Bday Trip 2018- Concert Weekend

I’m back home in Austin after my bday trip. But the trip was about much more than celebrating my annual trip around the sun. It was also a time for me to be by myself and come to grips with my dad’s passing. Everyone goes through grief differently it seems, and for me, I really needed to be completely alone – not needing to worry about anyone or anything else other than just me and how I was feeling. And I know that I’m very fortunate in many respects that I have the time, the money, and the life situation to be able to pull away from normal life for a bit and concentrate solely on myself.

As usual with my travels, I like to recap them. If you get enjoyment out of reading my ramblings, I’ll be posting a few installments of my adventures. If you aren’t a fan, wait a few posts before I pick back up on skin cancer/melanoma topics.

I left Austin on a wicked early flight on Friday, heading to Newark. Maybe it was the early morning hour, maybe it was the lack of sleep from the night before, maybe it was my recent life events, but I was in a really philosophical mood on the plane. I was thinking a lot about life, and what comes after life as we know it. My inner Catholic schoolgirl looked at the cotton candy clouds and wanted desperately to believe that my dad’s energy, spirit, soul, whatever you want to call it, was somewhere around me. The rational, scientifically minded part of me was in complete disagreement with that – death was it and there was nothing more, but conceded that the law of conservation of energy may provide some kind of loophole. I realized that I couldn’t really concentrate on my book and ended up just watching the landscape unfold under me while all of these thoughts ran riot through my head.

We finally landed in Newark, and I was eager to get on the move. I rode the Air Train to the car rental agency, who decided to celebrate my birthday weekend by giving me a punk’s car – a beat up grey Mitsubishi Lancer. Thanks for making an old(er) lady look ridiculous. The thing was a dog too, engine whining every time I went uphill; and for those of you that have only ever seen the Newark Airport and thought that was New Jersey, I have news for you – there are hills and trees in the state as well… I know, I was just as shocked ;)

I drove over to Morristown, where the first concert was scheduled. I decided that since I had time, I would find out where the venue was and scope out parking ahead of the concert. Which was actually a smart idea because while Morristown has a charming little downtown, it was slightly confusing driving through the town while trying to follow the directions of the Apple Maps guidance lady (telling me to turn left after I already went past the street was not helpful, damn it). Locating the venue, I then made my way to the hotel – and dear god, those roads are a pain in the neck to navigate. I could see the hotel but couldn’t turn left to get there. It took me a bit to realize that if I wanted to get there, I had to complete three right turns.

The Marriott Hanover apparently is the place to have a wedding in the area. There were two very elaborate Indian weddings that I would have loved to crash just to check out the beautiful saris the women were wearing. But I had a concert to attend, so I got ready and made my way over to the Mayo Performing Arts Center, getting there far easier than I did earlier in the day (see, advance scouting actually works). I ended up chatting with Michael the upstairs usher and checking out the tiny art gallery for some time before I finally took my balcony seat in the first row for the show.

I ended up sitting next to two women around my age and a daughter, Audrey. She and I hit it off and we chatted after the unmemorable opening act played. For a young lady in her twenties, the fact that she listed The Beatles and Duran Duran as her favorite bands was surprising. And then Adam Ant and the band took the stage. As I mentioned before, I use music as a mood enhancer. It’s a cheap, low side effect medication. But with the grief I’ve been carrying around, I was concerned that not even my most reliable, go-to Adam Ant music would ease some of this pain. As the opening bars of Beat My Guest played, I was uneasy that even some of my most beloved music would fail me…

But as the show progressed, I felt something alien… And I realized that I was smiling for the first time in a few months. I told one of my cousins in a text exchange after the show that for about an hour, that crushing pain in my chest even lifted a bit. I lost myself in the music, the drums, the guitar notes, Adam singing and dancing, even the flashing stage lights… The only awkward moment was when Adam introduced Car Trouble and told a story about driving with his dad, which of course immediately made me think of my dad and the whole thing threatened to turn on the waterworks. (I fortunately did not apply mascara when getting ready, just in case.) I managed to blink back the tears and get back to enjoying myself. And when the show ended, I was grateful that music yet again gave me a respite from my inner turmoil.

After the show, I was walking to the exit when a young man stopped me and told me, “You are really pretty. If any one ever says otherwise, they’re either gay or blind.” It took me aback and actually made me laugh out loud. I don’t consider myself pretty and particularly not when I’m walking around with permanent sad-face. (And my gay friends recognize and celebrate beauty way more than any of my straight friends.) But the sentiment behind the compliment was sweet and for an old lady on the cusp of turning another year older, I guess I needed that too.

The next day, I took advantage of the latest checkout time I could get and then made my way about an hour south to my next hotel. The drive down 287 South was actually very pretty during stretches, which was quite unexpected to someone who has only ever driven the northern reaches of the New Jersey Turnpike. As usual, the confusing roads of New Jersey nearly got me turned around when I was trying to get to my exit (I take back all of the moaning I did in Florida about their construction) and the further south I went, the more urban and blighted the surroundings got. The one thing that made me smirk was the “No Littering, $200 Fine” sign that was absolutely covered in graffiti. Littering is bad, but apparently graffiti is A-OK.

So the next concert was scheduled in Asbury Park, on the Jersey shore. But in that area, pretty much every hotel was either booked solid or had a two night stay requirement on the weekends. Obviously, that did not work for me. And so I ended up getting a hotel in Edison, which was a good hour drive from the next venue. The Sheraton there is, how do I put it nicely? It’s a dump. There was broken glass sparkling all around the parking lot, inside it smelled like perfumed cigarette smoke, it was dark and depressing in the room, and the furnishings were cobbled together from Salvation Army castoffs. Don’t believe me? My room had a chair that had an honest-to-God slipcover on it!! I was terrified to sit on it because God knows what lurked underneath…And despite the fact that I was supposed to get lounge access, the door never seemed to work for anyone’s key (which is just as well since now the entire chain is Pepsi products and you know that I’m bitter about this). Were there any positives? Well, the water pressure in the shower was awesome and the towels were fluffy. And when I got home from the concert, past midnight and therefore officially my birthday, the woman in the adjoining room having a very loud phone call on speaker sang Happy Birthday (to the person she was talking to, not me, but I’ll take a serenade however I can get one).

After enjoying the charms of the Sheraton, I got ready and drove about an hour south to Asbury Park for concert #2. I got there significantly earlier than I probably should have; but the ticket said 7pm which I took to mean that the opening band was going to start at that time. Ummm, no, the doors didn’t even open then. So in the hurricane-like conditions on the Asbury Park boardwalk, I ran around trying to look at the surging whitecapped waves and checking out the murals that cover the pavilions near the Paramount Theater (Wooden Walls Project). I opened the doors to retreat back in the building and nearly ran over Will (Adam Ant guitarist) and Jola (the female drummer). I was horrified because I made them get completely windblown. However, all of you will be glad to learn that I finally realized that my awkwardness knows no bounds and I did not approach them to gush what a big fan I am (is this maturity I’m developing in my advanced age?) and simply put my head down to walk to a place where I could hide.

Finally, the doors to the venue opened and I was able to climb up to the balcony to take my seat in the front row. I love front row balcony seats. No super tall person blocking my view, I can lean forward if the seat is uncomfortable, and I usually get some good photos. The Paramount Theater is cool in an awesome rundown and slightly seedy kind of way. But I realized that I’m actually a terrible Adam Ant fan. While I know all of the words to every song he plays, I do not dress up like an extra from the Prince Charming or Kings of the Wild Frontier videos. Clearly my fandom is better than the green-haired woman who was wearing a very conspicuous Ramones belt (has she not listened to the words of B-Side Baby?) but the woman in the black dress that was doing interpretive dance to the music being played in the warm-up was definitely the best people-watching of the night. Speaking of the warmup music, I am somewhat familiar with the rotation of the songs; but that night, they played a song that my dad really liked that I don’t recall being played the night before (Psychotic Reaction by Count Five). I could just about hear him singing along…

Prima Donna was the opening act and they opened up for Adam Ant five years ago in Austin. I was really glad to get a chance to see them perform again. And then Adam Ant and his band took the stage for another great show. I won’t belabor the fact that I enjoyed the entire evening, but I felt a lightness that I wasn’t sure I was ever going to recapture. While standing in line to purchase a tour t-shirt (something I rarely do anymore but f-ck it, it was my birthday weekend and the merch guy finally got a credit card machine), I told the members of Prima Donna I had seen them in Austin and we reminisced about the hellacious storm that blew through literally five minutes after Adam Ant’s set was done, flooding the roads and making the tear down of the stage set a logistical nightmare (ahhh, memories…wait, maybe that’s why Adam Ant hasn’t scheduled a show in Austin since…). Speaking of hellacious storm, driving back to the Sheraton was in blinding sideways rain. I was gripping the steering wheel so tightly that when I got back to my room, my hands were cramping.

The next day, my birthday, I got up and drove an hour and a half north to my next destination. The Apple Maps app must have a hidden toggle for “show route that winds through scenic but not very driver-friendly roads” because it took me an interesting way up to Tarrytown where my last Sheraton awaited. I stopped at a scenic overlook where way in the mist you could see the New York City skyline (and I managed to get back into the car five seconds before the heavens opened up). The Sheraton in Tarrytown was way nicer than any place I stayed at in New Jersey but it was a really long drive to the final show at the Ridgefield Playhouse (in Connecticut, an entire different state than where I was staying). I didn’t think it was going to be that bad but those twisting, dark forested country roads are no joke in inclement weather and the drive to and from the show made me think that my birthday might be the last one I celebrated.

Anyway, for the final show I splurged and got myself second row from the stage. When I bought the tickets a few months ago, I figured since it was my birthday and all I would treat myself. I am so glad I did. The venue is really intimate. I’m fairly certain that my high school auditorium is larger. In fact, Ridgefield Playhouse might have been a high school auditorium in a previous life. Somehow, the two seats next to me stayed vacant the entire show, giving me some room to breathe but also to dance…and I hadn’t danced in a few months. I used to bust a move often and without any provocation but lately, I hadn’t felt the urge to dance. So it felt wonderful to be able to dance around like an idiot and sing my face off. I was so worried that I wouldn’t be able to feel anything other than sadness ever again.

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I have a huge debt of gratitude to Adam Ant and his band for helping me remember that despite my grief, my sadness, my general sense of ickiness – there are still things in this world that can lighten the darkness a bit, that can lift the weight of grief for a bit, that can make me smile, make me sing, even make me dance again…even if it’s just for a bit.

Stay tuned for the continuation of my birthday trip…

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