“I took a drive today…”

I don’t know where to start today.  My mind drifts towards Anthony Bourdain, whose travels took him all over the world in pursuit of his passion–food.  Social media is being populated with Anthony Bourdain quotes, and one that sticks out to me is this one: “If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel — as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them — wherever you go.”

I wish I would’ve had a love affair with travel when I was 22.  I’d been on a plane a few times and took a road trip to Woodstock ’99, but really, the only traveling I did was from Rochester to the Twin Cities and back to see friends and get drunk at dive bars, but those trips weren’t about making memories–they were moreso about losing them, so when I look back on those days, I really don’t have much to show for my life experiences.  I mean, I didn’t even have a passport until four years ago!  What the hell was I doing with my life all those yesterdays?

I talk about this with my niece from time to time–forget about getting drunk at college parties—instead, invest in life experiences.  If you want a beer, travel to Amsterdam and take the Heineken tour instead.  It may not be your favorite beer, but at least you’ll be in Amsterdam, and there’s a lot of great experiences waiting for you there…

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Earning my keep in Amsterdam!

In the summer of 2003, I decided to make a bucket list–I wanted to see a baseball game in every Major League Baseball stadium.  Coincidentally, Pearl Jam was going on tour that summer, which gave me the perfect excuse to catch a Kansas City Royals game at Kaufmann Stadium, buy some peanuts and Cracker Jack during the College World Series in Omaha, and cheer for the Minnesota Twins against the hated Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.

(Side note:  One thing you should know about me is that I love planning trips.  Seriously, send me an email if you’d like me to plan a vacation for you.  I have a binder with our Eurotrip details in it ready to go.  It even has dividers in it so each city has it’s own section.  What can I say…I’m an educator.  I like things neat and organized.)

When tickets for the Pearl Jam shows went on sale, I had five shows to lock down:

6/12–Bonner Springs, KS
6/13–Council Bluffs, IA
6/15–Fargo, ND
6/16–St. Paul, MN
6/21–East Troy, WI

Once those tickets were procured, the next phase was arranging sleeping accommodations.  Now, back in the day, I wasn’t above sleeping on someone’s couch.  In fact, I had become quite an expert considering I spent so much time passing out on my Twin Cities and Duluth friends’ sofas when I traveled north from Rochester to visit them.  Because I was meeting friends at each of the shows, I had to do all of the driving on my own–just me, my CD case, and loads of gas station snacks.  Luckily, I had connections or knew someone who knew someone willing to put me up for the night at each of my destinations, which broke up the isolation of being in the car for six to eight hours a day.

Exactly fifteen years ago, on June 10th, 2003, my epic Pearl Jam/baseball road trip got underway.  The first leg of my tour took me from Rochester to Des Moines, IA, a total of 210 miles.  There, I stayed with the cousin of a friend of my friend Brian (everybody got that?).  Brian’s friend’s cousin and I enjoyed some fine dining at Hooters, watched The Transporter, and called it a night.  He was a cool dude and a gracious host, and the hospitality he extended to this complete stranger is still something I greatly appreciate.

The next morning, I got my things together and hit the old dusty trail.  I traveled south on I-35 so I could meet up with some more of Brian’s friends–Brandon and Veronica.  The two of them and one of Veronica’s friends said they would go to the show with me, so the four of us got lawn tickets at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Bonner Springs.  I just needed to meet them at their home in Carney, Missouri first.

Oh, I’m sorry–Kearney, MO.

You see, this Mizzou mispronunciation created a bit of a headache for me.  When I talked to Brandon on the phone, he gave me directions to his house.  “You’re going to want to take the Carney exit off of 35,” he said.  Except there is no Carney exit.  I drove clear into the state of Kansas before I realized I must have missed my exit.

I busted out my atlas and looked up and down I-35 on the Missouri map.  There was no Carney in sight.  Now, I did remember seeing Kearney, which should logically be pronounced like Dear-ney, but my phonetic brain and years of prideful English teaching did not allow the thought to enter my mind that Kearney could ever be pronounced Carney.

I made my way back north on I-35.  On the road sign, I saw a marker–Kearney, 20 miles ahead.  I stopped at a gas station and asked the attendant there, “Can you tell me where the Carney exit is?”

“It’s about 20 miles north of here.”

“Wait, can you spell Carney for me please?”

She was not having this.  With great annoyance, she spelled out each letter of the mispronounced town in a southern accent: “K-E-A-R-N-E-Y.”

“That’s Carney?”

“Yes.”  I imagine she was just as annoyed with my long Midwest vowels as I was with her twangy mispronunciation of Kearney.

I exhaled deeply, left the gas station, and made my way to Kearney, MO, population 6,615 people who either can’t spell or can’t read.

(Side note:  I have nothing against the people of Kearney.  I’m just bitter about getting lost…)

After 224 miles (56 of them due to poor pronunciation), I finally arrived at Brandon and Veronica’s.  After I vented over the whole Carney/Kearney ordeal, they graciously settled me into their new home.  Being off the road and interacting with people was a welcome change.  They showed me to my room, which just so happened to have an actual bed with sheets and covers and pillows.  I was looking forward to spending a few nights of this trip in comfort.

That night, I drove 28 miles to Kansas City for a Royals game.  Brandon and Veronica couldn’t go, so I purchased a single ticket behind home plate next to the player’s wives.  I figured I’d spring for the nicer seats since I’d never been to Kaufmann Stadium before and I wanted to have a view of the waterfalls in centerfield.  The Royals weren’t great back then, so the seats to my left and right were empty, which once again made for an isolating experience, so I decided to walk around to the concourse behind left field.  I stood out there for most of the game, chatting with random fans who would pull up alongside of me to take in the night air.  Catching a baseball game outside was another new experience for me because all I had ever known up to that point was the Metrodome (otherwise known as the Big Inflatable Toilet), which was why I wanted to travel around and see other MLB stadiums.  The Kansas City fans were a great bunch to me, and I left feeling satisfied with my visit to Kaufmann Stadium.

What made the game more memorable, though, was what happened during the 7th Inning Stretch.  Fans could cheer for which song they wanted to hear during the 7th Inning Stretch, and whichever song got the loudest response would be the one played.  The first song posted on the scoreboard was “In Bloom” by Nirvana, much to the fans’ delight.  The next song was “Everlong” by Foo Fighers, which got an even bigger response.

Then the scoreboard operator threw up “Evenflow” by Pearl Jam, and the fans let out a raucous roar that sealed the deal.  At the end of the 7th Inning Stretch, the cameras panned over to a familiar face–Eddie Vedder was in the crowd, sporting a Royals helmet!  I looked carefully over at the section he was in–THAT WAS MY SECTION!

I raced back over there, but by the time I made it back to my seat, he was gone.  I imagine he hightailed it out of there once they put him up on the big screen so he could keep a low profile, which meant I missed my opportunity to watch a baseball game with Eddie Vedder.  DAMMIT!

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Eat your heart out, Cubs fans…

The next day, Brandon and Veronica decided to show me historic Kearney, so we took a tour of Jesse James’ boyhood home.  To be honest, I don’t know a thing about Jesse James, but I really did enjoy this tour because his boyhood home is still well-preserved, so walking through it was like taking a trip back in time to the Old West.  I recommend it if you’re ever in Carn–I mean Kearney.

As the show neared, Veronica’s friend met us at their place, so we packed in to their SUV and made our way down to Bonner Springs, just 44 miles from their home.  The Verizon Wireless Amphitheater is similar to Alpine Valley in that there’s a massive field for parking where people tailgate before the show, there’s a compact, covered section of seats, and then there’s a lawn that stretches back into the paved entrance.  There had been rumblings of thunderstorms, but we figured they would quickly pass on through and leave us alone.

We were wrong.  Very, very wrong.

