I hate driving.
I am also a bass player.
This is a problem.
As I watch my violinist, flutist, and clarinetist colleagues getting off of the train outside of a gig while I circle frantically for a parking spot (legal or illegal—anything! I’m running late!), my eyes narrow and my jealousy burns. Why on Earth did I pick this big, awkward, delicate, oddly shaped transportation nightmare of an instrument as my means of livelihood?
My colleagues who play smaller instruments have it easy even if they choose to drive, getting out of their Toyota Prius carpool while I lumber around the block all by myself in my gas-guzzling SUV. Bass players have to drive and have a hard time carpooling with other musicians, and trains are not really an option for most bass players.
Over the years I have occasionally thrown caution to the wind and put myself (and my instrument) in the hands of the Chicago and Regional Transit Authority.
These are my stories. Feel free to add your own.
I didn’t own a car when I was an undergraduate student at
Fortunately for me, most summer festivals auditioned at Northwestern University, so getting considered for these programs was literally as easy as bringing my bass up from the basement. I won many a festival audition while at Northwestern without ever leaving the music building!
My sophomore year of college, I decided to audition for the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. A knot formed in my stomach as I pondered how to get downtown. I had traveled the Chicago El (minus the bass) many times by this point, and the prospect of wedging my bass into the tightly packed cars of the train, getting through turnstiles, making transfers, and avoiding crazy people and pickpockets didn’t exactly tickle my fancy. I made a reservation for a station wagon cab to pick me up from
This was the first in a long line of extraordinarily bad experiences with getting my bass into cabs. I quickly learned one thing about cabs:
Cabs + Bass = Bad
About 50% of the time when I would call for a station wagon cab, a regular cab would appear. I would send them back, demonstrating that the bass simply could NOT be wedged into the back seat with the plexiglass partition. And no, that neck does not fold in to make it smaller. Sorry.
I could also ask for a van cab, but those would turn up with a plexiglass partition almost 100% of the time. I finally learned to ask for a ‘wheelchair-accessible’ van cab. That would always do the trick.
The problem was that there were few of these cabs to go around, and although I had called the previous day to schedule an appointment with this specific vehicle, I’d usually get a regular cab. After sending it away and angrily calling the dispatcher, I would be informed that no ‘wheelchair-accessible’ van cabs were available that morning.
That morning my sophomore year was no exception. A regular cab came, I sent them back, and I waited……and called the dispatcher…..and waited…..
Finally, a station wagon cab arrived. I had a 10:30 a.m. audition for the Civic Orchestra, and I had arranged for the cab to originally pick me up at 9 a.m. (I would soon learn to leave at least four hours of travel time with these cab companies, even when only traveling the 12 miles from Evanston to downtown Chicago), but it was edging dangerously close to 10 a.m. but the time this wagon picked me up.
This cabbie booked it downtown, but to no avail. It was 10:45 a.m. by the time I was getting out of the cab, $50 poorer (in 1995 dollars), cursing to myself—I had missed my audition.
Luckily, my Civic audition group hadn’t completed their playing yet, so I was able to get in and still audition. I won a position in the orchestra (although I didn’t know that until the results were mailed to me weeks later) and went out into the street, determined to hail a cab and avoid those rotten incompetent dispatchers.
One gregarious cabbie called out to me in heavily accented English. He was in a regular cab, but he assured me that my bass would fit, helping me to wedge it into the backseat. We tried to angle the neck up into the corner of the rear windshield and get the angle just so….
Something bad had just happened to my bass, but I couldn’t very easily get it back out and check. My heart raced with visions of repair bills and more cab rides to luthiers, but I got into the front of the cab and we took off.
“Friend!” the cabbie said. “You are living very far from downtown—very far! Is too far for me to travel. I am doing you big favor! BIG favor! You will make it worth my while, yes?”
I had told this bass-cracking bozo where I lived before I got into the cab. I was not in the mood to get shaken down by this cabbie.
He kept repeating this sort of thing on the ride back to
He started angrily cursing me, telling me that I had betrayed him, demanding more money. I walked off.
My bass was cracked and splintered on the upper bout. This bass always cracked very easily, so it was no surprise that this happened, but I was not happy about the prospect of making yet another trip downtown to get it fixed. $110 poorer and with a cracked bass, I headed into my school rehearsal.
My experiences have made me realize that cab nightmares are the norm rather than the exception when traveling with a bass. I always tried to minimize the number of times I had to take a cab anywhere while bass-laden, but certain situations make cab travel practically unavoidable:
- If you don’t own a car
If you don’t own a car, you’re going to be taking a cab with the bass. The obvious problem is that, if you’re lucky like me, you’ll end up spending a fair wad of cash on this ride, so don’t plan on cabbing it to a gig. You’ll likely spend your entire paycheck and possibly get a cracked bass to boot.
Here’s where it gets sticky. When taking auditions involving plane travel (another lovely subject for another time), you basically have two choices: rent a car or take cabs. Renting a car big enough to hold a bass trunk is going to set you back, but so are these irritating cabs.
My easiest cab experiences?
I always spend more whenever I rent a car for an audition, but I am always much calmer and less irritable and distracted when I fork over the money for the rental rather than cabbing it. And that makes a difference for auditions!
My worst cab experiences? Everywhere else, with varying degrees of nightmarishness. Even in Miami, where cab companies must be hauling wheelchairs, golf clubs, and other large items (not to mention a steady stream of New World Symphony musicians with all sorts of instruments), sent out the wrong kind of cab, delaying my trip to the airport. I still made my flight, but barely.
Again, I hate driving. But more than that, I hate cabs. If you play bass, you really do need a car here in the States.
Read the complete series: