Quite So Famous: Too Hard for Canada
(or We Should Have Brought Drugs)
By Grant Moser
The Cast: The Giraffes (Aaron, Damien, John, and
Bocephus (the van)
Canadian Border Guards
SARS (not appearing tonight)
I received an email from The Giraffes, a local rock band,
to accompany them on a road trip to Toronto. They were kicking
off the North by Northeast Music Festival and wanted me
along to document the adventure.
My first thought was: "My girlfriend is never going
to let me do this." She immediately told me to go.
What a cool girlfriend, I thought. Or maybe she just wants
the house to herself and me out of the way for a few days.
Either way, I was psyched.
My second thought was: "SARS. Hmmmm." But what
would rock and roll be without a bit of danger? Besides,
I'd bring a gas mask and see what the fashion sense was
of city residents.
They show up at my door on Wednesday morning in a beat-up
old van named Bochepus and ask, "Uh, can you print
out the address and directions for the hostel we're staying
at?" This made me feel a bit uneasy about their preparations
for the trip, but what would rock and roll be without a
bit of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants attitude?
Not being able to secure directions from the hostel website,
the more-or-less directionless road trip began in the pouring
rain. Drew (the drummer) is driving, Aaron (the lead singer)
is riding shotgun, Damien (the guitarist) and John (the
bass man) are in the middle seat, and your intrepid reporter
(stud extraordinaire) is in the back.
Damien, the guitarist, begins talking about his anger management
classes he is attending by order of the court. (Damien was
involved in an altercation with a gentleman at a White Castle.
He apparently never actually hit the man, but was charged
with felony assault because: 1) the other party was an off-duty
fire warden which automatically upgrades the charge to a
felony, and 2) his sucky lawyer.) Apparently everyone in
the class is still pretty angry. As each person's story
is told, the rest of the class cheers. Also apparently,
sticking someone in the ear with your keys is a popular
method of attack in New York.
The trip proceeds accordingly for the next 10 hours. Yes,
10 hours. New York is by all accounts as large as Russia.
(Another reason not to ever, ever leave the city). Conversation
bounces from whether a certain bodily fluid is combustible
(consensus is no) to comparing Black Sabbath, Judas Priest,
and Led Zeppelin's merits to whether The Giraffes need a
big-ass gong on stage (Damien voices his full support) to
playing War with the Iraqi Most Wanted cards (I lost to
a beginner) to scouring the Village Voice porn ads with
Damien and deciding who we'd do (I am apparently particular,
while Damien is not.)
The Canadian border. We finally arrive after a long, strange,
rain-soaked trip. We are close to the hostel, and we can
taste the beer we will soon be indulging in at strip bars.
Of course, we overlook one small factor: five Brooklyn twenty-somethings
in Bocephus pulling up to the border. Four of us are in
a rock band and look rather, well, rocky. The van looks
like a getaway car that never got away. I look like a narc.
The guard (who is rather attractive) looks us all over
and immediately decides that we should all be searched.
They search the van and ask for our IDs. I offer my passport,
which is unacceptable at a border crossing. She wants my
driver's license. What was I thinking?
We sit and wait. The guard comes back out and asks for
Damien. You have a record, eh? Yes, he replies, I told my
probation officer I was coming to Canada and she said it
was fine. Well, the guard answers, we don't let criminals
Time stands still as the implications of all this seep
in. We can't get into Canada. (That in itself is rather
mind-boggling. This is Canada. Canada, for gods sake.) The
band can't play the gig they finally got after five years
of trying to get in the festival. We've just driven 10 hours
across New York in the rain to be turned away. There'll
be no beer in our immediate future. We have to be upset
at a rather attractive border patrol guard.
"So, what are you saying?"
"Well, you all can go in, but he can't."
"He's our guitarist."
We turn around and head back across the DMZ to the American
"Couldn't get in huh?"
"Anyone else here have a record?"
"Okay, go ahead."
And that's America.
As we sit and fume in the rain at Niagara Falls (well, we
might as well see it since we've driven all this way), we
ponder what we can do. We contemplate running the border,
but being shot at isn't attractive. We think about trying
a different crossing, but nowadays computers are linked.
