Monday, April 18, 2011

Depots, Hubs, and Automobiles: Our Train Trip to See Railroad Earth @ The Pageant, St. Louis, MO, 04/15/11

It was 4:07 p.m. when our Amtrak Missouri River Runner pulled out of the St. Louis station, and as I’d been reflecting all day on last night’s Railroad Earth show at The Pageant, I’ve finally decided that it’s impossible, on this particular occasion, to separate the musical performance from the entire adventure.

A mere couple of weeks after assembling this post, I discovered that the band would be in Omaha on March 28, and in St. Louis on the evening of April 15th. The wife, ever-intelligent, swiftly solved the which-show-to-see dilemma I’d made into a monster with a quick-fire question: “What night of the week do they fall on?”

Ah, I thought. How logical. St. Louis it was to be.

So it was decided, and the busy weeks between now and then caught up with us. It was suddenly Monday and we’d done little more than call the venue twice to check on ticket sales, and get a feel for what navigating the evening with a four-month old might look like.

At some point, it sort of simultaneously occurred to the both of us that it could be a perfect arrangement –- and a hoot -– to take the train. With that much decided, the wife, in rapid-fire fashion, acquired train tickets, and booked us a hotel room. I was to research, purchase the right noise-reduction protective headphones for our baby, and check in with the venue again regarding tickets, prices, etc.

So, I read up on things like what the environmental noise rate is, and what certain events register at in decibels, and I kept thinking about that display they put up on TV in certain football games where the crowd noise supposedly falls somewhere in between a jet engine and an atomic bomb. It turns out, though, that headphones are something that will deliver sound to your ear pieces. Earmuffs were what we wanted, but I never thought to call them earmuffs because earmuffs are what you wear when you’re ice fishing in Canada, right?

I narrowed my earmuffs down to two different selections –- in case you’re interested, I went for the Pelzors over the BabyBanz –- and, like many other parent-related experiences I’ve had in the last 16 weeks, products, practices, and philosophies of the child-rearing nature, are completely sexist. Yeah, I know. I was, and continue to be, surprised, too. But if you want to try a car seat out, expect the literature to say, Mom –- ours is the safest! Shopping for a crib? Brand X is safe and so easy to assemble that any mother with only a few tools in her recipe box can handle the job, while breast-feeding. Wanna wear your kid in a wrap? I’d tell you that I use and recommend one in particular, but it irritates me that the brand name is a hybrid of the word mother and baby. You doing cloth diapers? Awesome. Great stuff. Don’t expect that your local distributor will be expecting dads to participate in anything diaper-related. Whenever they’re hosting a diaper swap, or announcing a new line, or looking for a blogger, it’s mom, mom, mom, mom, mom. And don’t even get me started on birthing and breast-feeding. That stuff’s completely sexist.

But, you know what? I don’t stand watch for these people to slip up, and then over-publicize the stuff until someone’s fired. I don’t start Facebook groups suggesting that you join me in banning products x, y, and z. And I certainly don’t generate any anti-hype on Twitter. Too much negativity out there as it is.

So, I’ve got several Web pages open, and I’m juggling the office phone and the cell, calling around looking for the pink Pelzor earmuffs. And here’s the thing: Nobody carries any kind of noise-reduction earmuff in stock. Nobody.

A little panic sets in, and this is totally normal for me. Actually, what sticks in my spokes usually look like are this: Frustration, panic, apathy, discussion of frustration, panic, and apathy, and then anger over the fact that I became frustrated, panicked, and wound up apathetic. Finally, I suffer the consequences of my cycle and walk around with my martyr hat on, explaining to those kind enough to listen how I wound up in the situation I’m in. But I’m irritated that these earmuffs aren’t available locally, and I begin to try and picture all of the different humans in the shipping business I must now depend on to get me my Pelzors by the time our River Runner rolls out at 8:15 a.m. Friday morning. And that’ll be the absolute end of the line because if the earmuffs aren’t in stores in Kansas City, I doubt St. Louis is going to have them, and even if they do, we’d have to shell out cab fare to get there.

