“Ain’t it nice to be so lucky
Ain’t it nice to be so loved.”
Rhythm and Blues,” The Head and the Heart
Last Thursday at 5 a.m. a town car arrived at our Sand Creek condo to take Phil, Dave, and me to O’Hare Airport, where we caught a 9 o’clock, nonstop United Airlines flight to San Diego in order to attend a Head and the Heart concert that night at Pappy and Harriet’s in Pioneertown, California. When I learned that my favorite band was playing an intimate set at my favorite watering hole, I phoned nephew Bob and said that if he could obtain four tickets, I’d pay for them and the three of us would be there, never dreaming that he’d pull it off. When tickets for a War on Drugs concert at Pappy and Harriet’s went on sale 18 months ago, they all were gobbled up within minutes, and the only reason Bob and I got to go was due to my abject appeal to the owner, telling her I’d attended three Cracker Campouts and returned whenever I visited my aging mother in Rancho Mirage. What sealed the deal was my promise to write a Yelp review extolling its many virtues. Bob learned exactly when The Head and the Heart tickets went on sale, down to the minute, and miraculously came through.
Days before the trip, Dr. David Dao, 69, was violently dragged off a United flight to Louisville in order to seat a flight crew. Three other passengers accepted compensation for their seats, but Dao claimed he needed to see patients in the morning. The story went viral, and protests have taken place at O’Hare and as far away as China. United CEO Oscar Munoz first defended the action, calling Dao disruptive and belligerent; but when outrage mounted, he made an abject apology, calling what happened horrific. Not only was the victim cut and bruised so bad he required hospitalization, the media has dredged up dirt on him.
Conditions for airline passengers have deteriorated from when you’d receive meal money and overnight accommodations if your flight got delayed. Thirty years ago, four Lanes were flying Midway Airlines to Philadelphia; about halfway there, the pilot flew back to Chicago. When the next flight was overbooked, the airlines offered free tickets to anywhere Midway flew if they waited an additional two hours for a subsequent flight. We accepted the offer and got four free tickets to the Virgin Islands, where we enjoyed a week’s vacation on Tom and Karen Orr’s sailboat.
Our San Diego flight was only two-thirds full, prompting speculation that United experienced cancellations. Flight attendants were extremely attentive, and absent was any mention of the airline slogan “Friendly Skies,” no doubt a corporate decision to forestall derisive rejoinders. We turned back our watches two hours and arrived in sunny California before noon. Nephew Bob was circling the Lindbergh Field terminal when Phil called him and met us within minutes. Head of marketing for Burger Lounge, Bob drove us to his office, introduced us to friendly co-workers, including Austin, a young man from Lowell (he and Dave talking Region basketball), and gave us Burger Lounge t-shirts before treating us to a delicious lunch. I had the Burger Lounge special, featuring grass-fed beef, with onion rings and a side of guacamole.
Dave, Bob, Jimbo, and Phil at Burger Lounge
After showing off his family’s recently purchased home, which has all kinds of fruit trees in the back yard, Bob drove through heavy traffic to Joshua Tree Best Western Motel in Yucca Springs. After we checked in, I lay down for an hour because the Head and the Heart concert wasn’t scheduled to begin until after 11 p.m. Then, with a couple hours to kill, Bobby found a roadhouse, Gadi’s, that advertised Thursday karaoke. The diverse crowd included bikers (one sang a Sam Smith number!), a family whose patriarch sang in Italian, an African-American woman with an amazing voice, and a foursome that looked to be Head and the Heart fans.
Dave performing at Gadi's
We pestered Dave to sing until he finally relented and performed “She Talks to Angels” by the Black Crowes with such gusto that heads turned. Sensing that we were about to leave, the deejay asked Dave if he’d do a second number; he selected “Surrender” by Cheap Trick, knowing it was one of my favorites. From my seat I was softly singing the chorus, beginning, “Mommy’ all right, Daddy’s all right, They just seem a little weird.”
Around 10:15 Bob drove the four miles uphill past Joshua trees and cool rock formations to Pappy and Harriet’s. An outdoor concert featuring electronic music by Little Dragon was winding down, and the doors were not scheduled to open until 11, leaving time to show Phil and Dave nearby locale for old westerns, such as the Lone Ranger and Cisco Kid. In line was a pilot who flew executives in and out of Gary Airport. By the time the few hundred people were processed and inside, it was almost midnight. The tables had been removed, but I found a stack of chairs and positioned one by the wall so I didn’t have to stand waiting for the concert to begin. Several others did the same thing, and one guy stood on his, prompting a visit by a huge security guy who remedied the situation and warned, “Don’t make me come back.”
