22 Weeks, 22 Cities

This week marks the end of a very, very long stretch of one-week stops. Twenty-two to be exact, making the last day off – free of travel and work, way back in January when we were in Boston. I went on vacation that week, so my Mexico trip was the last time I had any time off. That was six months ago!

Traveling to a new city every week has had its ups and downs. On the one hand, we were able to explore a variety of cities that we may not ever had had the chance to visit, if not for this tour schedule. We were also able to play at some amazing theaters around the country, and meet some really nice people along the way. We were able to experience a true touring gypsy life – which some accustomed to better than others, but I think  in the end, we all feel pretty proud of ourselves, regardless, from having made it through.

On the downside, packing every Sunday got to be a drag – both packing up the show, and packing up our own suitcases. The travel between the shorter jumps was fairly easy – the overnight bus rides were fun and convenient. But in the last few weeks, when the stops have been further apart, all the air travel has been a drag. The schedule has also been unfortunate in that you can never stock up on groceries (well, too many groceries), because you can never finish them all on a one week stop. That is one thing to really look forward to on the longer stops – a stocked fridge – that you might actually finish!

Tallulah has been a sainted kitty throughout all the moves. She only had one spiteful episode (peeing on my suitcase in Nashville), but other than hiding under the bed every travel day – she has been the best-behaved, most adaptive and loving little puss on the planet. She is a rock star.

So to recap – here are some of the highlights of Spam Tour’s “Trail of Tears”:

PROVIDENCE: We said goodbye to Michael and Jeff, our original King and Patsy. The girls sent them off right with a hilarious game show-edition shot night. We also enjoyed the diner truck which parked late night behind our hotel.

Jeff and Michael's final shot night

Jeff and Michael's final shot night

HERSHEY: Brad Bradley made his debut as Patsy, with Chris Gurr assuming the role of the King. We had a blast at Chocolate World, and were welcomed with open Italian arms at Fenicci’s.

Waiting to see the 3D movie at Chocolate World

Waiting to see the 3D movie at Chocolate World

NASHVILLE: We visited the Opry, hung at the honky-tonk’s on Broadway, and celebrated Patrick’s birthday. Julie Barnes made her debut as the Lady of the Lake, as both Esther and Lyn were out. Cara Cooper joined us to take over Sabra’s track.
Julie's debut as the Lady of the Lake

Julie's debut as the Lady of the Lake

JACKSONVILLE: Hometown of Patrick and Keith Reese. Was lovely seeing Keith’s smiling face around the show again. Adam Souza assumed the maestro’s baton as Ben began his leave of absence.

Also, Gary Beach joined us, and began rehearsals to take over the role of the King.

Adam as Ben at sound check

Adam as Ben at sound check

FORT MYERS: Where we were re-introduced to “Crawdaddy”, a strange crawfish-loving keyboard player who had first played with us back in Naples. Most of this week was spent doing taxes with Trudy!

Crawdaddy!

Crawdaddy!

MIAMI: Gary made his debut as the King, we had an awesome anniversary party for the show at the Raleigh Hotel on Miami Beach. It was a generally happy week spent on the beach – oh, and quite a few people got tattoos. Sadly, we said goodbye to Jeff Klein, our associate company manager, and welcomed his replacement, David.
Original Spam Tour members at the 2-year anniversary party

Original Spam Tour members at the 2-year anniversary party

WEST PALM BEACH: We had a big photo call at work, and spent much of the week around the gorgeous shopping center near the theater. Ryan and I stayed at a very cute pool house, as did other members of the company.
Gary and Esther - one of my shots from the photo call

Gary and Esther - one of my shots from the photo call

CLEARWATER: One word – O’Boobigans! We sent Lee Appleton, our drummer, off in style with a party at an Irish bar/Hooters called O’Boobigans. Crawdaddy returned, and great controversy began when one of his lobster puppets mysteriously disappeared…
Lee, Ryan, Lobster Puppet, Keith and Crawdaddy

