Adventures of a Late Night, Gigging Musician
As I write this, my wife Victoria is touring for four months with the musicians, cast and crew of the musical "My Fair Lady." When she is not on tour, she is a free-lance violinist in central New York State. As you would expect, she drives all over, sometimes hundreds of miles at a time. The common term for this type of musician, at least among musicians, is the evocative phrase "Gig Pig." Freelance gigs are usually sporadic and inconsistent, and it definitely takes a special kind of musician to endure this lifestyle. Although freelancing is rough, it is Victoria’s driving—or not driving—that made her decide to leave for four months to do this tour.
Anyone living in central or upstate New York is all-familiar with a harsh, unspoken truth: the local cops are brutal when it comes to giving tickets. If you are in a hurry and not careful late at night after a gig and do a "California Roll" (i.e. not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign, usually a block away from your own home) and a cop is around, you will surely get a ticket—even if there are no other drivers or pedestrians for miles. I am certainly not advocating being unlawful, but ‘compassion’ and ‘understanding’ are presumably not in the New York State Policeman's handbook.
Eventually, points off of Victoria’s license started adding up. One point here for not coming to a complete stop, another point there for driving eight miles over the speed limit while driving through a small town, again, early in the morning. Finally, she had wracked up enough of these little suckers to suspend her license. It was a lot of minor infractions that finally did her in, but in the end, those were all that were needed. I can see the small town newspaper headline now: "Local Police Triumph over Poor, Struggling Musician!"
I always wonder if the speed traps in these small towns include phony, flipping speed limit signs like the ones used by that crooked hick-town sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane in that 80’s TV show "The Dukes of Hazzard." I can just imagine the cops, sitting by the side of the road, drooling at the thought of fulfilling their looming monthly quota. Their eyes bulging out, waiting with Speed Gun in hand to zap you full of misery and embarrassment.
And embarrassing it was. I distinctly remember calling Damon, one of my long-time friends, for a truly inconvenient favor: to drive with me for many miles to pick her up on I-89 after being pulled over that one last, final time. In order to get home with both of our cars, Damon came with me to drive the other one home. The next day, Victoria decided not to play anymore gigs that were not truly local or did not include another musician as a dedicated chauffeur.
Believe it or not, the main highlights of this tour for Victoria are traveling on a tour bus and not driving. Although touring for many months will eventually tire out almost anyone without a steely resolve, for her, it is a dream come true. No more tickets, no driving late at night after a gig and best of all, the show pays more in one week than she was paid for an entire month as a gigging musician in central New York State.
Of course, there are a few drawbacks. We only get to see each other a few times for a period of a few days each; in each case I will fly out to be with her in cities where the tour has extended stays. We talk on the phone almost every day, and this is what keeps us from going crazy. As a struggling composer, my life is already pretty reclusive and I have a lot of time to think about how Victoria arrived to where she is ticket-wise. I want to blame the cops for our current job-related separation, but I also want to believe that they are just doing their job. In this case, I think it might just have been a combination of innocent carelessness and bad luck.
This leads me to a particularly memorable night this past January. In order to prevent me from going nuts, our friendly neighbors Larry and Anastasia were nice enough to have dinner with me at Benchwarmers, a local restaurant and pub. Afterwards, I drove home. In the sublime spirit of poetic justice, I was pulled over. My crime? A recently expired registration. The irony is that I have a clean record and have never received a ticket, except for a couple of parking violations. After receiving the ticket, I immediately thought of Victoria. What would she think? We talked on the phone later that evening.
"Victoria, I got a ticket."
She laughed. "You got a ticket? I can’t believe you got a ticket!"
I underststood her happiness—misery loves company. My record newly tarnished, we are now partners in crime, bosom buddies in the same miserable late night driver’s seat.
"What does this mean?" I asked her. Being somewhat naïve, I was not sure if points would be taken off my license.
"No", she finally says, "That’s nothing. Don't worry about it. Just take the car in this Monday and have it inspected."
She seemed so incredibly relaxed, but I was freaked. I guess she is an old pro; this was nothing to her. She could practically have a second degree in "Traffic Violation Law" if there was such a thing. Then again, she has a more relaxed vantagepoint. For now, she is far away from it all: these late night drives, the annoying tickets and these small-town cops.
Although many of our musician friends seem to be leaving New York City after the September 11th attacks and the resulting yet inevitable drying up of arts funding, after she gets back, we are seriously considering moving there and calling it home. That way, we can take the famous New York City subway trains, the busses and taxis and never have to drive again, or at least very little. For Victoria, this will be another dream come true: walking, public transportation and best of all, no driving. For me, at the end of the day I will be able to exhale a sigh of relief when she walks through the door after a late-night gig, knowing that she came home safely and did not just get another ticket.