A little more about that abundant negativity, though: I have this feeling about buying music and the way that the Internet has changed everything. Many times, I discover an artist, or find myself with a chunk of time to run out and buy an album by an artist, and it’s physically not possible for me to do it. I mean, the primary problem is that I just don’t have a flush bank account, and an unlimited access to leisure spending, so if I could fix that situation, then there’d be no issue. But if that were the case, I wouldn’t have this little paragraph to offer you, and besides -– it’s just easier to get my brow and my guts wrinkled in frustration so that I then have to take a Tums to ease the panic, drink to forget the apathy, and then talk about my crisis once I’m tanked.

Obviously, if I had money, I’d just download the thing on iTunes and be on my way. But you know, I don’t always want an electronic version of it. Maybe my iPod shot craps (Editor’s Note: It’s happened. Funny story there, too.), and I don’t feel like sitting at my computer to listen to music. Maybe I happen to have been given a nice, crisp 20-spot from the wife, but told not to use the debit card. Frankly, I’m far too lazy to drive to the bank to deposit my $20 just so I can drive back home and spend it. And the reality of it is that I like going to record stores. I love the process of shopping for music. I get my rocks off taking a gamble on an unheard-of and having it be awesome.

You know where I’m going with this, though, don’t you? Maybe you don’t. Maybe your city is big enough that it can still have a variety of music stores in business. Mine is not. No, the Sam Goody’s and the Musiclands have left the malls, and frankly, the multi-story Virgin stores were never here in the first place. No, it’s mostly been smaller chains and mom-and-pop types of joints, and even the long-tenured Streetside Records closed its doors the other day. Sad, sad times. What’s left are stores like Vintage Stock, which are cool if you’re looking for a Sammy Winder bobblehead (Note: See that Broncos fans? I just threw you a bone? I could’ve gone Barry Word, but I’m trying to be positive, so appreciate it. Clowns.), or maybe you’re geeked up about Scre4m and you wanna get the movie posters for the first three movies. Could be that you just dusted off the Sega Genesis in the basement and you’re havin’ the boys over for a Mortal Kombat (Note: Dibs on Rayden.) tournament.

Vintage Stock is great for all of those things, and they have a ton more: movies, baseball cards, memorabilia, and yeah – they even have a healthy collection of CDs. You know what they don’t have, though?

Nope. They are fresh out of the CD you’re looking for. The one that’s creating that acidy feeling on the back of your tongue because you have to have it today. Here’s where you get phases two and three of the triple-whammy letdown boxed across your cheeks. They’ll go to the computer, and you know what they’re going to do, and you can already feel your brain running through the motions with them. You think, I drove all the way out to your Iowa branch. No chance I can make it to your Utah location and be home in time to get ready for the party. Zero chance. An impossibility. But Sally goes over to the computer, and her fingers start pecking the keyboard as the words, “Let me check for you and see if any of our other stores have it” fall from her lips like she’s the character in an action film that screams the slow-motion “Nooooo” just as a loved one is shot 37 times in the torso.

While I have you, think about that scene for just a second. Thirty-seven times. And the shooting victim always lasts long enough to reminisce about that one summer where they all ran away from home and formed that band and lived off of s’mores and comradery and how they wouldn’t trade that summer for anything. And then the “Nooooo” friend has his turn to return the sentiment, but instead watches his friend die before he can mutter one syllable. I do not think that this is the way that things go down. I try to picture this as a real-life scenario, and I’m capable of doing so from both perspectives.

In real life, if I were shot, things would be different. Not only am I certain of this, but I’m certain of it, regardless of whether I get shot 37 times or once, whether I get shot in the chest or in the little toe. Either way, the scene would look like this: I get shot, vomit, soil myself, weep for six seconds about the frailty of life and that which I did not accomplish, then die. And if things were the other way around, and I’d just watched a friend or love one get shot, it would look a little different: My friend gets shot, I vomit, soil myself, weep for six seconds about the frailty of life and that which I have not accomplished, then pass out.

