Randy calls, 7 a.m., says he and Jen are going on the Edwards tour, do I want to go, can we use my van, does my brother still live in Chicago, and blah, blah. I didn’t get the message till like noon, around the midday news break. I text him back, say, “Hell yeah I’m in, just let me tell the boss I’ve got a, um, I’ve got some family problems to look after, tough situation, uncle, cousin, be back in June.” So I do. Randy assumed my answer, already got a stash of tix for the Atlanta opener. Bitchin’, f’in bitchin’. In some ways, I can’t believe it, his last tour, man, the last Edwards tour. Out of my mind crazy, I cannot believe we’re hitting the road for all of it. Frick. This is so big O little k.
“Dude, I do NOT want to miss the Totenberg opener,” Randy yammers on. “It’s just her, solo,” he emphasizes. Sometimes Edwards has opening bands—Liane Hansen, the Disco Biscuits, Juan Williams. Sometimes not. This time, yes. And Randy won’t shut up: “When we missed that Scalia-Slipknot-O’Connor segue last year, no way that’s happening again, is all I’m saying. We better get there by showtime.”
Jen brought her roommate Claire, which was cool enough, even though we’re pretty cramped in the van. Claire, I find out, was actually on the road crew a few summers back, setting up the new West Coast studio, and I’m instantly so digging her. There’s clearly some kind of thirty-something, listener-supported vibe between us. It’s like, we’re just sitting there, Randy’s driving, and she’s completely feeding off this live This American Life, Portland ’03, the one with Vowell in the second set, where she just comes in so, so strong with the solo, you know? Plus, with the extended theremin jam.
So we’re taking bets on what Edwards starts off with, and I say, “You just know it’s gonna be something from his series on the civil-rights bill of ’64, that whole four-part monster gig he dropped last year.” Jen says that’s too obvious: “For a last tour the opener’ll be strong, like a John McCain interview or James Michener tribute, not spacy.” We’ll see. Claire puts her headphones back on. “Watcha got, Claire?” Jen yells back. “It’s that thing, the PRI Lollapalooza tour.” And they both jump in, on cue, laughing, “Public … Radio … International.”
Soon, to take a break, we pull off in South Carolina by some horrific giant peach, a roadside attraction gone awry—"Now that’s a Weekend Edition Saturday story right there!" Jen blurts out—and before the van’s even stopped we’re outside, twirling, listening to an old Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!, just laughing in the sun, Carl Kasell lighting it up large. With the NPR tours, it’s like, I can’t even express it, it’s just too big, spiritually, and nobody else understands. Unless you’re on tour you can’t understand. You get so in the middle of a major mellow fade, and the aura, it’s the aura, layered with thick sound, the stock reports and rigid political debate about geriatrics and interviews with senior senators from the Mountain states filling the spaces between your neurons. That’s all I can think of it, every show. We want a fair and respectful presentation of the issues that affect our world. We get it.
“Hey,” Claire says, “Jen and I got some tote bags and coffee mugs we can sell to pay our way around, maybe trade up for more tix down the road, too.” “Maybe sell some of those cucumber sandwiches my mom’s friends love, too,” Randy adds. Either way. Then he goes into his story again, about how he and Jimmy, flaming on an Ira Glass-induced trip, saw Cokie Roberts driving a golf cart around the lot at the Denver ‘01 show when he was selling NPR ganja. “It was huge, she was so all over the lot,” he said, but we sort of don’t believe him. Scott Simon, maybe. Cokie, no way. It’s not like when Daniel Schorr came out to play the triangle at the New Year’s show in Boston. Just two notes, right in the middle of “First, the news.” Now that was fucking legendary.
Back on the road, it’s obvious Claire and I are gonna hook up. She loves public-affairs programming too—and it happens, we finally lock lips in the middle of this hot, hot conversation about Texas redistricting. Randy boots up his wi-fi to check on later tour dates, map out our trip. He tells me he’s got a feeling String Cheese Incident might come out and play for some of the show in Seattle, since their tour with Susan Stamberg coincides with Edwards’s. I doubt it, but stranger things have happened.
I load up a Sylvia Poggioli report, Vatican ‘91, and lie back against Claire on the Restoration Hardware futon cushion. This is gonna be great. Epic. What a long, staid trip it’s been.