Posts tagged bear country usa
Psychics, stolen cars, lying receptionists, and Gold Bond- This is my account of 2012′s SXSW. If you’re in a band, work in the music industry, live near Austin, or watch the news a lot, you’ve probably heard of South By Southwest. If not, here’s a brief summery… every bar that has live music in the live musical capital of the world has live music all day and night for five days while every other imaginable space in town is turned into a temporary live music venue. Then hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians, and other weirdos descend on Austin to feast on the insanity that ensues. So, naturally, I show up as well. This is what I remember.
I had the distinct pleasure of riding down in a van with Savannah Smith and a new band called Enemy Planes. I’ll tell you more about them in another post… But, any intense event should begin with an equally intense journey. A two hour plane ride is not enough to transport you into the alternate universe that Austin becomes in March- a Twenty hour van ride on the other hand? With one lay over for a Radiohead concert? Perfect.
We arrived in the Lone Star State late Monday night and then first had to drop a few stragglers off at a ritzy subdivision of a swamp of some sort. We took a wrong turn down a gravel road, and didn’t know if we’d be able to back out or turn around with the trailer in tow. The headlights of the vehicle did a poor job of lighting the dark and foggy terrain that sloped unevenly down and out of site in front of us. We all sat motionless in the van while trying to decide what to do. Naturally, sleep deprived and delirious, I presumed this was the end and we were going to die here, so I volunteered to leave the safety of the van and scout ahead on foot. There are alligators in these parts of Texas, vicious nocturnal hunters that are hard to see during the day, let alone at night! …I mean, I presumed there were alligators anyway. It made sense at the time. There was a lake for sure, and where there’s lakes, there are alligators. Long story short- I didn’t get eaten. But I did find a spot for the van to turn around. …I guess this part of the story isn’t exciting at all… but pretend you think there were alligators too- then it sort of is. Anyway, I would soon find out that many more dangers awaited me in the heart of the city.
Tuesday morning we all rode into downtown Austin early. The city comes alive around noon with day parties, some sanctioned by SXSW, many more sanctioned by no one in particular, but all luring pedestrians in off the street with free food and drinks. My primary goal in going to SXSW is always to network. My secondary goal is to see how much free crap I can get- weather I need it or not. My first official stop of the day as at a Mexican restaurant called Casa Chapala where Savannah was playing. After eating some free things and watching Savannah play, I went to catch up with the rest of my troupe including Craig (if you’ve been following the last several years of posts you know him) at Club Deville. I like this place a lot only because it’s built like a fort into the side of a hill with steep rock faced walls surrounding it’s patio.
It was while I was photo bombing a group of individuals by this very wall that I met Mimi. After the snap of the flash her friends all scattered, but Mimi stayed, transfixed with the dashing and mysterious stranger who had just jumped into the photo and into her life. At first she seemed like an ordinary drunk who was likely unstable to start with. She stated that she also liked the wall, and that she could climb to the top, twenty feet up, with ease. Given her current unbalanced state, naturally I encouraged her to try. She got a foot off the ground before she realized this was a mistake. But, upon turning from the wall she looked at me as though seeing me for the first time, and grabbed my hand. Trembling she told me that she was a ‘Ren-rat’ and had special powers. Ren-rat is a slang term to describe the hordes or goths, larpers, and other unfortunates who participate in the Resistance Festival on an annual basis. She described growing up at the Renfest in Shakopee- which is a suburb of Minneapolis, because her parents were also dorks. She had gained acute psychic abilities while she grew up- more than likely in a vain effort to wish herself somewhere else.
It didn’t all add up to me- after all, she was dressed like a normal person- but she was intensely concerned for my safety, and I was intensely amused, so I heard her out. She proceeded to tell me that I had great powers myself. Perhaps this was why I was able to foresee I couldn’t climb a sheer rock cliff without trying. She grasped my hand and gazed at my palm and bit her trembling lower lip. I was in danger. I helped people, but I may soon help them so much that I hurt myself. My fortune line also didn’t follow my life line. She said that I would earn lots of money, but for other people, not myself… Stupid clients! I thought. Soon I grew bored with Mimi and made my departure. It was only a few hours later when we would meet again.
