SUMMER (1993): The nonstop flight from Chicago to Zurich began with a distribution of warm washcloths. These towels came with a distinct aroma reminding me of towelette packets at KFC. I was perplexed regarding the function of these rags. After all, there had been no eating as yet. So, in order not to attract unwanted attention, I began watching other passengers for a clue. Soon everyone began wiping their face and hands with the fragrant rags, so I did the same. And so, departure from the U.S. is underway. However, I felt strangely of out of place because it seemed as if the only people speaking English on the flight were my bandmates and this guy sitting right next to me. The warm rags ritual almost seemed as if passengers were gladly wiping away clinging US rededue.
The Zurich to Zagreb flight was different. We rode a bus to the causeway with fellow passengers. The mood in the bus was dark and active. Sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll were probably not on the minds of these people. It occurred to me that people from war-torn Balkan countries probably had more weighty matters on their minds.
I had experienced areas less developed than the poorer parts of Western Kansas, and from that experience, though I knew what to expect in the Balkan countries, I expected it to be drab and run-down. To my surprise, Air Croatia was the best flight, service, and food that we had experienced the whole day. In fact, once we got to Europe, food in general got much, much better.
As previously mentioned, the Air Croatia meal was splendid, but our exposure to interesting cuisine was only just begun. After arriving in Zagreb, we were invited to a UN party sponsored by the Canadians. The nibbles consisted of gourmet treats such as this: Thick Dutch crackers, lightly covered with some sort of mayo/cream cheese goop, topped off with a mini sweet pickle chip, petite stuffed green olives, and lightly salted anchovies (very nice).
After the party, we trekked to a bistro in Zagreb to dine on pizza and warm Tuborg. The pizza was un-sliced and completely devoid of mozzarella but it was great. Also, in contrast with standard US expectations, the warm beer was an eye opening experience. I wondered if the US beer had to be served cold in order for it not to suck… 😉
Oh, on the way to the bistro, we picked up three Swedish girls who needed a ride to our compound. We were in rare form (hey we are a rock band — we have an image to uphold), and it seemed everyone but our elder statesman, Jerry (the sax player) was vying for the attention of the fair Swedes.
What a place! According to our guide, the economy here is so bad that a doctor makes sixteen times less than the U.S. minimum wage… he said around $150 per month (hard to swallow that one). Still, it’s incredible because the roads and buildings don’t look bad at all.
So far Croatia reminds me of Kansas. Wheat, corn, and oats grow in the fields, and if it weren’t for the mountains in the background, the land would look just like Kansas. The flora and fauna look very similar, and so do the people.
However, there are some clear indicators that we weren’t in Kansas anymore. For example, few people had clothes dryers in their homes. I could tell because over the edge of the apartment balconies were lines full of drying laundry. Oh, another long since seen sight… TV antennae on rooftops… nearly *all* of them.
Gotta go. It’s night time here; almost 10:00PM. However, I don’t really feel like going to bed since it’s only 2:30PM in Hays.
BEWARE OF LANDMINES!!!
Slept like a rock last night. I did get up a couple of times to whiz, but thankfully never had a problem going back to sleep. The latrine is a pretty good walk from our tent, so I think I’ll grab a coffee can for those nights where drinking is on the agenda.
This place is secure… in a way. After all, there are spools of concertina (razor) wire in some places, and there are some sandbag bunkers, mostly at checkpoints. We were given information on how to survive the experience. For example, in the initial briefing, we were told to stay on well-worn paths in order to avoid stepping on LAND MINES. They also warned to stay away from the Croat camp. Because, we were told, the Croats had two Russian MIGs in their camp. If we were to venture too close, the guards would shoot first and ask questions later, rock star or not… hmmm.
Rockin in Zagreb:
The Croatian experience was great. Brits were a blast, and the troopers dispatched to keep an eye on us did a killer job. I don’t recall a time when we couldn’t get a beer, food, water, or anything else for that matter. Most everyone showed up for all four of our performances. I don’t remember all the nationalities represented, but here are the ones I do remember: British, French, Dutch, Jordanian, Swedish, Russian and Canadian.
Parties after the gigs were a blast as well. I got thrown in the water blivet on the second night (a right of passage I guess). On a couple of occasions, Mo (the bass player) and I partied till morning with the holdouts… funnn.
On the 4th of July, a couple Croatian skydivers landed in the compound square. The event was planned, and there were two other divers–both high ranking U.S. officers–who didn’t even come close… lol. It was a gala 4th celebration.
