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Not Quite So Famous: Too Hard for Canada
(or We Should Have Brought Drugs)
By Grant Moser

The Cast: The Giraffes (Aaron, Damien, John, and Drew)
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.

Scene I:
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.)

Scene II:
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 into Canada.

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 crossing.

"Couldn't get in huh?"


"Anyone else here have a record?"


"Okay, go ahead."

And that's America.

Scene III:
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 can't help."

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.

Scene IV:
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, that's good."

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.


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[email protected] | July 2003 | Issue 40
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