Segarini: The Art Of Touring 5 – Dank? What the hell is dank?

Part 4 can be found here

Team Roxy. From L to R: Jim Morris, John MacDonald, John Haeny, (producer /engineer), with one of his prize winning huskies, Jac Holzman, (President, Elektra Records), Bob Segarini, Randy Bishop, Jim DeCoq, and John The Frankenheimer, (manager).

In retrospect, we shouldn’t have been as elated as we were to see the A-1 Motel come into view as we pulled off I90 and into the parking lot surrounding the ill-named shoebox we were about to seek shelter in.

Where I’m from, naming your business ‘A-1′, suggests your business is the best at what it provides. It also assures you of the pole position in the old style phone books and Yellow Pages where we used to look for contact information. If you wanted to be first in the listings, ‘A-1′ would assure you of that for years, until people realized that if they were ‘AA-1′, or ‘AAA-1′, they would be the first number people saw. Now of course, you have to top, ‘AAAAAA Aardvark Automotive’, to even be on the first page.

Regarding the A-1 Motel in Utica, New York, the Z-57 Motel, would have been a more appropriate name, but when the rain is coming down so hard that you’ve got a stuffed-to-the-poop-deck Ark behind you on the highway, with a white-bearded old geezer in a robe  flashing his lights and honking to pass, any opportunity to get off the road looks mighty fine. Frankenheimer pulls into a parking space as close to the lobby entrance as possible.

Over the workman-like entrance, a neon sign announces ‘Vac­_n_y’.

“Thank God…they’ve got Vackny”, says one of our crew.

“Rock bands check in, but they never check out”, says another.

John gets out of the Vista Cruiser and heads for the lobby, “Stay here”, he says over his shoulder, “I don’t want any trouble”.

Us? Trouble? How dare he!

Just then, a knock on the window next to me. I jump, startled, and hit my head on the roof. It’s Dennis, from our road crew.

Whirrrrr…

“Are we staying here?”, asks Dennis.

“No”, I deadpan. “John had to use the little boy’s room”.

“Oh”, says Dennis, and turns to walk back to the truck.

“I’m kidding!”, I yell after him, “Yes. We’re staying here”.

He stops and looks back at me.

“That’s too bad”, he says, “We really should stay here. This weather is awful”.

I realize then, that they must have smuggled some pot across the border.

Eventually, we find ourselves ensconced in 4 dreary rooms on the 2nd floor of the A-1, with plans to leave Utica at first light, or the end of the rains, depending on which came first.

If you’ve ever traveled on the cheap, or in a rock band, you know these rooms. They are always damp. They are always dank…whatever that means. They always have hospital green hallways, or wallpaper your Grandmother would have liked.

The pipes make scary noises. The Bible, (top drawer, left-side night table) has rings on it left by beer cans, and a couple of cigarette burns. The drapes smell funny, and don’t quite meet in the middle. And there was something back in the day, that you don’t see much anymore. Messages, either written or carved, on the inside of the ubiquitous writing desk’s top drawer, under the stationary, fliers, or whatever else they kept in there.

Bill and Betty November 1966

Lonnie loves Deborah 1961

Go Tigers! Sal and Greg 1959

Des Moines is the best! I hate Utica! Dave 1957

…and now…

This place blows. Roxy 1969

The Hot Hamburg

Damp, dank, or crappy, we were out of the downpour and somewhere we had never been before, part of the lure of touring, at least at our level.

Unexplored territory, new adventures, new people, and new experiences most people never got to enjoy, not with a bunch of friends, and certainly not on someone else’s dime. We were being paid to have fun, face danger and obstacles, and share our music, our passion, with everyone we could. In 1969, it just didn’t get any better for a bunch of guys that loved to play music.

Peeling, water stained ceiling over our heads, faded, worn out, shag carpet under our feet, our attention turned to the next problem that faced us.

Food.

“Does this place have room service?”, someone asked.

“Would you eat here if they did?”, came the answer.

This called for a trip to the desk.

We are told by the desk clerk, (who resembles a bleary eyed Barney Fife), to just walk, (or swim), across the parking lot. There is an all night diner with, in his words, ‘crackerjack vittles’. I suspected Aunt Bea would be suggesting the fried chicken and berry pie.

I was wrong. She was eating the fried chicken and berry pie.

I love diners. Sure, I also crave the occasional bone-in rib steak at Harbour 60 with garlic mashed, fresh asparagus, and the seared ahi starter and a couple of gin martinis, which costs about as much as a mortgage payment, but my heart belongs to artery clogging, butter drenched comfort food, made by swarthy ex-army cooks or somebody’s grandmother, where the focus lies not in presentation, but in soul-satisfying flavor and abundance.

The diner is packed. I figure it’s mostly locals, but with the inclement weather, I’m sure that at least part of this crowd has found itself here looking for shelter and sustenance like we have. As we are seated in a booth that still remains to be cleared, I notice a line up forming just inside the front door where we had been standing just moments before.

“Looks like we beat the rush”, I offered.

“Wait until you taste the food before you decide if that’s a good thing”, someone replied.

“Of course it’s good”, I said, “Places like this don’t survive unless the food is great”.

“By great, do you mean edible, or non-lethal?”, came the response.

