Then, there was the time in Radford, Virginia.
We just played the James Madison University date of the Ska Against Racism tour and met a nice couple named Joe and Star who lived together in Radford, about 130 miles away from the show in Harrisonburg. We were pretty desperate for a place to stay, so we were willing to drive the two hours south toward our next show and avoid staying in a hotel. Since we needed to stay until the end of the show to load our merchandise and couldn’t afford to shut it down early, lest we lose a CD or t-shirt sale, Joe and Star were going to start the drive early and head back to Radford. They both needed to be up early for work, but they gave us directions and their house phone to call. What they didn’t give us was the house number or street name. Just a cross street, the fact that the house was on the north corner, and said the front door would be unlocked. For a bunch of dudes who grew up in New York, that final detail was a little odd since everyone locked their door. It was also 1998, so no one had one of those handy phone computers with maps built in. Even the giant atlas we kept on the dashboard of our van didn’t have Radford in it, let alone a detailed map of the neighborhood we were driving to. Those were the days of urban and rural touring pioneers.
Joe and Star headed back to Radford in their sticker-covered Toyota Corolla and we told them we would see them in a few hours. They said to not worry if it seemed like they were sleeping. They told us to just come in, make ourselves comfortable, and that we were welcome to whatever was in the fridge.
After a long drive, one where we nearly hit a deer head-on, we arrived in their neighborhood. Small town America doesn’t offer much in the way of streetlights. Every house seemed equally dark at that hour and it was difficult to navigate the streets without our high beams turned on. We reached the intersection Joe and Star gave us and saw their Toyota Corolla parked on the street.
“This one here. This is it.”
There was some hesitation to get out of the van, mainly because after a long day of driving, playing a show, most likely drinking dozens of beers, and then driving again another two hours later, everyone was either sleeping or moving with no real motivation to gather their belongings and get inside the house. David, our dancing trumpet player/tour manager, and I took the initiative to go inside. With no indication on whether it actually was the house we were supposed to arrive at, we were relieved to find the front door unlocked, just like Joe and Star said. Like I said earlier, it was odd to people who grew up with mistrust of their neighbors like we had, but not that weird to people who lived in places like Radford, Virginia.
“The door is unlocked. We should start bringing stuff in. The lights are out though, so they’re probably asleep. We should try to be kind of quiet,” I told the guys.
When we entered the house, I noticed the coldness first. It was right before Thanksgiving and we weren’t exactly in the deep South, so turning the heat on would have been nice. It was colder than it should have been for two people to be sleeping in, let alone the whole band. “Beggars can’t be choosers,” I thought. My first thought should have been, “Beggars should question things.”
The next thing we all noticed was how much of a disaster the place was. Two couches were piled high with boxes and random junk. The dining room table was also stacked with books and papers. Dishes, utensils, a dog dish with food spilling out and no indication of a dog, and just general filth were strewn about. It seemed odd that Joe and Star, who seemed so nice and presentable, lived in a pile of filth and grossness. Maybe they had shitty roommates? Maybe they were hoarders? Alarms should have been going off, but we were all too tired to rationalize what was happening. Everyone was getting into sleeping bags and bundling up for the cold night ahead. Everyone lined up on what little floor space wasn’t covered with a bunch of garbage, cracked a bunch of jokes about racism beating ska, and drifted off into incredibly uncomfortable sleep. Everyone except David and me.
I couldn’t sleep because of the cold and figured if I was going to freeze, I should do it in the van. David sat outside on the steps. I piled my stuff back into the van and tried to settle in, but something just seemed so off about what was happening. I looked out the window and saw David looking through the overflowing mailbox.
I went back outside to see what he was looking through the mail for. I already knew what was happening before I even made it all the way to the steps to ask him.
“None of this mail says Joe or Star on it,” he said.
My heart raced in the most comical fashion. Whose fucking house was it?
“Everybody up! We’re in the wrong house!”
The commotion of us yelling, opening and closing the door, clamoring about the house, and stomping around should have woken up our hosts, even if briefly to say hello. We realized that the strange practice of leaving the front door unlocked also extended to houses that were unoccupied.
We opened the doors to all of the other rooms in the house to find no one. There were unmade beds, clothes strewn about, and half eaten food. No sign of our hosts whatsoever. In the chaos of discovering that we were alone in the house, a few of the guys opened the fridge to find nothing but a few unopened beers. The toilet was full of shit that wasn’t flushed. None of the lights even turned on. Either the electricity was cut off in the dump or all of the light bulbs blew out.
Everyone made a beeline for the van with all of their stuff. It would have been angering if it wasn’t the most insane, hilarious thing to ever happen to our band. If not for David’s uneasy feeling about where we were, we probably would have squatted the entire night in a cold house where the electricity was turned off and no one lived. As we turned the van around to head back to the highway, we noticed a house with a small light on in the front window. Nice floral print curtains separated to reveal what appeared to be a dining room table with a bowl and vase full of flowers on it. Out of curiosity, we stopped to look at what we realized was a note taped to the front door.
“Hi guys. Sorry we couldn’t stay up, but feel free to make yourself at home. There are cookies on the table – Joe and Star.”
It was closing in on 6 a.m., so we decided to skip it. We needed to get ourselves back up at 8 a.m. to start our drive to the next venue, so we wanted to just start the drive and get a hotel in the next city. The thought crossed my mind to go in and grab the cookies, but it would have been impossible to explain why the cookies were gone but we hadn’t stayed.
We stayed for more than an hour in a stranger’s home. Because of the state of the house, and the fact that we left it exactly as it was - a complete fucking disaster - no one probably ever knew we stayed there. So, if my story seems to fit the description of your house in Radford, Virginia in 1998, sorry about taking those last two beers out of your fridge.
After a night like that, I kind of needed them."CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE. ORDERS SHIP IN 2 WEEKS.