Bar close released mass of zombies on to the streets of Austin. Our van arrived out front and I got the call that it was now, or never if I wanted a ride to the hotel. As I exited the club some explainable force made me look to my right down the street. There was Mimi… sort of crawl-walking around. I went over to assist her. She was on the phone with someone.
“Hey Mimi, need some help?” Mimi just looked back at my with that all-knowing drunk stair. ”It’s David, the guy with super powers, remember?” I asked. Recognition crept into her eyes.
“Oh yeah, here, talk to him,” she said as she thrust her cell phone at me.
“Hello?” I asked.
“Damn it, is she loaded again? Is she just totally bombed?” a gentleman asked on the other line. I glanced at Mimi.
“Yes,” I answered, “she’s gone.”
After a few more expletives he asked if I could get her into a cab. Asking someone to get a cab at bar close in Austin during SXSW is sort of like asking someone to go find the Ark of the Covenant real quick for you. But, it appears I have special powers- so I actually did find one quickly. But my powers were no match for Mimi’s. The Cabby refused to drive her anywhere in here inebriated state. I took her back to our van to freak out the boys. We offered to give Mimi a ride to where ever it was she comes from, but she wisely refused a ride from five weird looking dudes in a large nondescript white van. I left her peacefully curled up on the sidewalk, and I have no notion of what may have become of her. God speed Mimi, God speed!
With knowledge of the future and what Austin had in store for me looming ominously in the back of my powerful mind, I headed back to the hotel room for much needed rest. Soon the morningafternoonish time would be here, and we’d need to wake up and head back into the belly of the beast.
To Be Continued…
Day one free items collected: Taco platter, four shots of tequila, psychic encounter, two dozen vitamin waters, and two boxes of cereal.
Some of you stalkers may remember the recent trip Priscilla and I took to Denver Colorado for UMS. After getting in the car at about 10PM, Priscilla and I drove out of Denver, and didn’t stop until we’d reached home, sweet home, St. Paul, MN. I was getting out of the car, and decided we’d better get the guitars before we went inside to collapse and sleep for a day. I opened up the back of the Element and there was only one guitar. “Oh, we don’t have my bass…”
Priscilla broke down crying, which was very sweet of her. My Rickenbacker, 4003 bass is my most prized possession. Aside from the fact that, that’s just an awesome bass, mine was made more awesome by Frank Black when he signed it. He was a complete dick the entire time I interacted with him. I approached him as he was clearing some things off the stage at a small show at The Warehouse in LaCrosse when I was still in high school.
Me: Um, Frank?
Frank: *sighs* Yeees?
Me: Can you sign my bass?
Frank: I’d need a marker
Me: *waves hand already holding out marker*
This was probably the most pleasant of the three brief conversations I had with him that night. Despite him being a jerk, AND his musical downward spiral (I was quite found the the FIRST six solo albums. Now he’s got, like, forty or something- each progressively worse from what I could tell. This was on the ‘Frank Black and the Catholics’ album tour. That was a SWEET album.) it is still my favorite memento. But as Priscilla cried, I was far to delirious from driving 15 hours to care about anything at all, and I stumbled inside.
Grief stricken, but determined, Priscilla went online to try and find what might have happened. As luck would have it, a local Denver band found it and had already sent us an email. When I woke up, we had to figure out how we were going to get this bass back. I couldn’t ship it, because it was just in a gig bag, and I wouldn’t trust shipping it anyway. There was only one thing to do- journey back west.
Our good friend Steph went and got the Rick from the Denver band and took it home for safe keeping. Then, on one fateful morning in September, we both set off, from opposite ends of the Earth, on a mission to reunite me and my bass! Where should a historic reunion like this take place? In the place the Natives believed was the sacred center of the Earth, and the white man marked as his territory with four famous severed heads, like some overly artistic dog peeing on a fence. That’s right, Mount Rushmore!