Sometime during that 4th celebration (a observation of US independence from Great Britain), I got into smack session with one of the Brits about who was the baddest. He was saying something about how his countrymen were stationed near Bosnia with the express purpose of kicking ass! He said something like the following: “They’re sending Brits because we’re (the Brits) not known for losing.” I mentioned something about the one they did lose, so he said, “Oh yes, but that was for the greater good.” I quickly checked my wallet… yep still there.
Yes, we had a good time on the 4th. Here’s an interesting note… during our stay in Croatia (one week), we rarely saw the French, even though they were the biggest contingent in the camp. Apparently the French were the bad boys at the camp, always starting fights and all. I actually met some friendly Russians at the 4th celebration, but not hide nor hair of the French… hmmm.
On our last night in Croatia, I was taken on a moonlight tour of the MASH hospital with one of the more adventurous nurses. She was sweet, and urged me to explore the full experience. Of course, being a proper ambassador for the church of Rock and Roll, I dutifully complied. As we explored the MASH’s secret places I felt strange, and yet this place seemed familiar in the light of the Croatian moon. It was really sort of eerie, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had been there before. I was expecting Hawkeye, or BJ Honeycutt to appear, martini in hand to tease us with witty one liners and cat calls.
The next morning, we flew good ol’ Air Croatia to Frankfurt Germany. In Frankfurt we spent the night–and what a night! You see, we figured that it would be our last chance to party due to the fact that our next stop was Dhahran, Saudi Arabia (no booze is allowed in the land of Allah).
So the decision was made. We would all get dressed and ask one of the German cab drivers to take us to the BOOZE & WHORES! For a few marcs, the cab driver took us to a very quaint looking, off the beaten path square (now we’re talking). It looked like we’d been transported back in time. The streets were old cobblestone and narrow… very narrow. We ended up in a place that looked like the Cavern Club (the one the Beatles made famous)… of course, it wasn’t the Cavern Club, this one was called “The Irish Pub.”
When it finally occurred to us that we were in a place called the Irish Pub (in Frankfurt); with a California “Valley Guy” performing a solo act; where most of the clientele carried pocket German books; and where our waitress brandished an “I hate Americans” scowl that the cab driver had stiffed us. We were in a place that had booze, but there were no red lights, pimps, dope dealers or opium dens anywhere. Oh well, we managed to have a good time anyway (I don’t really think Jerry was up for the whores thing anyway).
It was fun. The Irish Pub was fairly empty when we showed up, but it filled to capacity when we began singing harmony to the songs the Valley Guy was singing. We sort of stole the show, but he loved it, because he made mega tips that night.
Goodby Europe… Hello Saudi Arabia:
Anyway, when it was over, we caught another set of cabs back to the air base, did laundry and crashed. With dreams of dancing camels in our heads we drifted off for a couple hours rest before hopping a military flight to Dhahran.
Before the end of our first week in the Arab World we were provided an opportunity to experience the Riyadh downtown bazaars, and in effect, thrust into the most strange and compelling world I have ever known… but I am jumping ahead… let’s start from the start of the start shall we?
No one escapes the Government of Allah:
Our trip through Dhahran customs was the first blow. Upon arrival we were briefed by some people on the military air base. The form we were asked to fill out had a small detail highlighted in blood red print.
Death to drug traffickers!
Scary huh? What about my No-Doze? What about my funky vitamins? That was only the beginning however. When we got to the civilian airport, there was a line. No, there were four lines all the way to the rear of this gigantic room (the size of a small airplane hanger). Almost everyone in those four lines were ether Pakistani or Indian… half of them were squatting. Some were well dressed, but the rest looked just like those people you see on those “save the world” commercials… emaciated and filthy.
There were some US nationals in our line, and they started telling stories about people who are body cavity searched simply for looking suspicious and wrong. And, oh yes, we looked suspicious and wrong! A particular story to catch my ear was about a Brit who had been taken to jail and given a haircut… hmmm. With my 16″ ponytail in full view I began to feel a tightening in every muscle. You see, most everyone in the airport was looking at us with expressions that can only be interpreted as utter disgust… I felt confident we’d be run through the mill.
It didn’t help that I was carrying an M-16 bullet (just the bullet… not the cartridge) in my hip bag (something I’d picked up in Croatia). Contemplating the bullet and knowing that my every move was being watched made me shiver with “the fear.” Luckily I stayed calm and nothing bad happened. We were run through customs without so much as a bag being opened… great day in the morning!!!