Lee, Ryan, Lobster Puppet, Keith and Crawdaddy

ORLANDO: We said a tearful goodbye to Julie Barnes, whose going-away party was at a fun tiki bar downtown. Some people ventured to Disney – I enjoyed our Extended Stay Deluxe and stayed in most of the week, with the exception of a walk around the cute shopping area of Winter Park. This was Vera’s last week before her leave. On our final Sunday in Orlando, some clean-shaven faces showed up to work to kick off the Beard Contest!
Julie at her going-away party

Julie at her going-away party

BIRMINGHAM: Probably one of the least favorite stops on the tour. Sort of a depressed, run-down city. There was the trolley that took you to Five Points where you could get pancakes at the Original Pancake House, otherwise you were stuck with Subway. I think everyone ODed on Subway that week. Bree Branker made her debut, and David Havasi began rehearsals. We also had a visit from Casey, our choreographer. Probably the highlight of the week, was the man-o-vator at the theater…
Patrick on the man-o-vator

Patrick on the man-o-vator

GREENVILLE: A surprisingly cute town! We all ate our faces off at the myriad restaurants on Main Street, a vast contrast from Birmingham the week before. There was lots of hiking and park-going, and Brian O’Brien’s farewell pub crawl was truly awesome. We also had the best stage management office we’ve ever had – walls lined with windows overlooking the river. Lovely.
Brian makes a new friend on the pub crawl

Brian makes a new friend on the pub crawl

RALEIGH: It was Jonathan Brody’s final week – we had a cajun dinner hosted by Piper to send him off. Not too much doing in Raleigh – some shopping at the mall across from the Candlewood, and some photo-taking of all the old, old houses. There was also an evening of Cornhole at a local bar, which was quite fun. David Havasi made his debut in Brian’s old track. There was a big blow-up among the chorus boys over some ridiculousness that sort of clouded this week.
Taking pictures at an old cemetery in Raleigh

Taking pictures at an old cemetery in Raleigh

DAYTON: Probably second only to Birmingham in general ass-iness. The theater was big and new and nice, and if you ventured over to the Oregon District, there was an area of cuteness, with cool shops and restaurants, but downtown was rather barren. We spent most nights at a bar called J-Alan’s, which Ken dubbed “The Hootennanny”. Terry and Patrick both did open mic performances there. Rick Costa made his debut this week in Jonathan’s old track. Oh, and who could forget Tony’s masterful win in the Beard Contest!
Patrick at open mic night at the "Hootenanny"

Patrick at open mic night at the Hootenanny

MILWAUKEE: Pubs, pubs, and more pubs. That’s how I remember Milwaukee. The art museum building was stunning to see. We said farewell to Piper with another pub crawl, this one in a party bus. Piper and Julie leaving were big blows – it was hard to lose those two girls – I miss them! Milwaukee was also the debut of “Duckie” – Tera-Lee performing a male ensemble track.

Cuz and Piper at her going-away

Cuz and Piper at her going-away

APPLETON: Ryan’s home local! I had fun visiting his house that week. We also hosted a super cool shot night – the ice luge! Even Gary Beach did a shot! I also discovered a great yarn store in Appleton – Iris Fine Yarns. Sarah Lin Johnson took over Piper’s swing track.
Gary taking a shot from the ice luge

Gary taking a shot from the ice luge

MADISON: My love, Madison! One of my top three favorite stops on the tour. That city rocks. We did a lot of bike riding, a lot of eating and drinking (at the Black Dog and Essen Haus), and I did even more yarn shopping. And p.s., the Capitol Farmer’s Market ROCKED! We also had a visit from Jeff Dumas, and Darryl’s family hosted a party for us at their house!
Gurr, Suzanne, Matt and Paula hanging out at Darryl's