But anyway, Sally is looking on the computer. You know you can’t make it to the other store, but you’re thinking about that secret, undiscovered route, that sequence of streets paved with glistening, golden time where no driver in front of you goes seven miles-per-hour under the speed limit, where all of the traffic lights are as green as an overripe pear, that path that has never yet felt the rays of a law enforcement radar gun wilt the blades of its hillsides. You can picture it. So distinct you even envision yourself whisking past a billboard that reads, “Plenty of time!” in bright orange letters, and you can feel the warmth of the afternoon sun on your neck, the breeze coming in through the windows, and all of it, the stability of the scenery, the record store in the near distance, your waving family members happily greeting you from the porch as you turn into the driveway, your car still plastered with the smell of molested shrink wrap, suddenly uproots, swirls, and vanishes with a gurgle, down the stool of reality as Sally begins to shake her head, also in slow motion.

She turns to face you. You know what’s next. You feel your heart rate rise, and a few beads of anxious sweat begin to form on your upper lip. The front door. You can’t spot it fast enough. You’re suddenly overwhelmed by the thought of every second you waste by continuing to stand there, and those that you already cashed in by making the trip out there. It’s too late. You know the words will pelt your ear in any instant. The weight of defeat crushes your rib cage as if Sally were British Bulldog Kid Dynamite herself and she’d just power slammed you from the top turnbuckle. You’re waving hands of submission to the ref, but he doesn’t see you. There’s no forfeiting now. You. Will lose.

“I can order it for you,” she says.

“Oh,” you start with a pause. “No. I, uh…I’ll just…Thanks.” You turn, and briskly exit as if you’d just asked her to the prom, via microphone, from the stage in the cafeteria, and before the entire school.

So here we are again with another example of how the Internet has changed everything. You can learn all of the information you want about a product, competitively shop for it, have it shipped directly to your house, and write a review once you’ve used it. But you can’t have it today.

Naturally, we’re supposed to take the good with the bad, which reminds me: I’ve been trying to omit two things from my posts of late, and those things are negativity and profanity. A few months ago, Jason Whitlock lost his mind over the Jay Cutler/NFC Championship Game, and Charlie Sheened his way through all of the media outlets to make sure his voice was heard. And he sounded like a lost sheep, trying to bleat his career-challenged self back to the herd. It was bad.

Or take your pick of the myriad female sports journalists that have had bad encounters in their field over the past year, or better yet, they’ve had them across their whole career, but maybe only the most recent one became public. I wanted to write about all of that, too. Either topic, though, would’ve resulted in a post with a negative theme, so I opted not to. I’m fairly passionate about both of those topics, though, and I’m also a pretty opinionated person, so chances are, I would’ve gotten on a good cursing bender, and not stopped until it was too late. I’m glad I didn’t do either.

But I’m sitting there, already having sighed out of frustration, paced to calm my panic, checked out of work for the day, and feeling mad about the fact that my wife is frequently unavailable to take a phone call at work. Because of some pink Pelzor earmuffs. I decide to proceed with the online order, and the cycle immediately starts again once I put the Pelzors in my cart, and peruse my shipping options at the end of the checkout stage. For seven dollars, I can choose 3-5 days. I can guarantee their arrival in 1-2, but it will cost me $27.65. Drowning in my second round of apathy, I text the wife. She responds with a phone call, goes through the same procedure I just had, but with me on the phone, and says she’ll handle it.

A little while later I get a text from her saying that she ordered them, that she went the seven-dollar route, that they will get here in time, that I need to send out some positive energy so that they will.

Suddenly it occurs to me that maybe all of the sexist peddlers of baby paraphernalia are onto something, that maybe us dads should just sit back and do as we’re told.


Anyway, I did manage to call the venue, find out that tickets were cheaper if you paid cash at the box office, that it didn’t look like they were in any danger of selling out. And I actually did pack (mostly) the night before we left. But when the reality settled in that an online purchase had to be the way to go if I wanted my baby wearing pink Pelzors Friday night, I had two thoughts: 1) I really want to put my fist through this monitor, and 2) Fuck.

The wife and I decided some time ago that since we were grown-ups now, i.e. we got married, don’t have bill-collections phone calls to dodge, seldom kill an entire day trying to recover from the previous night, and are also now responsible for the safety and care of another human being’s life, that we should have one goal in life that we strive to attain, and that’s not to be late for stuff when we travel.

