On the Road Again (Part 1)

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In a few days, I’ll be hitting the road on a short tour playing music. We’ll be starting off in Philadelphia, heading west through Tennessee and Chicago to Colorado, and returning home through Ohio and central Pennsylvania. In all, I’ll be on the road for two weeks, and I thought it might be interesting to keep a journal of sorts to share with readers.

Living with diabetes on the road presents unique challenges, particularly for a musician at my level of “touring.” I’m not hopping onto a full-fledged tour bus, playing arenas, and staying in nice hotels each night. I’m hopping into a conversion van with four other musicians, and we’ll all be taking shifts driving. We’ll be playing a mix of dive bars, clubs, and a few festivals, sleeping wherever we can (which occasionally means a hotel, but often means the couch of an accommodating fan or friend of someone in the band), and getting our food from gas stations, rest stops, drive-throughs, and grocery stores along the way.


So, without further ado, I begin my journal!

I leave for tour on Friday. I’ve got a few shows between now and then, my regular social work appointments, a pile of paperwork to get in order, some taxes to finish up, and of course, a blog entry to finish by Sunday. But most important on my list? GROCERY STORE! On a tour like this, it can be very easy to live off drive-through dollar menus. But try that for two weeks, and see how YOUR blood glucose treats you. So I’ve always tried to hit the road with a stockpile of simple, relatively cheap and relatively healthy foods so that I don’t spend my money on a whole bunch of food that isn’t good for me, anyway.

Here’s my list: 1. Bread and peanut butter: Boring, but it doesn’t go bad, fills you up, and gives you a little protein. 2. Pop-Tarts: OK, not the world’s healthiest item, but better than a daily trip to McDonald’s for breakfast, and in the past I’ve actually found that my blood glucose does pretty well with them (and they’re easy — no mess). 3. Granola bars: If you avoid the chocolate covered, marshmallow variety, these are good snacks, can actually have a touch of fiber, and are another one that’s easy on the blood glucose. 4. Water! I always drink diet soda, so it’s not something that alters my blood glucose, but living off soda for two weeks can get expensive. 5. Some regular crackers, Goldfish crackers, or similar item for snacks. 6. Some nonperishable fruit: apples, bananas, anything that can hold up without needing to go in the fridge.

The first morning of the tour. Played last night, then drove a few hours in the van to crash at the house of a friend of the band. It’s been a while since I’ve been on the road, and now it all comes flooding back to me: the lack of sleep, the inconsistent schedule, constantly finding myself in new and unfamiliar places. It is equal parts exciting and tiring, as I find myself longing for my own bed in my own familiar house but also enjoying the novelty of it all. It can mess with my routine for diabetes maintenance, at least for the first day or so until I get used to the road again. Last night, I was about four hours late with my long-acting shot. Not something to mess around with, but not something that I can’t bounce back from. A quote from the movie Apollo 13 comes to mind. Just after lift off, a mechanical glitch cuts out one of the engines early. The ground crew scrambles for a few seconds, then calculates the mission is OK as long as nothing else goes wrong. One of the astronauts responds very matter-of-factly, “looks like we just had our glitch for this mission.” In other words, it’s not a question of IF there will be a glitch, it’s just a matter of when and how severe. The real goal is a small, manageable glitch. I often think of the first few days of tour the same way as it relates to diabetes maintenance.

I also gave my customary “I have diabetes, and this is what you need to know about that” speech to my fellow musicians. Over the years that speech has refined itself to the essential information only. Where I used to give a long-winded explanation of my condition, these days I simply tell people that 1. you’ll see me injecting myself pretty often, so if you’re squeamish about needles, look away, and 2. if you see me acting loopy, give me some sugar to eat immediately.

We’re leaving Bristol, TN, bound for the windy city, sweet home Chicago. I’ve made it through my two-day “adjustment period,” and now life on the road is feeling downright normal. I know this is a Diabetes Self Management blog, but I don’t fee like writing about it today. I feel like writing a little bit about music this morning. After all, having diabetes is a PART of who I am, and the general focus of this blog, but it’s not the entirety of who I am.

Ralph J. Gleason, a respected music critic from the 60’s (and a founding editor of Rolling Stone) once wrote about music’s power to communicate directly with the heart and soul of the listener (and the musician), existing only in the moment, without lingering, unable to be frozen in space or time. Music needs no translation, no explanation. It conveys the entire spectrum of the human experience, without needing a single word to do it.

As I sit here in the back of the van, eating my peanut butter sandwiches and Pop-Tarts, writing articles for whoever I can to earn a bit of extra money, it’s easy to question WHY I do this. Back in Philadelphia, I have the most wonderful wife on God’s green Earth! I have a home, friends, and so much else. I have a wonderful life, a life that I miss dearly out here on the road. There are so many “good reasons” not to do this, and yet I return. I return because Gleason was right; there is nothing in this world with the special power of music to touch the soul. There is a feeling shared among musicians and an audience, when the music is really coming through at a high level, that is beyond any kind of description. That’s why I do this.

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