Five people, one hotel room. Five people, two beds. Doesn't sound quite right, does it? The Clutch Dogs, plus a sordidly drunken Matt, return to the room at one in the morning to find Gina asleep on one of the beds. Where are the four boys to sleep? Certainly someone will have to crawl into one bed with Gina and the other three boys will have to have a sausage party in the other bed. Oh, the dilemma.
Matt starts shuffling toward Gina's bed. Jason grabs him by the shoulder and gives him a cross look. Mark slaps Jason on the shoulder to say that's not cool. Jason gives Mark a glare. No one will say anything out loud, to avoid waking up the sleeping Gina. It quickly turns into a silent pissing contest with each guy trying to climb into the bed and the other two trying to prevent it.
I go into the bathroom and splash cold water on my face. Shit, this is a mess. I go back out and the guys are doing a rock, scissor, paper contest.
"Guys," I whisper to them, "It doesn't matter who sleeps with her. It's just sleep. Mark."
"You have a girlfriend at home, right?"
He nods. "Sarah."
"Okay, you've got a girlfriend, so you can be trusted not to try anything stupid with Gina. You sleep in that bed." He nods and climbs onto the bed next to the sleeping girl. He's asleep before anyone else has a chance to pull off their shoes. Matt, Jason and I manage to squeeze onto the other bed and do our best to get comfortable without touching each other.
* * * * *
The next morning involves a lot of creaking, aching bodies stretching and popping and cracking, staggering to the bathroom, yawning and rubbing eyes. We manage to get ourselves washed and dressed and slowly move down to the van. We stand shivering in the morning wind while we load the over-stuffed vehicle.
Checking out of the hotel is no trouble this time. After playing two sets last night for no cash, we are back in the management's good books. So after stopping for a tank of gas and burnt-smelling takeout coffees we hit the highway heading west, leaving Thunder Bay behind at last.
The van is uncomfortably full, even more so because Gina and I have our guitars out in the back seat. With the two drummers up front, Jason, Gina and I sit in the back seat, with Gina attempting to teach me Machine Within A Machine's songs.
We put the distance behind us, and a few hours later we leave Ontario and pass into the province of Manitoba. Not long after that we emerge from the slow, winding two-lane highways that snake their way through the rock of the Pre-Cambrian Shield. The trees give way to rolling prairie and suddenly we start making good time. We find ourselves on the luxuriously divided Trans-Canada Highway, flying along at a good hundred and ten kilometers an hour in a nice straight line. And as cramped as we are, we manage to stay in good spirits, relieved to finally be moving.
Gina and I go through the songs again and again until our fingers get tired and clumsy. Jason, jammed against the wall with Gina and her guitar next to him, looks uncomfortable but doesn't complain. I don't say anything, but I think he's okay with the situation just because he's squished in close to Gina.
Winnipeg is visible for quite a while as you approach it. The tall buildings of the downtown area loom hazy and blue long before you reach the outskirts of the city. We drive in and park at a service station and refresh and orient ourselves. We pull out the city map and plot a route to the club where we're booked.
I stand in the parking lot stretching out stiff joints while Jason, Mark and Matt pore over the map. Gina comes out of the ladies room and joins me.
"Hey," she says. "You okay? Time to take you to the retirement home?"
"I didn't expect to hear age jokes from you," I say. "Besides, who likes sitting in a van for six hours?"
"I'm just teasing. So, um, are you cool with what happened last night?"
Shit, she wants to talk about her feelings. What do I say? Don't say too much. Don't give away your feelings, just act cool, and see what she thinks. "What, about the kiss?" I say. "Yeah, I'm cool. Um, whatever happens, right?" There, that should be suitably vague. Too bad I don't have the guts to just say how I feel.
But how do I feel?
"Right," she said, slowly nodding. "Well, I think it would be pretty weird if we started doing anything here on the road, you know? Like with the five of us jammed into one van and all, it might be a little funny. Do you know what I mean?"
Yes, I know what that means: rejected again. "That's cool," I say. Nice. It almost sounded like I meant it.
"Let's just try and get the show together, okay?"
"Absolutely," I say, but I'm thinking I'll get another chance with this girl. She can't keep kissing me and running away.
