Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Vinyl junkies heading to the East Coast


All drawings by Toledo Pat made in the summer of 1987 on his then girlfriend's stationery. 

Go East, Young Man

Somehow I inched out a high school diploma in May of 1987. I was minus a band for the first time since 1983, and without direction or the ambition to continue schooling. Flipping donuts was all I had to look forward to going into the summer. For a graduation gift, I asked my dad to use his Ford Bronco for a road trip. My parents agreed, gave me spending money, and sent me on my way. Other than popping-out from my mom’s belly in North Dakota, I’ve only been east one other time: Lima, Ohio in 1975 to visit my godmother. I called my manager and told her I was quitting my job.

“Toledo” Pat was living back in Ohio, and we had remained in contact since he left Denver. Before departing east, the plan was to drive to Toledo, gather Pat, and hit every record shop from Toledo to Boston to Washington D.C. and beyond.

It sounds slightly absurd nearly 30 years later; I’m certain not many 18-year olds drive across America hunting down rare punk rock vinyl. The first day I made it a couple of hours west of Chicago, while dodging a tornado and being pelted with marble-sized hail in Iowa. 17 hours of straight driving might be early symptoms of a neurotic disorder. I reached Toledo the following day and experienced my first dose of heat and humidity.

Pat lived with his mom in government housing. His bedroom walls were adorned with fliers and original Misfits posters. Pat was old school and saw all the great Midwest and East Coast bands that graced the Toledo/Detroit area during hardcore’s formative years. Additionally, Pat went to school with members of the Necros.  

Before heading East, we trotted north to the posh college town of Ann Arbor; later on, we sampled the near desolate streets of a decaying Detroit. We did catch the Meatmen at the Graystone. The band’s outrageous front man, Tesco Vee, thought it would be cute to play Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits twice over to an increasingly irritated crowd. The band finally hit the stage and launched into their Rock and Roll Juggernaut material. Pat and I ran into Denver transplants, the Piccoli brothers- Jerome and Joe “Hardcore” at the show. I was surprised to see Joe working the door. Years later, Joe and Jerome who watched everything go down firsthand told me the reason why the Meatmen played late: a heated dispute between the band and the show’s promoter, Scary Cary. In retaliation for the shitty sound and not being paid their guarantee, Tesco walked off with the venue’s microphones. In response, Scary pulled a pistol and pointed it at Tesco's head and told him to "unload you fucking truck!"Tesco wisely surrendered the stolen property. 

East Coast, here we come…

Somehow Pat convinced his live-in girlfriend to quit her job at Bloomingdales and join us on our travels. We took the toll road towards Cleveland for our first round of record shopping. Driving through Lakewood we looked for the neighborhood of Coventry. In the days before smart devices and a GPS, you had to rely on a map. Since we only had a road atlas, we succumbed to rolling down the window and asking a stranger how to get to Coventry. His directions were along the lines of: “Go straight for 5 minutes, make a left, drive for about 2 minutes, turn right. You’ll come to a stop sign. Turn left and drive for 10 minutes…” It was wishful thinking on our part that we’d ever figure out where we were supposed to go. The confidence in his voice and hand gestures sounded plausible. We made an honest attempt of following his route by gauging our turns by the clock on the dashboard. Encountering little success, we stopped another person on the street. “Oh sure, Coventry. That’s easy. You need to drive for 5 minutes, make a right and drive for 3 minutes…” Needless to say ended up Erie, Pennsylvania.

The name of the town said it all. Tensions were high with three hungry, road weary travelers. We spotted a pizzeria and while Pat and I were okay with getting by on pizza, his lady split from the group and walked to the diner down the road. In hindsight, she made the wiser choice. We ordered the two topping special. The waitress asked if we wanted sauce on the pizza.
“Of course.”
“Okay boys, that’s one topping. Do you want cheese?”
We knew where this was going. When the small, oddly shaped, two topping pizza of sauce and cheese arrived, it was a sight to behold. For a moment we thought we were on Candid Camera; for sure Alan Funt was going to emerge from the back and declare, “Smile! You’re on…” But it never happened. Pat and I stared a good 5 minutes at what looked like a smashed loaf of Wonder bread topped with tomato sauce and grated parmesan cheese from a can. With hesitation, we ate our $4 pizza. Thinking revenge was certainly called for, we paid for our meal by dumping out pennies at the register from jar of coins Pat had brought along.
We walked towards the diner to gather Kristen. She was finishing up her slice of pie. In many ways, we felt fucked the whole day and seeing her eat blueberry pie just rubbed me the wrong way. 

