There are always a few moments (usually in the spring) when the stark contrast between “normal life” and the wacky life of a freelance musician rear their heads. A few examples from a recent warm and sunny Saturday:
I was breathing in the wonderful springtime scents through my open kitchen window, my awesome cat Dan on the windowsill next to me. I could already see my north Evanston neighborhood bustling with activity: people were donning wrinkled shorts (undoubtedly yanked from a draw that was last opened the previous fall) and out in full force, sipping a Starbucks coffee and animatedly chatting on the first truly fantastic weekend day of the year. Days like this in Chicago are all too rare–the continental climate in which this town is ensconced only gets a few dozen truly great days (devoid of rain, hail, sleet, snow, and subzero or scorching temperatures) at the most each year, and I was pumped to get out and enjoy the day.
The only problem? I was stuck in my stupid tails all day.
Sunny and 77 degrees on a Saturday morning, and I’m in my white vest and tailcoat? Lovely.
A Day in the Life
I put on my penguin suit and head out the door, getting bemused glances from all my neighbors. They’re carrying tennis rackets and going out to have “normal person” fun. I’m headed out to play a bunch of random gigs in tails–I had just enough time to get from gig to gig, so bringing street clothes made no sense, unfortunately. Already sweaty and uncomfortable only after loading the bass and getting into the car, I drove by scores of happy Evanstonians out frolicking in the sun, getting the occasional glance at my seemingly eccentric choice of summer garb.
I ended up teaching some lessons in my tails on my way to gig #1. Ever take lessons from a guy in tails? I never did as a student, but I’ve taught countless lessons in them myself.
You’ve Got To Be Kidding
My next stop was at a hotel in downtown Chicago, and I left with enough time to spare, but not a whole lot of extra time (which is more my style). I was just about to hang a right and go into the parking garage (which was only going to cost me $14–a relative bargain in Chicago these days) when I noticed, to my horror, that the Cinco de Mayo festival going on. Hey–it was only the 2nd of May! What gives? I didn’t know, but I was thoroughly hosed by this predicament. All exits off Lakeshore Drive were blocked off by the cops for miles, and I had to drive down to the near South Side before I could flip around.
My adequate time cushion had now evaporated, and to make matters worse, I was now stuck in horrible freaking Cinco de Mayo traffic on Michigan Avenue. I looked at the clock. I looked at the traffic. I looked at all the happy shiny people enjoying their Saturday while my stomach acids burned (no time for lunch now). I cursed my fate.
I finally got to the entrance for one of the underground parking garages (this one would soak me for $24 for a few hours of parking). I pulled in, grabbed my bass, and began speed walking up out of the garage. I was about a mile from my gig, and I had (hopefully) just enough time to make it to gig #1.
There’s nothing like a man speed walking through jam-packed Cinco de Mayo city streets in tails with a double bass to get people’s attention, and I got a lot of smirks and smart-aleck “should’ve played the piccolo” comments as I booked it across Millennium Park in the center of downtown Chicago.
I made it, breathless but still slightly early, to gig #1, headed up to the second floor, where I was shooed away impatiently by some irritated party planner and directed to 2B–the subbasement of this massive hotel/convention center. I made it with just enough time to spare, hungry, hot, and cranky to be sure, but there.
Gig #1 lasted for a few hours (this gig alone would make for a fairly entertaining blog post of its own–maybe some day…), and I then got the pleasure of again crossing Millennium Park in my tails (albeit at a more relaxed pace), getting more heckles along the way, back to the distant garage, where I loaded my bass up and headed off to gig #2.
The Hungry Penguin
The expressway was a sea of brake lights and interminably slow traffic, and I drummed my fingers on the dashboard as my rumbling stomach called out pathetically for nourishment. Mile after mile painfully crawled by–I could have walked faster–and I eventually found myself 40 miles out of town in a distant working-class suburb for gig #2. I spotted a Subway sandwich shop and dashed in, getting a fresh set of puzzled stares from the families in the restaurant. I was getting sick of looking like I was on my way to a catering gig or a Dracula convention, but honestly, what could I expect? Who else but a musician drives around all day on a beautiful weekend day in full formalwear but a freelance musician with scant minutes between each stacked gig.
I inhaled a footlong sub like some ravenous animal, careful not to get mustard on my white duds (I’ve soiled many a vest or dress shirt that way in this same exact situation), and waddled off, burping happily, to play gig #2.
Just another day in the life of a freelance music dude…