Well, frankly, this trip has been a real shit show.
I should have known better than to plan a tour through the central plains this time of year, but I just kept thinking back to last year and all the beautiful spring weather I encountered… forgetting that I had been traveling far south of where this tour has taken me this year. So forgive if I bitch for a little while. It’s not that this trip has been without its bright moments, but it has also been fraught with set backs, at just about every step of the way. Here we go.
The first day’s drive was gorgeous, through the rolling hills of southern New Mexico. I was heading towards Roswell, to set up shop at the Anderson Museum of Art. This museum represents the private collection of Don Anderson, the founder and benefactor of the Roswell Artist-in-Residence program, and is made up entirely of work from artists who have gone through that program. My friend Ven is currently a resident there, and so he helped connect me with the museum for some truck printing, and hosted me and the boys for the night (Run on Sentence was traveling alongside me for this first day). Fun time!
My next stop was Amarillo, Texas, and I set out on a balmy afternoon, all sunny and bright. I drove with my windows down. When I rolled into town the next day around noon, it was a dreamy 60 degrees and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I parked at Vermillion Editions, a phenomenal printmaking facility affiliated with West Texas A&M University. This place is massive – 8000 square feet housing lithography, intaglio, screenprinting and letterpress equipment, including a few of the biggest Mailänder presses I’ve ever seen. We had a great afternoon of printing and hanging out, but we kept hearing weather reports that a snowstorm was on its way in. It seemed so abstract and implausible. Sure enough, though, by 4pm the temperature had dropped about 30 degrees and the sky had clouded over.
By 5pm, once we had retired to Vermillion director Michael Raburn’s studio for happy hour, the snow had started – big fat flakes coming down fast. It was an instant blizzard. I was scheduled to speak to students at WTAMU in nearby Canyon, TX the next morning, so I decided to make tracks down to my hotel before the storm got too bad. Good thing, too, as the next morning the entire area was socked in by the second worst blizzard in Amarillo’s history. Needless to say, the campus visit was cancelled (all schools, businesses, and roads were closed), but the university was kind enough to put me up for another night at the hotel (thanks, Marcus!). I woke up the next morning to clear skies, and decided to hit the road so I wouldn’t miss any of my other gigs.
The storm had passed, but not before wreaking havoc on the entire panhandle of Texas. I had a harrowing 15-mile drive from Canyon back up to I-40 on a state highway that had been partially cleared. There were abandoned cars littered off the sides of the highway, and the road itself had huge piles of crusty snow creating channels that your tires kind of sank into like a slot car, but without the logic of a slot car track. It was scary. I-40 was closed due to ice, and cars and trucks were starting to pile up for miles on the highway and the on/off ramps. I exited just in time to avoid too much of a back up, and camped out at a truck stop with a bunch of big rigs for awhile, awaiting any news of the highway reopening.
There was no news for hours, and when the highway finally reopened, there was traffic backed up for MILES and cars were still skidding off the road. The truck stops and gas stations were out of gas. I made an executive decision, bought a 6-pack of beer, and checked into one of the last rooms available at a nearby motel to wait it out another night. I made the right call – for the next few hours, I could hear sirens up and down the highway, coming to the aid of impatient and over-confident motorists.
So it was the right thing to do, but it meant that I was now two days behind schedule and had to cancel events in Tulsa, Springfield, and Columbia, MO. This was a big bummer, not only because I had been looking forward to those gigs, but also because it meant I had to make the drive from Amarillo to Columbia without ever getting PAID. At 8mpg, that 730 mile drive was an expensive one.
Even though I had to cancel my first workshop in Columbia, MO, I was still able to get there in time for the first day of the True/False Film Fest! This is an amazing documentary film fest that I’ve been going to for the past five years. I first started going as the Run on Sentence “merch girl” a few years back, since Dustin and the band play music at the festival. Being the merch girl, I got an honorary musician pass and got to see some movies for free and go to all the fun parties. One of the (many) great things about True/False, apart from the stellar film programming, is all the art and music programming that also goes on around town as part of the festival. And so last year, I decided to actually participate in the festival, and I brought the truck. It was a ton of fun, and I knew I wanted to go back again with the truck this year. So I did. My parking spot this time around was less than ideal (in a parking lot behind one of the venues) and so it took until the last day of the fest for people to actually find me back there. This was pretty frustrating, and it was freezing cold and someone ran over my extension cord so my heater stopped working but, despite all that, the festival was still really fun.
I was able to reschedule my visit to Drury University in Springfield for the following week, so I headed down there and worked with some really great students for the afternoon, and even got to participate in my first ever tornado drill! After that, it was a really windy drive up to Kansas City for a couple days of Rn’R at Dustin’s parents house. Things were starting to get back on track with this whole tour, and I was feeling more relaxed. But that didn’t last too long, and it was here that I started to get sick.
