Now I was headed into unfamiliar and therefore exciting territory. But I still had to get there. Combine my usual joke of a circadian rhythm with a 5:00am wake-up call and you get a grouchy, sleepless Joe ninety-nine times out of a hundred. But the sheer newness of this trip had me on an adrenaline high that was pretty much unstoppable. I wound up the night before the trip in Sparks, vegging out on Cliff's couch after dropping off my truck with Michelle and her family in Sun Valley. Then his daughter and wife took us to the airport to hook up with Mike and Arthur to get this trip started.
I've never been much for flying. I'm fully aware that commercial aviation in the US is actually the safest way to get around the country, but taking off and landing in Reno can be quite hairy due to the punishing winds, especially if your flightpath takes you in and out of Reno-Tahoe International northwesterly. But our flight out went in the opposite direction and there was nothing but smooth air between us and our first stop in Las Vegas, where we'd change planes and take a flight that would eventually deposit us at Dallas' Love Field in a muggy, sweltering Texas August afternoon.
From here, Mike and Arthur had rented a van to finish the drive. Y'see, there aren't any real direct flights to Shreveport that are, how shall we say, cost-effective. I'd been informed that actually flying into Shreveport would've likely doubled the cost of the trip for us. So I'll take the van. And pretty much as I suspected, we got maybe about a half-hour out of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex when Arthur asked me to take over for him. I finished the rest of the drive without incident, though I made some shopgirl's night when after being stuck with a flat Coke in a mini-mart somewhere off Interstate 20, I told her that there was only one true constant in the Universe:
I never fail to get a smile out of someone when I say that. Her tittering laugh followed me all the way back to the van. We pulled into Shreveport around 11pm local time. Cliff and I went next door to the Eldorado for a quick dinner, then retired quickly to bed. I found myself to be ensconced in a very nice ninth-floor hotel room, one that I'd wind up seeing far too much of in the days to come. And yes, my room had a panoramic view of that strip club I'd told you about before, but at least I know its full name now: Deja Vu presents Larry Flynt's Hustler Club. For the record, I never went in the place. Bad customer reviews.
I have to clear up a personal misconception here first. For some reason, I'd assumed that Shreveport and its sister-city Bossier (pronounced BOHS-yer) City were on either side of the Mississippi River. Incorrecto! That's the Red River passing through, on its way to join the Big Muddy somewhere in points east. The casinos along the river are actually riverboats connected to their respective hotels, though in some cases the riverboats aren't actually in the river, instead maintained in pools alongside and completely separate from the river itself. Nowadays there are similar set-ups all along the Mississippi and its major tributaries. Now back to the story at hand.
We had Wednesday to rest up and get used to the area, and Cliff and I walked over to the other side of the Red River (bridges are so handy) and visited what's known as the Louisiana Boardwalk. In other words, an outlet mall with some nicer shops and restaurants, a big movie theater (Mike loved that), and a Bass Pro Shops outdoor store that I never did visit. We found out to our relief that we'd basically be comped for every meal. Good news for us. The next day brought set-up, soundcheck, and our first night of work. The cabaret's house kit was nice, a five-piece Yamaha Oak Custom kit, albeit with only two cymbals (Zildjian A's, one crash and one ride) to complement the Zildjian Quick Beat hi-hats. The real problem was that the throne for the kit, while a reasonably comfortable bicycle throne, lacked a backrest. I was informed by the soundman that there had been a backrest on that throne before, but someone walked off with it. I wouldn't know how much of a problem that would be until the next morning. That said, the first night went well enough, but there would be minor sound problems that would dog us for most of the gig.
The next morning I woke up far earlier than I'd ever planned to, about 7am local time. Y'see, my body was still on Pacific Time, two hours ahead of Shreveport's Central Time. I woke up thinking "what the fuck am I doing up at five in the morning?" The reason was a small but throbbing pain in my right side, just above my waist and deep inside. Not a muscular pain, say a pull caused by all the stretching and bending I'd done the night before trying in vain to find a comfortable position for my back while playing without a backrest. Not a skin pain, like a rash or a cut. Deep inside. I hoped it would go away, but it wouldn't. I walked to the bathroom and took a couple aspirin and tried to return to sleep, but the pain began to increase. I got up, showered and dressed, then took a walk to get my mind off the pain. It got worse. I got back to the hotel, and there was no denying what was going on any longer. For the first time in about six years, I was dealing with a kidney stone. Unaware that I could've taken the shuttle bus, I called a cab and headed for what I was told was the closest hospital to Downtown Shreveport, Christus Schumpert Medical Center. Now I was in agony. I waited in Schumpert's ER for only about twenty minutes before being led back with what felt like a bear trying to eat its way out of my side. Thankfully, the staff didn't think I was some drug addict, but instead knew exactly what I was dealing with. A shot of morphine and phenergan later and I was feeling no pain. They passed along a prescription for Vicodin, and made me fork over $120 while passing on financial-assistance paperwork that will likely keep me from paying the hospital any more once I finish filling out the forms. I was so whacked out on the morphine that I wound up walking the roughly two miles back to the hotel before calling the rest of the band and informing them of my situation. The guys filled my prescription for me at a local pharmacy and Cliff paid for it, while leaving me in my room to sleep off the rest of the morphine.
I can't really remember all that much of the rest of the week. Why, you ask? Well, it turns out that I misread the prescription that Christus Schumpert gave me. I'd thought that they'd given me a ten-pill script. In reality, that number ten was how many milligrams of hydrocodone were in each of the twenty tablets in the pill bottle the guys brought me. For example, the strongest pills Joy has ever gotten for her pain had only 7.5mg of hydrocodone in each pill. No wonder I was stoned out of my mind. And constipated and nauseated to boot, thanks to the Vicodin. Solid food just wouldn't stay down, and liquids came out only in dribs and drabs. I threw up more in five days than I had in the previous five years. I soon found myself on an unplanned fast, drinking nothing but water and fruit juices for the rest of the week while in a haze of Vicodin, sleeping sometimes 16 hours a day.
Some first week, eh? How was I to know that it was only going to get worse?