Adventures with Volvo in Gigland. #1

The Manhattan

I willed my weary body up the stairs to my apartment. My butt was asleep. I opened my apartment door, and the late night, LA dry-cold wheezed in. The door hinge whined as it opened, bitching that I woke it up after 2am. Then it closed behind me on the hem of my dress.


I was done. I unzipped the frock and kicked out of it, leaving it hanging in the door. I twisted my feet out of my turquoise heels, and did the post-stiletto hobble to my bedroom to dial my boyfriend. After three rings, he startled onto the line with a crusty eyed voice, "Hon?"


"I though you we're going to call me by 11?"


"What happened?"

"I accidentally drove to San Diego."

I have driven to San Diego several times on purpose, but only one time accidentally. This was during the time when there was a weekly competition between gas money to get me to gigs, and grocery money to keep me alive between them.  A grim gig on a Tuesday night could end that competition, so when I got a call to sing, I was game for anything. Even nothing, if it paid.

At 3:30 pm I got a call from a friend of an acquaintance of a stranger from a reference from another singer who worked with a bassist who just did a gig with the guy who called me for a wedding gig one time 2 years ago in Santa Barbara who is homies with the guy who called me. This lineage was established with the phrase "Felice gave me your number." The guy offered me a buck fifty ($150) to do a vocal and piano thing way down South on the highway and off to the left, a.k.a. Behind The Orange Curtain (Orange County). That's a far drive for me, and I usually require more money to cross The Curtain, so after he pitched me the gig, I paused a minute. I reviewed the pitch in my mind: Orange County, 8pm-12pm, four sets, free salad. I made a closed mouth thinking sound,

"Hmm.." as if I had something to consider.

I didn't want to seem desperate, but he had me at "free salad."




I got out my Gig Bag with all my charts. The bones and rotted flesh of gigs past lined the bottom of the sack: wrinkled lyrics, old arrangements in bad keys, parking passes, my Hollywood Boulevard memorabilia pen, and torn paper with scrawled driving directions. Driving directions were a litter epidemic in the days before smartphones (or at least before I had one).  These paper relics sagged in Gigbag, in soft sedimentary layers, like fermenting leaves, and small mammal carcasses.  I got  Gigbag as swag from Lincoln Center when I'd won a jazz composition contest back in 2001, and been invited to play. That was a good gig. Gig Bag commemorated that good gigs do exist.

After filling Gig Bag with my current tunes in a green binder, I zipped into my black dress, one of three or four "gig dresses" in my closet. Nice dresses, not too nice, easy to clean. Nice enough to look good in a catered hotel ball room, not nice enough to compete with the bridesmaids on wedding gigs. I stepped into my turquoise, retro 80s, pointy heels to add a pop of color. They looked good from about 5 feet away, but they were ex-sorority girls who had spent too many days tanning, and the bluey-green skin on their noses was in permanent peel.

By 5pm I was lipsticked, and clopping down the stairs to Volvo, who was meditating in the garage with some pollen still on his brow from a Topanga trip a day ago. He creaked when I walked past, and I hoped he had at least half a tank of gas in him. When I turned his ignition, he jumped more than usual.

"Hey man. I know I said you had the night off, but we got a gig. We gotta bust 60 miles, round trip, you ready?"

I shifted into reverse, and he settled into position, a bull lowering its horns. A Swedish bull.

"We'll be back home soon." Volvo and I pulled out, and headed towards the 405 South.


It’s always an epic journey to Gigland. On these commutes, I would often fall into a mental black hole, a feedback loop in my own mind. Mundane meditations:

"I should wash my hair, but I'm going to run tomorrow morning, I'll wash it after, but I should wash it tonight...did I bring my microphone? Yes I put it in the bag. Am I remembering tonight or a different night? Did I leave the burner on did I leave the burner on did I leave the...I need to become a better songwriter. Maybe I should move to New York. I need to work on that song about the thing. Why does freeway traffic stop and go randomly? If I'd been abducted by aliens, would I know? God, this freeway starts to look so similar on both sides "

I've missed freeway exits lost in this cacophony of brain refuse. And all the way to Gigland, the monologue continued. Through valleys of ticky-tacky housing developments, nestled in beautiful, flammable brush. Past multicolored strip malls. Through miles of actual nothing, where, for their short duration, you can turn down the radio and hear the cosmic OM, just a whisper in the universal background radiation. But you know, an empty lot only beckons the stucco. If it can be seen from the 405, it will become something to mask the entropy. We build things up for fear of the breakdown, although it's not a war, it's only change, but we use every industrious fiber in our post-ape brains and limbs to rage against it - and then "When I Think About You I Touch Myself" comes on the radio. And all heavy thoughts pass like gas through the ass-crack of pop. I zoned back in a mile from Main Street


just mic (pink&teal)

just mic (pink&teal)

"God, this freeway starts to look so similar on both sides, doesn’t it, Volvo?”

“Woosh woosh” he responded through the air conditioning.

I got my shit together to futz with my directions and signal my way off the highway. I pulled into The Manhattan parking lot, and found a space near the entrance. This was suspiciously easy. Gig Bag over my left shoulder, music stand under the armpit, mic stand under the right arm, I walked the asphalt in my turquoise clicks. The pressure points on my feet were already singing.

