Travels With My Nephew

Travels With My Nephew

Teenagers often get a bad rap, and to be fair, they often deserve one. Not so with my nephew Jackson, who at 14 is practically the best travel companion I could hope for. Yes, he occasionally (very occasionally, it must be said) makes mistakes or creates difficulties, but unlike most people, adults or children, it’s almost never necessary to argue or fight with him about it: a simple request will elicit an apology and an even greater effort to be helpful and agreeable.

We’ve been traveling for two weeks now, and although it will be good to get back to my own apartment tonight, it’s been an almost completely enjoyable and stress-free fortnight. We were going to continue the trip on up into New England and Canada, but right now we’re both thinking that it might be better to kick back for a while in quiet and relaxing old New York, with maybe a side trip to Philadelphia or up the Hudson River Valley and a day hike across (don’t laugh) Staten Island.

Our first stop was London; it was the third summer in a row we’ve gone there, and we probably would have gone somewhere else for a change (Rome and Iceland were the possibilities being bandied about) if it weren’t for Green Day playing their first show ever at Wembley Stadium, something I had decided months back that I’d really like to see, and about which Jackson was similarly enthusiastic.

Exotic Brighton.

For my third consecutive time in London, the weather was cold and almost but not quite abysmal, but London’s almost always a wonderful place to be, even in mid-winter (which, except for the long days and fleetingly brief nights, it sometimes felt like this June). Put it this way: the Wembley Stadium gig was not exactly a day out in the sun; I ended up wearing both a hoodie and a jacket and didn’t feel as though I were overdressed.

I must admit that at least part of my motivation was to see if the new Wembley Stadium is as striking from the inside as from the outside, and I can now report that it is; next step, of course will be to find an English football team worthy of playing in it. Green Day on the other hand, were entirely up to the task, giving a performance that rivaled though might not have surpassed the one they delivered at the Milton Keynes Bowl in 2005, the one that was immortalized by the Bullet In A Bible DVD (I actually don’t know this for sure, as I wasn’t there and have only seen parts of BIAB, but this is what my intuition tells me).

Jackson had a fine time jumping around up in front of the stage, but I held back and paid more attention to the crowd and the overall spectacle of the affair. Afterward we went backstage to some sort of “VIP” room, which (bear in mind that we’re dealing with a sports stadium built primarily out of concrete) was made semi-luxurious by hanging up a bunch of black velvet drapes, and where a bunch of mostly older people dressed up in suits and the like were hanging out. Then we went into another room made up of yet more black velvet drapes to visit with Green Day and friends. American Idiot director and co-writer Michael Mayer was there, celebrating his ___th birthday (I know but I’m not telling!), a birthday shared (two cakes, both outstanding!) with tour manager Bill Schneider.

I was introduced to Joan Jett, who turned out to be extremely pleasant and soft-spoken, not to mention almost tiny (somehow I always thought of her as towering over me), and Tre tried to goad me into telling the story of the first and only time I’d seen her perform. Unfortunately (or perhaps not), I completely blanked, and insisted that I’d never seen the Runaways or Joan Jett before. Tre looked disappointed, and later that night when I was falling asleep, I remembered why: back when were in the Lookouts, I’d told him how when Joan Jett came to Ann Arbor on her first tour as a solo artist, a bunch of us had mercilessly heckled her.

Billie Joe with Joan Jett backstage at Wembley.

In our defense, if there is one, the situation was that it was a show featuring some of our friends’ bands that Joan Jett had gotten added onto, and as a result, our friends’ bands had their sets cut short to allow her more time to play. Our attitude was that we didn’t know or care who this out-of-town band was, and, adding insult to injury, we’d been kicked out of the dressing rooms where we normally hung out and held court.  On top of that, we didn’t like her manager, who came blustering in like some suede-jacketed Hollywood type.

Nonetheless, there was no excuse for the rude things we yelled at her during her set (except maybe that it was like, 1981, and we were a lot younger and didn’t know any better). I decided that if the story came up again the next time I met her, I would profusely apologize, but as it turned out, while Jackson and I watched her perform at the next Green Day show, we missed seeing her backstage, so Joan, if you’re reading this, sorry. I was a callow youth back then, and you didn’t deserve our abuse. On the other hand, you got to be a big rock star and we didn’t, so she who laughs last, etc.

In between Green Day shows, we took a train up to Glasgow and then a rental car up to Inverness, traveling by way of some of the most spectacular scenery on God’s green earth, including loads of lochs and mountains and giant rocks plunked down in the middle of places where you wouldn’t normally expect them to be. Inverness being up near the top of Scotland and it being midsummer day, it was light out until after midnight, and started getting light again not long after 2 am, which didn’t provide ideal conditions for sleeping, but otherwise, all was wonderful.