Here’s another little nugget regarding dysfunction in my life: At some point, probably in my late 20s, it occurred to me that I had developed this habit of going out the night before I had to catch a flight. And at some point, it occurred to me that, on said nights, I would not have two beers and an order of nachos, or a few beers over the course of a game on TV. Rather, I would handle the day’s business (except packing of course), and go out for several hours, having somewhere in the neighborhood of about 10 drinks. It’s a fascinating pattern of behavior, one with what I imagine to be some significant psychological theory attached to it, like, I’m deathly afraid of flying, or I’m loathing this trip, or I’m stressed because I had a lot to get done before leaving town, and that which I did not get to will haunt me the whole time I’m gone.

Funny part is, I’ve noticed that I’ve done it on nights before road trips, on evenings prior to trips I’m really looking forward to, and after a week in which I didn’t leave any project half-done, so who knows. Either way, one of two results is certain to occur every time I travel: 1) I feel like complete garbage, and wind up forgetting to pack something really important, like, say sunscreen for my trip to Mexico, or the tickets for my trip to the away game in Denver, or, and this was a real good one, my suitcase full of clothes for my trip back home; 2) I miss my flight.

The second part isn’t worth getting into, but know that I’ve, on many, many occasions, either been nauseous upon arrival at my destination, or gotten to said destination at a time later than intended. And frankly, option two is much, much better, even if you have a bridesmaid pissed off at you for missing the rehearsal dinner, or dad had to make two trips to the airport because there is nothing worse than being hungover and going through the arduous, ice-pick-to-the-eardrum process of TSA. And those jerks just swell with power, don’t they? This is why you’ll never hear of someone going postal at a TSA checkpoint or officer.

I mean, I’ve been in some seriously slow post offices with some seemingly intentionally slow, lethargic postal workers, and I’ve wanted to scream at both them and their customers, but I maintain my composure because I’m not that insane. But I can see where some have snapped, and at the end of the day, they’ve decided that their rage outweighs the need to ship that particular letter or package at that particular moment. At the airport, though, that chartered flight on that particular air bus might not be available in a few hours. Or tomorrow. But those creeps know what’s up. They know the look on your face. That look of panic that says, If you don’t pick up the snail’s pace with which you’re using to investigate the number of teeth in my comb, that plane, right outside that window right there, will leave without me. You have the power to not let that happen, should you choose to exercise it.

I’ve not ever met anyone that deals well with the one-two combo of stress and hangover, but I don’t suppose I’ve ever really asked, either. I’ve always thought, though, that sprinting to your gate, bags in hand (Note: Who can afford to check luggage anymore?), and trying to catch your breath while taking off your shoes, belt, emptying your pocket, pulling laptops out, and sending bagged liquids and gels in tubs through a scanner, all while stressing about missing your flight might be the worst modern experience available to those of us stubborn enough to never, ever plan anything in advance.

Turns out I was wrong.

You can, adult plan implemented, stay in the previous evening and you can pack. You can wake up with sufficient time to get yourself ready and out the door, but I am here to tell you that whatever amount of time you set aside to get you, your wife, and your baby ready to get out the door -- add an hour. You won’t regret it.

Friday morning might’ve been one of the worst travel experiences I’ve ever had. By the time we got in the car to drive to the train station, we were supposed to be at the train station. And it was raining. In case you’re unaware of these two predicaments, allow me: 1) The train station wants you there a half-hour prior to departure, and earlier at busier depots; 2) When it rains in Kansas City, people drive as if they have never been on a mountain before, they’ve just been given an overwaxed set of sharp skis, no poles, and shoved off the lift on a double-black diamond run.

On the 25-minute drive to the train station, very little is said, and what is said refers, mutteringly, to which lane I should be in and whether or not I was trying to get in it. We’ve not taken a train out of Kansas City in years, so we’re unsure about where to park, what entrance to Union Station we use, and what the check-in process will look like. When we approach, we ignore our better judgment and wind up having to set through two extra sets of traffic lights to get back to the spot we were just in, and when we get there, the wife grabs the baby in her car seat, which she puts into the stroller, and sets a shoulder bag on top of that. We have a B-o-b, which is a monster, off-road sort of stroller, so they run. No problem.

I park, and get significantly wet trying to get my rain jacket on. It’s now pouring. I’m wearing flip flops and my baseball hat is packed. When she got out of the car, I was roughly aware of what my totes would consist of, but didn’t process it because my entire brain was occupied with the idea of missing the train, and the idea that we’d put ourselves in this situation. But now is when the reality sets in: I’m in charge of the suitcase with all of our clothes in it, the shoulder bag with all of the electronics in it, my armful of knick-knacky things like the morning paper, my coffee, etc., and the pack-n-play.

