Thursday, September 6, 2012
Getting through Heathrow wasn't so much of a problem. Daz's bass amp cost about sixty quid in excess weight charges, but he was willing to pay for that himself. He'd really wanted his own amp with him on tour so fair enough.
It's seems crazy to me now that we'd take so much obvious touring equipment on the flight with us and expect to breeze through customs. These days we don't take so much as a guitar pick with us, let alone a fucking bass amp. To be safe we rent gear in the States or ship ours over in advance and have a friend pick it up. Some of us won't even travel wearing a t-shirt with a band's logo on it, but that is maybe a little excessive. I mean, punks are surely allowed to go on holiday like anyone else, right?
Daz was a notoriously nervous flyer, and I remember sitting in the airport bar with a view over the runway with him, me drinking coffee, him nursing a pint. He said that watching all the airplanes take off and land made him feel a bit better about the journey ahead, but his pale expression betrayed him. I felt bad for him, it must be horrible to fear something like that. He wasn't the only one who was nervous though. My thoughts were churning over the journey ahead. There were always stories doing the rounds about band's being turned away at the border. And we were flying in to Chicago, one of the major ports. It was not going to be a stroll in the park.
We lift off and settle in to a nine hour flight. Even though the booze on board is complimentary I abstain. I want my clearest head on until we're sat in Dutch's van that is due to meet us at Houston airport in about fourteen hours time. I try to settle in to sleep but it's not happening. I have a hard time sleeping on flights at the best of times. It's not really a fear thing, more a comfort thing. I'm a light sleeper as it is and trying to drift off whilst sat in a tight, airplane chair is quite a challenge. That together with the customs control at Chicago O' Hare airport haunting my thoughts making it nigh on impossible to nod off.
We land nine hours later, some time around noon, Chicago time. We've got two hours until our connecting flight to Houston and not only do we have to make it through border control, we also have to pick up our luggage and check it in again. I'd been so busy worrying about the cops sending us home that I hadn't even thought about the fact that we're on a fucking tight schedule just to make it on to the next flight. At least we're not playing tonight. The first show was due to be in New Orleans, but the horror that was hurricane Katrina had put an end to that. The first show was now going to be in Houston, which as much as I was disappointed about New Orleans, made things a lot easier. We would've had to have driven from Houston airport, all the way to New Orleans, play a show and then head all the way back to Houston the next day. We're not talking any three hour drives here either.. So, all being well, we'd spend the first night in Houston recuperating from our travels, resting up in wait for the first show the night after. We just had to get past the “first port of call” and after that it would be plain sailing, of course..
Sometimes you get a friendly cop, one with an amiable demeanour that genuinely welcomes you into the country. Sometimes you get a grim looking bastard with a face like a slapped arse. The seven of us had separated after disembarking the plane, I had no idea how it was going for the other guys but as I shuffled closer and closer to the end of my line I could see that the cop I was going to be dealing with today belonged firmly with the latter category of cop that I have just described. I put on my friendliest face and approach him. I say hello, he looks at me like he despises my very existence. I go through the usual eye and fingerprint scan and then he grunts a few questions at me. Stuff like how long I'm in the country for, what's the meaning of my visit. He doesn't seem to like the fact that I'm going to be in his country for a little over four weeks. He gives one last disgusted look at my passport, as if telling me he knows something doesn't add up, and then shunts it back in my direction and turns his stare at the next poor bastard in line behind me. With a considerable sigh of relief, I continue my shuffle towards the luggage belt on the other side of the room, where a few of the other guys are already standing with our gear.
Soon, we're all gathered and ready to continue, all except for Gordon. “Where was he in the queue?” we enquire amongst ourselves.. It seems like some of us had it easier than others on the way through but nothing to suggest that we were in real danger of being turned away. We're stood there with the gear, waiting on Gordon with one eye on the clock and our connecting flight.. And then we see him.
Wearing a t-shirt and long skate style shorts, he's walking behind a pair of cops along an aisle towards an interrogation room looking as pale as a ghost. When I first spot him my heart sinks. To make matters worse, and in true Gords style, he starts making the slicing action with his hand across his throat, the kind directors use on set when saying “cut”. As if that's not bad enough, he then starts shouting across the hall to us, “We're fucked!” and “We're going home!” and even “They know!”. Poor Gords, I really feel for him, I know how stressed he can get. But fuck me buddy, try and keep a lid on it. The six of us are stood there with a shit load of band gear, shocked by what's unfolding in front of us. I remember Kev being stood beside me, saying through gritted teeth, “I'm gonna kill the cunt! What the fuck is he doing?” I honestly didn't know whether to laugh or cry. And then Gords disappears into the room with the cops.
