Traveling… it is a fine art… all you need to know is that there’s a starting point (the departure) and there’s an ending point (the return)… everything else in between is a giant flexing, unpredictable yarn-ball of waiting… herding lines… unexpected detours…

Day 1… A bizarre sensation hit me as I arrived at LAX… the feeling of… “EARLY.” I was a couple hours early, in fact. I think this is the first time this has happened… a real anomaly… a rip & tear in the time space continuum… I’m usually running for the gate with a personal VIP escort from security, getting hustled to the front of check-point lines, shuttled on a cart, dashing through corridors and jumping hurdles… like a Heisman trophy all-star… But this time was different. The entire airport was sleepy and empty… and I sauntered straight up to the counter to check in for my flight.

After the obligatory pleasantries and happy “bon jours” were exchanged, a major catastrophic dilemma occurred as I slid my passport to the flight attendant… everything instantly became so complicated and confusing. So much so, that 5 or 6 fellow employees, plus a supervisor, had to be called in…

Flight Attendant: “There seems to be a problem. Your passport says that your name is Michael Miller.”

Me: “Yes, that’s correct.”

Flight Attendant: “Hmm, well our records show that your ticket is reserved for “Miller Michael.”

This made me laugh (out loud) except they weren’t joking, and it took 20 minutes to sort out this hellacious disaster… Finally, everything was cleared up and I was all checked in… and then… the supervisor spoke in her professional voice… “Oh, Mr. Michael… one more thing… your flight has been delayed by 5 hours…”

Over a year ago, I had a conversation with my neighbor…. about his precious pride and joy possession…. his automobile… a brand new convertible. He said he had owned it for over 6 months, and had yet to drop the top. I told him that was a crime, and that I wanted him to take me along on his first convertible drive with the top down. I made him swear and promise and described how amazing it was going to be when we cruise down PCH (Highway 1) along the ocean, sea-salt air whipping through our hair, surfer girls stopping and staring, and how everyone will be so jealous when they see us.

Everyone has their golden calf idols, I suppose. Cars were never it for me. I just don’t care about them, or lust over them, or fantasize of what dream ride I could be driving, or how my life would be immeasurably complete if only I had a certain car.

Every month or two, I would remind my neighbor about our awesome bucket list adventure we were going to have together, and how I was ready, and would say, “Let’s go right now!” He would always have an excuse or some other plans that could not be changed, but would reassure me that the day was coming that we would gloriously ride into the sunset.

A year has passed, and a few days ago I ran into him again… once again, I mentioned the exciting thrill we would definitely have if we spontaneously took off in his car with the top down. He declined again, and it ONLY NOW occurred to me… he has NEVER honestly ever wanted to do it. It was never his plan. He somehow thinks he is preserving the re-sale value, or that he’s keeping it in perfect condition by NEVER dropping the top down.

This is the equivalent of collecting Star Wars figurines, but never taking them out of the vacuum sealed display case to play with them, to make sure they stay in MINT condition.

Man, you have to live a little. Break the seal. Jump off the cliff. Play with your toys! Hop on a plane to another country without any plan. Be spontaneous and impulsive. Freefall without a parachute. Do scary things. Play your stereo too loud. Go barefoot sometimes.

It’s so heartbreaking. I keep rooting for him, hoping he will someday bust out of his shell. Break some rules. Be a little careless. Perhaps this is my life purpose, my mission, to coax some light out of him. Lead him to water. Teach him to fish. I must not give up.

Another soul-healing night last night. We played incredibly well. Some nights are like that. Everything turns into magic without much effort. It feels like that often. Butch, David, and Jason kill me every night… solid gold lightning strike after lightning strike… they’re amazing. Anyway, I was spent… exhausted… like I’d just finished working a 15 hour shift… and it was time to get home… I’m always a little nervous driving at 2:30 or 3 in the morning… this is the bewitching hour, or the worst time to be out on the road when all the hounds are released from the bars and are sent home at the exact same time… it’s not the smartest time to be out cruising… sort of like Russian roulette…

After 25 minutes of driving, I was nearly home. The 405 freeway is like a ghost town at this hour from all the late night closures and road construction… all of the sudden, flashing red & blue lights hit my rear view mirror… and a couple police cars pulled me off the freeway into a deserted industrial part of town… with all my windows rolled down, both hands firmly gripping the steering wheel in plain view, the blinding bright spotlight hitting me in the back of the head, I could hear the footsteps of two officers approaching from both sides of my car… both maintaining a safe distance, like I was some kind of wanted fugitive…

After burning his flashlight in my face for a few seconds, and after fumbling for my license, and not being able to find my insurance card, the officer began his interrogation…

Policeman: Did you know you were weaving all over the place back there on the freeway… hitting both lines…
Me: No, sir. I’m sorry about that.
Policeman: Where are you coming from?
Me: Hollywood, sir. I’m heading home from work.
Policeman: What is your job?
Me: I’m a folksinger, sir.
[pause]
Policeman (handing back my license): You have a good night, take it easy.

kwai-chang-caine-kung-fu

I made a rare public appearance at a 3-story mall tonight… with the exception of playing shows, I have been hiding away on my private island for so long that it feels odd going out into a public place… sometimes I feel like a leper or wormhole alien visiting another planet… or like when you first land in another country… everything is new and fresh and strange…

I was on a deliberate mission… a couple months ago, I visited the same place, trying on 7 or 8 different pairs of shoes, looking for the right fit… the salesperson took a great deal of time and effort bringing out box after box… pouring on the charm, telling me how groovy I looked in each pair… it turned out they were out of the particular color I wanted in my exact size, so I gave up…

