I learned the hard way that life on the road is far from glamorous.
At just 16, I fell into line as an aspiring rock journalist on tour with Ashlee Simpson. There was no one to tell me what I was in store for – just a dozen serious faces staring at me like I was stealing their air.
Tired always, dirty most of the time, and hungry when I missed my chance to eat, they called me “the stowaway” and the “rookie.” I missed home more than I had expected, and the world around me moved like a storm of fireworks the moment that mighty tour bus pulled into the venue for sound check.
There are a ton of perks, don’t get me wrong! Free records, beautiful city lights, friends who become family, and the overwhelming sense of accomplishment when you realize you’re on the road doing what you love to do!
But just WAIT! In case you thought it was all glitter and excitement, let me brief you on what comes with the territory of life on the road…
- MAYDAY! MAYDAY!
Let’s jump right into the reality of it! Sure, sometimes you get to travel on a super comfy (and expensive) tour bus, and it is totally exciting! It’s the place everyone wants to be. You’ve got a luxurious front lounge, a cute kitchenette to work with, the cupboards are stocked with liquor and potato chips, and your spacious bunk is just a few feet away. Well, sometimes these spectacular vehicles have some problems! Flat tires aside, a tour bus is not invincible; and when they break down… Good luck with those repairs! Just ask Faster Pussycat when, two winters ago, the, um… toilet juices froze somewhere out east, and the band took turns using a bucket and tossing it outside.
- DON’T FORGET TO BREATH!
It goes without saying: the people you travel with will get on your nerves at some point. Maybe those sarcastic comments from the bassist stop being funny one sunny day, and you’re like, hey! Will you find a new punch line, already?! Or, twenty days in, and you’re ready to ring the production assistant’s neck because he just can’t chew his pretzels with his mouth closed. Like, can you just advance a show without a snack in your hand? And someone will inevitably take off his or her shoes. If you’re traveling in a van, well, you can imagine the sweet aroma. And your band mate will become your greatest enemy until she finds a chance to scrub those ten stinking toes with some rose-scented water.
- BOREDOM, CONFUSION, “WHAT DAY IS IT?”
I don’t care if you’re on a plane, in a bus, in a van, or lounging at the hotel watching re-runs of Family Guy. You. Will. Get. BORED. And the days will begin to mesh, and before you know it your today will be like your yesterday—you’ll have no concept of day or night. Heck, you’re so busy in travel mode, and show mode, and trying to just-take-a-mental-break mode that you may even forget to call your mother on her birthday. In fairness, you might not even remember what month it is! Listen, it happens to the best of us.
It can seem like they’re everywhere. From the guy at the gas station shoving mayonnaise packets into his wallet, to the neon face painted super fan who even needs the security guard to sign her CD, they are going to be wherever you end up. But here’s the thing. I’d like to remind you that if you think traveling in small spaces with a group of people who rock and roll for a living does not make you a weirdo, think twice. Fans and co-workers can definitely be overwhelming at times, but just remember that everyone you meet on the road is the character of your road story!
- VENUE MENU
You’ve been on the road for 14 hours and are getting a little tired of those dry, pre-packaged sandwiches from the gas station. The last thing you want is to get to the venue and be handed a “venue menu” with greasy, mediocre food options just waiting for you to choose from. Fried pickles? No, thank you. Yes, it’s a kind gesture for some promoters to offer you the elusive venue menu, but (honestly) when you’re on the road, the pickings can be slim, and anything but a venue menu is desired!
- NO WI-FI
Oh, man. Have you not ever traveled from Salt Lake City to Denver with terrible cell service, only to arrive at the hotel or venue where there is no Wi-Fi either? Cell service and Wi-Fi are essential! The tour manager needs to make that call to the agency and put in another order for merchandise, or maybe you’ve got a scheduled Skype interview, or a radio interview. Well, if you can’t “connect,” then good frickin’ luck. The solution might be as drastic as driving a few miles away to a place that does have service so you can get the job done!
- I WANT TO GO HOME
It’s so easy to miss your bed when, day in and day out, you’re busy preparing for a show, or trying to pack up and get to the next place. People often ask about those “days off,” and it seems they assume the band and crew have time to relax! No way! A proper day off in road lingo is a day of TRAVEL. Those are the days you miss home the most. Boredom strikes, and you get thinking, “Y’know , the first thing I’m going to do when I get home is _____.” And that just reminds you of all the loved ones you left behind to join a circus.
- DO I KNOW YOU?
With the likes of social media nowadays, unfamiliar faces become familiar faces, or (in some cases) it’s completely the other way around. And sometimes you’re going to be the one who forgets who Charlie from Boston is, even if he remembers you from last year. Other times you’re going to not at all recognize a face because you’ve only “met” on Facebook. But he or she will be so adamant about knowing you that you just have to go with it! And, listen, there is nothing wrong with that. Remember, it’s a part of your story! And meeting you becomes a part of his or her story too.
Yes, this is very self-explanatory! Being on the road means that the likes of your incredibly fragile human body will become filthy. You’re going to stink, and everyone around you is going to stink! Without getting into details, let me just give you some advice: never travel without baby wipes, a toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, floss, lotion, mints, and deodorant within a hand’s reach! You will thank me! Also… Foot odor spray! In consideration of the fact there is always that one super stinky guy in the band, you will really thank me for this.
- THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME
So, there’s this little thing called “post tour blues” no one had mentioned to me either those many years ago. Let me tell you, it’ll get ya. You’re gone for a few months and you suddenly find yourself back in that bed, in your home that you missed so much. Tour is over! Time for a break! Just kidding! You pace around the house, you spend all day sleeping, or try to connect with friends. Everyone’s busy because no one is on your weird schedule or wavelength! Something’s not quite right! I’ll tell you what it is! The ROAD is your home.
Not many people are built for the business of rock and roll, but for those of us who are, it’s that moment when the tour is over and all you really want to do is experience it all again, your story: the good, the bad, and the ugly of life on the road!
Story: Kate Catalina