A fourteen hour bus ride wouldn't be most people's idea of fun, in fact the idea of buses being an acceptable mode of transport must be one of the touring concepts that civilians struggle with, but when you have the right bus and the right people on board it can be really cosy and a lot of fun.
There are six buses on the tour (though only part time, as I'll explain later) and being a visitor to this half of the touring party I have been making guest appearances on a variety of buses. This was the first serious drive though, so I plumped for maximum fun and rode the ìchick busî, which carries five of the women on the crew , plus a smattering of Y chromosomes including Bruce from lighting and Smasher from video.
Directly after (or in truth usually slightly before) the show is over, the load-out begins. A touring production of this size can be dismantled and put away in an astonishingly short amount of time. We have sixteen truckfuls of gear and even at this early stage are averaging about two hours and 45 minutes to get it all out of the building and on the road. It'll get quicker. Flight cases, road boxes and large pieces of metal fly out of the building, aided by a local crew of around 90 people and accompanied by not a little grunting and shouting. Frankly, its terrifying to witness from close range.
The various crew members will get finished with their bit of the load out at different times and as the buses contain people from a selection of departments they fill up gradually. (In these modern times they're generally sorted on a smoking / non-smoking basis.) You've no doubt seen the rock tour buses in the movies. American buses tend to be big, shiny things and inside are divided into three sections. There's a front lounge with couches, a table, hi-fi, TV, video, etc., a kitchen area and toilet. At the other end is a similar but smaller 'back lounge'; traditionally the setting for many a teenage deflowering back in the hey days of rock and roll. In between the two lounges, the centre portion is fitted out with bunks - usually two deep and three high with a corridor down the centre. Most buses have twelve bunks, but generally it's considered inhumane to fill them to capacity. One or two spare 'junk bunks' are extremely handy for storing crap. Everyone's big bags go in 'the bay' - a series of luggage holds along the side of the vehicle which are only accessible from outside, so usually you'd have a small bus bag as well. The buses are stocked with food and provisions each day, so as load-out progresses, the passengers roll up clean and sparkling from having showered (one hopes) then essentially get into their pyjamas and start drinking. The default bus outfit is tour swag so it gets pretty comedic, everyone wearing identical sweats and t-shirts, like a multiple birth daycare centre with adult beverages. It was Chinese food tonight which I thoroughly enjoyed. Bruce got the iPod cranked in the back lounge and we all jammed ourselves in there. The bus was still rocking when I crawled into my bunk at about 6.30am, having watched the sun rise over the desert. Even with the engine noise and residual bass coming from the stern, a tour bus bunk is extremely cosy and the motion of the vehicle rocks you all night. I'm sure it must sound like a nightmare, but I always sleep well.
Woke up about 3pm and staggered into the front lounge to see who was about. Smasher was up, as was Sandy our head caterer. Others gradually filtered in and made coffee, as we learned we still had four hours to go. We watched 'The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' which I had never seen and didn't really live up to its premise. Pretty much slid into the category of 'trying too hard', but it had a couple of laughs in it and most importantly it passed the time. I decided to go into party host mode and after assessing the available raw materials I started (slowly) producing a meal of sorts. The bacon sandwiches were fairly straightforward, the meatless hotdogs sounded awful but were appreciated by the clientele, then the piece de resistance was the roast chicken. Well, ok, it was a pre-cooked supermarket number, but I did do battle with the onboard microwave to get the thing to an acceptable temperature, all the while ëbus surfing'.
We made it to Denver by about 6pm, checked into the hotel and slunk off to bed, the bar, whereverÖ We lose the buses now, which is a shame. The shows on this next part of the tour are spread so far apart that its vastly more economical to fly everybody for the next couple of trips, which sounds more luxurious but again the reverse logic of the road proves otherwise. There'll be bags to carry, nowhere to hang out at the gig or slip away for an afternoon nap. We'll see the buses after Chicago, but by then I will have rejoined the band party, so it may be a little while before I get another chance to show off my culinary expertise aboard a moving vehicle.