Regrettably, our day was far from over. We continued onward towards Boston through New York. While Pat and I resigned ourselves to the fact the Bronco could double as our sleeping quarters, Kristen had other ideas. Every motel sign on the highway into New York read NO VACANCY. We drove into Syracuse to try our luck in the city. We pulled into a vacant lot across from what looked to be a turn of the century building. With a little imagination, you could sense its past glitz and glitter. Perhaps another era long ago it was the primo spot to stay. Pat and I got out of the car and walked across the street towards the entrance. In matter of seconds, we were racing back. Kristen asked, “That’s quick. Did you get a room?” While I was peeling out of the lot, Pat laughed. “There was a black man pacing out front waving a pistol yelling for Leroy to get his ass down there.” Forty-five minutes later, we pulled into a rest area on I-90. I bedded down on a picnic table while Kristen and Pat stayed in the Bronco.
Apparently, during the night my body had served as a feed trough for hungry insects; they left the evidence of bites all over my arms and legs. The early sunrise and humidity on top of a picnic table made sleeping a nearly impossible task. By seven, we were on the road towards Northhampton, Massachusetts. Pat said Main St. Records is one of the best stores on the East Coast. Maybe it was, but he was talking to a  zombie.

Kristen turned me on to double espressos, and that was enough to fuel us to Boston. Still sleep deprived, we hit as many record shops as we could from Kenmore Square onwards. Our lifeline was slices of cheap pizza and coffee. We ran into Bill and Milo from the Descendents walking around. In typical Bill fashion, he pointed at my shirt and asked if I liked that band-Uniform Choice. They were playing TT Bears, and we had planned on going. We met them back at the club outside their van. Kristen, Pat and I were cooked. We told Bill and Milo we’d meet up in Toledo.

Maybe we’d have better luck outside of Boston. We drove around looking for a cheap room to bed down but ended up finding a parking lot in the suburb. I slept under the car.
 
I was more fucked up the next morning, suffering from a caffeine hangover. It was the first time I felt like my mind was slipping away. The desperation to find a room was at a critical stage. We merged on to the freeway, only to be served a heavy dose of rush hour, Boston style. It was a shit show, like blindly bumbling into a hornet’s nest. Shoulders became ad hoc driving lanes by motorists hell bent on riding our ass perhaps hoping to plow us in a cement median. We were weeded out at the first motel we spotted.

Forty fucking dollars was the price to regain a glimpse of sanity. We emptied our wallets on the motel’s registration desk. The clerk sensed our desperation from our red eyes and was kind enough not to milk us for the third person. She must have thought we were some sex fiend, punk rock tweakers.

Fuck Boston. Pat thought we should head south to Providence, claiming we could score some great vinyl at a store he knew about across from Brown University.

Up on the wall behind the counter was the first Germs record, Forming EP. There was an outrageous price tag on it; something in the neighborhood of $50. The guy running the register was a huge Buzzcocks and UK Subs fan. I scored a fan club Buzzcocks single in Boston along with a rare live UK Subs cassette. I offered him the single, tape, and $10 for the Germs record. He took it.

At the start of the summer, I had flipped through the pages of Maximum Rock’n’Roll and came across an ad for the booking agent of Dag Nasty, 7 Seconds, and other bands. The guy was Randy “Now” Ellis. I called the number in the ad to tell him I was interested in bringing bands to Denver. He told me that if I was ever near Trenton, New Jersey, I should look him up.

Pat, Kristen and I had a choice to make: we would either go to New York City or further on to Philly.  I told them I had a friend, Todd, in Philly, and we could crash at his place, or we could take our chances in New York and risk sleeping under the car again. I also mentioned Randy from Trenton. We found a payphone in Providence and called Randy. He asked us to come down for the Exploited and Dr. Know show; he’d put us on the guest list. It certainly sounded more appealing than the uncertainty of aimlessly wondering around the streets of New York.

