April 16, 2003 – Road Kill Day One and Two I haven’t been out of the country since Afghanistan/Kuwait last December, so this is the first “road kill” report in quite some time. I’ve added some names that I think might find my travels interesting, but if anyone would like to be removed from this emailing, please let me know. Won’t hurt my feelings at all. I actually did a road report from my trip to DC last week and posted it on the website. Pretty exciting stuff at the Pentagon. So, today I am flying back to Kumamoto, Japan (25th trip since 1989!) for the 10th Anniversary of the Country Sunshine Concert. The Larkins are the artist traveling with me who will be performing on Saturday. Billy Block and Bruce Boutin are playing with them so they are on this trip as well. Got up at 4 am so I could be in the gym at 5 am for a workout before the long flight (Don’t lecture, Bebe.) Everything went smoothly at the airport this morning. Only 8 people total in our group, so it’s easy! The take off out of Nashville was horrendous. He banked several times and then hit turbulence. I made a new best friend of the man on my left. Landed in Detroit and fearing a repeat of what happened in October, I immediately went to the gate to check the status of the flight to Osaka. Thankfully, it was listed for an on-time departure AND the jet was already parked by the jet way. Long layover in Detroit (3 hours), so I checked email and went to find something to eat. There was a Coney Island Restaurant and I went in and sat at a round bar to eat. A few minutes after my salad came, I noticed a man sit down several stools away from me. He had a really large “beer belly” and numerous tattoos. When the waitress asked him what he wanted, he looked at me and here’s the conversation that transpired (H = him; M= me) H: That shore looks good. That one of them chef salads? M: Ummm…no, it’s grilled chicken but it’s good (I had ascertained by his first sentence that his Southern accent was even heavier than mine.) H: I might git me one of them then M: Well, you really should have the Coney Island. That’s what I should have had, too. H: What’s that? M: that? H: Coney Island M: Oh, it’s one of the best hot dogs in the world. They are famous in New York H: Ain’t never been to New York. Their airport bigger ‘n this un? M: Well, no, but they do have two airports H: For real? M: Yes. H: Okay. I’ll have the hot dog Waitress: What kind sir? H: What Kind? Waitress: Yes, there’s several choices and would you like French fries as well? H: I can’t have potatoes (I hope he wasn’t counting calories, because it was definitely not working for him) M: Where are you from (Big Mistake. Never encourage conversation at an airport) H: East Tennessee. Flying to Hong Kong. M: Oh I love Hong Kong. Are you worried about SARS? H: Naw. They going to have 3 Chinese holidays while I’m there. I’m stayin in a 5 star hotel and I’m not going outside except on the holidays. I know there won’t be any people on the streets on the holidays. (I’m still trying to figure out his reasoning on that comment. There’s always TONS more people on their streets on a holiday!) M: Well, it’s one of my favorite cities in the entire world. Have you been there before? H: NO M: You’ll love it. Are you there on business H: (Schoooommmm…. that’s the sound of him barreling across 3 barstools to sit beside me with his wallet in his hand! I was a little taken aback!) Well, I ain’t gonna lie to you. Here’s why I’m going (and he proceeds to show me a photo of a young, Asian girl). I met her on the internet and we’ve been talking for months. Now I’m going to meet her for the first time. M: Well, she’s very pretty. H: Yeah, and she knows what I look like and all. (He’s at least 30 years older than her, plus the tattoos and beer belly…..) M: Well, good luck to you (and he leaves) BUT WAIT….THERE’S A TAP ON MY SHOULDER H: Do I need to exchange money here or wait until I get to Hong Kong Wherein I gave him my 15 minute speech on the pros and cons of where to change the money. I’m sure he probably just decided to forget about the trip altogether by the time I finished. We boarded our flight right on time and just as we were ready to taxi, all the power shut down. Then we had to wait for auxiliary power and could only start one engine at the gate. Had to taxi out on the runway to start the other 3 engines. And, of course, I’m worrying the entire flight about whether or not we need that auxiliary power while we’re in the air. What happens if the one we have now goes out? And, the flight attendant just announced that they could not sell duty free items because Detroit forgot to restock these. Makes me nervous as heck when things like that happen. (Okay Linz and Carl, you know I’m scared to death to fly even under the best of circumstances.) So now I’m turning off the computer and going to try and watch a movie until I fall asleep. I lied, I worked for 3 more hours and then slept like a baby. Three weeks of 2-3 hours sleep per night will allow a person to sleep ANYWHERE I’ve decided. Landed in Osaka, got all our luggage and gear and flew to Fukuoka. Then we had a 1 ½ hour bus ride from Fukuoka to Kumamoto. It’s 2:30 am and I’ve been answering emails for the past 2 hours. Going to bed now and get up at 7 to run.
