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"A Steady Gig At Moe's"

The musician woke up, checked his watch, got dressed,
and left his motel room with enough time to get to the gig early.

Tony had been living on the road
longer than he could remember,
moving from one job to the next...
mostly small motel lounges and clubs,
He’d become numb to homesickness.

The other members of his combo
were already in the bar, talking to customers,
Bob Seger on the juke box...”Shame on the Moon”.

Time for the first set...
and they gathered at the bandstand.
Something was wrong...
Their instruments and amplifiers were not onstage!
How could they possibly forget to set up
on their first night at a new club?
Group senility?
The crowd was getting hostile about the delay.

They hurried out to their van behind the club,
and found the equipment still packed inside.
In a panic, they started hustling the heavy cases in the back door,
and were told that another band had replaced them in the main room,
but they could play a private party upstairs...third floor.

After 40 minutes of grueling labor,
Moe said this to them:
“Forget it, guys. My customers won’t wait all night.
Move it all back out and go home.”
Tony said, “But we have a four week contract,
and we drove 750 miles to get here.”
Moe said, “ You didn’t do the job. You’re out.
My bouncers will see you to the door.”
The bouncers, three off-duty cops, laughed at the boss’ wit.

Tony left the guys to pack up
while he walked down Main Street
to see if he could scare up another gig.

It was a typical small town...
typical of fifty years ago.
No Wal-Mart, no MacDonald’s, no chain stores at all.
Dunavan’s Drug Store had a sign in the window:
“Special: Hot Turkey Sandwich with Mashed Potatoes and Gravy”.

The town looked friendly,
but the people, mostly rough looking men in heavy plaid jackets,
glared at Tony.
Tony asked a beat cop:
 “What’s with these guys? Don’t they like strangers?”
The cop said this:
“We don’t like the way you bigshot musicians
didn’t care enough to show up tonight at Moe’s.
If I was you, I’d ferget my suitcase
and get outa town with my skin.”

“We showed up...” Tony began,
but the policeman was already disappearing into the mob.
Mob? This street was almost deserted a few minutes ago!

He turned and began hurrying back toward Moe’s,
where the guys were waiting.
He kept close to the buildings, trying to keep a low profile.
He passed a pawnshop he didn’t remember,
a tattoo parlor, and an adult bookstore.
They were all closed
with burglar bars over the windows and doors.

The street ahead didn’t look like the way he’d come.
Most of the streetlights were broken,
shadows were deep,
and the skeleton of a stripped car was hunched at the curb.
Deserted warehouses leaned over the pot-holed street.
He must have made a wrong turn somewhere.

Up ahead a patrol car slid silently out of an alley,
and into another across the street.
He was being watched!

At last! A familiar building came in sight.
It was Moe’s Club, but different!
It was closed, boarded up,
and looked as though it had been that way for decades.

Tony checked the parking lot
and, of course, the band was not there...
but the van was...sort of.
It was old and rusted out...
One headlight hung down on the end of a wire.

The handle came off as he struggled the driver’s door open.
Thank God! The keys were in the ignition.

He tried to start the engine, but it just clicked.
Damn! Dead battery!
He tried the starter again, and the motor caught, coughed and died.
He heard a siren coming from the direction of the town,
not a regular siren, but the old “wailing banshee” kind.
He turned the key once more,
and the engine started.
Tony thanked the Powers That Be,
jammed it into gear, and moved carefully out of the lot,
making a right turn, away from the town.

He floored the old van until it shook and rattled,
and the evil buildings were replaced by ghostly forests.
Country road, take me home.

Twenty or thirty miles down the narrow moonlit road,
he stopped at a pay phone outside an all-night diner.
He dug for his calling card,
and started to dial home,
when the impossible happened again...
He forgot his own home phone number!

He held the receiver to his ear while he thought.
There was a faint voice on the line...
a woman’s voice that sounded familiar,
but even though he pressed the phone to his ear,
he couldn’t make out most of the words.
“Hello?” he shouted.
The voice just kept on talking
as though in a conversation that he could hear only one side of.
He was pretty sure he heard his own name.

He got back in the van
and headed in the direction where he thought home was.
There seemed to be no towns or intersections along this route.
No comforting signs pointing the way to an Interstate Highway.
He passed a junkyard with a blinding security light,
and a funeral home with a blue light in the window.

He felt a bump, and realized that the pavement had ended.
He was now on a dirt road.
It seemed damp and muddy, but there’d been no rain.
It soon narrowed to a single lane,
and then two tire ruts with grass and weeds between.

A sickly reddish stripe on the horizon
indicated that some kind of a sun was about to rise,
and that he was probably heading eastward.
The ruts morphed into a faint deer path in the foggy woods.
The old van motor coughed, stalled, coughed again,
and gave up the ghost.
Perfect timing, Tony thought. Out of gas.
He slid down in the driver’s seat,
sent up a doubtful prayer,
and fell asleep.

*    *    *
A bright light stung his eyes and woke him up.
The sun?

He heard another familiar voice...this time closer.
“Are you okay, honey?”
He squinted one eye open, and said to his wife:
“What day is it?”
A hand touched his face.
“It’s the Sunday after the Grammy Awards, bright eyes.
You won, so wake up and come downstairs.
They love you, Tony, and you’ve earned it.”
“I’m dead and this is Heaven, right?” he said.
“You’re fine. It may not be Heaven,
but it’s going to be pretty good from now on” she said.

The musician squeezed his wife’s hand
and whispered something she didn’t quite understand:
“Why do I still have the feeling I’ll be playing Moe’s Club again?”

Copyright © Nov. 27, 2004, Jack Blanchard. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.


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