Gurr, Suzanne, Matt and Paula hanging out at Darryl's

GRAND RAPIDS: Kind of a letdown after Madison, but it had pockets of cute. I got my hair done at a nice salon. We visited the art museum, and did a little bit of bike riding. But the highlight of the week was having Elaine around to cover Mitchell’s vacation. Yay! And also Bret arriving to cover Ken’s vacation! Scary weather driving to Minneapolis.
Getting drunk with Elaine when I should have been packing

Getting drunk with Elaine when I should have been packing

MINNEAPOLIS: The crazy weather of being in Tornado Alley continued, with thunderstorms peppering the week. We visited the sculpture garden and played mini golf with Ryan’s friend, Brent. In work-related news, Patrick split his head open causing a frenzy of last-minute replacements on the Saturday. I visited the Mall of America, Brit’s Pub (a couple of times), did quite a bit of bike-riding, and had a lovely Monday night meal with Bret.

Brent and Ryan playing mini-golf

Brent and Ryan playing mini-golf

OKLAHOMA CITY: Hmmm…sort of along the lines of Dayton. Not horrible, but not much going on. Crazy windy but hot weather. The Memorial was quite a sight to see, and made the week worth it. We also stayed at a nice hotel downtown called The Colcord, and enjoyed drinks a couple of times at a cool brewpub called Tapwerks. 
OKC Memorial

OKC Memorial

ALBUQUERQUE: Ken was back from vacation, and it was Jovon’s turn for a week off. I was in bliss all week with my buddies Michael and Tanya and Bret all back in my life. I had a great visit to Santa Fe with Tanya, and Albuquerque’s highlights included the breakfast burritos at Frontier, Satellite Coffee and the weather! Gorgeous! Hot and dry. Sadly we said goodbye to our A2, Tony.
With my Ta

With my Ta

With my Bretty

With my Bretty

SAN ANTONIO: Hot and sweaty is how I will remember San Antonio. The Riverwalk was fun – highlights included meals at the Iron Cactus and Boudros. Mi Tierra at the Marketplace was also good, although if I never see menudo again it will be too soon. I had my birthday here, and was treated to a yummy chocolate mousse cake from Ken! I also treated myself to some new camera equipment! Oh, and then there was the Alamo. Eh. Patrick bailed on us this week to go and do “Gossip Girl” for eight weeks, so we scrambled a bit (another couple of gender-bending performances by Tera-Lee), but we had it figured out by….
Tera-Lee doing some gender-bending in Rio

Tera-Lee doing some gender-bending in Rio

FORT WORTH: Where Brian O’Brien re-joined us to help fill in the gap left by Patrick. Kevin Burrows was also around this week to help cover some of other boys’ vacations. Everyone was antsy getting ready for Canada. There was a quick trip to the Stockyards, but otherwise it was all about getting phones, and credit cards and money in order. Vancouver here we come!
Packing up trunks for Canada

Packing up trunks for Canada

22 eventful weeks! I look forward to the next 22, only I am happy to report that we will be spending some quality time in the next few cities with longer sit-downs, just enough time to recoup before another slew of one-weekers begin this winter. 

Bring it on!

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No More Subway Sandwiches!

Wow. Birmingham, Alabama – perhaps the most dire downtown yet when it came to food options and all-around life. It’s sort of a shame actually, that we were staying downtown and at the mercy of public transportation and the two restaurants in the immediate vicinity (I never want to eat Subway again), because driving into Birmingham was beautiful. Tallulah and I road tripped it from Orlando in an amazing car rental deal (I think I’ve mentioned it before – $8 a day, y’all!), and in order to get into the city limits of Birmingham, you have to go through a national forest and some amazing rolling hills. It’s quite lovely, and if only downtown was even a fraction as lovely, it would have been a better stay.

But alas, it wasn’t. The hotel, the Sheraton, was one of those massive convention hotels with like 700 rooms, and when I arrived, it was also the start of some metalworkers convention, or something like that, so the hotel was packed. The first room we had overlooked the freeway, had a TV stand with a big chunk of wood missing, and a strange brown stain on the ceiling. That first night, the water main broke outside the hotel, so we were out of water for six hours. SIX HOURS. The consolation was that we were given free donuts and coffee in the morning. THANKS.

