One of the things a young comic does while on the road, is to showcase for free at clubs along the way. This gives the management a chance to see you and makes an impression on them about your commitment and your ability. If you're road-dawgin' the one-nighters and you're on the way from one gig to another and you've got a night off, you're going to try to save your measly feature pay and find a comic who'll help you out.
Back in October 1998, I had the fortune of hanging with some great comics in Houston thanks to Ralphie May - my first road warrior partner. His friends let me crash on the sofa and I made dinner for them or cleaned up a little around the place. At night, I'd hang with them and do free spots at clubs in town. I was driving an '84 Volvo at the time. Big, safe, not comfortable to sleep in.
My next stop was the western post in Texas of El Paso. Since it was on the way, I called the manager of the San Antonio club for a guest spot. Lodging was presenting a problem, I'd called a bunch of cheap motels I'd spotted on the way which had no vacancies. A McDonald's bathroom would have to substitute for a green room before the 9:00pm show. I’d called the club manager to inquire if they had a comedy condo - sometimes a scourge of an apartment that's been sleeping one to three different comics a week for years and other times a beautiful place with a washer and dryer. Most look like frat house guest holes where amateur porn is shot.
This club didn't have one. So I asked the other comedians. The headliner was a magician with a whiskey and cigarette soaked voice who'd clearly done his act for years. He assured me there'd be no way his girlfriend would ever understand a chick staying in his room with him. I said, "But I'm a comic not a chick." To which he replied, trying to muster all the flattery he could, "Oh trust me darlin', you're a chick."
Okay, maybe the feature'd let me crash at his place. "You mean you're not staying anywhere?" No, I reaffirmed for him, hence the request in the first place. "Well…" I almost started to plead, but he finally said, "Okay, but I'm gonna treat you like another guy. Walk around in my underwear and stuff." "I promise not to look. And thanks for helping me out, 'brother.'"
As a result of the evening I spent there which was complete with after-show bonding with the headliner who, upon leaving, said something low and insinuating to the feature at the door which made them both share a comradish laugh and look over the shoulder in my direction … after having to ward off simple verbal insinuations, after appearing from the bathroom in full flannel pajamas, after having to witness a display of his manhood to ensure him he's adequate (but first I said, "Lemme put my glasses on"), after sleeping for three hours and bolting upright in the rollaway bed that was a part of each of these rooms and hence truly not a problem to help another comedian, I got up at 5:00 am and left quietly without waking him and got on the road. I knew I'd never put myself in that situation again. I'd spring for a motel, I'd sleep in my car, but I'd never ask comics I didn't know for an assist.
I bought a 1977 Toyota Chinook from a retired, sweet old Jewish man in Santa Monica and headed out in March 1999 to San Diego for my first gig. The next stop was Modesto. From there I took that Chinook to Vancouver Island — all of it, including Alert Bay, British Columbia, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Santa Fe, Colorado Springs, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama (where I slept in downtown Birmingham), Missouri, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Minneapolis, Wisconsin, Washington DC, Tennessee, Nevada and finally back to California in January 2000.
That Chinook served me so well and perhaps being from Detroit made the relationship even sweeter. Anytime anything went wrong, I was usually capable of diagnosing it myself. I couldn't fix it, but I knew what it needed. Like getting shocks or a front-end alignment, which took three different shops and finally some guys in Detroit to get right. Seems dual tires in the rear make it tricky but not for my people in the Motor City.
I sold the Chinook to a lovely young miss who’s a Renaissance Festie. I hope she’s had many a Bacchanalian safe and sweet night behind its doors.