This is a photo blog of my recent trip that took me from New Braunfels, to New York, to New Braunfels for two shows over the course of about 48 hours.
I woke up on Monday morning, February 15th, at 4:30 am. It’s an hour that is usually seen by those in my line of work on the back end– perhaps at the conclusion of a late night– rather than on the front end, as I was seeing it. It was dark and it was cold. I took a quick shower, made some coffee, and was in the van headed to the San Antonio airport by 5. I was carrying with me my guitar and a small bag, so I was able to skip the baggage process altogether and make my way directly through security when I arrived.
We pushed back from our gate at 6:30, and I caught some quick z’s on the short flight over to Houston. I had a 30 minute layover, and then boarded my next flight to La Guardia. After completing the crossword puzzle in the back of the Continental magazine (it’s what all the rock stars do while flying, trust me) I caught a few more z’s and then awoke to see a snowy landscape a few thousand feet below me.
I landed at La Guardia at 1 PM and hopped into a cab. The ride from the airport to Midtown Manhattan was about 12 miles as the crow flies… more like 15 as the cabbie drives. If you’ve never experienced New York from the back seat of a cab, I highly suggest it. It’s like you’re watching someone play a video game… and you’re in it. In this particular version of the game it is apparently possible to earn bonus points with every use of the cab’s horn. My driver used the horn as if he was editing expletives from his thought process– at every turn a bad driver or wayward pedestrian that would have otherwise earned a more colored word from the depths of the english language– earned a trumpetous salute from my man behind the wheel. I started counting after the first couple of blows, and lost track around number 30. It was entertaining, to say the least, and his bonus points were many. We crossed the Queensboro Bridge, from which I could see Manhattan standing tall through the iron support tresses, high above Roosevelt Island. First a left onto Lexington, then a right onto 55th street, and eventually a stop in front of the Shoreham Hotel. I checked in, enjoyed a complimentary glass of champagne (this was clearly not the same treatment a person of my social stature receives at the kind of hotels in which I usually stay, so I enjoyed it), and I hit the street in search of that ubiquitous form of sustainable goodness– the corner vended hot dog.
I scarfed down the dog, in all of its spicy mustardy goodness, while waking the three blocks to Central Park. As I was waiting to cross the street, I thought about asking a local if he knew of any secret, rarely seen portions of the park I should seek out– you can never go wrong with local knowledge, and he obviously knew the area well– but he was too busy eating lunch and feeding pigeons. I decided to remain silent, as did he, and instead crossed the street. The park was fantastic… especially fantastic on this, a day of full sunshine and blue skies. Snow covered the ground. The air was brisk, but refreshing. The edges of the park are bordered by the tallest of tall buildings, and seeing them through the leafless trees almost creates a sort of man-made frame of concrete, brick, and glass that perfectly encapsulates the large tract of mother nature that so famously occupies the very heart of Manhattan.
First, I walked past The Pond, across it’s bridge, and stopped at Wolfman Rink to take in the sights. Hundreds of people, young and old alike, were skating counter clockwise around the large white sheet of ice. Music was playing just loud enough so that the only other audible sounds of their entertainment was the laughter that accompanied each fall suffered, or each trick completed. There was, I thought, perhaps no more care free spot on the island than this, the rink in front of me. I sat on a bench for half of an hour, watching and listening, and then decided to head over towards Strawberry Fields, the memorial area dedicated to John Lennon. I was in New York for a musical engagement, so the pilgrimage only seemed right. I walked past the Central Park Carousel, along the 65th Street Transverse, hung a right onto West Drive, and took a left into the Strawberry Fields area. I looked up at The Dakota, the building in which Lennon lived, and in front of which he was so tragically killed, through the bright red underbrush of Strawberry Fields, and then walked over to the Imagine mosaic. It’s a peaceful little spot that makes for excellent people watching as musicians, tourists, and city dwellers alike inhabit the area in semi-silent timbre. Having paid my respects, and collected my fill of observation, I took a left, past the mosaic, and headed down Central Park West.
I passed Tavern On The Green (not to be confused with our own New Braunfels institution, Tavern In The Gruene, which playfully gleans its name from this famous, currently closed, institution of a restaurant) and cut back into the park, passing one of the more cold shouldered city residents I would meet. I took a few minutes on a park bench for some architecturally inspired reflection, and then decided to make my way to Columbus Circle. I passed the circle and headed down Broadway, where I grabbed another delicious hot dog for some warmth and company (at $1.50 each, they’re really the most budget friendly option for on-the-go dining while in the city, and even if it is a bit cliche, I challenge you to find a better tasting hot dog, anywhere) and ate it while weaving my way through the increasing foot traffic of 4 PM Manhattan. I took a left onto 55th, and headed back to the hotel for a shower and a few minutes of downtime before I had to head out to my show.
(yes, the complimentary robe that you can see laying on the edge of the bed was comfortable).
At 5:30 I grabbed my guitar and set out for the mile and a half walk to O’Flaherty’s Ale House for the show. I took my first left onto 6th Avenue. 5 blocks later, I was walking directly under the Radio City Music Hall sign. Three guys around my age were walking just behind me, with two of them holding NBC Studio bags, clearly playing the part of the visiting friends with the third acting as a tour guide, pointing things out to the left and right. He mentioned an upcoming Elvis Costello show, and then mentioned a “new guy, Hayes Carll, from Texas, I think,” and suggested that they see him when he comes to town.
I have to admit, I thought about the possibility that one day there might be a few friends walking in that very spot, talking about going to see one of my shows, and how cool it was that I would hear a familiar name like Hayes’s while walking through this monstrosity of a city. It’s a small world in spite of how large it seems– and it seems especially large in Manhattan.
