About 3 years ago, after escaping a truly bleak desk jockey career, I found myself climbing into the back of an unmarked white van. OK, let me back up because that sounds weird: It was for money. Wait, OK that also sounded bad. I'm going to just start over. For the past few years I have worked on and off for a touring punk band called Screaming Females, and, yes, in case you are wondering, my parents are terrified by the name and disgraced by my choices.
They don't believe me that the roadie gig, while fun, is actually pretty dull and straight-forward: You sell T-shirts, help load in/out, occasionally handle money, and do your best to help everyone from slowly losing their mind/temper. Traveling with a punk band is basically the modern day version of joining the circus, and I would recommend it to anybody. Still, if you're are interested in trying it out yourself, there are some glaringly obvious considerations to take before you even hop in the van.
First, ideally you really should like the band, and not just as people—as musicians. It's not 100 percent necessary, but it's worth pointing out that you are going to be hearing this music full blast every night for the next two to six weeks, so it can't hurt. Second, try not to get involved in bad business: If your musically inclined pals are willing to take you along, do the boring adult thing and sit down to make sure it's not a lose-lose situation financially, or you'll risk burning a bridge. If it's a lose-lose situation and everyone is cool with it, groovy, let's party, but you just want to get the awkward money stuff out of the way. Because once you've gotten into that van; for better or worse, you're in it.
Which brings us to the point of me handing out some advice. While I am not the most road-hardened in the world, I have picked up a few tips on the open highway. And I am here to tell you the real danger there lies in the banal: weeks of eating, sitting, staring, talking and worst of all, not talking. Buckle up, it's going to be a wild ride.
Stretch, You Idiots
Let me just say: I am not a warm fuzzies yoga type, OK? The idea of my body becoming one with my mind evokes the I'm not stuck in here with you, you're stuck in here with me kind of self awareness that in general I just try to avoid (thanks alcohol!). But when the van stops: You need to get out and move. And not a little precious stretch like you're some kind of an adorable cartoon mouse waking up on Christmas morning. A gross, terrifying complete body re-expansion: If you aren't gutturally moaning like a rhinoceros losing its anal virginity then you probably aren't doing it right. Any time you're outside of a vehicle, you need to flail your stupid meat suit around as much as you possibly can.
I've gotten really good at strategically draping over almost anything in a pinch: two liter soda bottles, certain types of wedged shoes, and most bike racks are good, especially if you can find one not covered in gum. If I suspect a random object will massage a particular muscle group I don't care what kind of gas station mole person is watching me; I am leaning the fuck against it. Stretching energizes you and also helps keep your blood from pooling into strange areas within your corporal flesh husk. After ten years of traveling, Screaming Females bring along foam rollers, tennis balls, and strength bands to rehabilitate their bodies from the hundreds of hours they've spent hunched in a van. So wiggle, wiggle, wiggle.
Shit Is Going to Get Weird, and Not Always in a Fun Way
First off, you are not Anthony Bourdain. Do not indulge the temptation to sample untested or strange fares while all the road. Nothing says rock n' roll quite like having post-Thai diarrhea in a doorless restroom stall, simultaneously praying that someone comes in to save you and begging God that no one ever enters the room again. But if you absolutely must play Choose Your Own Adventure when it comes to food, make sure you know where you are going that night and that the proprietors there actually believe in toilet paper. Much like quality of food, quality of toilet paper is going to make all the difference.
Before my first cross country gig, my sweet little tush had been spoiled with the most kush TP money could buy. My pampered behind had an abrupt awakening: By day five every time I went to the bathroom I felt like I was wiping my ass with aluminum foil. This is mostly due to the fact gas station toilet paper is like someone took fiberglass, found a way to press it extremely thin, and then put it on a roll. Day in and day out, this kind of toilet paper will grate your anus like it is a fine Parmesan cheese. And I don't care who you are: Being lightly jostled for five to 12 hours a day does inexplicable things to the human digestive system. I know a touring musician who while on tour developed an anal abscess that later required surgery. If you wanna be a hero, buy the road crew some moist towelettes: There is no shame in a clean and cool butthole game.
Not All Who Wander Are Lost, but You Probably Are, so Keep Your Phone Charged
Leave the Thoreau bullshit at home. If you wanna get lost, do it on a fully charged phone. Even if you think you know where you are going, trust me, you just don't. Every simple task is complicated when you are in a new city every single day. And the cultural translation for the word "close" varies dramatically by region: never trust strangers who say things are close. I'm from the South: Close means it can hear you when you yell at it, not that it's only two freeway exits away.
Our handy dandy turn-by-turn apps have turned us all into navigational toddlers. And if you've spent the past four to six hours staring into an scrolling oblivion because you are bored and on the road, your phone is going to be in the red zone. I once got lost for damn near an hour walking in the rain when I left the venue looking for coffee (I was told it was close). I, the eternal optimist, thought I could hunt it down without my phone and so I left it behind to charge. Big no-no. When I finally found my way back, the band was sound checking, and no one could hear me knocking to get back in, so I soggily waited at the door for another 20 minutes, almost missing dinner.
At the time I lied and said there was a huge line because getting lost within a ten-block radius is humiliating. Now they will know the truth, and so do you. Learn from my mistakes. Wandering around on tour follows the rules of a 90s teen slasher film: If the phones are dead, whatever you do, don't split up.
You Are the Ultimate Ugly Friend
Let's be honest: No one came to this show to see you. The people you are surrounded by every night did not wake up that morning and think, I want to spend 15-20 dollars to make a real, lasting emotional connection with the T-shirt person. As a roadie, you're the ugly sidekick to the band's really cool, hot friend. The good news is, if you're like me, high school prepared you well for this role.
People will be nice to you because they think you can help them get where they want to go: specifically, into the intimate lives of your musician friends. They don't want to know your childhood pet's name or how you feel about the failure of Esperanto. But do you have a Sharpie? Do you have this shirt in a medium? Can you give this to the band? And you do, and you can: because tonight, you are their bridge to a fantasy. And yeah, maybe they will follow you on Instagram, and occasionally, sure, they might want to wear your skin. You're the ugly one for now, but the drinks are still free, so really who cares? Just sit back and enjoy the show you glorious monster: Everyone in the van is still sleeping on the same floor tonight anyways.
Look Out the Window, Doofus
I'm going to try and not get too "it's the journey not the destination" on you here at the end. But let me also say the first time I laid eyes on the stacks of wind turbines in the Midwest I actually said aloud, "Holy shit… is this how Don Quixote felt?" Because seeing those massive whirligigs was so awe-inspiring that my brain reached past ten years worth of memes and pulled out a poignant reference from an actual novel. That is the transformative power of landscape, my friends: You can go from I Can Haz Chezburger to full blown Cervantes in a matter of moments.
So save your data plan, put your phone down, and look out the goddamn window every once in awhile. As a roadie I have lived the American dream to travel the country, but it's a double delight knowing I actually saw it all. Probably one of my most cherished memories is when the band decided to cut through Badlands National Park. With the Jurassic Park instrumental theme song playing through the speakers, the lead singer and I just held each other and fucking wept like babies at how amazing the Earth is, pondering We get to live here? Just like all over the place? But like, why though?
I still don't really know why: but I'm willing to keep my eyes open as it all goes past. And to get to do it as a job? Well hell, ain't that something.
Rebecca Henderson will absolutely get the band to autograph this article for you. Follow her on Twitter.