Actually, that’s a lie. We did go there because Steph brought her friend Brittany along, and she’d never seen Mount Rushmore. But, we actually met beforehand at the hotel where we were staying ten miles away… Which is where I got my bass back. After that though, we did go to Mount Rushmore. And once I had my bass back, what more could I ask for? More bears please. That’s right, back to Bear Country USA!
So, it just so happens that we hit a ton of bugs with our car on the way to South Dakota. It also happens that bears actually like to eat bugs. …I didn’t ask them why. But this combination turned out to be interesting. We might as well have strapped a dead deer to our car as far as one hungry bear was concerned. After he was done picking the grill of our car clean, he got up on his hind legs and plopped himself on top of the hood of the Element and began chewing on our windshield wiper. It was probably the coolest thing that has ever happened to me… THEN, Bear Country USA came to our rescue by sending a scrawny teenage worker to chase the bear away from our car by clapping his hands and saying, “Shew!” They apologized to us, and gave us out money back because there were scratches on our car. …I didn’t tell them I would have paid extra to have a bear chew on my car…
People have asked me if I was afraid after seeing these photos. …seriously? As if! I’m not afraid of this little guy- it’s not like its a maneater like… oh say, a killer whale! *drum roll* But, what happened next scared the crap out of me. After the ride through the park we got out and walked through baby land. (The part of the park with all the baby bears and other little critters) When, out of nowhere I felt something hit my chest hard, like some punk five year old whipped a pebble at me. …but it wasn’t a pebble, it was the scariest bee I’ve ever seen. If you can identify this thing then I owe you a beer. Remember when I was getting attacked by horse flies that I thought were bees? This was like some sick joke by mother nature.
I grabbed my shirt and pulled it away from my frail human body, and out of range of the massive stinger on its butt. Then I worked up the courage to try and flick it off of me. Just when I was about to make my move, Priscilla freaked out and told me not to- clearly afraid of what this thing would do to retaliate. Just when we thought all hope was lost and the bee would have to ride home with us we heard, “Oh for Pete’s sake…” Some small children’s mother walked over and fearlessly shewed the bee away. I was surprised when it didn’t kill her. I went up to the little boy she was with and told him, ‘Your mommy just saved my life, isn’t she brave?’ And he looked at me like I was a freak. After that adrenaline rush it was time to go to Deadwood and ‘heckle’ pedestrians. At least that’s the ‘official’ story of what happened…
Anyway, it was a weekend of triumph and knowledge. I got my base back- that was great, but I also learned some things. Some hotels charge by the person. But when someone asks you why you need three keys when there are only two people staying in the room, keeping a cool head can save the day. …that and using the back door the entire time you’re there. I also learned that you can blow out your rotors really quickly in the black hills. What I haven’t learned is what in the hell landed on my shirt.
All for now!
As some of you devoted blog reader(s) might remember, we have a good friend in Denver, and we like to visit her. We also like playing rock and roll and viewing bear attacks. So, when the oppertunity came for Maudlin (That’s my, quote un-quote -cool band) to play at UMS we said, “yes please, and some bears with that!”
There are two ways for people who haven’t discovered planes yet to get to Denver: the evil, endless farmyard known as “Nebraska” or South Dakota. Now, some people might not like all things to see in South Dakota, but we can all agree that there is nothing to see in Nebraska. (I hate you Nebraska! I hate you more than bad whale analogies!) …Anyway, there’s this place called Bear Country USA in South Dakota, next to Deadwood. There are bears there. You can pay fifteen dollars and the let you drive around in a big back yard with sixty bears- it’s basically like swimming with sharks. …except the sharks are furry. So… we did that.
(There are lots off really bad family videos of Priscilla and I driving around here that rival the Blair Witch Project, but I decided not to include them.)
After Bear Country USA, we headed on to Wyoming! …Not much had changed there since the last time we passed through. We did meet a gas station attendant who had never been pulled over by the man before. Never. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been pulled over. I must just look like trouble- trouble with a burnt out headlight.