A shop window in Inverness.

I wasn’t totally keen on driving back down to Glasgow the next day for another Green Day show, thinking that it would probably be fairly low key compared with Wembley, but Jackson was solidly in favor (easy enough for him, of course, since he’s not yet old enough to drive). The scenery was not nearly as spectacular on this route, and the traffic mildly horrendous, but the Green Day show itself turned out to be pretty enjoyable, in that it was in a boxlike exhibition hall (the SECC) that had a bit of the feeling of an old school warehouse show, and, holding only 10 or 12 thousand people, was downright intimate by Green Day standards.

Another highlight was the enthusiasm of the Scots, who tend to be far more demonstrative than the English, and sing A LOT louder. Billie goaded them like a toreador with a Scottish flag that he whipped round the stage, and with assurances that Scotland was self-evidently superior to England. Transparent tactics, to be sure, but they worked like a charm.

We barely got a chance to say hi to the band afterward, as they weren’t feeling their best (poor Tre had an outsized tummy-ache) and had to jump on a plane for Ireland almost immediately, so instead we socialized with an unusual and disparate crew of fans who seem set on becoming the pop-punk counterpart to 1970s Deadheads, in that they spend inordinate amounts of their time and life savings following Green Day all around the world. About a dozen of them were from Australia, but Britain, Norway, and the USA were represented as well. We posed for pictures, Tony from London graciously bought both Jackson and me a lemonade and lime, and a lovely Aussie girl called Aska blurted out that she was a big Lookouts fan, something I don’t hear too often, actually something I seldom hear at all, but as I thought to myself, “Well, somebody has to be, right?”

Looking strangely unmoved amid all this beauty.

The next day involved more Scottish sightseeing and more getting lost and stuck in traffic. Finally just before sunset we located Middle Earth, or maybe it was Harry Potter Land, or most likely an amalgam of the two, on the shores of Loch Lomond, where we drove for hours on preposterous one-lane roads that soared through fern and purple rhododendron forests before dipping precipitously back down (at times looking more like into) the Loch itself. I thought we were following a road that would lead us right round the Loch before taking us back to Glasgow, but not long after Jackson joked that it would probably wind up at a dead end in the middle of nowhere, it wound up at a dead end in the middle of nowhere, with darkness fast closing in.

A kindly couple who for reasons known only to them live at the end of the road in the middle of nowhere got out a map and showed us the way out (which basically entailed driving an hour or two back the same way we had just come). They were extremely hospitable and invited us to stay for tea, but we were beside ourselves trying to fend off swarms of nearly invisible midges, which are the bane of the Scottish outdoors, especially, according to what everyone says, at twilight in June. Even though we did a lightning re-entry to the car, at least 50 of the infernal creatures made it in with us, and we spent the first half of our return to Glasgow swatting at them. Or actually, Jackson did, as I thought it best to use my hands to keep us on the road and out of the forest and/or loch.

Lost in Harry Potter Land at twilight.

Still, a place I’ll always remember even more for its beauty than its midges, and I’ll have to say that I could happily have stayed in Scotland quite a bit longer (oh, I forgot to mention that they’re having a heat wave/drought up there which has turned the normal UK weather patterns upside down; while London shivers in the damp, pasty-skinned Scots are sunbasting themselves all along the banks of the Clyde).

But we had an engagement to keep in Baltimore: the 5th annual Insubordination Fest, known to insiders simply as “The Fest,” despite any pretensions to that name by some silly beardos down in Florida. I’ll have to write more about that event in another post; suffice it to say that there was a fair bit of drama and no small amount of hardship.  Thanks to some incredibly inept if not downright sadistic decision-making on the part of the management of Sonar, the club where it was being held, this year’s Fest turned out   a bit like Woodstock staged inside of Stalag 13, with Hogan’s Heroes reduced to smuggling bottled water inside of guitar cases to rescue the trapped hordes from imminent dehydration.

But we survived, and now we’re headed north again on a wireless-equipped Bolt Bus, soon to arrive (we hope, anyway) back in simple, sensible, safe and sound New York City where we will enjoy a long summer’s nap and I can compose myself to tell you about the Fest that wasn’t quite as festive as it might have been. And with that, I’m signing off for now from somewhere in Central Jersey; Jackson, his face pressed against the glass to marvel at the traffic-snarled concatenations of Interstate 95, waves a desultory hello and goodbye as we go.

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