I passed Rockafeller Center, walked 4 more blocks, and took a right onto 46th, where Times Square rose to meet me. I thought about how lucky I was to be walking through the “center of the universe” on my way to a show… I wasn’t just going to a Broadway show, or a comedy routine… I was going to perform my show. I imagined what it would feel like to be an actor in one of those famous musicals or less-famous off-Broadway numbers, walking to a performance, knowing that you truly are a part of what makes this place so… so where to be. I was just there for the night, and I still felt pretty good about it. I would think that being there permanently, with a career in the performing arts, would be pretty fantastic. The last time I was in Times Square was New Years Eve on 1999, and it was just as over-the-top and vibrant as I remembered.
I got to O’Flaherty’s a little after six and met a friend of mine, Erin, and her boyfriend Jim. It was good to see a familiar face– one who grew up where Holly and I did, and who has visited us in New Braunfels. It’s easy to feel anonymous in such a large place, and meeting a friend made the trip feel a little more personable. No one I passed on my travels that day knew me from any other nameless face that they themselves were passing, and it felt welcoming to see a face I recognized. The show kicked off at 7. I played, followed by Sheila Marshall and her husband, Scott. More familiar faces arrived, since this show was a part of an event for a business expo in the city, and our host, the owner of a Dallas based company, had brought us in to add a little local flair. I enjoyed the Guinness, I enjoyed the Jameson, and I enjoyed the night of music and fun. I also enjoyed getting to see my friend Kevin McNulty. If you enjoy Trivial Pursuit as I do (of course, right?) then you have McNulty to thank. He’s the original guy behind the game, which is pretty cool in my book. The evening wound down, we said our goodbyes, and I took to the street with my guitar on my back.
Snow was falling across the city. It was 12:30 and the streets were decidedly less crowded. Walking through one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the world, with winter at my face, knowing that music had given me the opportunity to experience a quick trip like this to NYC was almost a zen like moment. Of course the Jameson could have been the incubator of the moment as well, but I’m not about to let that realization ruin my moment of reminiscence. I walked back through Times Square, to 6th, stopped to take a few pictures for this project along the jaunt, saw a famous word sculpted in a famous way, and then decided to duck into an Irish pub next to my hotel for a night cap.
I sat in the corner at the bar inside of the pub and watched as the bartender expertly juggled three different conversations with three separate patrons. One was a waiter, who had just gotten off of his shift at a nearby upscale restaurant. He was clearly upset with his take for the night:
“I swear, I would have gotten more out of tonight if I would have taken all of the money that I have in the bank, gave it to you, and let you kick me square in the junk. I mean, it’s a god damned porterhouse steak and a bottle of wine. He left me six dollars. SIX DOLLARS! And that wasn’t the worst of it!”
The bartender bought him a round for his pain and suffering.
“There is nothing wrong with this jersey. It’s a Phoenix Coyotes jersey. I just came here to watch the game and these guys want to beat me up over a Phoenix Coyotes jersey.”
The bartender (using the proper terminology) said that he thought the man’s sweater looked sharp.
“I thought New York was big, and then I got here. It’s huge. This is my first time here. I’m from Nebraska. It’s so alive here! I want to move here. This is how to live! I might never go home. I’m serious! Oh my god, oh my god, people would freak if I just stayed!”
The bartender welcomed her to town.
He came over to me, leaned in and said, “every night. I get this every night. One more?”
I accepted the offer, and had one more Guinness before walking next door. I hopped into the elevator, headed up to my room, and turned in for the night.
I woke up the next morning at 7, hopped into the shower, made it downstairs by 8 and caught a cab back to La Guardia. I grabbed a cup of coffee and a bagel, and then decided another cup was in order, so I grabbed two more bagels, figuring Holly wouldn’t mind one for breakfast the next day, and settled in to wait for my 10:30 flight. The 10:30 to Houston turned into the 11 to Houston, which boarded at 11, but didn’t push back from the gate until 11:30. I slept for most of the flight, waking up a few times to notice the landscape transition out of my window from snow-laden to familiar brown and green patchwork. I made it to Houston with 5 minutes to spare before my connector to San Antonio was supposed to leave, so I checked the gate number, and took off to the other side of the terminal at a dead sprint, convincing the gate agent upon my arrival of the importance of my being on the flight. She rushed me down the jet way, and we caught them just before they closed the door. I thanked her for helping me. I was San Antonio bound.
I landed in San Antonio at 3:45 and hopped into my van (saying hello to Porter, of course) and made it back to the house by 4:15. I took a quick shower, met Rodney, and drove over to Gruene Hall for our early 6:00 show. We met Holly and our friend Bryan for dinner at the Gristmill before hand, mowed through our meal, and were set up and running right on time. We played for 4 straight hours– 6-10 PM. The shows that I’ve been playing at Gruene Hall have been going exceptionally well as of late, and this one was just as packed as the others I have done. We had a good mix of people in the crowd. Regulars, tourists (I went from a tourist to a guy that lives in town and can call other people tourists when they visit, all in a few short hours), even a guy from Ireland that sat right up front, giving me the thumbs up when I apologized for forgetting that it was Fat Tuesday. For me, I said, once I hit January 2nd, my only thought is of my favorite holiday, Saint Patrick’s Day.
That’s him in the tan jacket.
We finished up the show, broke down our equipment, and headed home. Even though I was only gone for a little more than a day, the travel was pretty heavy, and the familiar confines of our little house in New Braunfels was exactly the comfortable haven I needed. I kissed Holly goodnight, and wrapped up another 48 hours in the life of me, a relatively unknown songwriter, who gets to see and do some pretty awesome things.