For a moment, it's sheer panic. What the fuck are we going to do? I soon get myself together and I know I can't leave my best mate in there. Lasse approaches me and suggests we go over to the room and try and talk them around. After all, I have everybody's travel details, I can present myself as the leader of the party. I realise that if Gordon is getting sent back then so are the rest of us and I don't want to leave Gords to face the music on his own.
Lasse and I sheepishly approach the room where Gordon is sitting inside, no doubt shitting himself, the poor bastard. There is a female cop stood guarding the doorway. I tell her that one of my party has been taken by them and I ask her if there is anything I can help with, trying to explain to her that I have everybody's travel details and all, being the self selected leader for the merry band of men. I'm doing my best to put on the most charming Englishman persona I can muster. I'm therefore surprised and to be honest a little insulted that she merely barks at me, telling me to step away from her. This seems ridiculously over the top to me. I stupidly attempt to continue with my line of approach, Lasse stood behind me backing me up, She simply cuts me off, “Sir, do you want to join your friend inside?” Fucking bitch! I can't believe this. Before I can say another word she comes back at me, “Actually sir, the two of you, come with me!”. For fuck sake. What is wrong with these people? Can't they just be fucking normal?
By now it's fairly obvious that the proverbial faeces has hit a very big fucking fan.
We're lead into the small room where we meet Gordon who is sat by a table that his suitcase is resting on. When he clocks the two of us a smirk spreads across his face that sends a glimmer of relief through me. At least he's ok. We're faced with the classic good cop/bad cop routine. Whilst we're awaiting the arrival of mine and Lasse's suitcases, the woman (bad cop) and the man (good cop) start firing questions at us. The usual stuff.. what are we doing here, how long are we here, how much money are we carrying.
“Are you guys a band or something?” I'm considering what line of bullshit to take when my suitcase turns up, and then I realise there is no point lying because when they open up my case they're going to find about one hundred cd's of our Live and Demo's album. I shoot a glance at Lasse who knows exactly what's in there and the two of us utter something to each other in Swedish, along the lines of “Bollocks!”
I tell them that we're a band and that we're recording for a while in Austin, and that the cd's are for promotional purposes. I have Dutch's name and contact details and hand them over. I know we're fucked by this point. Upon admittance that we're a band they immediately start with the drugs questions. Something about Cot? I genuinely have no fucking clue what they're talking about. And I think it shows. Good Cop starts asking what kind of music we play, feigning interest. I'm a little surprised that they don't go into the making money/visas question. Maybe there is hope here. They continue firing the drugs theme at us but I guess our genuine perplexion convinces them. They give the bags a search and then see the name of the band is Raging Speedhorn. They want to know what that means. I can't even fucking remember what pathetic lie I come up with for that one, but I remember thinking that they must be thinking what a shit band name we have.
Just as there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel, and hope arises that they might just let us through, Lasse starts pushing them about our connecting flight..This really pisses Bad Cop off! She starts shouting at Lasse that she doesn't give a Good God Damn about our connecting flight. For a second Lasse continues to plead but I kick him in the leg, and shoot him a glance that tells him to shut the fuck up.
I don't know why, but somehow we're allowed to pack up our bags and continue on our journey. Good Cop throws one last enquiry, smile spread across his face, “Sure you guys don't have any cot?” Bad Cop looks at us as we shuffle past her at the door, as if she's about to spit in our faces. As soon as we're out of there we leg it across the arrival's hall, dragging our cases behind us to where the rest of the guys are all waiting with a huge display of relief and bewilderment on their faces.
No time to even explain to everyone what happened, we have another plane to catch and we still have to check all our gear through security. Of course, there is a huge line ahead of us and our flight is taking off in a half hour.
Somehow we make it. A feeling of total elation washes over me as I sit in my seat and the half empty plane lifts off into a clear blue sky. The relief on everyone's faces is plain to see. Me and Lasse look at each other, “How the fuck did we make it through that?” he asks me. I had been planning to wait until I got to Houston tonight before treating myself to a drink but as soon as the seatbelt sign goes off and the air steward comes along with the trolley I order myself a gin and tonic. No drink has ever tasted to good!
In three hours time we'll land in Houston and meet the final member of what will be our touring party, and he'll be driving what will be our home for the next month. I order another gin and tonic and stare out at the United States of America below me.