took that job, lived in a small town, and tried hard to be happy with this life. I often think of a bar job I used to have where one of my coworkers was a middle-aged man with stepkids and a nice wife. I think about him so much because he was so genuinely happy, satisfied with the hand he was dealt, and loved his mediocre life as if he had won the lottery and lived in paradise. But he didn’t, he lived in a suburb down outside of DC, and I always wonder what it would take to achieve that level of satisfaction.
When I woke up in Virginia I was relieved to see how close I was to Wilmington, as soon as I pulled up it felt good to be there. There’s a certain stillness you get when the wind smells like the ocean. It was not familiar. It doesn’t feel like I’ve been here before, it feels like I’ve always been here. I thought more of my emotions when a familiar scent asked me about my feelings. I said there wasn’t a word, it was like they were fleeting and interchangeable, they were in motion. I look back now and realize it’s all connected, if you’ve always been on the road you’d feel an interchange in the place you’ve always been. I know it sounds bizarre but if you find yourself changing geographical locations you might empathize with unusual in the same way I romanticize it.
This feeling started to go into overdrive when I walked into the Barzarre, the bar I would live at for the next few days. I introduced myself awkwardly to the friends I’d soon get to know. I didn’t know what to do with my hands so I sat at the nearest table with the likeness of a kind face that looked just as awkward as me. His name was Justin, he made weed art and played music, for money he painted cars. His smile threw him off, for such a sweet soft man he looked mischievous.
We talked, laughed, and parted ways when I got more settled. He came in every night to hang after that, a staple in my bar parking lot living experience. The next few days are a wonderful warm blur, filled with new comic friends, my old childhood sister like friend, and tons of what we’ll call friendship enhancers; maybe life enhancers.
We did a comedy show, went to the beach late at night, watched the sunrise from the hot van I was living in, and laughed. I felt like I could stay forever when I left and saw a hiring sign outside of the restaurant I grabbed food from on my way out. I am over qualified, and I fantasized about how fast I’d work in management, but I just sat in the parking lot for a moment, thinking about opening my phone to housing situations and how much I would love to stay. But I turned the GPS on instead and rode a few hours to Fayetteville, a small town with a Military base. When I got there a comic from Wilmington was waiting outside and yelled my name when I got closer. A couple who recognized me from when I visited there years ago, and a tattoo artist who remembered my name approached me warmly. When you live like I do, coming to a small town where a handful of people call you by name is surreal. Especially in a small shit town where everyone is somehow ecstatic to be there.woke
I got there to claim a guest spot the assistant manager said I could have over the phone. When I arrived at the largest bar in the small town I found that five other people were trying to get the same spot. I joked about how five white dudes pushing the girl out wasn’t going to look good on anyone. The owner then confessed he had never had a woman on stage and then I politely let it be known I will be taking the affirmative action hire, they laughed but agreed. I was allotted 5 minutes but they didn’t light me till ten and he explained that when his contract ended with a talent company they’d love for me to come back and do more time.
The validation is nice, but doesn’t make up for not getting paid, so they paid me because obviously they heard my thoughts. It could be because I started my set by saying, “Shout out to every hot girl in Fayetteville that got left here by some asshole” and they laughed because they knew it was true. I got through all of it without drinking and felt like I was going to take the night off and live in sobriety. Then a friend said they were coming and I got stuck sitting next to someone whose idea of a joke was exhaling softly on a dollar bill and saying he blew the president. The owner then informed me I had a paid for tab and I downed Coronas until they ran out of limes. My friend never came, and I talked to the president for four hours. It all felt very balanced, like if things start to go well where you are you have to sit somewhere you don’t want to be.