By the time I get everything situated, I am soaked. I have arguably the most cumbersome travel load I’ve ever carried, I am really late, and I’m in flip flops. I run, drenching my pants with every splashy step until I get to the sets of front doors. These doors are very narrow, very heavy, and very locked, except for the one on the end. I was not quick to discover that last part. I manage, with significant effort, to pull off some clumsy sequence of tackling-dummy drills to get through each door, and as I step inside, I am certain my lungs are going to pop. Beneath my sopping rain coat, I feel my phone buzz in the breast pocket of my shirt.

God, I think. I really hope that’s not the wife. Whatever she might have to say to me now that’s not good news certainly cannot wait for me to reach the train.

I empty my burning hands and arms of their load and retrieve my phone. Of course, it is her. I look around. The ceilings in Union Station are probably 65-feet high. The foyer stretches in three directions for roughly 10 football fields. Or at least it seems so this early with no one, save two men chatting in front of me, in here this early. I know precisely where entrance to the train station is, but my eyes are still swollen with panic, and I cannot locate it. I look at the two men. They’ve finished their conversation. One is walking briskly to the east, away from me, vanishing into the shadowy empty morning of the dry inside. The other walks north, at a slow pace, toward the center of the vast open room. I missed my shot at asking for help. I open the phone. I am hopeful that there, as she is want to occasionally do, is a detailed, fool-proof set of directions that will take me directly to the seats adjacent to her and the baby on the train. In this scenario, I will not have to speak with anybody, produce any tickets, identification, or money. I will just sit, and try to enjoy what’s left of my coffee, the majority of it long since sloshed on my clothes. Instead, I see her one-word message: Run.

And it was in that fleeting moment, that I longed to be hungover, cursing a TSA under my breath.

Well, not really, but what a start, (Note: Yes, the headphones did come.)

and precisely 10 seconds after I'd stepped onto the train, it began moving. It took two trips up and down the train steps to bring in my load, and once permanently inside, I was informed by the conductor that our gear was sprawled across three different cars. In that moment, I hadn't considered what I must look like, but the first seat I walked past had two ladies in it. One turned to the other and whispered, "This reminds me of that scene from Home Alone. Hearing that gave me a pretty good idea.

Some six hours later, we de-trained, and several minutes later, a taxi dropped us off at the Drury Inn. We got checked in, the wife did a little bit of strange shopping across the street, and I hung with the baby in the room, where we most certainly did not try to watch any television or YouTube videos. These things, you see, are not good for infants. Mama got back in time to allow me to grab a 15-minute nap, even though she once demanded from me the answer to, "What 30-something naps?" The answer, of course, would be the 30-something that stays up ‘til 1:30 in the morning writing about Aerosmith debates.

The nap, however, was huge, and the three of us strolled over to the MetroLink, and caught the westbound blue line to the Delmar Loop and hoofed it over to The Pageant.

We purchased two tickets, and were about to enter when questioned by the sales representative if we had a ticket for our baby. This was troubling. We’d waited to purchase tickets in person to avoid the fees and surcharges, and I had had several conversations with Pageant employees about bringing a baby into the venue, and was reassured that an infant would not need a ticket. I conveyed this to the representative who said he’d need to clear it with his manager, who was a guy sitting at a computer behind him.

This manager got up, and went somewhere, presumably to come around and speak with us. Twenty minutes later, the representative told us that they were “still checking into the matter.”

Now, I’m not an expert in the ticket-sales industry, but it seems like there should be clear-cut rules for this sort of thing, and that your employees should be aware of said rules. And for the representative himself, why would we be purchasing tickets for ourselves, in person, and already have one for the baby? Regardless, we waited, and people kept coming in and out of the tiny sales nook, many of whom were either on the guest list for Railroad Earth, or for opening act, The Greencards. At one point, two young ladies came in, announced that they only needed two of the three reserved for them, and the fox-like wife, piped up: “Oh, can we have your third for our baby?”