So, just when I had made up my mind that the only way I would ever get out of the car was to veer off the road into a tree- when ever I saw one- we reached the mile high city. We showed up at Steph’s several hours late- which surprised no one, and promptly went to sleep. In the morning we presented Steph with a traditional travelers gift: a wolf hat.
The next day we performed the first of our two showcases at UMS. In our haste to get to the bear yard, we forgot Jason back in Minnesota, so our agent, Craig Grossman, was kind enough to sit in with us. Big thanks to all of our new friends in Denver! We had a blast playing!
And then I forgot my bass… my Frank Black autographed Rickenbacker… I am an idiot. But, the good people of Denver didn’t steal it, and arrangements have been made to meet at Bear Country USA again and get it back… Good fun, lots of forgotten things, and lots of bears… That’s about all I’ve got for this blog. FAIL. Le sigh…
In Brief: I hate to keep ragging on Ben Stiller… but did anyone see Greenberg? It’s the dramatic tail of a suicidal washed up musician, who sexually assaults his brothers barely legal housekeeper. It’s ok though, because after he assaults her, then verbally berates her, she realizes that she’s actually in love with him, and he’s not such a bad guy. He finds out that being a douche bag always gets you chicks, even if you’re a complete loser. I hope everyone who routinely takes all of their social cues from poorly dramatized realism is paying careful attention to this film.
Many and many a year ago a couple of outdoorsy guys named Lewis and Clark went from some place out east, west to Napa Valley and back looking for refined wines and tan babes. They had half of the dangers we have in the modern world, yet they lost half their party. Priscilla and I did almost the same thing last week and no one died. I can’t believe they got paid for that and we didn’t. Anyway, (que flash back music) it went a little something like this…
We wanted to go out to Denver to visit our good friend Steph. Since the government outright refused to commission us to do this, we decided to pay for it ourselves. After months of foreknowledge of the trip, we started planning on Tuesday night- the night we were leaving. We decided to drive to Sioux Falls, SD the first night. Our friend William Shatner helped us negotiate a deal on a room at the Sheraton last minute, which was nice of him. And now we just had to get there in one piece…
Looming over our heads was the bat-shit crazy prophecy of some lady Priscilla works with. She told her that she has a recurring dream where Priscilla and I die in a horrible car wreck and they also find that Priscilla is pregnant with our first child. She followed that zinger up with several other stories about how she’d dreamed things that had come true, concluding happily that she’s always right about these things… (I kind of feel like, if you don’t have anything nice to prophesy about, then don’t prophesy about anything at all.)
We arrived at the Sheriton at about 1am and we went to sleep. The morning had harsh news waiting for us. There was no continental breakfast. I know we only paid $50 for the room… but normally it was $129. I expect breakfast with anything I pay that much for. But, we didn’t throw in the towel- not on reaching Denver, and not on eating breakfast.
Before we continued on, we need to get a new camera, so we set out looking for a department store. The rural west is like some national park where endangered department stores like Pamida and Shopko hide from extinction. We came upon a Kmart in a desolate parking lot. We were able to get inside before it saw us and ran away. There amidst the Jacklyn Smith collection we found the stores remaining electronics and bought a camera. CNow wer were ready to face the long blah of South Dakota.
Here’s a red flag questions for states. Is everything valuable, desirable, or bearable significantly closer to an adjoining state than to the interior of the state itself? If so, it’s likely that state blows. Case in point: South Dakota. (For further examples please see Nebraska, Illinois, or Kansas. If you are unsure of where desirable parts of your state are, try googling your state. If you reside in North Dakota, then google the state you’re planning on living in when you move.)
To get to the ironically named “Bad” Lands and “Black” Hills of South Dakota you need to drive through several hundred miles of utter crap. Rolling fields of nothing. The only thing to do is just take the car to top speed and surf the Internet to stay awake while you drive. The best parts of the state lay on it’s meaty west side, close to the frightening Montana.