She walks away to look at the map with the other guys and I stretch out, looking at the traffic passing us by. It occurs to me that of course she'll keep kissing me and running away, if I let her. Because I've given her all of the power in the relationship. Because I've let her know that I'll do what she wants. This is not how to win a girl's heart. This will need more thought.
We get to the venue around six in the evening and find it locked. Matt gets out his list of contact numbers and once we track down a pay phone he calls the manager. We stand and listen while he asks when someone will come by to let us in.
"What?" he shouts, suddenly worked up. "No we fucking didn't! When? No! No, that wasn't us. No, we're here now. We're around the corner at a pay phone. Well, can't you un-cancel it?"
He looks at us and covers the mouthpiece. "Fucking Wayne called and canceled the show."
I take the receiver from him. "Hello?" I say.
"Hi, I'm Terry Wilson, from The Clutch Dogs. We're the other band. Look, Machine Within A Machine had to fire that punk Wayne the other day. It looks like he called you and cancelled the gig just to fuck us over. But we're here, and we're ready to play."
The manager doesn't appear to give a shit. "Be that as it may," he says, "I haven't got staff to open the club. We only open for events, and when your guy called and cancelled I told everyone that I don't need them. So whether you're here or not, I can't open tonight."
"You can call around and get a few people here. Come on man. We've been driving all day. Don't let some petty asshole use you to get revenge on us."
He gets quiet for a moment, and I wonder if I didn't go too far.
"Okay," he says. "I'll call around and see if I can get a few people. Call me in a half hour and I'll let you know."
"Thanks man. I appreciate it."
"Get your act together," he says. "This is the least professional thing I've ever heard of." He hangs up.
We spend the next half hour calling all the clubs and bars on the itinerary, checking which ones Wayne had called with cancellation messages. Of the twelve remaining clubs we manage to get through to seven of them, and of those seven, three got cancellation notices from Wayne. I manage to talk two of these places into letting us get our scheduled gigs back, but one refuses.
"Wayne doesn't fuck around, does he?" I ask, slipping my credit card into the pay phone yet again. I get in touch with the Winnipeg bar manager and he tells me he'll be around in an hour to let us into the back doors.
"I managed to get a skeleton crew together," he says. "You guys better draw a crowd though, because if nobody shows up to watch you, forget about getting paid."
"Okay. You had a place lined up for us to sleep tonight as well, right?"
"I did, but that's out of the question now. Sorry, but you guys will have to sort that out for yourselves."
I hang up the phone. "Okay, gig's back on," I tell the others. "I'm not sure if we'll get paid for it though, unless a whole truckload of people show up to see us. Frankly, I can't see that happening if word has got out there's no show here tonight."
Mark shrugs. "So how to we get the word out the show's back on?"
Jason shakes his head. "In a town where we have no connections and don't know anyone? With a few hours before show time? Good fucking luck."
"We should get a truck with a big speaker on the top like in The Blues Brothers movie," I say, but no one seems to be in a joking mood. "Okay guys, it's not the end of the world. The important thing is that we've got a place to play tonight. Let's focus on that."
We check into a budget motel not far away, taking another bite out of our budget. After a meal at a fast food burger joint we meet the manager at the back of the club. "We'll open at eight," he says, unlocking the back door. "First band is on at ten-thirty, second at midnight. Cool?"
We all nod. "Cool."
We load in and sit in the empty bar for several hours, waiting and hoping a crowd will appear. We buy a few beers and endure bitter looks from the few staff members who turned up.
At ten-thirty Matt, Gina and I get up on stage. Half a dozen people have drifted in. We plug in, switch on and start playing. Gina's a bit closer to the microphone this time, but still sings quietly and without any guts. I bite my lip as I play, knowing this isn't working.
When The Clutch Dogs get up on stage at midnight the crowd has ballooned up to a full dozen. We play our set and I'm happy with how we sound. It almost sounds good enough to record. Too bad there's no one here to listen to it.
At two in the morning we head to our crappy hotel room. The others look discouraged, but I've played this kind of gig before. Bad gigs happen, empty rooms happen. That's touring. I decide it's a good time to pull out the joint that Gina gave me a few nights ago, spark it up and pass it around. It takes a lot more bad jokes, but eventually I manage to cheer the two bands up and get them laughing about the gig instead of pissed off at what appears to be another defeat.
2007 Nolan Whyte