It seemed like I was going to keep it at bay, but then I drove up to Lincoln, Nebraska for a truck event at Porridge Papers. We had a really fun night – this was my second visit to Porridge Papers (first time was way back in August 2011) and this time Dustin played some music and all of his Nebraska kinfolk came out, which was hilarious. But, pro tip: hanging out in a truck in the cold all night is not a way to feel better when you’re starting to feel sick. I woke up the next morning feeling like a corpse and began to dread the long drive ahead to Rapid City, South Dakota. Fortunately, I had three days to get there and could break it up into shorter chunks. I was only about 3 hours into it when I saw this:
*sigh* I stopped for the night, got myself a hotel room, took some NyQuil and watched the blizzard roll in from the west. In the morning, the snow and wind were still raging, so I stayed in bed all day and convalesced – I knew this would mean a looong drive the next day, but at least I had this extra day to sleep and shake off the ill. I hit the road in the morning and headed northwest, through the Sand Hills of central Nebraska. This is a gorgeous landscape, the sky and roads were clear, and I was feeling quite a bit better. Until…
Look at a map, find the emptiest part of Nebraska, and that’s where I broke down. I was about 30 miles from any town, and I wasn’t really sure what had gone wrong. It didn’t feel like I’d run out of gas (my gas gauge is broken so, even though I keep track of my mileage, I’m never totally sure how much gas I’ve got in there), and the engine had thankfully never died on me before, so I didn’t have a reference point for what that might feel like. I was out of range for the GPS on my phone, so I used my one bar of reception to text Dustin and have him look up the closest repair/towing company. About an hour later, a truck showed up, checked things out, poured in 5 gallons of gas for good measure and the Type Truck started right up. I was relieved, and also felt like a huge idiot. Backtracked 30 miles to top off the rest of the tank, dropped $250 for the gas and roadside assist, and then continued my endless march onward.
I rolled into Rapid City around 11pm, checked myself into the hotel that my hosts, AAF Black Hills, so graciously arranged for me, and enjoyed a complimentary drink at the hotel bar. I slept like a queen and, in the morning, I headed over to the Dahl Art Center to sound check for my lunchtime presentation. It was a great crowd, and it felt good to lean heavily on a little comic relief while talking about my recent travels. It was all I could do to shake off the accumulated frustration of the previous three weeks. From here, things really started looking up. It seemed as though all the snow was behind me, benevolent skies ahead. I was feeling better, and was determined to have the last week of tour improve dramatically. After my presentation, I had a chance to wander around Rapid City, stretch my legs, eat a salad (GREENS!), and then meet my host Jason and a friend for dinner and drinks. I had decided to stay another night, since I didn’t have to be in Laramie until the following evening. It was a good call.
The next day’s drive through the Black Hills was gorgeous, and reminded me why I got myself into these situations in the first place. It was sunny, 60 degrees, and all back roads for six hours. Bliss. It completely recharged my batteries and reset my expectations and hopes for the rest of the trip. I rolled into Laramie feeling rejuvenated and ready to share my story without the film of defeat that I fear was still lingering during my presentation in Rapid City. I was presenting at the University of Wyoming, and met some of the most curious, motivated, creative, and generally awesome students. This always makes my job so much easier and more meaningful – to feel like I’m having a conversation with my audience, rather than just talking at people. This bunch of students seemed especially engaged, and ready to ask questions and take chances. I spent two days in Laramie, a really lovely town. My hosts showed me the town, took me out to eat, and made me feel really welcome. And the weather was unbeatable.
And so, on Friday morning, an unseasonably warm day, I hit the road to Boulder to get set up at FACTORYmade, an amazing multidisciplinary creative lab/design space. It’s part retail, part gallery, part workshop, part design studio, and all awesome. They were hosting an exhibit of really impressive student furniture design from the University of Colorado Green Tech program, and invited me to take part in the evening’s festivities. Big thanks to Sam and Alison who helped coordinate and get me involved in the event!
And then Denver. I set up at two branches of the public library. It was considerably colder and grayer than it had been the day before, but we still got a pretty good turn out between both locations. It was mostly kids, and I was amazed by A) how active the libraries were on a Saturday morning and B) how fearless the kids were about just walking into the truck. I feel like most people, especially kids, are usually pretty cautious about coming into the truck – as well they should be! Aren’t we all taught NOT to get into a stranger’s vehicle?! But these kids – while certainly not reckless – were also not afraid, and instead they came right in, ready to make a print and try something new. My lovely hosts treated me to a huge Mexican lunch feast before I shoved off and hit the road again.
I had a phenomenal drive south from Denver, on back roads through the mountains to Taos, New Mexico. And so now I’m decompressing for a day or two in Santa Fe, catching up with my family, before heading home tomorrow. This tour may have started off (and continued) on the wrong foot, but it turned around. That’s the beauty of traveling and remaining open. There are new adventures up around every turn. So what’s next? Less travel, more work. Still printing, all the time. I’ll be getting ready for the National Stationery Show in May, trying to pick the business back up out of the ashes. My eternal quest. More travels to come, I’m sure, just not quite sure what that will look like, or when that will be. I’ll keep you posted. As always, THANKS for joining me on this adventure! I wish I could afford this jacket: