It was 9 a.m. on Thursday morning. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. I put on my sunglasses and started my engine. Jack White instantly began screaming at me through my car stereo about his poor, broken heart.
“Alright,” I said aloud, “let’s do this thing!” I gunned the engine and sped off, leaving behind a dust cloud and the distant sound of Jack White’s guitar.
It was over 300 miles to Sacramento and I was ready! After driving from Seattle to Humboldt earlier this year, driving to Sacramento was child’s play (or so I told myself and anyone else who would listen).
The reason I was headed to Sac Town was simple: Conan O’Brien. The fact that my BFF Seth and his fiance Tara also happened to live there was icing on the cake.
The sun beat down upon my brow as I navigated south with the coolness of Steve McQueen, passing cars with ease. A master helmsman. I felt like a king, and Highway 101 was my kingdom.
One thing that I will always love about road trips of any length is that it gives you a chance to discover new music (or rediscover old favorites). Two albums in particular stand out from this road trip: “All Hail West Texas” by The Mountain Goats (which I had purchased a week before my trip but had saved to serve as road trip music) and “Easy Beat” by Dr. Dog (which I had burned during my last gig at KRFH as a DJ. Sigh…).
The first artist, The Mountain Goats, was a band that I first got into because of my love for the TV dramedy “Weeds.” The song “Cotton” plays at the end of an episode in season 2 and I was so impressed with the song that immediately after the episode ended I hoped over to my computer and Googled the show to see who sang that beautiful and tragic song. Turns out, The Mountain Goats had been around since the mid-90s, but I wasn’t discovering them until 2008 or so. Ah well. The nice thing about music is that it doesn’t really matter when you discover it, it is still just as powerful as the day it was recorded.
The album “All Hail West Texas” was, I decided after listening to it 3 times in a row while my windows were rolled down and the wind played tricks with my hair, a masterpiece. On the drive to and fro from Humboldt to Sacramento, and back again I listened to the album no less than 7 times and each time it got better. Lead singer John Darnielle has a voice that is both innocent sounding and world weary at the same time, which adds such beauty to his songs about love lost, mental breakdowns, and failed marriages. Get your hands on this album, gentle reader, you won’t be sorry.
After my 3rd listen to the aforementioned record I decided a little silence was in order, so I shut off my stereo and listened to the cool, gentle hum of my faithful 2006 Ford Focus and let my mind wander. My brother Matthew’s upcoming marriage (June 5th) played heavily on my mind. It was such a strange, bittersweet feeling. Call me old fashioned, but I had always assumed that as the oldest that I would be the first person to get married. It’s kinda funny. “Kids grow up so fast,” my grandma always says. I never knew how right she was until this moment, it seemed. I pulled over to the side of the road and had a good cry. The month of May has been a very emotional time for me. I’m saying goodbye to a lot of things: My life as a college student. My life as a DJ. My brother. I know he’s not dying or anything, but he is moving up to Oregon and it makes me more than a little melancholy that he is growing up. He’ll always be my little brother though, no matter what happens.
Okay, back to my slightly pretentious music reviews! Oh boy!
After my tear-stained pit stop, I looked around for the nearest gas station and bought myself a cup of coffee and some Cheez Its and was back on the road in no time, feeling rejuvenated and ready to go! I was less than an hour away from Ukiah, where I had planned to have some lunch. I was craving a tuna sandwich like you would not believe! I don’t know what it is about road trips but whenever I’m driving from more than 2 hours I always have an intense craving for tuna salad. I have no idea why this is. It’s just one of those things, I guess.
Anywho, the second album I fell in love with was “Easy Beat” by Dr. Dog, which was the most Beatles-inspired album that I had heard in qutie sometime and it made me smile. The lyrics and melody brought to mind the Beatles and the Kinks, circa 1967-68, but with some modern flourishes that had me grinning like a school girl with a crush. I turned up the volume as high as I could and gunned the engine, passing a VW bug with relish, waving for no apparent reason other than the fact that I was feeling friendly. The family inside waved back. I smiled. They smiled. It was a nice moment.
After that the gentle lull of the highway took over and I drove the next hour as if in a trance, until I saw I sign for a diner in Ukiah that I had always wanted to try. I pulled out my GPS and checked my location. Turns out I had missed the exit for I-5 about 4 miles back. Damn. Oh well, I said to myself, live and learn. I pressed a few butons and let the GPS recalibrate while I strolled inside, found myself a nice seat at the bar, and politely asked the overly friendly teenager behind the counter for some coffee and a tuna sandwich.