The next day we hopped another military flight to Riyadh. The local flyboys gave us a ride downtown, and that’s how I learned about the “Allah Lane,” “Double Headers,” cheap gold and the strange and exotic world of the Riyadh Bazaars.
Taking a Bite Outta Crime:
You see, I thought the practice of chopping off a person’s head as a crime deterrent was ancient history. However, it is not. Every Friday, in the Riyadh town square, people actually get their heads, hands (the right one see… they wipe their bums with the left), or their fingers lopped right off. These festivities are open to the public, and whenever US nationals are present, they are pushed up to the front of the gawking crowd. You see, the Arabs want the Westerners to witness Allah’s brand of swift and terrible law enforcement first hand (pun intended).
After shopping for gifts at the bazaars we began the journey back to the base. On the way, we saw many people engaging in what our guide described as normal behavior (with the blessings of the Government of Allah, of course).
First, in the car next to us, it looked as if the woman in the passenger seat had committed an unforgivable breach of social grace… she had the nerve to actually gaze at a busload of US GIs and rock musicians (that would be us). Of course, the guy in the driver’s seat promptly slapped the shit out of her–twice.
Later, after dark, we observed several families sharing quality time together by the side of the road… in the dirt… women sitting in a circle on one side of the car, and men, standing in a circle on the other side of the car. This we are told is considered quality recreation time… In one of the richest countries in the world… THEY SAT CROSS-LEGGED… IN THE DIRT!!!!
Hot Hot… Hotter Than Hell:
As I pen this entry the band is unwinding following a performance in Riyadh. The current outside temperature is around 89f. Very cool compared to the daytime temp of 115f… We are told that 115f is not bad for this area. You see the hot season hadn’t started yet.
We set up the gear just as the sun was going down–still hotter than a ByGod. How hot was it? It was so fucking hot and dry my “fast fret” string lube, which usually lasts weeks, was drying out within minutes… minutes!
Rockin in Riyadh:
The gigs were lackluster to be kind, but it really wasn’t so bad… the crowd was just as immobile as we felt. You see, these people average 60 hour work weeks in this blinding heat… needless to say, when they have time off, they don’t move much.
Let’s Hear it For The Troops!
I have come to the conclusion that these people are truly America’s finest! I wish I could do something for them other than slogging through half a gig drinking water like it’s going out of style.
Well… two more weeks to go. It’s hell, but I’m proud to be playing for the gulf troops.
It’s July 13th, 2:00AM. We’ve played our final gig in back in Dhahran, and now we have a day off. Our visas only allow one trip to Bahrain (the only Arab city in our agenda that allows booze), so we’ll probably do a day right here–downtown Dhahran. Suzy (our guide) thinks we can find a place that serves camel meat, so we’ll shop at the downtown bazaars then settle down for some native cooking. (Yum)
I seem to be acclimating to military life here in Saudi, but some things still seem strange. Like the fine line that separates a person who is free, from one who is in jail or worse–chop chop!
The folks here are treating us very well. They seem to be genuinely interested in our mental and physical well being. Case in point. It was Suzy that found a doctor for me when my bladder infection kicked up. In addition, she’s always on the lookout for something to keep us occupied when we’re not working. We owe her a lot… camel meat tomorrow… yea!
Bored in Dhahran:
Today we dined on camel meat. It was awful, but at least we tried it. My infection is pretty much gone, but I still need to take the rest of the meds. I had something important to say but I forgot what it was. Bummer!
I’m ready to go home.
BYE July 13th, 1993
Sadam’s Speed Bump:
The other day we were given a tour of Kuwait City. Kuwait City looks very much like many waterfront US cities (burnt out buildings, bomb craters and all). If only our guide would stop looking under the bus for bombs, we could relax and feel quite at home.
You see, according to our guide, the base for which we have provided entertainment this past week (“Camp Doha”) would be nothing more than a speed bump should Sadam decide to make another push toward Kuwait. I asked our guide what we should do in the event something as unlikely as that were to occur. He said they would hand us M-16s and invite us to join the festivities.
He was a glib fellow, and I wasn’t amused.
Anyway, our guide gave us a tour of Kuwait City, and we ate lunch at a Sbbaro (the kind of pizza joint found in most U.S. malls). The food was killer, and I saw a great photo opportunity there. This sheikh looking dude was sitting right across from us. Of course, I chickened out: I didn’t even ask him for his picture. It turns out that he’s a minister in Kuwait’s parliament. Rex (the sound man) stood by him at the check out. Rex said “hi,” and the sheikh dude said to Rex: “Looks pretty busy today aye?”