About an hour before Pearl Jam went on, the ominous cloud-cover lingering in the night sky dropped a deluge of large rain drops on of the lawn’s spectators.  The electricity in the air was no longer generated by the fans–the lightning streaking overhead was illuminating the sky with such ferocity that every strike lit up the audience like a million flash bulbs capturing us in moments of rock ‘n’ roll tableau.

Fittingly, Pearl Jam opened with “Release“, my favorite Pearl Jam song ever, and when Ed sang the words, “I see the birds in the rain”, the fans cheered wildly as the storms drenched us mercilessly.  At one point in the song, while Ed was singing, “Oh dear dad/Can you see this now?/I am myself/Like you somehow”, a streak of lightning ripped through the sky and the crowd marveled in audible awe at this force of nature, to which Ed replied, “Hi, Dad.”  That moment was as perfect of a moment as has ever existed.

Though the concert was shorter than the other shows on that tour, the set was chalk-full of my favorites:

“Brain of J.”
“Immortality”
(Brandon’s favorite which he hadn’t ever seen before)
“Not For You”
(which the other Brandon was hoping to hear)

The rain fell the entire set, and I distinctly remember people belly-flopping down the muddy hill like it was a Slip ‘n’ Slide.  When we got back to Brandon and Veronica’s SUV, we all stripped down to our underwear because our clothes were so cold and wet.  Then we cranked the heat and laughed at the thought of all those filthy revelers driving back home caked in mud.

The next morning, I drove 177 miles to my next destination: Omaha, NE.  Two of my college friends, Aaron and Nick, were going to grad school at Creighton University, and they were willing to put me up for a night.  Aaron and I actually went to high school together and played on the same baseball team, so the timing of this trip turned out to be a reunion of the guys on our high school baseball team.  A handful of those guys were also visiting Aaron because the College World Series was happening at the same time as the Pearl Jam show in Council Bluffs, IA, just across the Nebraska border.  It was great to catch up with this crew and take in the atmosphere surrounding the College World Series.  Alumni from Texas, Louisiana, and California–just to name a few–had driven their million-dollar RVs and set up party tents in Rosenblatz Stadium’s parking lot.  As we walked through the sea of grills and kegs, we were stopped by groups of people inviting us to have a beer and a brat with them as long as we cheered for their team.  I mean, who could turn down an offer like that!

CWS

These fans take their tailgating seriously at the CWS!

After catching an afternoon game, I made my way over to the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, which was just a small, intimate venue.  I had purchased two tickets for this show, so I was hoping someone would be willing to give me face value for it.  I happened across some dude who was also aimlessly walking around the parking lot, and as fate would have it, he was looking for a ticket, and I had what he needed.  We shook hands, exchanged our goods, and made our way inside to the show.

Our seats were on Mike’s side with a straight profile view of Matt’s drum kit.  This set was blistering!  Rockers like “Hail, Hail” and “Animal” were coupled with favorites like “Faithfull” and “Dissident”.  I got an early favorite off of Riot Act, “Love Boat Captain”, for the first time, and I stood stunned during the climactic conclusion of “Jeremy”.  All in all, this was a ferocious set!

The next day, I caught another afternoon game with the boys and then hopped in my car to make the 420-mile drive up I-29 North to Fargo, ND.  There, I stayed with some more high school friends who were still in the Fargo area after graduating from North Dakota State University.  It was my third couch of the trip, but hey, I wasn’t complaining…they were all cheaper than a hotel!

The day of the show was a busy one–my girlfriend at the time was driving to Fargo from St. Joe, MN, where she was still in school at The College of St. Ben’s, so before meeting up with her, the guys and I took in an afternoon Fargo Redhawks baseball game before meeting up with my friends Brian (who had helped me find lodging in Des Moines and Kearney) and Kenny, who were also going to the show.  There was a Pearl Jam pre-party at Buffalo Wild Wings, and one of my favorite local cover bands, Dirty Word, was rocking a quick hour-long set before Pearl Jam did their thing.  The day would’ve been a full one just the way it was, but we needed a night with Ed, Mike, Jeff, Stone, Matt, and Boom to make it complete, so we walked over to the Fargodome for my third show in four days!