ROAD KILL – DAY TWO – APRIL 18TH (FOR ME, AT LEAST) In bed at 3 am and up at 6 am to run my 5 miles. BEAUTIFUL running weather here. Almost no humidity which is a welcome change. We met in the lobby at 9:30 to begin the days’ activities. All the “talk” was about the escalators/luggage carts at the airport and the toilets in the hotel rooms. The luggage carts have wheels that sort of flip down and lock into place which allows you to take them up the escalator loaded with your luggage/gear. A little Japanese girls stands at the bottom of the escalator, slips on gloves (of course!) and places the cart on the escalator. Then you ride up behind it. Sure beats waiting on one of the two small elevators servicing the area. And then there are the toilets in the hotel rooms. They have a built in “bidet” so everyone got a kick out of playing with the various buttons – all of which are labeled with little pencil like drawings showing the various types of spray available to one’s bottom! I’m sure there are numerous photos of toilet seats going home with us. First visit was to the new Mayor of Kumamoto. Very nice, very young (32) man. Kumamoto City Government is a sponsor of the Country Sunshine Fesitval (and sister city of San Antonio, TX). After visiting with the Mayor we departed to the Kumamoto Castle – an old Shogun Warrior castle that is fascinating. There are five floors with displays on each floor and then from the top of the castle, you can see the surrounding area of Kumamoto Prefecture. From there, we went to a restaurant to have lunch – and I THINK everyone tried some sushi. The delicacy of Kumamoto is raw horse meat, but no one attempted that. We then drove to the Coca-Cola Plant. Coca-Cola has been the major sponsor of the festivals in Japan since their inception. All the employees line up outside the building and applaud us as we walk in. Then we sit at a head table and are introduced, each make a little speech, and are given gifts. We are then taken on a tour of the plant which is really incredible. Everything is so clean, you could eat off the floor. Each year, they spring something “new” on me. In the past, they have asked us to wear these cute green plaid Coca-Cola caps. But this year, we had to wear the white gauzy hair nets. You should have seen us! It was so comical. Bruce Bouton has no hair on top and questioned why he had to wear on if he had no hair to put in it! After leaving the Coca-Cola plant, we went to Suizenji Park – a beautiful park with great souvenir shopping. You can also “buy” your fortune at the park and if it’s not a good fortune, you tie it off on some strings nearby and hope that the bad fortune goes to someone else! We had about one hour of free time after the park so of course, we bolted to the Ginza for shopping. Then I took everyone to a fabulous Italian restaurant that is much better than anything in Nashville. They serve mushroom soup in a little copper kettle and the top is covered with fresh-baked bread that they slice and push down into the soup. It is so hot that we were wondering if it would cool off before we left for the U.S. Soup, salad, and an entrée costs less than $20. After dinner, we went to Charlie’s nightclub – Good Time Charlies – where Charlie and his band the Cannonballs perform 5 sets a night, 7 nights a week. He never closes. All the drinks are free and there is no Japanese alcohol in the bar – only American. The Larkins got up and sang a couple of songs for the VIPs attending. I always try to bring artists to Japan who really WANT to come. The Larkins have really enjoyed the experience and have been brave enough to try new things instead of running to MacDonalds for their meals. Great group to work with and oh so talented. I left as soon as they performed so I could get on email. Very long day, but everyone had an incredible, memorable experience. Tomorrow is sound check and the concert. Then we fly home on Easter Sunday. This is my 25 visit to Kumamoto and if things don’t work out in Nashville for me, I can always come here and give tours of the castle and park since I’ve now visited each 25 times! Jude
ROAD KILL – DAY THREE – APRIL 19TH My plan to be in bed by midnight did not work out because of a “work-related crisis” at home. Bed at 2 am and up at 6 am to work out. Cloudy when I ran, but no rain. Then I went down to get in some last –minute shopping a couple of hours later and it was pouring down rain. So, after 25 visits to Kumamoto, I just discovered that there is an underground passageway right by our hotel that leads directly to the shopping mall under the department store by our venue. And, we’ve stayed at the same hotel all these years, so I guess I just haven’t been very observant. Of course, I got lost underneath the streets and it took me an extra 10 minutes to find the venue. But, then, as most of you know, I get lost just walking outside my hotel room door. No sense of direction unfortunately. One of the amazing discoveries yesterday was when we all got back on our bus and the drive pushed a button and the front of the bus rose about a foot off the highway! The front end is on hydraulics for the sole purpose of lowering it enough so that the passengers can step comfortably off the bus onto the pavement! How cool is that? Sound check went smoothly. The Larkins’ mom said that she went out into the hall today to buy a soft drink. She needed change and saw a machine that had a lot of Japanese writing on it and was marked as 1,000 Yen. She was just getting her yen out to put in the machine when a little Japanese man stopped her. Evidently the machine is used to purchase adult movies on the television sets! Show was awesome. The crowd loved the “bluegrass” feel of the Larkins and they were called back for two encores. Tim (our Canadian interpreter) took us out to eat at the same place we ate at last year where the little fish was alive while the guys ate his stomach! I warned him that I would leave the table if there was a repeat. Fortunately, everyone was too full to try it by the end of the evening. Everyone at the table except for me, Bruce Boutin, and Lowell did try the raw horse meat, though! The comment from everyone was, “It’s not bad”. Not one person said it was good! Packing now for a 5:30 am lobby call. Flying home all day Easter – sort of. Have a 4 hour layover in Osaka!