Damn! I missed out.
We’re told that many Kuwaitis are educated in the US, so they understand westerners and their ways. When their education is finished they come back home to Kuwait and, according to Muslim law, can have as many as four wives (if they can afford it). The oldest of the wives always sits up front when the family goes for a ride. There is a definite pecking order.
There are other differences from the heavy mood of Saudi; Kuwaitis don’t lopp each others heads off. Nevertheless, the Government of Allah still prevails.
We are told the drivers are wild in Kuwait. They careen through the night without turning on their lights! We are told the Kuwaitis believe that keeping the lights on would run down the batteries (I think we are being fed a line of camel shit myself). However, there are hideous accidents on the Kuwaiti highways.
BYE: July 18th, 1993 (6:00 AM)
Mohammed and the Hand Jive:
Last night was our first night in Bahrain. A guy named Bob took us to a “country music” bar filled with Americans and Brits. There were Filipino waiters and one or two Arabs.
They played country, and the band did a pretty good job. The songs were pure, down-home Americana, but the stage banter was PROPER BRITISH. (What is wrong with this picture?) The place was small, with an even smaller dance floor, but there were times when it (the dance floor) was filled with Brits and a smattering of Americans doing the LINE DANCE….. arrggghhh Well….. Needless to say neither Mo nor I were happy campers, in fact we were plotting revenge as I penned this entry. Jerry looked like he didn’t care, Mark (keyboards) was engaged in a stimulating conversation with a blonde British flight attendant, and Rex was doing the two step with an assortment of Aussie girls. Later, when we realized that there was no escape, Mo and I loosened up and began watching the festivities. It’s funny the things you notice when you aren’t preoccupied with escaping. The moment that came next is one that will live in my memory forever:
The band was playing a Bo-Diddley sounding number and there were cowboys on the dance floor doing the “Hand Jive” with zeal. In the background, across the railing and somewhere near three nice looking U.S. girls sitting at the bar, was an Arab gentleman. He was dressed in his whites, headgear and all. Yes, he was doing the “Hand Jive” too. It was incredible. Mark thought the Arab gentleman looked like the Antichrist dancing a jig. Jerry said that he’d never seen a proper towel head do an “American” dance step, and I was happy to see a gap between the Arab World and ours melt right before my eyes. I wanted to hug the sheik and dance with him. The whole thing was one of those moments… pivotal, I guess.
Anyway, gotta go.
BYE: July 19th, 1993 (4:30 PM)
Ah… Bahrain and Beer:
We’ve done our first gig in Bahrain. Maybe twenty people showed up (a dismal turnout). We rocked their world anyway!
I’m bored. I’m ready to go home, and the Arab World is starting to grow on me. Scary.
Did I mention that i’m ready to go home? In two days we’ll be on our way.
Yesterday we watched Arab soaps on the TV. Yes… we watched them… that’s how bored we were.
No English sub titles–all Arabic!
BYE: July 20, 1993
Oh Give Me a Home…
The flight home is turning out to be very interesting. We seem to be stopping everywhere around the Mediterranean. First stop was Nos Sigonella in Sicily, then Naples Italy, then Spain. That’s where we are now. Our last stop before Philly will be some Islands in the Atlantic called the Azores. It will be approximately 18 hours before the home team leaves Hays to pick us up.
Yea–we still have a long way to go.
When we hit altitude above Bahrain, I felt a tremendous amount of pressure lift as I was no longer in danger of losing a finger, hand or… gulp… my head… I had finally escaped the Government of Allah. I wanted to scream but I didn’t have the energy, so I slept instead. Besides… (I learned this on Arab TV… “Allah knows your inner thoughts. In addition, he knows your outer deeds and utterances. There is no escaping the Government of Allah, Peace be with him.”).
After this public service announcement came the news, which was dominated by pompous posturing of the royal army and members and the royal family. Believe it our not, i’m still trying to appreciate the Arab World. However, I can say this with no reservations. I wouldn’t want to live here. Take me home! Thank you!
Well, this is it. We’re on our second to last flight of the tour–Philly to Detroit (we had to spend the night in the airport). All i can say is… “Oh give me a home…”
Right now, i’m looking down at the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. It’s beautiful.
Happy to be back in the USA!