Yesterday, I found the same ones online for quite a bit cheaper… one of my particular curses in life, I believe, is genetic… from my father’s father, to my father, to me… I was born with the overwhelming burning burden to always find the “best bargain,” negotiate and barter like a TV game show, find the best deal possible… it makes me sick to my stomach if I find out, after the fact, that I’ve paid more than I should have…. whether it’s buying a car, or buying groceries, or filling up at the gas station… anything in life… “always find the best deal”… it is embarrassing. occasionally I break free of my oppressive shopping demon, and spend more than I know something costs, maybe to save time or trouble… but more often than not, I am enslaved to “the deal”…

In this case, I wanted to do the right thing (Dennis Prager passionately applies the “do not steal” commandment to stealing someone’s time… if you go into a shop KNOWING you will not be buying, but pump the salesperson with the intent of buying it cheaper online later, knowingly stealing his time, it is wrong)…

So I went back to buy them from the same guy who spent so much time with me earlier… they were still out of stock, but so long as that person got the commission, I told them they could ship to me from another store… the sales guy was touched, and my heart was light and happy, knowing he got his deserved commission.

As I was leaving, I came to the top of the 3-story escalator, where a tiny 4-year old Asian girl was stepping on and off… she was too frightened to ride down and her father was already at the very bottom, holding onto his other love child in a stroller. The father kept calling up to her, trying to coax her down, and was noticeably torn over whether he should leave the stroller’d kid to retrieve his tiny 4 year old daughter. I stood there for a couple minutes to make sure she didn’t tumble down… and heard her sheepishly say in her tiny voice, “I’m scared.”
I finally said to her, “Hey, you want to hold my hand? We can go down together.”
I completely forgot to ask the dad for his permission, and just took her tiny 4-year old hand, and we slowly and carefully rode down three flights together. I tried to take her mind off of it, and told her how fun it was, like a roller coaster. The mother had just arrived as we were stepping off. Both parents were calm and kind and thanked me, and prodded the tiny girl to thank me, also. It was quite sweet.

On my way home from the scene, I started thinking about how this sort of thing rarely happens anymore…. that small town, innocent trusting… I mean, without a kid getting kidnapped, that is. Nobody really trusts anyone, particularly strangers, or at least they seem surprised by random acts of selfless, non-profit kindness… sad, really…

Maybe THIS is my calling… to walk the earth, saving kids, pulling kittens out of tall trees, helping grandmothers across the street… I could just do a national, coast-to-coast “Help Tour”… like a super hero… or Kwai Chang Kane…

Anyway, cheers to you, Kumiko, and your family, and thanks for the roller coaster ride.

For the last month or so, I have fallen into a horrid, guilty-sin-pleasure habit… stopping at Denny’s to pick up dinner on the way home from late night shows…. It feels like I am crashing the party of drunkards and the dancers and 2am lovers on prom night… but I am perfectly hungry and spent at that hour, and it is a necessary evil… plus, in a way, it makes me feel like I am on tour… the traditional late night dinner after a show…

I always order the same thing… salmon and broccoli and a side salad to go… Brendan, who prides himself on eating salmon and broccoli in every country at the finest restaurants in the world, argues that this is utter blasphemy, that if you’re going to eat fish, you should always eat fish where they specialize in it… and where they serve it fresh… and that if you’re ever going to eat at Denny’s, you have to take the lowest risk possible…. that is, eat something that they cannot possibly mess up…. say, pancakes… or an egg… but my argument is that, salmon is fresh when they freeze it and it is better to eat something healthy in the middle of the night, than something unhealthy but still cooked well… the lesser of two evils…

The stoic, expressionless manager takes extra pride in his meals. Every single time, before sealing the order in to-go bags, he brings my food out in open boxes to show me his “creations.” It is sweet and caring and I always appreciate his careful attention and deliberate unveiling, as if he was lifting the curtain away from a priceless piece of art. He waits for my face of approval before closing the boxes, as if I might send it back to the kitchen if I am not completely satisfied or if I don’t show how excited I am by how awesome it looks…

After weeks of this tradition, last night the manager asked me, in his broken English/eastern Indian accent, “Why, sir… why do you all of the sudden always come here?”

I typically give vague answers to such “personal” questions about my private life, and I told him since they started the nightly freeway closures (for road repairs), he happens to be in my new detour route home from work.

He walked away to get my food, somewhat unsatisfied with my answer, then returned and curiously probed…

“This job… what is your job?”

“Well, I sing songs.”

His eyes lit up, and for the first time in weeks, he broke his wooden, emotionless face. “Ah, are you like Michael Bublé or Bruno Mars? You must be rich!”

I did not want to hurt his feelings, or shatter his sweet, innocent fantasy… but I explained that this is far from any possible reality…. and if I get to do what I love to do, then, I guess I am rich.

He was dumbfounded, and asked why this is not the case, why am I not rich… then proceeded to give me his expert, unsolicited advice.

“All you need to do is make one great song. A song that will touch people’s hearts and make them feel like crying. You do not need a whole album. Just make that one song.”

I was amazed at his wise words. So simple. So sage of him…. then raced home to get my banana split in the freezer before digging in to the healthiest meal I could find in the middle of the night…

Holy of holies… I got to see Butch and David play tonight… from the front… they’re back out with Lucinda Williams this month for a short Los Angeles tour (genius, actually, touring in one city). It occurred to me while I was busy getting hypnotized, this is the first time I’ve SEEN them playing, in years… that is, without my back to them… I thought it was quite a revelation… how I only really HEAR them, and rarely SEE them… plus, it was gigantically refreshing to get to enjoy a show without having to worry about any details or sound issues or getting tuned or anyone else’s experience but my own… a night to sit back and relax and not have to bother with anything… weightless… just enjoy… they are so dreamy…
Lucinda Williams