Here’s my first attempt at writing a travelogue. I swear I’m not usually this harsh, but anyway, this is just how it came out. I just handed this in for my travel writing class so I haven’t gotten any feedback yet. Let me know what you think!
P.S. Any names included in this piece have been changed.
Night of Muzak
After an hour of listening to the whiny melodies of loves lost and dreams crushed, I can’t help but have the strong urge to bang my head against the plastic table. Maybe I’m a musical snob, but what I’m watching is literally making me cringe. Suddenly, a glass shatters on the hardwood floor, and a clearly tipsy, middle-age woman gasps. All her equally-intoxicated friends turn in their seats to stare at the heap of broken glass on the floor. No one makes a move to clean up the mess. Instead, someone let’s out a giggle, and soon, the entire group is gasping for breath in fits of laughter. Meanwhile, the musician on stage is singing what he calls his “wisest song” entitled “Seasons”; honestly, I find it hard to find the wisdom amidst the rough, obnoxious twang coming through the speakers.
The small music café is packed with people—although one can’t help but notice the stark contrast in demographics. One side of the room is ensconced by conservatively-dressed suburban couples in their late 40s to early 50s, while the other side is entrenched with lackadaisical college students. One side is drinking cheap bottles of wine from fluted glasses, while the other side is sipping flavored coffee from oversized mugs. It seems as if there is an invisible line drawn down the center of the room. It‘s okay to share passing glances, but it’s not okay to associate with the opposite side of the room.
It’s a Friday night, and all anyone wants to do was get off campus. I had received a Facebook invite from a friend a few days before asking me to go to his gig. I skimmed through the list of those who were “attending” and Google-mapped the directions. I found that it was a fairly easy-looking drive and only about an hour from school. I didn’t have any other plans and most of my friends were already talking about going, so what the heck? I clicked the “attend” button.
“Uhhh, I think we’re going the wrong way,” my friend Anna says to me quietly.
It’s important to know before getting in the car with me that I am notorious for getting lost, even with the help of my GPS, Susan. Now, Susan isn’t the most reliable GPS, but she usually gets me where I need to go—eventually. Susan tends to send me on indirect routes, and she occasionally neglects to tell me to take an exit until I’ve already passed that exit, but I’ve learned to accept her flaws for the mere fact that I wouldn’t be able to get anywhere at all without her.
After an hour of driving on windy country roads and partially-joking about finding ourselves in one of those Final Destination scenarios, Anna and I finally make it to the gig. Walking down the quaint streets of the small town, the air is crisp and clean, but I can smell a faint scent of snow in the passing breeze. The sidewalks look newly laid, and they are clean of all debris; I would go as far as to say they are “pristine.” These are certainly not the walkways of a vastly-populated city. Small storefronts line the street, but all are closed by dinnertime, I’m sure. A sign that reads, “Family-Owned and Operated Since 1951” hangs in the window of a hardware store. As we continue walking, one thing I can’t help but notice the serene silence. But the moment we swing open the door to Charlie’s Music Café, that silence is shattered.
“Good evening, ladies! Welcome to Charlie’s! How can I help you?” a small, bubbly, redhead woman greets us.
This woman knows how to talk. She not only tells us the history of Charlie’s but also the history of the town. Then, she goes over the dinner menu and prices with us, and circles around to stories about her family and friends. Anna and I emphatically nod our heads in hopes of appeasing her, but she doesn’t stop until she runs out of breath. After a good ten minutes of story telling, she finally asks for our 12-dollar cover charge.
I had made sure we left campus 20 minutes early, because I was expecting to get lost. Fortunately, although I had made a few wrong turns, no extra time was added to our journey. Since Anna and I have a little time to spare, we go upstairs to the snack bar to buy some bottled waters. The upstairs is small, with barely enough room to stand, but it fits the overall place nicely. The snack bar is located to the left of the stairs, and straight ahead is a row of wooden barstools. The room opens up to overlook the stage and the tables below. And if you decide you can’t see well enough from there, mounted on the wall over the snack bar is a large flat screen television, streaming a live-feed of the performances. It seems oddly out of place in such a down-home venue, but no one is immune to technology these days.
