About thirty miles out of Lincoln, I called Josh Hoyer. The reception was lousy, so the ensuing communication was a combination of half finished phone conversations and text messages. He guided me to the Super 8 Motel, where a room was reserved.
Since I was there a day early, I'd agreed to pay for the room the first night. The Zoo Bar would pick up the tab for the second night.
The parking lot was almost totally covered with ice. I wasn't confident about the van's ability to deal with that. The last van I owned was a Ford Aerostar, and when you got it in snow and ice, you might as well be steering a snow saucer. I slid all over Park City, Utah in it once while on the way back to a motel from a gig, and another time slid sideways into a motel parking lot in Williams, Arizona, after having been caught in a storm on Interstate 40.
I parked and entered the lobby to check in. The college-aged young man behind the desk was nice, if a bit abrupt. Hey, I wouldn't want to be working the night shift at the Super 8 Motel either.
I found a relatively ice-free parking spot near my room, and lugged my stuff up. Anvil guitar case, suit case, etc. I turned on the television. It said it was one degree outside. I dunno. Maybe I'd morphed into a wuss. But one degree Fahrenheit somehow seemed unreasonably cold.
I called Josh to tell him I'd arrived safely. He said to let him know if I wanted to check out some places around town later. I took a hot shower. Watched a little television. Called him back. Told him I thought I'd just hang around the room tonight. Thanks anyway. He totally understood. Truth was, I don't think a bomb scare would've gotten me to go out. One frickin' degree.
I ordered a pizza. Ate half, and saved the other in the fridge for breakfast.
The next morning there was ice on the motel room window. But the sky was clear. The projected high temperature was twelve degrees. I took my time getting dressed. I made a pact that I wasn't going anywhere until the ice on the window, which was right under the heater, melted a little.
About 10:30 I could see out the window. Kind of. The van was dutifully sitting in the parking lot below. I felt bad for it. I didn't know if it would even start. I imagined it to be just a frozen hulk of steel.
I had to get a battery for the pick-up in one of the guitars. Which meant, of course, a trip to the heart of America. Or the spleen. I had to go to Wal-Mart.
So I walked out to my frozen van. Got in. Turned the ignition key... and it started right up. I put a piece of brick in front of the tire, that I carry for just these occasions, so it doesn't roll when I put it into neutral. Did I mention the handbrake doesn't work?
I went back into the room for ten minutes or so, letting the engine idle and the heater run.
I braced myself for a trip through Lincoln, not knowing what to expect. I drove gingerly through the parking lot, gunning it a little on the ice to see what happened. The traction was great.
I made a right hand turn onto the main street, went over a bridge, and into downtown. You could see it was a train town, a real town that got down to work. Chock full of old brick buildings. With plenty of bars to drink in after you were done. Best of all, the streets were clear of ice and snow. Turns out they know how to deal with winter in Lincoln, Nebraska. Go figure.
Wal-Mart was... well, Wal-Mart. First, I accidentally walked into Sam's Club. Oooooh. Big mistake. Because I didn't have the handy dandy extra special Sam's Club card. So I wasn't actually allowed in there. Soooooo sorrrrrrry. After being lightly reprimanded by a security person, I went into Wal-Mart proper. And found the correct battery. And also bought a couple of avocados for lunch. Can you imagine? Ripe avocados in Wal-Mart in Nebraska in the winter? What a country.
I drove back to the motel. Inserted the battery into the guitar pick-up, and re-installed said pick-up into the guitar. And ate the avocados.
I called Josh. He had set up a radio interview at the local public broadcast station that afternoon. We decided to meet up at The Zoo Bar first.
Did you ever have a dream about some place before you actually went there? That happened once with the Roxy Theater in Hollywood. I had a dream that I was in this place, and John Lennon was sitting at a table. He didn't acknowledge me or anything, I just kind of walked by and John Lennon was sitting with some other people. The Roxy has this kind of terraced interior. And the first time I went in there, I recognized it right away from that dream. I had a dream about Peter Sellers one time, too. After he was dead. It was in Musso and Frank's Grill. But I'd been in there before, so I recognized it. Anyway, Peter Sellers is walking toward the men's room, and I make some comment, and he laughs. And he comes over, and has this tray with different colored ribbons on it. And he puts the tray in front of me, and tells me to pick one. And I do. I can't swear to it, but I think I picked a royal blue one. He smiles, tells me to keep it, then walks away.
I could go on with this kind of nonsense, but I had a dream before I left California about this place that looked a whole lot like The Zoo Bar. But after I woke up I figured it was in Louisiana or Mississippi or some place like that. Just because it's got that vibe to it. A long shotgun style building, old and musty and full of good juju.
Josh got a vodka tonic. I had a Diet Coke. I met the owner, who was real nice. He thanked me for coming. They had posters advertising the show that night up on the front window. I checked out the stage setup. And then we finished our drinks and headed over to the radio station.
It was in an old historical building, up several floors. There was a panoramic view of downtown. Josh is talkin' to the receptionist for awhile, and then we walk over to the booth where the disc jockey is. He's got some Delta blues goin'. He steps out of the booth. We introduce ourselves. He says oh man, I totally forgot you were coming... I'm doing this whole show on Mississippi blues today. I tell him don't worry about it... I've showed up for interviews before where the disc jockey forgot I was coming. He says yeah, well maybe, but I don't do that. He feels really bad. Then he explains how this is his last show. And he just found out. So now he's got to go back to driving a truck. And now I feel bad for him. And he says man I don't know what to do, because you're here with your guitar, but I've got this show going that's all Mississippi blues. And I say hey, how about I do a couple of Robert Johnson songs? Cuz last I checked Robert Johnson was from Mississippi. He laughs. So we set up the microphone, and then he interviews me a little, and then I do these Robert Johnson songs. And then he winds up his radio show, and he thanks us for stopping by, and I tell him it's an honor to be on his last broadcast.
It was, too.