My reply was interrupted by the arrival of our waitress, a weary looking woman who plopped down a stack of menus, whipped a towel out of her apron, and started to wipe down our table, collecting dishes and glasses with her other hand as she went. Clearly, a pro. Gathering up the detritus from the previous diners, she nodded her head towards the stack of menus on the table.

“Have a look”, she said, “I’ll be back to take your orders in a minute”, and she was gone.

We have a look.

Usually, in a diner like the one we have found ourselves in adjacent to the A-1 Motel, I would go directly to the Breaded Veal cutlet, or the meatloaf, but tonight, there on the diner’s menu, calling out to me, was the Trifecta of diner cuisine.

The open faced hot sandwiches.

These are not ’sandwiches’ as we know them. No 2 slices of Wonder bread, mayo, lettuce, and a couple of cheese slices, ham, salami, or tuna. No. These are oblong plates with a mountain of gravy drenched turkey, roast beef, or chicken piled high on 2 slices of bread, and surrounded by bright green baby peas floating serenely on the gravy lake spilling from the gigantic mound of mashed potatoes that towers like a fluffy white volcano on the edge of the platter. This is what I’m looking for.

I look up from the menu, and less than a foot away from my face is a name tag that says, ‘Petunia’, on it. Our waitress has returned.

“Petunia?”, I ask.

“Great Grandmother’s name, Grandmother’s suggestion, my guilt ridden Mother’s decision”, she monotoned, obviously used to explaining her charming, but archaic moniker to inquisitive strangers.

I managed to tear my eyes away from her name tag and looked up at her.

“What would you like?”, she asks.

“I’ll have the hot turkey sandwich”, I reply.

“We’re out.” I notice she’s chewing gum.

“Oh…then I’ll have the hot chicken san…”, I begin.

“Out of that, too”, she says, matter of factly

“Okay. Then I’ll have the hot beef san…”

“Sorry”, she says. “Out of that too. Look around, Sweetie”, she continues, sweeping the hand holding her pencil around to indicate the packed room, “I’m surprised we’re not out of everything.”

I ask for a minute and open the menu back up. She takes everyone else’s order while I look desperately for something to eat, trying to hide my disappointment.

Once again, I look up and come face to face with her name tag, propped up like a billboard on her gingham clad left breast.

“Do you have anything remotely resembling a hot open-faced sandwich, you know, with mashed potatoes and gravy?”, raising my eyes up to her face.

“Sure. That’d be the Hot Hamburg”

Hot Hamburg! I’m intrigued. What could this exotic sounding dish consist of? Is it German? Am I about to indulge in a local treat, available nowhere else on Earth? Dare I not have this placed before me, risking an opportunity that may never present itself again?

“Sounds great! The Hot Hamburg it is!”, my excitement and anticipation wrestling for control of my emotions. I am in my element! Stalking a never before sampled culinary offering. I am pumped. I am adventurous. I am a gastronaut, about to go where no man has gone before.

I am an Idiot.

While the rest of the guys enjoyed a steak, the meatloaf, an amazing looking plate of spaghetti and meatballs, and a ham steak the size of a welcome mat, I enjoyed my exotic culinary choice. An open face hot hamburger sandwich. Just a big hamburger patty in place of the turkey, roast beef, and chicken they were out of. Don’t get me wrong, it was really good, but a crashing let-down considering what my imagination had conjured up.

It is the only time, before ot since, I have ever heard a hamburger referred to as a ‘hamburg’.

For the record…it’s hamburg-ER!…ER!..Dammit!…hamburg-ER!!!

 

The Utica Epilogue

After the diner there was nowhere else to go except back to the A-1. We tried the tv. Even though it was only a little after 1:00 in the morning, there was only snow, the tail end of a movie, and a creepy evangelist in a seersucker suit and a bad comb over who screamed at us to send him as much money as we humanly could, or Jesus would show up at our trailer on Judgement Day, and rip our lungs out with a fondue fork.

A couple of the guys played pinochle, Randy and I went over some of our new songs, John gave his usual ‘get some rest, be ready to leave in the morning, and please don’t steal the towels, ashtrays, or room keys’ speech he always gave us, and Bruce announced he was sleeping in the rent-a-truck because he was getting ‘bad vibes’ from the radiator in his and Dennis’s motel room.

At 7:00 the next morning, there was a knock on my door. It was Dennis.

“Sun’s coming up. Not a cloud in the sky. When do you guys want to leave?”

My eyes are still closed, drool in the corner of my mouth, and my entire vocabulary is limited to ‘uhhh’, ‘muh’, ’sprglx’ and…’huh?’ I cannot communicate at this hour.

“Uhhh…”, I manage.

Somehow, Dennis nods and says, “Okay then, we’re gonna get some coffee and wait in the truck. See you in a few”, turns, and walks back down the hall.

I close the door and go back to bed.

“Whozat?”, Randy says from the other bed.

“Sprglx”, I snort.

“Muh…”, says Randy.

Fucking Roadies…

Next: The Art Of Touring 6: Hey! There’s where King Kong bought it…

Segarini’s column appears here every Monday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, and The Segarini Band and nominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late Great Movies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now 85), and now publishes, edits, and writes for DBAWIS, continues to write music, make music, and record.


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