I have had the unfortunate experience of doing many all night drives over the years to get from one gig to another. This is never fun. The main problem is that I work in Memphis, Tennessee and in Chicago and Wisconsin. IRIS Chamber Orchestra concerts will start in Memphis at 8 p.m. on Saturday night and get done at 10 or 10:30 p.m. I will then often have rehearsals (or sometimes even concerts!) the next day in northern Illinois or in Wisconsin. Memphis and Chicago are about 9 1/2 hours apart for driving time, so this can present some complications.
Sometimes I only have a Sunday evening rehearsal or some teaching on Sunday night. This is the best sort of scenario. I simply have to get up around 5 a.m. (which I don’t like doing very much after a late night concert) and be on the road by 6 a.m. It’s a lonely drive through rural Arkansas and Missouri, but I can keep myself entertained with beautiful vistas like this farm:
this state prison:
Charming as this drive may be during the day, it is even more fun at night! The bad driving scenario (and one which I have done many times) is one in which I have a Memphis concert Saturday night ending at 10:30 p.m. and a Milwaukee service starting 11 a.m. Sunday morning. If I leave the second the concert gets out (no time to change) and hit the road I can make it to Milwaukee with about 45 minutes to spare.
The drive (which I have come to detest more than anything in this world) follows this sort of time line:
- 10:30 p.m. – I load the bass and the stool in the car (still in my suit) and book it to the freeway. Luckily there is a reception after each IRIS concert, so there is never a mad dash to the parking lot. I need to make sure to stop for gas before I leave Memphis, because late night gas stations are spread pretty far apart for the first two-thirds of this drive.
- 11:15 p.m. – By now I have cleared the Memphis area and entered West Memphis, Arkansas, another rough town on the drive. I’ve stopped here before, and to me it is like the East St. Louis of Memphis (any people from Illinois or Missouri know what I mean–it’s bad!).
- 12:15 a.m. – I hit the Arkansas-Missouri state line. Traffic starts to thin out by this point, but there is still some company on the road.
- 1:15 a.m. – I cross the Mississippi river and hit Cairo. The crossing is dramatic during the day, but at night it is creepy. I am basically the only car on the road right now. I’ve driven this drive during pouring rain and whipping wind when the temperature is just a hair above freezing. Here’s a picture of the crossing. Imagine how it looks in the conditions I just described:
- 1:30 a.m. – Now that I’m around Cairo I really start to get creeped out. Anybody interested in this town can read more about it here. I’m sure the town isn’t as bad as I imagine it to be, but I have this nightmare vision of breaking down out here in the pouring rain and never being heard from again. Adding to the creepiness is the fact that you enter a big southern Illinois forest at this point and that the trees at night are often filled with roosting ravens.
- 2:15 a.m. – I pass RIGHT NEXT to this prison:
- 3-5 a.m. – I begin to enter a more populated, less “Deliverance” style area of the state. This is the point where I also start to feel VERY tired.
- 5-7 a.m. – These are the hardest hours of the drive for me physically. I am back in populated Illinois (I hit Champaign-Urbana around this time), but something about being still in my suit from the night before, unshaved, hungry, and squinting as the sun comes up makes me feel really rotten.
- 7-10 a.m. – I hit and pass metro Chicago on my way up to Milwaukee. I have not hit traffic ever at this time of day. It always strikes me at this point that the Chicago freeway system actually works great if there aren’t any cars on it!
- 10-10:45 a.m. – I arrive in Milwaukee at the ballet studio and brush my teeth in the street as I wait for the hall to open up. These days are doubles (!), so my day is as follows from this point:
- 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. – Rehearsal #1
- 1:30-2:30 p.m. – crawl inside my bass case to take a nap
- 2:30-5 p.m. – Rehearsal #2
- 5-6:30 p.m. – drive home to Chicago
I haven’t yet had a gig after that second Milwaukee service, but I am sure that it is something that would happen if I were to continue to do these crazy drives. I have vowed to never do one of these days again–I am sure that it takes a month or so off of my lifespan after I do it.
I have also done all night drives to many other places besides Milwaukee, but those stories are for another time.
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