The personal consequence of this job is that you put your real life on hold. You hope that the world you leave behind will suspend itself in your absence, but you learn soon enough that life does not wait for you to come home. My grandmother is not well. There is a good chance she will pass away before this tour ends. Her condition was the one thing that gave me pause when I was offered this job. Relationships, family, and friends take a back seat to the hectic pace of grinding out show after show. Today, after speaking with my mother about Gran’s condition, I walked out of the kitchen into the jammed hallways. Excited fans elbowed their way to beer and merchandise stands. The heat from a sold-out crowd created humid dew on the concrete walls. As I pushed through the mayhem and noise, all I could think about was my grandmother sitting quietly at home. In the last few months she has remained in her chair, curtains drawn to the sunlight, humbled by her inability to care for herself. The woman who watched over her family so diligently—who nursed her children through polio and broken hearts—can no longer use the bathroom alone. Early last week my aunt entered my grandmother’s room and found her sitting in bed speaking to my grandfather, her husband of 60 years who had passed away last year. Now she is silent. The doctors suspect that another stroke has muted her speech. She is in transition, breaking slowly away from the loving family that surrounds her. And I am here, galled suddenly by the vile excess that surrounds me.
Earlier this morning I found one of the truck drivers sitting quietly in a corner of the dining room, nursing a cup of coffee. He looked broken. He has been on the road for most of the last 10 years. Last night his 4-year old-son asked, “Dad, when are you coming home to visit?” It tore him apart. “My son is growing up without me,” he told me. “He thinks I’m a visitor who passes through. And you know what? I am.”
For others the road is an escape. They welcome the chance to pick up and go, to leave unresolved those issues that make life so complicated. As my father so succinctly says, life is messy. Many of the roadies out here choose to leave the mess behind. When the monotony of daily life becomes oppressive, they hit the road and suspend reality for a little while. They reinvent themselves with each new journey, making new friends on every tour. The pace of the work leaves little time to cultivate long-term relationships. Late at night after the bus starts rolling to the next city, conversations frequently turn to those commitments back home. Some nights I like the closure of watching the bus pull away from the gig. Tonight I sat in the front seat with the bus driver and Rooster, the one who cracked his head open yesterday. Rooster talked about a relationship that was in the process of ending badly. The arena slowly shrank away in the reflection of the bus’s large mirrors. The rock and sway of the bus made us groggy. “Sometimes life looks better from the rearview mirror,” Rooster said before heading off to his bunk. “At least you know what you’re leaving behind.”