With my next tour approaching, my thoughts turn lately toward the joyous expression of creativity among rabid fans in exotic locales, and scenic vistas opening before my wandering eye.
Actually, scratch that. My thoughts are turning toward food.
Eating on the road can be a harrowing experience, but it’s one of my favorite parts of touring. Despite the best efforts of McDonald’s and Waffle House, there are still cool joints all over the map where local cuisine (I think that’s French for “gut busters”) can be found.
One Southern tradition we Yanks could use more of is the “meat and three.” You get a list of meats and side dishes (which varies by day of the week), and you pick — surprise — one meat, and three sides, for a set price. My favorite meat-and-three, the City Café in Northport, Ala., often has a 30-40 minute wait just for lunch on a typical weekday. Your meal, with the unavoidable sweetened iced tea, comes to $4.85 — 50 cents more if you spring for the catfish.
They last raised their prices in 1984, locals told us. Old-timers are still grousing about it today.
Then there was the greasy spoon in Indianapolis with the best pancakes ever … the all-night pizza joint with the rock club next to it in Columbus, home of one of our most shameful bouts of post-last-call gluttony … and we won’t discuss how mad I was when, during my vocal recording sessions for our first CD in Chicago, my guitarist wandered off to a Mexican outdoor mall without me, and had goat meat for lunch.
I mean, he coulda gotten me some to go!
Food is used as currency in some instances. The day after the Athens show I discussed in last week’s column, one member of the other band invited us to call him after 5 p.m. at the pizza parlor where he worked. We were treated to a couple large pies with the works, simply for having been gracious about being paid $17 the night before. In broke-ass tour economics, that’s like having your Google stock split.
Earlier that month, we hosted the band Leadfoot at Mickey Finn’s on a Monday. We struck a deal — give us drinks, cook us dinner, and charge a buck at the door. We had a great turnout by weekday standards, and everyone was fed — we ate better than we would have if we’d made $20 each at the end of the night.
This time out, I’m excited about scoring some good Mexican grub in the Southwest, and if we’re not destitute when we hit the East Coast, I’m gonna search for some good seafood in Baltimore. In between, we’ll have to hit the Golden Rule BBQ in Birmingham, the punk-rock pizza place in Little Five Points in Atlanta, and unearth some new favorites down a few as-yet-unexplored highways.
The scrapbook for a tour could be made of ticket stubs, torn flyers and blurry photos, but it wouldn’t be complete without some greasy, folded-up takeout menus.