This show started off with high energy–“Go” into “Do the Evolution” fired up the crowd right off the bat (a crowd that just so happened to include members of Jeff’s family from Montana!).  All in all, this was probably the least memorable show of the tour for me, as the pacing of the show felt off to me, but highlights for me were seeing a bastardized version of “In My Tree” (which is actually my favorite live version to date) as well as Ed and Matt joining forces for a duet of “I Am a Patriot”.  After the show, our group of friends went over to The Windbreak for some more live music, courtesy of my good friends from Ded Walleye (the only band I have seen more than Pearl Jam).

The next day, Brian, Kenny, my then-gf, and I all drove 130 miles to my hometown of Sauk Centre, MN, to say hello to my parents, eat a home-cooked meal, shit-shower-shave, and recharge my batteries before Pearl Jam at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.  After saying our goodbyes and leaving my then-gf behind so she could go to work that night, we once again put the pedal to the metal before parking in a ramp 117 miles away from my dad’s house.  With this being a “home-town show” for my crew, we met up with Kari and Paul, who were also members of the Brotherhood/Sisterhood of Traveling Pearl Jam Fans.  The gang flocked together at McGovern’s in St. Paul, and there we were met by my original best friend, Mike, as well as Brandon’s sister Amanda and her fiance Phil.  Brandon, being the good big brother he is, instilled a deep appreciation for quality music in his sister (something my older sisters neglected to do for me–thanks for the Air Supply records, jerks!), so when this show was announced, he made sure I included Amanda and Phil on the tickets.

It was also nice to bring Mike along to this show.  Mike has been my best friend since I was 18, and he helped shape my music collection just as much as Brandon did.  Mike was the one who introduced me to the nu-metal scene, and the two of us took every chance we could to see bands like Korn and Deftones any time they were in the Twin Cities.  But when it came to the Seattle groups, Mike was more of an observer.  He had all of their albums, but rarely did those CDs ever spin when we hung out and listened to music in the loft of his house, which was the majority of the time we were together.  So this Pearl Jam show was new territory for him, and to this day, it’s still the only PJ show he’s ever attended (he likes to joke with me that he can only carry us so far to 40 shows–38 for me, 1 for him…what as ass).

 

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Partners in Time

Before the show, Amanda and I joked about how I saw “Immortality” before Brandon, the lifelong Pearl Jam fan, and how that just ate away at him all the way in California.  So when Pearl Jam played “Immortality” again, the two of us just looked at each other and laughed as the opening riff of that song stretched to the back of the Xcel Energy Center to our ears.  Not only that, but it’s the best performance of “Immortality” I’ve ever seen.  McCready’s masterful pacing during the solo showcased his uncanny ability to let a single note ring out bar after bar, then adding to it ever so carefully, and then building up the tension with each added note until the solo crescendos into an emotionally-draining frenzy that ends in echoes as the opening riff takes us into the last verse, this time with a greater sense of urgency and panic.

The main set was solid, but the encore of this show proved to be one for the ages:

“Daughter”
“Save You”
“State of Love and Trust”
“Bu$hleaguer”
(which resulted in Jeff slapping a Wellstone sticker on his bass in honor of Paul Wellstone, the Minnesota senator who died in a tragic plane crash earlier that year)
“Better Man”
“Lukin”
(as performed by Pearl Jam fan Michael from North Dakota)
“Leaving Here”
(the one and only time I’ve seen this!)
“Elderly Woman…”
“Rearviewmirror”
“Rockin’ in the Free World”
“Yellow Ledbetter”

I drove the 77 miles back to Rochester that night riding a euphoric high from the show.  It had easily been the best of the four I had seen.  The crowd’s energy was high–Ed playfully sang “Looking California/But feeling Minnesota, oh yeah” to the crowd, who gladly sang along; “RVM” and “RITFW” were simply electric; and I felt like I got to see my favorite band with a wide array of my best friends at the time.