The young ladies were ecstatic about giving it to us. Problem solved. So we exit the nook, and enter, only to be intercepted by the vanishing manager. I’m not including this bit to bag on The Pageant. I’m really not. The venue was nice, clean, well-staffed, and had all of the appropriate amenities, but this was the kicker. The manager had two things to accomplish during our brief exchange: Inform us of the favor he was doing our family, and repeatedly adjust his waist-length pony tail. Listening was added at the end, but not prioritized. Our exchange went a little something like this:

Pony-tailed manager: “I apologize for the confusion, but I just want to let you know that I’m waiving the minor surcharge for you this evening.”

The wife: “Oh, we actually have a ticket for our 16-week-old baby now, so we don’t need you to do that.”

PTM: “I’m referring to the minor surcharge (points to the part of the ticket that says $2 minor surcharge>), and I just want to let you know that I’m waiving that for you this evening.”

Me: “What I don’t understand is this: I called down here three times before we traveled here specifically to see this show. In each phone call, discussions regarding having a baby occurred, and I was led to believe there would be no cost for an infant to enter. Now that we’re here, we’re told the infant has to have a ticket and there’s a surcharge?”

PTM: “Correct, and I apologize for the misunderstanding.”

Me: “Well, we waited to buy tickets to avoid fees and surcharges, and it might have been helpful, during multiple conversations about bringing a baby to the venue and avoiding surcharges by paying cash, that there is a surcharge for a baby.”

PTM: “I understand, but I’m waiving the surcharge for you this evening, and we’re trying to get to the bottom of this.” (begins to walk away)

Me: “All three conversations were with females, and they were all friendly and helpful. The most-recent conversation was during the Mumford & Sons pre-sale, where there were some glitches happening.”

PTM: (turns back, adjusts pony tail) “During Mumford & Sons?”

Me: “During the pre-sale.”

PTM: “I appreciate that.” (walks away)

The exchange itself was harmless, but the underlying concept was extremely annoying. Our baby was in a wrap, where she’d remain for the duration of the show, not taking up any real estate, not listening/viewing the show. The phrase “milking it” came to mind, as did the Leo/drive-thru scene (NSFW) from “Lethal Weapon III”.

We found a great spot to set up camp inside, and enjoyed a Schlafly (Note: When in Rome…) while we sat and listened to The Greencards, who were quite enjoyable, and, as an added bonus, they have a cute little Australian bass player.

What I enjoyed about them, in addition to their music, was that they were prompt with start/stop times, and they added the perfect amount of crowd conversation. The same could be said about the headliners.

Railroad Earth took the stage right on time and right after we’d switched from Schlafly to the hoptastic Ranger from New Belgium. We’ll get into the details in a moment, but I think now is an appropriate time to mention that, at the conclusion of Set I,

“Bird in a House,” “Happy Song,” “Mighty River,” “Storms,” “Seven Story Mountain,” “1759,” “Water Fountain Quicksand,” “The Jupiter & the 119,”

the wife turned to me, and said,” Wow. That was so awesome, I could leave now.”

I’ve often discussed –- on a few blogs, and on Twitter -– the notion of having expectations when entering a show, and my definition of that notion goes like this: Don’t have them. It took me a long time to get to that point, because for years, regardless of who I was seeing, I always had that hope-they-play approach to favorite songs, covers, and, (Note: I do not like this term, but I’m using it.) “bust-outs,” and the result is almost always one of disappointment. Even if it’s a stellar performance from your favorite band, entering a venue with particular-song expectations will typically let you down. So I haven’t done that for some time, and this evening was no exception.

That said, we’d just acquired Bird in the House (2002), The Good Life (2004), and Amen Corner (2008), and I played a fun little game with my wife, who happens to absolutely adore birds. Okay, she adores chickens, but she loves birds. In said game, I lined up those album titles in reverse order, and said (knowing the answer), “Which title do you like best: this one, this one, or this one?”

Naturally, when I showed her the Bird in the House title, she chuckled and selected it as her favorite. There were two things I wanted to tell her about that title, but refrained until after we’d returned home from our journey: 1) I really dig the title track to Bird in the House, but I try not to mention favorite albums and tracks so as not to sway the development of her own opinions, and 2) In addition to just plain being a great song with both literal and figurative lyrical themes, it reminded me of this story.