“Sooooo….. You from around here?” The girl asked while she poured my coffee, pondering whether or not she recognized me from somewhere.
“Nope,” says I with a grin, “I’m actually heading to Sacramento tonight to see Conan! My best friend lives in Sac and we’re both pretty excited to see him live!”
“Oh really?” she said, with wonder in her voice. “That sounds so fun! I always liked Conan! I never liked…. What’s the other guy’s name again?”
“Oh right. Leno…. I never liked him.”
I gazed deeply into my coffee, as if considering my own existence. “Yeah, me neither. I’m Team Coco all the way!”
She smiled, and then hoped back into the kitchen, reappearing with my sandwich. “Ta da!”
I laughed and thanked her and then dug in, finishing the sandwich as quickly one does when one is hungry and craving one specific thing above all else. I paid the bill and left, putting my sunglasses back on as I walked into the bright outdoors.
Only a few more hours to Sacramento, I told myself, popping a Eddie Izzard stand-up album into my CD player and cackling like a mad man to Izzard’s jokes. The man is hilarious! If you haven’t listened to him, you’re missing out (man, I’m just pushing you around, aren’t I? Haha!).
The next few hours flew by and before I knew it the 5 most reassuring words a Tom Tom GPS can say flooded my ears like music: “You have reached your destination.”
Seth and Tara were both outside, eagerly awaiting my arrival. I honked the horn and drove into the parking spaces of their apartment complex, jumping out of my car as fast as I could and grabbing Seth in a bear hug.
“Oh man, I’ve missed you, buddy!” I said with a goofy grin.
“I’ve missed you too!” Seth said.
All 3 of us stood there, smiling like children. It was great.
We grabbed my travel possessions and headed upstairs to their apartment, talking a mile a minute. After a while Tara decided that she was sick and tired of being sober and made all 3 of us delicious gin and tonics. We sipped them happily.
“We’ve really gotten into gin and tonics” Seth informed me.
I nodded somberly.
We talked for another hour or two and then decided that we had better head on over to mid-town so that way we would be plenty early to see our beloved Conan. The spot the 2 of them decided on for dinner was a place called Buckhorn Grill in mid-town Sac, which turned out to be quite the classy place! The place was known for their tri-tip, so Seth told me, so the tri-tip I ordered and it was amazing! We opted to sit outside at the place’s outdoor seating area, since it was a cool 75 degrees. We sat in the sun, drank beer and laughed about Twitter and Facebook (we’re in our 20s, what else is there to talk about?!? Lol!). It was one of those moments that I felt completely happy and satisfied with my life. I love those moments.
After dinner we decided to venture over the bar next door, and had a conversation that revolved around how cool and grown up we all felt at that moment. Then Seth glanced out into the street and got all excited.
“I think I just saw Conan’s limo! I saw a puff of red hair and a police escort! I think it was him!”
“Oh yeah?” I said. “Well, you’re probably right! Unless Sacramento has some ‘other’ famous redhead that I don’t know about.”
“That’s so cool!”
We decided that the Conan sighting was a sign from the Universe to head over to where the concert was taking place. When we arrived we were about a half an hour early, so we grabbed our seats and waited giddily for the concert to begin, with Seth and me tweeting to pass the time.
“I’m honored to be in the same building as Mr. Conan O’ Brien,” I wrote. “Show begins in 30 minutes! I’m as excited as a midget on crack!” Seth read this, laughed and retweeted it. Being a nerd is such a enjoyable thing.
Before we knew it the lights dimmed and Conan’s band (minus Max, who is on tour with Bruce) rushed the stage. The crowd jumped to its feet, applauding and smiling at each! Seth and I high-fived.
“Please welcome Mr. Conan O’Brien” the announcer said and I screamed at the top of my lungs!
The next two and a half hour was filled with music (Conan’s a really amazing guitar player!), dancing (Conan has very, very long legs), and stand-up. A few thinly veiled jabs at Leno and Arnold had the audience eating out of the palm of his freckled hand. He even appeared onstage in a fully leather suit that he bought from Eddie Murphy. It was great! Icing on the cake: he played “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes at one point.
“I don’t usually play this song on stage, just in rehearsal” he informed us. “But you guys have been such an amazing audience that I feel that you deserve a little extra something something.”
As the show ended we walked outside, as if in a trance.
“Wow. That changed my life.” I said. Seth and Tara both nodded enthusiastically.
On the way back to their car I spotted a frozen yogurt place and suggested that we end the night off with some sugar, “for our throats. We’ve just spent the last 2 hours yelling.”
We all decided that this was a good idea and stopped in for a bite.
It was a good night. Thanks for the memories, Conan.