“Multiple chargers. For all your devices. Definitely one for your bunk.”
That’s what Eli said when I asked him to tell me something important about touring. My partner's utilitarian response corresponds appropriately with what I can only assume is his mental map of the coming weeks in which he will again embark, via chartered, diesel-burning “sleeper coach,” on a cross-country adventure because doing so is perhaps the most important way to advance his career. I was, of course, looking for a more cerebral, reflective response including tips for psychologically surviving such a unique, close-quartered experience. But then, I’m always analyzing the past while Eli is busy considering the now. Both of us avoid discussing the future in concrete terms, but that’s material for an entirely different story. I am also practiced at getting ahead of myself.
Allow me to briefly put this thing in reverse. Eli, my domestic partner of five years, is a professional musician in an internationally-known band. A “sleeper coach” is a fancy name for a tour bus. The particular tour bus in question boasts an impressive front living area with leather couches, a dining table, refrigerator, sink, and a wall-mounted television; between 10 and 12 bunks in a blacked-out sleeping area enclosed by sliding doors; a bathroom (number ones only); and a smaller back lounge with leather couches, a table, storage, and a second wall-mounted television. For several months out of each of the past two years, this sort of bus has been home to four band members, four crew members, a driver, and a rotating cast of tag-along characters including friends, girlfriends, brothers, managers, and other industry folks. I am a somewhat regular supporting actress in this play. Bands have been writing about their tour experiences for years and, very often, more of the story unfolds within the speeding bus than in the brief moments spent in the country outside it.
Although Eli's functional answer about the chargers implies a certain separateness, in my experience, everyone living on the bus is constantly jacking Apple juice from the lone charger of unknown origin located on the table in the front lounge. The rest is like that too, which makes the charging business important. Plugging into something is really the only way to tune everyone out, and that’s necessary when so much is shared. Everyone gets stomach bugs together, kind of like when you're little and have chicken pox and your mom puts you in bed with your brother so you both have chicken pox at the same time. Needless to say, it’s an environment in which you come to know people deeply. It’s impossible not to study habits and preferences when you’re sharing a small, moving house and three (hardly square) meals a day with the same people. Additionally, most days, you wake up in cities where you know no one except the ten humans you’ve arrived there with.
But, it wasn’t always this way. When we met, Eli was a musician, but he was in and around our home, Cincinnati, Ohio, more often than not. A couple years into our relationship, Eli joined his current band and began to travel the country in a white van. The (then) six boys would take turns driving altogether unsafe distances of highway through the night to make it from gig to gig. Once, in July of 2012, the band played a show in Washington DC on a Friday night. We left the venue around 2AM, arrived at the hotel, showered, and were on the road to New York City at 3:30AM. The tour manager drove us through the night so the band could play The Governors Ball on Randall’s Island on Saturday afternoon. Lying on the bench at the very back of the van, I watched a beautiful sunrise that morning. When we arrived, I brushed my teeth and wandered around the festival like a zombie, eventually happening upon the tour manager who was napping outside under a table. All of Sunday we were in the van on our way back to Ohio.
The rotating cast of characters is more or less the same now as it was then. The travel itself was harder, but I saw more of the country. With no leather couch and flat screen television, I looked out the window a lot. I remember being struck by how much of our country looks the same, especially in the middle. Although macro stereotypes about regions’ inhabitants apply, at the micro level, our people are a lot the same. There are nice ones and mean ones in small towns and big cities alike, fat and thin, educated and uneducated, rich and poor, progressive and conservative.