I awoke to find a brown liquid on my computer, having dripped through the ceiling during the night (hence the stain up above). We moved rooms during the lunch break to one in the renovated side of the building, which was much nicer and much more comfortable and had nothing dripping from the ceiling. Whew. I just don’t think those giant hotels can keep up with all the rooms and all the guests. It’s too much. Much better to stay at a smaller hotel which can be more attentive to the upkeep.

The theater itself was quite large, a welcome change from some of the smaller venues we have been in lately. Load-in again went smoothly, the only glitch being that the local production manager dropped the ball on getting us a pyro technician and the appropriate permits, so we had to cut all the pyro effects for the week – a first on the tour.

During sound check we were introduced to the “Man-o-vator” – I’m not sure what the real name of it is, but it is basically a lift which takes the guys up to the fly rail. It is the only one of its kind left in the country, and you can see why – there are no safety cables – you basically have to hold on for your life and hope you don’t lose your grip on the way up. Of course all the guys thought it was the coolest thing ever and took turns riding it up to the fly floor. (That is, it was cool until Ken rode it on Sunday and couldn’t get the lift to stop, so he kept going higher and higher, screaming “Make it stop”, until our flyman, Nate, went and rescued him!). 

Here’s a picture of Patrick taking a ride:

One thing that was cool about Birmingham, was their trolley system. You could hop on the trolley outside the hotel for a quarter, and ride it to Five Points, the pseudo “hip” neighborhood (which basically consisted of a Starbucks, a record shop, and an Original Pancake House). Ryan and I did just that on Wednesday. We spent some time browsing the record shop, running into a bunch of the crew guys there, and we also took some photos of the Vulcan, a cast iron statue which stands in a park up on the hill, overlooking Birmingham. We didn’t venture all the way up to the park, but were able to get some photos of the Vulcan just fine from a mile away. We also saw some amazing cherry blossoms. Yay, spring is here!

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms

The Vulcan

The Vulcan

Mike and Ryan at the Record Shop

Mike and Ryan at the Record Shop

Thursday morning before rehearsal, I walked around downtown a bit. I was struck by the sadness of Birmingham. They have a really rough history, with some really brutal events having happened there during the fight for civil rights. You walk around and see plaques in various locations around the city that tell you about different groups of people who were killed or attacked while trying to fight for equality. The Civil Rights Institute is downtown, and I didn’t have time to visit it, but I did walk through Ingraham Park, which is across the street, and which has many tributes in it to various people involved in the fight for civil rights in one way or another. There was a nice statue of Martin Luther King, but then some disturbing statues of some kids being attacked by police dogs, and then some others being shot with machine guns. Across the street from the park is the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where four little black girls were killed in 1963 when the church was bombed in protest of the integration of Birmingham schools.
The statue of Dr. King

The statue of Dr. King

16th Street Baptist Church

16th Street Baptist Church

On Friday, I went with Ryan and Cuz to the Barber Motor Sports Museum. The museum is a privately-owned collection of over 1100 motorcycles and race cars. I don’t know anything about motorcycles or race cars, but I could certainly appreciate the beauty of some of the vehicles there, especially the vintage Harleys and Indians. Ryan and Cuz didn’t know what to do with themselves. They were like kids in a candy store. The building itself was really amazing, too – five floors, with floor to ceiling windows on all four sides, which allowed for some great natural light to illuminate all the vehicles. The museum is out in the woods, twenty miles outside of Birmingham, and is also on the grounds with a world class racetrack. There were some pretty terrific rain and thunder showers while we were in the museum, which we had a prime view of through all those windows.

Here’s a few pictures of some of the amazing vintage bikes:

Tony lent me some of his camera lenses to play with this week. Now I want to buy a 50mm! So much fun to play with. I took some shots of my favorite model:

(No-post processing, no flash – can you believe it??)