In the bad lands we took video on our cell phone of me running into a field of hundreds of prairie dogs trying to chase them, but all you can see is my blurry head moving back and forth with lots of ambient wind noise. I’m not going to include it. However, I feel it’s important to note that I did that.
After chasing prairie dogs, climbing out the clay edges of the hill things, and purchasing potato chips for an inebriated native who asked us for a ride to the next town, we’d seen every thing South Dakota had to offer. We were ready to get to Deadwood. Also Walldrug sucks- It just sucks.
We finally got to Deadwood and I won $100 from a dealer who was a jerk. Which was good because William Shatner was no help with the hotel rates in Deadwood. We payed $90 for a queen room. …this was the smallest hotel room I had ever seen; like someone crammed a queen bed into the bathroom. What’s worse? No continental breakfast. I was really starting to get irritated by that…
The next day we woke up and got ready to go to Bear Country USA! Bear Country is this zoo type place where all the animals roam free, and you drive through and look at them. They can walk up to the cars- I even heard that a few toddlers got killed there! We were pumped.
We exited Deadwood and were back on the open road. An hour later we saw a welcome to Wyoming sign. The realization that we’d made a huge mistake flooded over us the same way it floods over most people who find themselves reading that sign. In our case, the mistake was that we were trying to get over by Mount Rushmore, south east of Deadwood, and instead we went south west and ended up in another state. Fortunately, the road we accidentally took did happen to go to Denver, so we decided to keep going and leave Bear Country for another time.
Wyoming is big and it has hills. Hills kind of vary state to state. Minnesota has river bluffs, which are steep and cliff like. The black hills are pretty steep too, but they’re not following a river and there aren’t really cliffs. They are pretty much all pines too, where as Minnesota sports a greater variety of trees. Wyoming has these really slow slopping large hills with lots of scrub brush on them. I know this whole paragraph is really boring… this was the best I could come up with for the five hours I was in Wyoming.
Eventually we got to Colorado, and shortly after that we could see the Rocky Mountains. The looked just like the Coors can. Denver’s elevation is about a mile from sea level, so they call it the mile high city- not to be confused with the mile high club, which is something else. We found our friend Steph, and went out for fish tacos- the second time in a week. It made me nervous and awkward, but I did it.
The next day we set out on a mission to cross the continental divide and hike deep into the Rock Mountains. We drove for several ear popping hours west and up. One interesting thing we noticed is that all the trees were dead. Steph’s boyfriend Glen told us that some mutant beatle had been feeding on the trees, and due to global warming, it doesn’t get cold enough to kill them in the winter anymore. I suggested burning them out, but in retrospect I guess regrowing the whole forest after the fact should probably be a last resort. Anyway, I could the spirit of John Denver singing about planting trees all the way.
Steph and Glen like to go hiking, and they’ve both lived in Denver for years. So they took us to a mountain slope they knew and we stared up. I was pretty worried about cougar attacks because they are on the ‘remotely possible’ spectrum of things that could happen, and I’m on the ‘very much so’ spectrum of paranoid. It’s just like Kurt Cobain said, ‘Just because you’re paranoid don’t mean I’m not after you.’ …and in this case I think that applies to mountain lions.
I was watching my back pretty closely, and bravely refusing to let Priscilla carry up the rear. (Is that the correct phraseology for that? ’Carry up the rear?’) Cougars, as we all know, like to attack from behind and from above if possible. Naturally they also go straight for the jugular. If you see a cougar in the woods, the only reason you’re seeing it is because it’s stalking you. They’re a no nonsense killer. Not at all like the all too common brown bear, which is known to be pretty much a wuss.
As we hiked, something changed about my brain. I started to care less and less about the enormous killer feline that was probably right behind me. I started to feel a little woozy. My legs weren’t tired at all, but I was out of breath and my heart was beating a mile a minute. Priscilla must have been feeling the same way because she was complaining even more than usual. Steph and Glen seemed just fine. Then it struck me, we’d caught the Rocky Mountain High.