For the Head and the Heart (THATH) concert in Grand Rapids, we’d had good seats but were some distance from the stage. Here we stood within 30 feet of the band – and even closer when at a spot to the right of the stage. I had a great view of Jon Russell and Matt Gervais but strained to see the diminutive Charity Thielen until I maneuvered into a closer spot for the encores. Folks were swaying to the music and, in many cases, mouthing or singing the lyrics. When the band played “Library Magic,” I turned around to tell Dave it was my favorite song, and several young women in unison said, “Mine, too.” Curious why a 75-year-old would be there, one young female fan asked if I were a Pappy and Harriet’s regular. Sort of, I said, having been there over a dozen times. Another from L.A. inquired about what there was to do in the area. Go visit Joshua Tree National Park, I replied.
Though we didn’t hit the sack until 1:45, we all four made the 9 a.m. breakfast deadline. I chowed down on bacon, eggs, English muffin, oj, sweet roll, and coffee. Having slept like a log, I was still pumped over how great a time I’d had. As Bob declared, the band clicked on every number. Bob drove us to my brother’s place in La Quinta, where Catherine had put out a spread of lunch meat, Cole slaw, potato salad, pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, and onions, condiments, and other treats. Bob’s wife Niki, daughter Addison, 9, and son Crosby, 7, had spent the night and greeted us with big hugs. They were eager to play hide-and-seek, as we’d done on previous visits. I promised we’d do that when we got back to San Diego. My brother gave me photos he’d uncovered going through Midge’s stuff, including one of my maternal great-grandparents Charles A. and Emma Regan Metzger, who had lived in Phillipsburg, New Jersey (he had worked for Pennsylvania Railroad).
On the ride back to Bob and Niki’s, I noticed that the desert and mountain landscape was greener than normal due to a rainy spring. We saw billboards advertising the upcoming appearance by the Head and the Heart at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (Sirius radio is carrying a live simulcast). Other headliners included Lady Gaga, Lorde, Radiohead, and one I’d like to see, Car Seat Headrest. When Bob asked for dinner suggestions, I replied, “Pizza and beer.” Bob called ahead, and we picked up two pies, one Hawaiian and the other sausage, on the way home. After chowing down, I played with the kids for about an hour. In motel rooms, it had been easy to find them: they’d hide together and I could get Crosby laughing. There were many more hiding places in the house, and Crosby no longer gave himself away. Addie once managed to fit into a hamper; it completely befuddled me until Crosby pointed in its direction.
Addie has a guitar and Crosby plays the piano; Dave gave both of them pointers. One of the warmest people I know, Niki mentioned that her father –Skeeter – recently visited from Virginia and watching Bob play ice hockey. Crosby is on a t-ball team called the Phillies and was delighted to learn I was a Phillies fan. I once watched his dad play ball at his age. When I took grandson Anthony to California, Bob played wiffleball with us. Anthony mimicked Bob’ batting stance and, like him, pretended to spit chewing tobacco. Upon learning that I was bringing my sons, Crosby thought they might be playmates. In a sense they were and bonded with both kids.
After Bob drove us to the airport and we were airborne, it hit me what a fantastic host my nephew had been. We have had a special bond since he was in college at IU. While at Bloomington for a meeting, I invited him to dinner at Outback and arrived with a cooler of beers. Before we left, I asked, “Another Old Style, Bobby?” His house mates, I learned later, teased him relentlessly by repeating those words. When Bob graduated, he and his friends decided to skip the ceremony but instead threw a house party. At IUN I obtained a blank certificate and took along my cap, gown, and hood; at an appropriate time, I came through the door and, uttering the words “By the authority vested in me,” presented him with a diploma. At first, he rolled his eyes, but after I was done, the graduates took turns putting on my cap and gown for photo opportunities at the insistence of their parents.
Once, following a Lane family vacation in Traverse City, Michigan, Bob and I took in “Detroit Rock City,” where four teens cut school to attend a KISS concert. We laughed throughout and often repeat our favorite lines, such as Trip saying that “Disco blows dogs for quarters” or Father Phillip McNulty, high on magic mushrooms, telling a nun, “What the hell are you doing, Sister Gonorrhea, waiting for a bus?”
We talked NBA playoffs with town car driver Ron, who drove us from O’Hare to the condo in record time, wher Dave’s family greeted us and Toni had arranged a Chinese dinner. While we were gone, Becca received a certificate of honor at an awards ceremony. She and James had dyed Easter eggs, and after the meal people played a game we call “Huncie,” where two people knock eggs together and see which one cracks. Phil spent the night but got back to Grand Rapids in time to enjoy Easter with his family. Bob called. After we rehashed the highlights from our whirlwind trip, he wanted advice on Crosby’s first-grade project: dressing up a teddy bear to represent his ethnicity. He could have chosen among several nationalities, but I suggested a Scottish outfit. The teddy bear ended up in kilts, Bob later reported.
Prior to the trip, I had used a phrase Paul Kern employed when he and Julie drove from Florida to California: “This might be my last great adventure.” Now I’m so pumped, I’m checking to see what good bands might be scheduled to play at Pappy and Harriet’s. Niki promised to bring the kids to Indiana. Let’s hope. As the Head and the Heart put it in “Library Magic,” “There will always be better days.”