The weekend was busy at work as Casey Nicolaw, our choreographer, came for a visit. Casey is a great guy and very insightful and gave some really good notes to all of our new cast members. It was a nice boost in morale for everyone to see him, and to hear how pleased he is with the show.

Now, as I said, the food options in downtown Birmingham were pretty dire, but we did manage to find a few gems interspersed with all those Subway sandwiches. There was of course a visit, actually two visits, to the Original Pancake House – I had Swedish pancakes the first trip, which are like crepes, and then banana pancakes the second trip. Yum. Ryan and I also took advantage of the rental car we had the day we visited the Barber Museum, and went to dinner at a restaurant called The Fish Market, which was near the loft district. You pick an entree of one of dozens of fish choices and then two sides – we ran into Esther and Nate there – and we all marveled over all the goodnesses that we had on our plates.

Backtracking a little, we also had a nice opening night party at a bar at the Tutweiler Hotel, which is an old historical hotel downtown. It was a small event just for us, and the bar was very cute and hip, with yummy finger foods and totally open bar. We closed the place down and it was one of the more fun parties that I can remember as far as opening nights go.

Sunday we packed up shop and got on sleeper buses to Greenville, South Carolina. 

Suzanne in her bunk

Suzanne in her bunk

Mitchell and Jason in their bunks

Mitchell and Jason being goofballs

It is very charming here in Greenville, with a vibrant downtown. I’m staying a bit out of downtown, but the hotel is so much cheaper than the downtown option that I was able to rent a car for most of the week and it still works out to be less expensive than if I had stayed at the Hyatt downtown. There are a lot of great hiking areas around here so I’m hoping to get out and see a bit of nature this week. I walked around downtown a bit earlier and took a few photos at Falls Park, a beautiful park right near the theater that has a small, pretty waterfall. It looks like there are some good bike trails, and everything looks so green.  Spring is definitely here!

 

A Couple of Finished Projects

I finished some knit items a few weeks ago but haven’t had a chance to take any good photos until now. I just bought a tripod for my cameras, and taking self-portraits is soooo much easier now! Speaking of self-portraits, the first project that I have started is called “365 days” – you take a self-portrait of yourself every day for a year and post your shots on Flickr – there is a group called “365 Days”. It is a very cool project and so many people are taking some awesome photos. I heard about it because many knit bloggers are also taking part. I thought it would be a great way to learn some more about photography. The guys that started the project also do a video podcast called 365 Days where they show different photographic techniques. 

If you’re interested in checking out the project, the link to the group on Flickr is:

http://www.flickr.com/groups/365days/pool/

My 365 photo set is found at:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/francescarussell/sets/72157604292683503/ 

Here’s my favorite shot one week in – driving to Birmingham, Alabama:

The other projects are knitting and crochet-related. I finished my first crocheted garment! Here it is:

“Cupcake” by Laura-Jean Bernhardson, from “The Happy Hooker”. Made  with Peru Pakucho Organic Cotton in Green Forest colorway. Size K hook. 

The pattern was very easy to follow – there are some errata, which can be found on the Stitch’n’Bitch website. The only modifications I made to the pattern were to only do one scalloped row as the edging for each sleeve, and to do two scalloped rows to edge the neckline. I used a suede cord rather than ribbon to accent the neck.

The yarn is fantastic – very soft and drapy. I will definitely use it again for other projects.

The top worked up very quickly and was a lot of fun to make – I’m very proud of it, being my first real crocheted piece!

I also finished a neckwarmer – the pattern I found on Ravelry. 

Made with 2 skeins of School Products Merino/Cashmere/Angora on Size 10 needles. 

A very simple pattern – this will come in handy once fall comes…or maybe once we hit Dayton!

* * * * *

So we are in Birmingham, AL now – and there’s not a whole lot going on here! More on that in the next post…