A few days later, I drove 42 miles to Austin, MN, to meet up with Brian and some of his co-worker friends for another night of rock ‘n’ roll with my friends in Ded Walleye, who were playing at Torge’s Bar (a great place to see live music!).  Before the show, we grilled up some brats and burgers with his friends and the guys in the band, and I felt a strong bond between everyone that was sitting on Brian’s patio–we were all there because of our love for music.

After a night of headbangin’ debauchery, we packed up our friend Bud’s SUV and geared ourselves up for the 307-mile trip to Milwaukee, WI, for a boys’ weekend of epic proportions.  We arrived on a Friday night, and after a nice steak dinner, we hit Water Street…and that’s all I’m going to say about that night.

The next day, we made the short 40-mile trek to Alpine Valley, where we once again mainlined Milwaukee’s Best into our bloodstreams.  My previous trip to Alpine Valley was significantly colder, so I gladly welcomed the hot June sun beating down on my skin as we walked around from tailgate to tailgate challenging people to Cornhole matches or sitting down with dudes on acoustic guitars and belting out Pearl Jam songs in preparation for my fifth show in ten days.

The night started with a new opener for me: “Sometimes”, which went into my favorite sing-along song, “Corduroy”.  The set was once again filled with some of my favorite songs, but this show gave me a slew of new songs that I had never seen before, such as “Deep”, “Breath”, and a fantastic cover of CCR’s “Fortunate Son”, which was part of an encore that capped off all of the emotional highs I experienced on this all-encompassing trip.

The next day, the boys and I dusted ourselves off for one last adventure–the Twins vs. the Brewers at Miller Park.  Justin Morneau hit a home run to put us up for good, and the mood struck me so perfectly that I made up a stupid song that went like this:

We are the Twins Fans (we are the Twins fans)
Sitting in your stands (sitting in your stands)
We came to clap and cheer (we came to clap and cheer)
And then we drank all your beer (then we drank all your beer)
So everybody clap your hands (everybody clap your hands)
CUZ WE ARE THE TWINS FANS!

Amazing how creative I can be with some god-awful beer, cheese curds, and a week-and-a-half of Pearl Jam concerts under my belt!

After the game, exhausted from our weekend shenanigans, we begrudgingly hit I-94 West onto I-90 West and wheeled out another 307 miles back to Austin.  After the final 42 miles from Brian’s place to mine, I crashed into my bed.

After tearing up 2,300 miles of asphalt all over the Midwest, I finished my adventure having seen five Pearl Jam shows and a total of 130 songs performed–58 unique originals and 12 unique covers.  But more importantly, I had learned how Pearl Jam fans lived for this band, and I finally felt like I was now one of them.  From that point forward, I made traveling to pursue my passions a priority.  I’ve seen Pearl Jam 38 times in 5 countries, 13 states, and 20 cities worldwide, and it’s so much a part of my lifestyle now that I don’t think I can ever quit this band!

So what’s left on my Pearl Jam bucket list?  Well, how about a show in Tokyo, Japan, or an intimate acoustic set at Red Rocks?  (What?  A guy can dream, can’t he?!)

PJ Red Rocks

“Hail, hail, the lucky ones…”

Last summer, I visited Camden Yards in Baltimore, crossing off my Major League Baseball stadium bucket list.  So where will my passions take me next?  Well, my new bucket list item challenges me to paddle board in all five Great Lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior) as well as all five oceans (Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Arctic, and South).  So far I have only paddled in Lake Ontario and Lake Michigan, which means I have some work to do over the next few years.  But I also know I won’t live forever, so you can’t keep me here…

(Oh, and Ed–if you’re reading this, I just want you to know that I have a ukulele, a paddle board, and 10,000 lakes in my backyard…hit me up the next time you’re in Minnesota!)

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Today’s title is taken from Pearl Jam’s “Rearviewmirror” from VS., released in 1993.  

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