We made it to his club, City Gardens, in Trenton just in time for the bands to start. Unfortunately the Exploited didn’t hold our attention, so we left and drove in the rain to Philly. We found a payphone and called Todd repeatedly. No answer. Tood lived off of South Street, so we scoured the blocks in the vicinity looking for a place to crash. We found a room in what we later discovered was a sex motel full of junkies, whores, and chickenhawks. Kristen screamed when she found a used condom under the bed. We even moved the dresser in front of the door. It was fortunate none of us ended up with scabies or a knife in our back…

I had met Todd a year earlier when our bands played together at Norman’s in Aurora. We hit it off and hung out quite a bit. He eventually left Boulder and moved to Philly.

We reached Todd the following morning. He knew we were coming in late the night before, so he disconnected his phone so we couldn’t wake him. What an asshole! He made up for it by letting us crash at his place for a couple of nights. We needed to get our head back together, eat regular meals, shower, laundry…Todd taught us a trick: cut aluminum cans into the shape of the coin slot of the washer. Free laundry! While we were washing our clothes, Todd pulled out a record according to him, was the worst band ever, Youth of Today. He mentioned they were some generic straight edge, hardcore group. He regarded the record so awful he didn’t even play it for us and made me vow to carry it back to Denver. Todd did confess he had new band, New Glory. He described it as American Oi! and said Rock-O-Rama in Germany was going to release their record.

While doing the record store circuit, Pat recalled a guy approaching us asking for spare change. His stomach appeared cut open with his guts falling out. Our initial shock was immediately interrupted by two approaching police officers. The guy ran off. The cops said it was his shtick to pry change from newbies. 

The final stop on our tour would be Washington D.C. I guess we were too cool for school to swing by the White House and the other monuments that adorn in the nation’s capital…a missed opportunity rectified years later. Instead, we hit the trendy new wave Commander Salamander in Georgetown and Y&T Records in Rockville, Maryland It proved to be a fruitful outing until we ended up camping out behind a donut shop. I slept underneath the Bronco again until the cockroaches started crawling up the legs of my pants. The hot, humid night with muscle cars spinning out in the adjacent parking lot didn’t enhance the moment, either. We jokingly mentioned driving over to the Dischord House like Youth Brigade and Social Distortion did in the film Another State of Mind. 

It was an early start in the morning to head back to Toledo. We made a pit stop in Pittsburg to sniff out record stores. We pulled up to a guy standing on the corner with the intentions of asking for directions. The minute he said, “I don’t know the area well. I’m from Cleveland,” Pat immediately rolled up his window and I laid on the gas pedal. No more cryptic “Drive for 5 minutes and take a left” bullshit kind of directions. Yeah, we were guilty of discriminating against the Cleveland dude.

We couldn’t have been happier driving into the parking lot of Pat’s complex. There was nothing better than a shower and falling into a real bed. We had to get our beauty rest for the 4th of July celebration down at the Riverfront. A nearly washed-up Billy Squire would be the featured attraction.

We heard “The Stroke” with chants of "Stroke Me" from afar, and figured we should keep walking to dodge the hordes of Toledoans wearing their red, white, and blue. The good news was the Descendents and the Doughboys were rolling into town the following night to play the Cypress Lounge. While driving to the show Pat warned me he didn’t have a favorable rapport with some of the younger punks because of his tongue and cheek humor towards the newbies. One kid at the show was complaining the scene in Toledo sucked, so Pat talked him into checking out Council Bluff, Iowa, saying it was the hottest scene in the country. Bullshitting kids and cutting up zines published by others for the sake of parody were the sort of antics that earned him a reputation in his hometown.
I had been out for almost a month and was about out of cash. It was time for me to head home. Pat wanted to bring Kristen along and take another stab at spending part of the summer in Denver. We piled into the Bronco and headed West with a pit stop in Chicago to check out the rather thin bins of Wax Trax Records.
Just before slipping into Colorado, Kristen asked if there were stoplights in Denver. I jokingly told her Denver just got our first paved road and in the following month we were due to get electricity. Tears were rolling down her cheeks when we spotted the peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Felling sorry for Kristen, Pat and I came clean. We reassured her Denver was indeed a modern city and had amenities like electricity and running water…

If you haven't got yourself a copy of Denvoid and the Cowtown Punks, what are you waiting for? You can visit my secure website. https://bobrobart.bigcartel.com

1 comment:

  1. although the drawing is so old, but what a nice way to describe a story in a quick and convenient way. i loved reading this story. thanks that you share this. now time to share it.

    ReplyDelete