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Back in the eighties, when airfares were
cheap and our credit cards were far from being maxed-out, we
here at the McKim/Skene household traveled from gig to gig via
flying machine, or airplane. We were not
alone in choosing this particlular method of transportation.
In the not-so-olden days of standup, comics flew frequently and it
was not uncommon on a Monday afternoon to run into a fellow
bleary-eyed comedian at LAX or JFK or while changing planes or
humping your bags through Hartsfield or DFW during an
annoying, but fare-saving, layover.
And then came the nineties. Ticket prices went up, gigs
disappeared and cost-conscious club owners cut back on travel
allowances. Suddenly, the formerly flying comic found himself
behind the wheel of
his semi-reliable automobile, criss-crossing this country on the
ground rather than in the clouds. Circumstances forced him to trade
in his jet set lifestyle for truck stops and fast food restaurants
and all he had to show for his past was a couple of airline jokes and a
comprehensive collection of barf bags.
Will things change in the New Millenium? I hope so. Personally,
I'm getting a little tired of spending more time in a car than Jeff
Gordon. And my back! Oy, my aching back! But, while air travel had
certain stresses all its own (delays, lost luggage, fiery crashes) car
travel is the mother of all stress-inducing activities. Especially,
if the car you're driving is your own.
A few weeks ago, we realized that the only thing worse than
having your car break down and being responsible for the repair bill,
is having your car break down on the way to a gig. And the only thing
worse than having your car break down on the way to a gig, is having your
car break down in such a way that you have to cancel the gig and lose
a pile of cash. This is what you would call a very bad day.
We were just outside Charlotte --having survived a hellish
one-nighter only 12 hours earlier --on our way to Georgia and then
Florida, when our car started to shake. By the time we hit the
highway, the "Service Engine Soon" light was glowing
and by the time we hit the bottom of the off-ramp, our car was
on strike. A call to AAA and an hour's wait later, the SHECKY!
limo was resting comfortably atop a flatbed truck on its way to
what we'd hoped would be a brief stay at the car hopital.
Our friendly tow truck driver diagnosed the car as having a
bum catalytic convertor and after we hopped in the cab, he inquired
as to what a couple of folks from New Jersey were doing in Charlotte.
Reluctantly we said, "We're comedians." He not-so-reluctantly
said, "Oh yeah? I toured for Creative from '95 to '98."
Have you ever had one of those moments when you're not sure that what
you're experiencing is real? For a split second I began to think that
we had actually died up there on that highway and that the comic/tow
truck driver was our escort to heaven. I've heard it said that
the first person you see in the afterlife is someone with whom you
would feel comfortable. Why God would think that we would be
calmed by an opener from the southeast is beyond me. But, then
again, that God sure works in mysterious ways.
Think about it: what are the odds of two comics breaking
down and being picked up in a tow truck by another comic? The
odds have to be right up there with winning the lottery or getting
hit by lightning. (Although I'm convinced that with my luck, I'll
get struck by lightning while waiting in line to buy a
lottery ticket, but that's an entirely different matter.)
But, what if the odds of two comics breaking down and being
picked up in a tow truck by another comic weren't so long after all?
What if there are so many comics in this world that everyone we meet
in our daily lives could be a comic or a former comic. How depressing
is that? The butcher, the gas station attendant, the bank teller?
I have visions of going to my dry cleaners and hearing one Asian lady
behind the counter say to the other Asian lady behind the counter,
"Me no work Tribble. Too long drive!"
To make a long story even longer, the rest of the day was an
unmitigated disaster. Not only did we have a bum catalytic convertor
as our mechanic-turned standup comic-turned tow truck driver had
predicted, but we also had a bum fuel injector that was hurling
gasoline all over our engine. We canceled the Thursday night gig
and hoped that we could still make it to Florida in time for the
weekend shows. Seven hours and $700 later, we
were in the car heading south. Twenty-five miles later, we noticed
that we were losing fuel. By the time we got off the road, the
engine was smoking and gas was puddling under our vehicle.
We checked into an Econo Lodge across the street, left a
nasty message on the Midas answering machine and set about uploading
the December issue of SHECKY! (Yes, even in a depressed state, we
still think of our loyal readers!) The next morning, Midas towed
us back and fixed the car at no additional charge. Tragically,
we had to cancel the weekend.
We were out the money for the repair and the lost
money from the gig and we still had to drive 11 hours back
to our humble abode, terrified the entire time that our car would once
again turn into a gas fountain. We made it . We're alive. We have no
money, but we made it and we're alive.
All in all, it was not exactly a pleasant way to close out the year 2000. Of course, we must look on the bright side: There's no place to go but up.
TRACI SKENE has appeared on VH1's Standup Spotlight, A&E's Comedy on the Road and Lifetime's Girls Night Out, all of which has done her absolutely no good.
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