I woke up in my buddy’s trailer and went to the gym, not knowing if I would drive straight or stop before getting into Raleigh. I had a gig with someone who I learned does not do stand up often, but he put his face on the poster and sold out after spending $100 in Facebook ads. It was inspiring, I asked myself that if this guy, who barely has twenty minutes, could sell out a show just by using his face and pretending to be a headliner, then I, with a whole ass hour and extreme confidence in my set, should be doing the same. The host was a guy named Jake, who I also met in Wilmington but he was also living out of his van and touring. Jake and I crushed our sets, we set a very high bar for the Raleigh headliner, he didn’t reach it. But what he lacked in experience he made up for in writing. He was a good comic, he just wasn’t out every night like Jake and I and it showed. A few free beers and a nice Cashapp transfer later I left for more bars; and more drinks and more small talk and more old friends and more strangers.
I was ready to leave North Carolina, the smell of the beach was gone and it just wasn’t as familiar. Raleigh used to be a city I was deeply in love with, but this time just felt like seeing an old lover that you were obsessed with but now that you’ve grown up you’re just less impressed with burping the alphabet and it is sad to see they’re still clinging to that type of charm.
So I left Raleigh early just to get to Kentucky late and have a few beers with an old friend. I told her the roads around her place looked like the rural roads close to where we are from. She agreed but I imagine it was just to be polite, I think everything and everyone looks familiar. On my way out she asked for my one hitter cause she just got to a new place and doesn’t know where to look, I thought to myself that I love her and it’s just a small thing I have managed to get attached to. I watched her smoke it as I left for Nashville.
Nashville is this cute little city where some of my closest friends live. I always look forward to seeing my broken beautiful family of misfits. We smother ourselves in alcohol and resolve ourselves of feelings, we laugh about the things we should cry over, and we hold each other in ways other people can’t understand. I didn’t see the fam as much as I would’ve liked because I did all the open mics. Lists that are full of open micer’s and established comics where the host decides how to make people stay by pushing the less skilled comics to the back. It was nice to feel some clout even if it’s at the lowest level of bar open mics. It’s odd, you know, when you are consistently living around strangers then you walk into a venue and the bartender remembers your name, the comics welcome you back, and the hot yoga instructor asks you not to whisper fuck to yourself as you used to when you were a regular. It’s not easy for me to feel like I belong, and I don’t feel it for Nashville, but there are small moments when I believe the city is trying, and that’s more than enough. I spent a few days over-sleeping and a few nights reuniting with the fam, then I took off for my longest stretch, Colorado.
I drove as far as I could, and when 8 pm started approaching I looked for open mics nearby. I found one while driving on the highway steering wheel in one hand, Facebook events open on my phone in the other. When I pulled up to this sketchy spot in St. Louis, Missouri I knew it was bad; there were no trees around, the cars were older and broken down, and the music stopped as I walked in. The bartender yelled out, “Come on in baby,” and the music resumed. I found out the Open Mic Comedy Show they had listed was for the day before and I had to hurry to the Karaoke spot if I was going to get on anything. That next spot was at a Jazz bar, it was next to the only comedy club in town. I was the only one doing comedy, but when they finally turned off the music to let me speak I said, “I don’t know much about St. Louis, but judging by the bikers I saw on my way in with no helmets I’m gonna go ahead and say y’all have just given up.” They giggled and I kept going with my findings, “thanks for being so nice though, there was a nice lady who befriended me at the bar by asking if I was gonna get dicked down tonight, shout of Nini!” Nini yelled back and everyone laughed, after that, it was dead silence until I paused to let them laugh, it was as good as it could get without breaking down the wall to the comedy club next door.
That night I drove closer to Kansas city and stopped to sleep in my car. I had an air mattress in the back of my small hybrid Honda. I had a small AC unit I got online and I used the blanket to make a tent. At one point I attempted to give up and get a room in the hotel where I was sleeping in the parking lot but they were closed. I woke up to someone checking to see if my doors were unlocked. I am pretty sure they didn’t see me, just wanted a quick change score.
I left Kansas city for Colorado, so much time had passed and I didn’t even realize when I needed to stop for gas. There was a bird’s nest in the b of the subway connected to the gas station where I accidently went to the men’s bathroom. A man who looked like he was made of wood was bringing sandwiches to the front and had distracted me so I accidentally walked into the men’s room. I finally sat down on the correct toilet and just thought to myself, where the fuck am I?