When Anna and I return with our waters, a crowd has begun to gather and the performer is ready to take the stage. First up is a guy who looks to be in his early 30s. He is going for the nonchalant look with his black Addidas sneakers, baggy jeans, and white undershirt with a wrinkly light blue button-up shirt overtop. I think he honestly tried to make his hair look sexily-mussed, but it just falls flat in a glob of gel. After he is introduced, he bounds up the two small steps to the stage, sets his glass of whisky down on the stool beside him, and picks up his guitar. The first few strums are soft and calming, and I sit back to enjoy the show.
On the tables are plastic candle flames, and out of the corner of my eye, I can see the red, glaring EXIT sign above the doors to the left of the stage. On those doors are signs made out of construction paper reading “DO NOT BLOCK FIRE DOOR” in black marker. Next to the doors is a red, brick wall with several paintings hanging on it. The one that sticks out right away is a vibrant painting of a tree with its leaves falling onto a sea of green grass. The painting has various shades of orange, red, yellow, green and brown all blended together. Across the room, on the opposite wall, there are three separate pieces of gray, plastic paneling. Placed over the brick wall, these panels don’t seem to provide much of a sense of purpose. I just assume they’re considered some form or art that I don’t understand. Looking back to the stage, it’s hard not to notice the ultramarine blue backdrop covered with twinkling LED lights. Charlie’s definitely has an eclectic feel to it.
My casual perusal of my surroundings stops when the musician begins to sing a cover of “The Scientist” by Coldplay. His breathy whine ruins the entire song for me. Finally, he announces his last song as a “tribute to his childhood home.” Unfortunately, that includes him singing the lyrics, “Walkin’ on the south-side of Philly, I’m in love with my city, Baby,” over and over again.
Luckily the next act has more impressive vocal abilities. This acoustic duo is called 42nd Street. The performers start out with a few cheesy jokes, but their music is surprisingly catchy. With both men being in their early 50s, it’s clear that they were booked to cater to the older generation, but I actually find myself tapping my foot to a few of their songs. I think what I like most about these guys is that they aren’t trying too hard. They’re both in jeans and t-shirts, rocking out to their favorite songs, with huge smiles on their faces. Yeah, they have salt-and-pepper hair, and their voices have a slightly craggy tone to them, but these guys know how to have pure and simple fun. Apparently, the one side of the room is enjoying themselves too, because I hear a few catcalls and a shout from the back of the room, “FREEBIRD!” It takes a lot of appall college students, but this crowd of middle-aged groupies certainly raises a few eyebrows. Anna leans over and whispers, “Please kill me if I ever act like that when I’m older.”
Two hours later, 42nd Street leaves that stage, and invites everyone to join them at the local bar. Next up is my friend, Todd Post*. I already know coming into this that Todd isn’t the best vocalist, but he is amazingly talented when it comes to the guitar and the piano. Usually Todd’s style is pretty relaxed, but tonight it looks a little bit like his mom dressed him. He walks on stage wearing dark-wash jeans, a blue and white-striped sweater and a pair of tan Sperry’s. He starts off with a soft, slow ballad that is in his voice range, but as his set progresses, his voice becomes more and more pitchy. After a few songs, the older crowd abandons their coveted side of the room and leaves for the bar down the street. This doesn’t happen without Todd’s notice as he jokes, “Thanks to all the 42nd Street fans that stayed to support me…oh wait…” Todd calls up his brother and his former bandmates to help him out by playing the drums, the electric guitar, and an upright base. Overall, the instruments all sound amazing, but the lyrics and vocals leave a lot to be desired.
When the last note is played, I quickly put on my coat and scarf and head for the door. Five hours of mediocre, and at times painfully bad, music has left me in no mood for small talk. I grab Anna on the way out, and we start walking down the quiet street again toward my car. Now it is snowing, adding to the calm of the night. I can’t wait to crank up my favorite music on the drive home. Hopefully Susan knows the way.