Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Baby Across America Tour: Behind the music

Little did I know how exciting the life of a long-haul baby and dog mover could be.
(It's quite possible I was rapping to Salt-n-Pepa here.)

They tried to warn me. They really did.
After first sharing plans for our Baby Across America Tour, nearly everyone – friends, family, neighbors -- responded with wide eyes and one word: Why?
They had a point.
After all, we were talking about loading a minivan with two adults, two dogs, a 7-month-old boy, everything but our furniture, and then driving in the heart of summer on a cross-country tour that would keep us on the road for 15 days.

Hey, guys, we’re getting the band back together!

Our young tour headliner
Well before our setting our battle plan, my wife and I debated about whether to fly or roll like a boss for 3,700 miles or so. It was time for our headliner to give back to his fans, to at long last let most of our two families get some face time, autographs and slobber from the star.
We had to get from Florida to St. Louis and South Dakota, spending at least a handful of days in each place.
So, why drive?
With a two-week, two-stop tour, we considered the speed and much higher cost (airfare, boarding both dogs, parking, etc.) of flying vs. the freedom to carry more cargo, more flexibility over travel times, and lower cost of driving, despite the hassle of finding dog-friendly hotels, having to keep one adult in the car during travel because of the heat, and knowing we’d be pushing the limits of our endurance and sanity.
 Plus, there was a chance driving just MIGHT be fun, right? Hey, we could even take trip photos every day to document the drama, maybe drop in and play an undercover gig here and there – you know, make the tour a real thrill ride!
Looking back, we should have made tour t-shirts and made some money. Or, at the very least, found a roadie or two for the trip.

It’s time to go on stage already? For real?

After months of tour promotion, commotion and regularly questioning just what the hell we were thinking, the start date finally loomed large.
Befitting a true American tour, we celebrated the Fourth of July the day before we rolled out. Unfortunately, instead of enjoying food, friends and fireworks, I was slogging through my worst head cold in at least two decades. Which made the massive final-day checklist of duties an even bigger grind, all while hoping our place wouldn’t get torched by the thousands of dollars some idiot a couple of blocks away had sunk into explosives.
Pretty sure we got a solid four hours of sleep or so.
But guess what? Too bad. The fans were waiting for their first glimpse of the tour’s showstopper, our then-7-month-old son, and delaying things a day wasn’t a workable option.

Excitement -- or, more likely, effects from cold medicine -- reigns
as we embark on a 15-day tour. What was wrong with us?
Daddy’s Log: Day 1, Palm Beach County
Miles: 0, Hours: 0. 10:45 am, 90 degrees.

The good news: With some DayQuil and generous amounts of Diet Dew, I had improved to about 70 percent. Not great, but passable for long-haul minivan trucking. Also, we both woke up fairly close to our target time, which meant we left only about a half-hour later than we had hoped.
The bad news: My nasty head cold started to hit my wife, who didn’t get much more sleep than I did. The sniffles seemed to spare the boy. That said, he had problems of his own: namely a first tooth that had been playing peek-a-boo with his lower gum for about three months.
So, with a teething 7-month-old, a driver hopped up on cold meds and caffeine, and a mom doing everything she could to stay alert and upright while still pumping twice a day -- including inside the van while we drove -- we took a minivan selfie and backed into the great unknown on a typically steamy July Sunday morning.

Kirby (left), always there for a poop alarm, and
Gracie, who added a tang of landfill to the van's aroma.
Despite the rough start, the first 45 minutes wasn’t too bad
Thanks to a free trial, we had nearly every channel of satellite radio available – this became more valuable as we went – my sneezing was under control, the dogs had settled in, and our tour bus was making remarkably good gas mileage. We were on a roll, baby!
Which ended near Fort Pierce right before getting onto Florida’s Turnpike. One of our dogs made it clear we had to stop, despite going up to 12 hours at a time barely lifting a paw at home.
Back on the tour bus, we rolled onto the Turnpike, where – outside of running into a bizarre case of road rage from an idiot driving a fancy car with a New York license plate (go figure) – the driving went smoothly for a few hours as the temperature soared, the free tunes flowed and the food we packed doing its job.
As we reached the north end of Florida’s Turnpike, the Sunday sky darkened considerably.
Not great, but par for early July. What made it worse was running into a creeping conga line on I-75. Traffic had slowed to about 25 mph, and we needed to find somewhere to stop. Not knowing how long it would take to get to the next exit, we took an exit in Ocala to reach a packed gas station.
My wife returned about 10 minutes later, without relief, reporting it was overrun with “dumb people,” and if you know her, you know the moronic behavior had to be near epic levels.
We went a little farther north before taking our first full-fledged pit stop, spending about 40 minutes for a dog walk, diaper change, a chance to eat something substantial, a gas refill and – in this case, hoping Mother Nature would stop pounding the area.
But the thunder rolled on, the traffic remained brutally slow, and just as bad, the satellite radio began to lose signal as the storms intensified.
Finally, after nearly an hour of agonizing slow jams better suited for a funeral, we emerged into sunshine, clear traffic and realized the tour bus that normally averaged 14 miles per gallon was clocking in at 22.8 for the trip.
Our dynamic duo spending time together in the back.
We hadn’t yet locked in a place to stay for the night as we crossed into Georgia, but at last my wife felt strong enough to take a short stint at the wheel, a welcome break after several hours of driving and the caffeine and DayQuil wearing off.
That allowed this stand-in roadie to spend time in the back next to our headliner … and right into the panting breath of our bigger dog, which that day offered a bouquet of four-day old shrimp with subtle notes of cat scat and just a hint of old egg. It paired nicely with a growing loss of smell as the cold medicine wore off.