Aside from a pretty mediocre song, it’s also what happens to you when the elevation reduces the amount of oxygen in the air. Also known as ‘elevation sickness’ and ‘tennis elbow.’ Even though I diagnosed this, Steph and Glen kept right on moving at a normal pace up the mountain, presuming we were pansies. They’re like the creatures from Superman II who come to earth and find that they have super powers because of the yellow sun and their super dense bodies. …only it was like the reverse, and we went to their planet and could no longer use our laser eyesight. It totally sucked.
Eventually it started to get dark. We were at about 13,000 feet by then, only a few hundred from the summit. The trees were thinning and snow was on the ground in spots. We were on a clear mountain lake next to the ruins of a small encampment with log cabins that were probably a few hundred years old. The road to the summit started to switch back after that, so it would have taken too long to get up to the top and back down again before dark, so we decided to go home. And then, my phone rang.
Yes, at 13,000 feet, on the side of a mountain, my cell phone rang.
Phone: *ring ring*
Chris: “Dude, what’s up? We’re watching this video of this old show from high school for Todd’s band, and you were running sound. You totally suck at running sound…”
David: “I’m at 13,000 feet on the side of a mountain”
David: “On mountain, reception bad”
Chris: “You want to talk to Todd?”
David: “There are lions here.”
Todd: “What’s up man?”
David: “One ate my hand.”
David: “I’m on a mountain at 13,000 feet, I can’t talk”
Todd: “Yeah, we’re watching this video from high school”
David: “I can’t hear anything, I’m on a mountain.”
Todd: “So what are you guys doing?”
David: “I’m on a mountain, I can’t talk Todd”
Todd: “Ok, well I should probably let you go.”
Thanks Verizon, for letting me share that incoherent moment with someone 1000 miles east, and 12,000 feet down.
Anyway, we went back down, and no one was eaten. The rest of the trip I had a splitting headache, which I later learned was also part of the Rocky Mountain High. So, to combat feeling hung over, we went to a winery. I knew nothing about wines. I knew they were color coded, and that was it. The biggest surprise for me was that these little taste test things with wine and cheese and crackers are free. Free! Yeah, you go to the place that makes the wine, and they just give it to you. Then they serve you free snacks. I also learned I prefer Cabs to Shiraz and Merlot; and I prefer the cheese and crackers to wine.
After that we went to an art show, then to the obligatory performance. Jason wasn’t with us in town, but the good people of Denver still wanted a show. So Priscilla and I played a short acoustic set at The Hi Dive. When it was done, we promptly said our good buys to Denver and our friends, and hit the road. By the time we were edging dangerously close to Nebraska we decided to stop for the night. We went to this cheap joint that I’m positive several people were had been murdered in. And, wouldn’t you guess it, no free breakfast. I could have screamed. Instead I peed in the courner of the room.
We awoke with the heavy weight of the length of Nebraska in front of us. The first sign we see entering the freeway: DO NOT PICK UP HITCHHIKERS, FEDERAL PRISON NEARBY. Well. Ok then. We didn’t encounter any escapees that we know of, but we did encounter boredom. Can you imagine if you had to ride through that crap on a horse and it took you weeks? I’m sure that all the stories surrounding the loss of life on Lewis and Clarks trip were made up. They all killed themselves in the great plains. Again, I saved my sanity by surfing the net while I drove.
When all hope seemed lost, we reached Iowa. We took a wrong turn there and found a car turned into a spider. …yeah. We left pretty quickly. At 9pm central standard time we finally got home to St. Paul, MN. …and then had to go to work the next day. Puke. That’s about that. …also, no one really died on the Lewis and Clark expedition… one dude got sick and died, but sources say it was related to a methamphetamine addiction.
Oh, and when we got back we found a small pirate costume on our bed… We called Laurel who was appartment sitting for us, and she said she brought it over to try and put on our cat. …but it didn’t work out because Leeloo resisted. Well, Priscilla and I had a talk with Leeloo about how she treats guests…