We have this cat. I do not like cats. I do not dislike cats. They are just cats. I prefer dogs.

Five years ago, however, a good friend of mine, Dave, decided to take his own life. The anniversary of his death was one week prior to our evening at The Pageant. He was a remarkable human being, and is still dearly missed. He owned two dogs and a cat. My long-time friend Matt volunteered to adopt Dave’s animals, which was obviously very noble of him to do. Logistically speaking, it was not a realistic gesture, as, at the time, he had a dog and two cats of his own. After a few days, my wife, who was my fiancée at the time, said –- and she loves to quote herself on this line -– “I have a cat door. I’ll take the cat,” when it became known that Dave’s cat was not getting along with Matt’s cats.

I loved this gesture. Even though she barely knew Dave, I thought it connected the three of us in some way that, if I tried to explain it, would probably result in me being called crunchy, or a tree hugger, neither of which would be original. We did not cohabitate at the time, but I loved seeing the cat because it reminded me of Dave, and I liked that his animals were in homes of his friends. We still have the cat, and the cat and I have a unique relationship. I have a short list of behaviors I would prefer he avoid, and mostly, he spends his days trying to get away with them, and I spend mine trying to catch him in the act. This practice drives the wife crazy, and for decent reason: The cat is no spring chicken.

He is a pretty good cat, though, and he likes going outside. We quickly learned, however, that we cannot leave any doors propped open, including the garage, because the cat is a great hunter, and he will bring his catches home -– bunnies, birds, chipmunks –- alive and in search of praise. In case you have not experienced this first hand, these are not easy-to-catch-and-release animals inside a two-bedroom house. On one occasion, he did in fact, bring home a bird (Note: I believe it was a crow –- Cacaw!) and release it in the living room. The bird was less than pleased with this particular predicament, and may or may not’ve flown like mad around the house, smacking into windows, defecating, and, much like the Railroad Earth song, “trying…to get out.”

When they opened the show with this number, I was tickled. And they nailed it.

“Happy Song” followed. I am not familiar with the tune, but I dug it. “Mighty River” was up next, and it was both solid, and apropos of our travels. Big fan. Up next was “Storms” from The Good Life, which was really moving, and the point in the evening where we, without speaking, decided that the band was not going to play anything shy of really good. At “Storms”’ conclusion, drummer Carey Harmon went into this percussive tirade that prompted me to say, “This sounds familiar” to the wife. And familiar was right: “Seven Story Mountain” is easily one of our favorite Railroad Earth tracks, and even though this rendition felt a little rushed, it was wonderful to hear. It is such a moving number, and I recommend everyone give it a musical/lyrical listen at least twice.

A track titled “1759” was next, and I’m unfamiliar with this one, but like “Happy Song,” it was great, and it’s possibly related to this song. “Water Fountain Quicksand,” from The Good Life, felt like the set closer, but we were blessed to have one final number: “The Jupiter & the 119,” which I could not possibly say more about than I already have. It too, felt a little rushed, but the experience of hearing it heavily outweighed.

At intermission, Mama took the wee one into the ladies room for a diaper change, and Daddy, doing his respectable daddy duties, smuggled some cash out of Mama’s purse in case Daddy was told prior to the close of second set to close the tab at the bar. Daddy may or may not’ve further taken advantage of this opportunity to knock back a Grape Bomb on said open tab. It could’ve been the Grape Bomb that afforded Daddy the opportunity to appreciate the perfectness of the Railroad Earth lineup:

Stage left is John Skehan on mandolin. To his right is Andy Goessling on the banjo. Front and center is Todd Sheaffer on acoustic guitar, vocals. Behind him is Harmon, and to Sheaffer’s left is Andrew Altman, who just might play the largest upright bass in the world. And at stage right, it’s Tim Carbone handling the fiddle duties. Several members play multiple instruments, but these are their primary bones, and they all contribute vocally as well. Intermission was also a good time for Daddy to get a sticker:

Set II began with some more Bird in the House, this time taking the form of “Saddle of the Sun,” which was a great second-set opener. From there, they reached back to their debut album and busted out “Colorado,” and I’ll say this about this song: It should be illegal to dislike it. Great tune.