ROAD KILL – DAY 4 – HOME! In bed at 1 am and up at 4 am – only not to exercise. We have a 2 hour bus ride to Fukuoka because there are no flights that connect out of Kumamoto. It will be a quiet bus ride except for snoring, I believe. Everyone had such a wonderful time that I don’t think there will be any complaints about the travel situation. Can’t tell if I am getting a cold or if it’s the “aftermath” of yesterday’s circumstances. When I walked into the lobby of the venue, I thought it was on fire. I’ve never seen so much smoke! I suppose I’m spoiled by the “smokeless” environment in the U.S. I don’t think Japan will ever catch up in that aspect. Also, it was about 85 degrees in the building. I kept begging for the air to be turned on. Charlie (our promoter) said they told him there is a two week period where they switch from heat to air conditioning and in that period, there’s nothing but air blowing. Another explanation was that none of the buildings are allowed to turn on air conditioning until City Hall turns theirs on. I know both of these explanations do not sound very valid but understanding the Japanese culture is a constant challenge. But, you can bet there’s a note in the “2004 Country Sunshine” file to make sure we have air conditioning and a smokefree backstage area. We fly from Fukuoka to Osaka where we have a 4 hour layover before flying to Detroit. That’s the brutal part – but there is a great, inexpensive massage bar, lots of terrific shopping and best of all – great sushi! Charlie and Toshiko had stopped and picked up hamburgers, fries, chicken nuggets and corn chowder for the bus ride to Fukuoka. How many promoters are that thoughtful? We arrived and checked in with no problems until they started screening the luggage. I had a large, hard plastic case that had all my office supplies and gifts in it. They pulled me aside and asked me if I had liquor in the case. One of my friends had given me bottles of blueberry wine and liquor. They would not let me check the alcohol! I had to take it out and hand carry it on. As you can imagine, I argued the point but I lost this one. When we arrived Osaka and checked in, I asked the ticket agent there about this rule. They informed me that there was no rule and I should have been allowed to check it if I wasn’t worried about breakage. Note to the “minutes” for next year….! I went in the toilet at the Fukuoka airport and had to take a picture of a sign and the buttons on the toilet. All the toilets have the built in bidet but this one was exceptional. It had a button with music notes on it and said “push button for ‘flushing sound’ to cover ‘other sounds’ (hmmmmm). Adjust volume accordingly.” And, it had a button for POWERFUL deodorant. Never seen anything like that one before. Bruce and I immediately went to the massage bar at the Osaka airport. I remember how much the foot massage hurt last October, so of course, I signed up again. It is excruciatingly painful when they are performing it but feels oh so good when finished. Charlie’s son told me that we had an earthquake in Kumamoto last night during the performance. I never felt it because it was only a 3.5 on the Richter scale. I’m glad we were leaving because usually the small one is just a preliminary warning to a much bigger one. Lots of turbulence on the flight from Osaka to Detroit. Watched “Maid in Manhattan” but it was horrible. Started watching Freda but we landed before the movie was over. When our pedal steel player and drummer filled out their Customs Forms, they marked that they were bringing back food. The “food” referred to on the form specifies that it is either a “fruit” or “vegetable”. Since they were bringing back Pockey (chocolate dipped cookie sticks), they should not have declared this. We had lots of fun teasing them about whether this would be classified as a fruit or a vegetable! They were sent to a special section when trying to clear customs to explain what they were bringing in. Everyone arrived home – on time – with all our luggage and gear. Great trip and wonderful artists. Upon arriving home, found out that my artist (Jolie) who was staying at my house while I was gone, was accosted in my driveway late Friday night! I’ll be afraid to sleep in this house alone tonight. Jude