Baby Across America Tour: Controlled chaos

Overall, stops required a lot of maneuvering if we needed more than gas, which was most of the time.
Because it was so hot, we couldn’t leave the dogs in the van without the air conditioner running. So, if one of us had to use the bathroom, instead of both of us taking care of things at the same time, it became a relay. One would pump gas and sit in the van after finishing, the other would take the boy and go inside. Then after the return, the first person would get a chance to go inside and do what needed to be done.
The whole dance turned a likely 10-minute stop into 20, and often 30, minutes.
We took a few reps to finally get things down properly, but eventually shaved even the longest “short” stops to no more than 20 minutes.
After a couple of these longer stops in southern and central Georgia, I had retaken the wheel and with the clock sweeping past 8 p.m., we knew we still quite a bit of driving left. Fortunately, our tour star seemed relatively content with a rotation of three toys and having one of his managers in the other back seat.
We really wanted to get somewhere north of Atlanta so we wouldn’t have to fight as much weekday traffic on the second day, and after a few hours, eventually found a place near Chattanooga that seemed like it would work.
As we reached about 10:30 p.m., after smooth driving through Georgia, we rolled into metro Atlanta, and our tiny tour star went full diva. He had had enough and was going to make his bandmates pay.
It was tough to blame him: Most of the past 12 hours he had been strapped into a car seat, his impending first tooth hurt, and now he couldn’t see anything out the windows.
While he practiced his voice modulation exercises for use in case he had to perform without an amplifier, the traffic through Atlanta was heavier than expected, my wife’s many valiant attempts fell flat, additional caffeine had little to no effect – and worse, both dogs just sat there, not even raising a paw to help.
Damn dogs.
Eventually, just after midnight, we pulled into our luxurious overnight destination, which defined “budget hotel” to a T.
No matter. We had been on the road for 13-1/2 hours. So, of course, as soon as the engine cut off and the door started sliding open, the bigger dog tried to escape, the smaller one wouldn’t sit still and began whining incessantly, all of which only added beautiful backup vocals to the full-on yelling from our tortured tour star.

Who wants to play Minivan Jenga over and over?

Night 1: Roadie School

After getting mom and the boy in the room, and giving the dogs a chance at rapid relief, Roadie School opened. The goal: Get “only what we needed” from the van to the room, and get some sleep. I knew it wouldn’t be a one-trip run, but little did I realize how much had to get pulled from the van: pack-and-play, dog bowl, cooler still half-full of drinks and food for the next morning, overnight bag, anything that might look remotely valuable.
Keep in mind, both my wife and I were dragging, not only from the long drive, but also from the wicked head cold that had been steadily gaining the upper hand for the past four to five hours. At this point, I finally came to grips that I was going to have empty about three-fourths of what was in the van pretty much anytime we stopped overnight. To paraphrase AC/DC, it became quite clear it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll.
Once in the room, the boy had little interest in sleeping, crying/yelling for several seconds and then getting enraged because he would have to take a breath to continue yelling. He did enjoy the smaller dog’s excited dancing around every time I came near the door to either drop off another haul from the van or leave for the next cargo shipment.
As for amenities, the hotel room was, well, secure. Plus the double beds did at least have sizable areas slightly softer than concrete slabs. Small victory. I took it without hesitation.
Roughly two hours after stopping the van, we had finally taken care of the boy, dogs, cargo haul and ourselves, it was time to sleep. Well, sort of. The smaller dog had no problems ditching years of protocol and getting up on my bed and plopping down next to me.
The bigger dog, who has a habit of unleashing a torrent of Doberman-sounding death barks at any strange noise, kept woofing every hour or two, almost always waking our front man, who then screamed for at least a few seconds before quieting.
But this pooch saved her loudest for last, when, shortly after 6 a.m., she unleashed an unstoppable torrent of noise as others started leaving their rooms. Eventually, we shut the dog in the bathroom, fed the boy and managed about two hours of sleep afterward.
A lumpy bed, interrupted shortened sleep after a very long day, and a nasty head cold: The perfect recipe for long-haul family trucking, no?

Baby Across America Tour: Behind the scenes
Part 1: Promotion and the launch party
Part 2: Diaper Drama

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