“Lone Croft Farewell” from their most-recent, self-titled release (as is "Jupiter") came next, and they stuck with that album, following up with “Potter’s Field.” What came next was a fascinating decision time-wise. Tyler Andal (violin), and Carl Miner (guitar) from The Greencards joined the band on stage for a ditty entitled “Cuckoo Medley.” Kym Warner (aforementioned cute Aussie) donned the mandolin for a segment of the jam, or at least that’s what and the earthboard said. I thought she was off-stage-right for a chunk of the jam,

stomping her foot in a boogie, then came out and rubbed her buns up against somebody while playing her bass, but that could’ve been the Jager shot –- Jager shot? Where’d you come from? –- talking.

“Old Man & the Sea” was up next. That one’s available on their double-disc live album Elko, which I don’t own. Dug the jam, dig the Hemingway reference. Back to Railroad Earth for a little "Black Elk Speaks," which is a real moving number that always makes me think of the hunt scene in “Last of the Mohicans.” Win, win. “Spring-Heeled Jack" was next. Don’t know it. Sounds pretty Dead-ish, which I like, and I enjoyed it. Second Set closed with “Head,” from The Black Bear Sessions, which doesn’t have a bad track on it. Naturally, we were graced with an encore: A track called “Acadian Driftwood,” made semi-popular by The Band, was a nice cover to wrap up the evening.

Set II

“Saddle of the Sun,” “Colorado,” “Lone Croft Farewell,” “Potter’s Field,” “Cuckoo Medley,”* “Old Man & the Sea,” “Black Elk Speaks,” “Spring-Heeled Jack,” “Head”

E: “Acadian Driftwood”

*w/ Andal, Warner, and Miner of The Greencards

In sum, the show was a really nice time. Like heading into it without expectations, I also didn’t head into it with any plan of how this review would look, which is why I’m not breaking down the tracks quite like I did for the Mike Gordon write-up. These guys are talented musicians, their songs well-crafted, and they generate a great energy live. The wife and I each made one brief trip down to the floor, where things –- as the floor is want to be –- had a much-amplified vibe about them, and had we spent the evening down there, these words would likely be different. I did leave it with a two-fold thought, though: I need to figure out a way to refrain from two other concert tendencies: comparing the studio versions of songs to the live and comparing shows in general. I need to lighten up, and just have a good time.

I did have one other thought about the performance, and that was that we got nothing from Amen Corner, which is quietly becoming a favorite album of mine, and the thought is this: Amen Corner is not only a Railroad Earth album, it is a) a British pop group from the '60s, b) a musical from the '80s, c) a novel by Rick Shefchik, d) a play by James Baldwin, e) the nickname for holes 11-13 at Augusta National Golf Club, f) a song from a Swedish progressive metal band called Opeth, g) a nickname for a stretch of Auburn University's football team schedule that either begins with Georgia and ends with Alabama, or vice-versa, and h) one-time London and New York locales. In case you were wondering.

Upon leaving the venue, we hoofed it back to the MetroLink, where we caught the eastbound Red Line back to the Union Station stop, and across the way to our room, where we all slept soundly. And by “all,” I mean Daddy. Mama got in a work-out in the morning, while baby and I had some complimentary breakfast. We packed, checked out, and stowed our luggage in the hotel-lobby closet, then asked a high-school basketball player to key us into the pool, where baby had her third meal of the day, and we took grabbed the MetroLink over to the Arch (Note: Again, when in Rome…) for a chilly walk-around and some photos.

We stopped in at the Morgan Street Brewery for some coffee. The wife enjoyed a Pilsner, even though she thought it was an I.P.A., and we split an order of pretzels that come with pureed horseradish disguised as mustard. The baby, as the baby is want to do -– got lots of compliments from the bored FOH staff.

Back to the hotel, luggage retrieved, taxi hailed, and we were at Union Station, this time, with plenty of time to spare to catch our train back to Kansas City. So you see, I couldn’t really separate the show from the trip. It was an action-packed adventure with cars, trains, and lightrails, our first travel as a family, one we won’t soon forget. One primary thought stuck with me throughout the long walk to the car: The walk wasn’t any shorter, and the pack-n-play/suitcase/shoulder-bag combo wasn’t any lighter, but this time my feet and pants stayed dry, and most importantly, this time I didn’t have to run.