Tuesday morning I rented a car and drove to Columbus, Ohio. I’ve been to Columbus three times before. The first time was in 1997 when a friend of a coworker of mine at Pearl Art & Craft hired me to move him there in my 1978 GMC van. I was back in Chicago the following morning on no sleep to work my shift at the store. My other two visits were to see Cheater Slicks play. One of those trips was made in the Yellow Cab I was renting at the time. I’ve been a fan of the band since 1988, when I was still in high school and they were based in Boston.

I saw a post online that they were opening for Lydia Lunch at a club called the Ace of Cups and decided it was reason enough for a roadtrip. Lunch is one of those New York punk legends I don’t know much about. There’s a few of them still left wandering about, still under the radar, but with small, devoted coteries keeping them afloat. I always have a soft spot for artists who are still fighting the good fight in the face of near universal indifference. So plunking down ten bucks for a ticket was a no-brainer.

Mid-way through the six hour drive, I stopped at a Starbucks to use the wifi and booked a room for that night at a Motel 6 on a road called Olentangy. My plan had been to meet Tom at his work before he left at 4pm to load in for the show, but I had forgotten that Ohio is on East Coast time, so I wouldn’t make it to catch him with the hour difference. I screenshotted the Google Maps directions to get to the motel and drove on.

After a couple hours and several wrong turns and a brief stop at the motel, I walked into the Ace of Cups. Tom was standing by the bar talking to Bob, the drummer in Lydia Lunch’s band. Tom and the rest of the Cheater Slicks had crashed at my ex-girlfriend’s house the last time they played Chicago a few years back. It was good to see him again.

We went out back to the patio where Tom’s brother Dave was smoking and having a beer at one of the picnic tables. Gradually, the other tables filled with waiting groups of fans as well. It was a mostly older crowd which wasn’t much of a surprise. Lunch has been around since the late 70s and Cheater Slicks have been together since ’87, so it was no surprise to see few kids here. One particularly grizzled character had made the drive from Cleveland. He came over to greet the band, then relit the butt of a stogie and stood around grinning toothlessly at the rest of us.

The Cheater Slicks played a beautiful set. They’re most commonly described as a garage band, but they have long ago left the sideburned, Brylcreemed, and cuffed denim mob far behind. They play loud, feedback-laden music which seems to get more and more abstract over time. There’s an inward sort of intensity to what they do and that may be the only consistent thread over the nearly thirty years I’ve been going to see them. Afterwards, back out on the patio, Tom lamented that they sounded like smooth jazz. I told him Kenny G or Chuck Mangione would never acknowledge what he’d just done on stage as their music and that made him laugh. 

I listened to a bit of Lydia Lunch’s set, then wandered back outside. There was something studied and overly professional about their sound. This was more like a chamber ensemble performing classic repertory than punk rock. I went over to the merch table and would’ve thanked Lunch for coming to play but she was entirely consumed in tense conversation with the club owner about getting paid. I bought a reissue of one of her early LPs with a fancy block-printed cover, said my goodbyes, and took off.

The next morning I checked out of the Motel 6 and went to Nancy’s Home Cooking for breakfast. I chose it after a quick Google search identified it as the closest non-chain spot to eat. I ordered the garbage omelette with grits and spent a happy half hour taking in the collection of handwritten signs which dominated the decor. The best was the one announcing that they no longer accepted boob or sock cash unless the customer was prepared to receive change from a similar source. One of the cooks walked by in a t-shirt which claimed theirs was “The Food You Dream of in Jail”. Had those been for sale, I would have definitely bought one.

Aside from seeing one of my favorite bands, there was one practical aspect to this trip. I’d been tracking the availability of a particular Ikea frame online for weeks without success. When I told my friend Tracy about this she suggested I check the Columbus store, and lo and behold, they had plenty. I walked in through the massive revolving door right as they opened at 10am, loaded a flat cart with five boxes each holding ten Ribba frames, and pushed it toward checkout. There, a very friendly woman asked all about what I was gonna do with so many frames, told me she wanted a giant version of Van Gogh’s Starry Night over her bed, and said both her neighbors were artists; one did landscapes while the other focused on religious themes. I wished her a good day, then drove to downtown Columbus.

I had an hour to kill before lunch with Tom so I went to the art museum. I spent most of my time there looking at a show of Soviet and Russian art from 1960 to 2010. There was some compelling stuff but my overall impression was one of sorrow at what my country had done to generations of its artists. The brutal governmental constraints lay like a thick patina over the surface of each artwork. Even the most strident pieces of agitprop had a grim, defeated air to them. The blazing July sun outside was a jarring contrast to the sad, oblique work inside. I blasted the rental’s AC and drove to Tom’s record store.

He’s been working at Used Kids for twenty years now. He doesn’t deal with the public, preferring to work in the office cataloguing, pricing, and buying collections of LPs. He has a graduate degree in library science but there are few jobs to be had in that field these days. Record collectors are librarians of a sort, so at least he gets to work in a field connected to his interests. Still, he’s hoping to get out one of these days. We got deli sandwiches from a supermarket called Lucky’s and took them back to the store to eat. An hour later I was back on the highway west en route to Chicago.

That night I sweated buckets humping Ikea frames up my three flights, then returned the car to Enterprise downtown. I was only gone a day and a half but the trip went some ways to rearrange my headspace which I think was needed. The reason to go other places is mostly to refresh one’s feeling of home.

p.s. Go see Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Endless PoetryIt’s amazing.