Calling the festival didn't help, as their advice was: "We
Damien begins deriding Canada, rather loudly, listing all
the other famous rock stars who are criminals that travel
the world. This is when I note that The Giraffes are not
quite that famous. He switches tack and decides he is proud
of what happened. "Shit, we're just too hard for Canada."
Then we begin thinking of the drugs we could have brought,
but have none of right now. Someone mutters, "We should
have brought drugs." We all nod.
We decide to go to the Canadian consulate in Buffalo in
the morning, so we drive into Buffalo to find accommodations
(and a strip bar).
We end up in a Motel 8. Then we go to the sports bar across
the street. (No one in Buffalo knows where any strip bars
are, though we have been told by friends that all of Buffalo
is one big strip bar. Apparently no one in Buffalo ever
goes out.) We proceed to drink several pitchers, do shots
of whiskey, devour 60 buffalo wings (they aren't any better
in Buffalo), and watch the Nets lose Game 1. Then the five
of us pass out in one room, but not without a bit of male
bonding, regularly referred to as Let's Talk About Old Hook-Ups.
Which causes our next-door neighbor to call the front desk
to tell us to shut the hell up.
We wake up early to go to the consulate. (Actually, extremely
early since the alarm clock is set an hour ahead. It's not
the time zone, it the Motel 8.) After passing security we
talk to another attractive lady about how to get Damien
in. No dice. He's just too hard for Canada.
John, who went to Bard College, calls some old friends and
thinks we might be able to pick up a gig in Tivoli, about
two hours north of New York City, that night.
We begin driving the thruway again. This road goes on forever.
I'm not kidding. About four weeks later we end up in Tivoli,
which might have a bar, but I'm not sure because there's
only two buildings on Main Street.
We finally find John's friend and the gig is cancelled.
The Giraffes are just too loud. We call another local hall,
and they are interested, but they're having DJs tonight
and The Giraffes just wouldn't fit in.
Then we see a girl. She's not the best-looking girl we've
ever seen, but after 36 hours in a nasty van with four other
guys, she is a slice of heaven. We immediately decide to
stay and drink. If we can't play like rock stars, we can
at least party like rock stars.
Contrary to images of partying with rock stars, this evening
of debauchery involves sitting on a front porch in Adirondack
chairs drinking $1 buds with seven other guys. Things go
downhill later when Drew and I find friends of John's, quickly
become inebriated, and help this girl play Scrabble, which
pisses off her boyfriend.
Drew and I leave for the bar next door to find Damien sloshed
and Aaron, their Gypsy singer, grinning from the shadows.
There's no one else. Tivoli is dead, my friends. But we're
not letting that get to us. Damn the torpedoes. We are rock
stars on tour. (Well, not exactly on tour. And if we were
rock stars we probably wouldn't be in Tivoli alone, but
I digress.) Aaron begins ordering me Dirty Gypsies, which
are apparently a combination of amaretto, lighter fluid,
vodka, and nausea-inducing toxins. I have three.
We wake up the next morning on the floor of an ex-nun's
apartment. (Don't ask.) She serves us fresh mozzarella,
prosciutto, and fresh vegetables. We politely sample the
food and then pile in the van and go to a greasy spoon and
drink unrefined oil and eat cholesterol-laden eggs and bacon.
We feel immediately better.
Then it was just two hours to New York City.
Four hours later, we roll in to Williamsburg and stop by
their studio to pick up their equipment because they have
to play a gig in like three hours. I listen to some of their
new tracks, which sound pretty damn good, but I am so tired
that I have trouble making any sort of comment except, "Yeah,
So, after 60 hours and over 800 miles on the road with
four methane-producing non-showered rockers, interspersed
with endless rain and drinking, I end up in their studio
listening to recorded tracks five minutes from my apartment.
They drop me off at my apartment where I promptly take
a long shower and crawl into bed, my dreams of living the
rock star life and re-enacting Almost Famous shattered.
The life isn't so pretty: I didn't come home with any groupies,
scars, or even SARS. I had no exciting "We nearly killed
a water buffalo and by swerving to avoid it stumbled upon
the Swedish women's ice skating team's hot tub" stories.
I wasn't arrested; not quite.
And they call themselves rock and roll stars.
Look for a new EP from the Giraffes this summer.