The Manhattan is a small supper club with the shiny tables. It had, at that time, a lavender and black theme. Actually theme feels wrong, more of a lavender situation. There was a nook in the front of the place, between booths. This area could be used as seating, or cleared away for ensembles and a dance floor. The place had a healthy nightlife on weekends, salsa bands, etc., but tonight there was but a keyboard, a stool, and a small square amp.

We started out with a universal favorite, "My Funny Valentine." I got to the last 4 bars of the last A-section, when the lyrics go "each daaaaaaay is valentiiiiiiines daaaaaay " and then that's the end of the tune when the audience usually claps or something. Or on a night like this one, the keyboard reverb bounces mindlessly into obscurity, you feel a gap in the space-time continuum, and somebody breaks a glass in the kitchen. And that's it. Because nobody was there.

Ah. That's why the parking was so easy. I was singing to a lavender and black accented room, filled with upholstered chairs.


I thought more people were there in the back where it was dark, but my eyes hadn't adjusted. There were two couples, and a dude with a drink and a laptop. I think one pair might have been wait staff. Some years ago this would’ve depressed me, but by then it was more like a dull acceptance, a transcendent apathy, if you will.

A big part of being a jazz musician is performing for chairs. They don't care if you drop a lyric or mess up a chord change. They're easy going and they stay all night, ideal in some ways. They don’t care when your mind drifts, and your mouth goes on auto pilot, which is what happens on really long gigs, when the night has been watered down soda and song requests from the same dude. The whole of your repertoire starts to blend together into one long tune, your neural network hits “critical jazz mass,” and your synapses give you the finger. It's a temporary personality split between the performer, and the person inside your brain, who left the building stark naked and screaming an hour ago.

I zoned back in during the vamp at the end of “Corcovado.” (E flat major7 to D flat major7). I was scatting something like a bass ostinato, it was nice. Worked well with the pianist's Latin block-chords. It was actually a moment of real musical synergy, and ultimately what makes these lonely gigs worthwhile. The bond between musicians is worth a lifetime of shit gigs. That said, I didn't dawdle after the last tune. I packed up Gig Bag, grabbed my stands, and clopped out the door. I patted one of the chairs on the back as I went,

"Thanks for hangin' out."

I took my free salad to go.




Back on the 405 I turned the radio on. When did songs from the early 90’s become acceptable on oldies stations? Nevermind. The sky was black and the road was black and it was actually nice to be over an hour outside of Los Angeles. More relaxed, my mind began its loopy trail. In areas of less light pollution, it feels like the sky is closer to the Earth. Easy to tell yourself you're out beyond the satellites, surrounded by red and white shooting stars, the occasional overpass is the arm of a nebula,.

"...Ahhh, this reality is better."

For the next 45 minutes, the silhouettes of the fuzzy hills on both sides phased out of my consciousness. My only points of bodily awareness were the soles of my feet, which throbbed on and off from my pad-less shoes. I wished I couldn't feel them at all, wished they were like two balloons. Then, as if it were specifically edited into the movie of my life, Pink Floyd's “Comfortably Numb” started on the radio.

"Ooooh yes. Good job, Volvo."

Volvo huffed the air conditioner in thanks, though he knew he really had nothing to do with it. I thought to myself about how it hadn't been such a bad night after all. It was long, but mostly painless. They paid, good music, little traffic, free salad!  And now I'm rolling down a cosmic highway, with a great tune, surrounded by quasars, and overpass galaxies... pulsars and meteors filling up my car. Who says the 5 is always shit?


5? Where's the 4 and the 0? That sign must've been wrong. I'll look for another.

I kept driving. I turned down the radio so I could see the signs better. After about 3 minutes of scanning the horizon, the green, reflecty freeway sign rose into my vision. The highway galaxies and taillight stars crashed to Earth. I was no longer on the 405 North. I'd never been on the 405 North. I'd gotten back on the 405 South, driven for an hour in the wrong direction, and now I was in San Diego.

Way to go, Magellan.

I drove off the freeway into a gas station to turn around. I stopped for a moment to get my head together. I wasn’t lost, I was stunned. After years on the 405, years of foraging for gigs in the Inland county, the South Bay, and the Valley, I got on the freeway in the wrong direction. How could I call myself a native Los Angelino? Shame. This is when I would’ve texted my boyfriend, but these were the days before I had a texting phone, and Facebook wasn't yet the uber-confessor of "OMG WTF events" it would become, so I bore my misdeed without remote technical sympathy. I looked at myself in the rear view. I pulled a tiny comet out of my hair, and pinched  it between my fingers.

"This was your fault."


1:55 am. Volvo grumbled up the driveway into his tight spot next to some neighbor's econo car. I tried to apologize, but he was not speaking to me. I didn't blame him. We ran into construction on the North bound freeway which probably wouldn't have started yet if we'd gotten on the correct road an hour earlier. He hated to drag his feet.

I willed my weary body up the stairs to my apartment. My butt was asleep. I opened my apartment door, and the late night, LA dry-cold wheezed in. The door hinge whined as it opened, bitching that I woke it up after 2am. Then it closed behind me on the hem of my dress.


I was done.

I unzipped the frock and kicked out of it, leaving it hanging in the door. I twisted my feet out of my turquoise heels, and did the post-stiletto hobble to my bedroom to dial my boyfriend.

After three rings, he startled onto the line with a crusty eyed voice, "Hon?"


"I though you we're going to call me by 11?"


"What happened?"

Raya Yarbrough

Singer, Composer, writer of absurd stories about LA, chanteuse on Outlander, BSG, DaVinci's Demons, & I used to date Dick Grayson.