The Red Dirt Circuit

Brad is dragged along to a convention in Texas by his parents. Left alone in the hotel while they attend the convention dinner, and told not to wait up for them, he decides to hit Sixth Avenue, take in the Austin music scene, and then return to the hotel, before his parents get back. The rewards are fraught with "complications."

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14. The Boys in the Band

 One band member bracketed Brad on the bar stool. A second member stood by his side, both pulling on long neck beer bottles. The drummer was soaked in sweat with a dark stain straight down his shirt somewhat like a skunk’s markings. He wore a gray shirt so the sweat marks were hard to miss. His long hair was pulled straight back and his hairline has started to recede. His mustache reminded Brad of his older cousin’s baseball cards from the 70s with pitchers sporting handlebars, lamb chop sideburns and mullets. This guy must have been channeling Ginger Baker or Greg Lake.

“How old d’ya think those girls were?” the drummer said.

“Not more than 19 unless they skipped a year at UT,” he said. “Why don’t you ask Sid?” He took another draw on his bottle and noticed Brad staring at him.

“What’yer looking at,” he said in a way that was more of a question than a threat.

“Nothin’.”

“I’m Jake,” he said extending his hand. “Where ya from?”

Brad felt a powerful grip and decided this throwback hippy was in the right profession but if he ever drummed his way out of the band he could be a brick mason.

“New Jersey.”

“No foolin’ — Jimmy, here, is from Paterson.”

Jim swiveled around. “Nobody’s from Paterson, or if they are, they don’t admit it. I’m from Wayne.”

“Wow, I’m from Ridgewood, small world.” Brad extended his hand, feeling a bit more grown up.

“What the hell brings you to this shithole?”

“My parents.”

The guys fell out. One nearly sent beer down the wrong pipe and he coughed in a way that suggested a couple of packs of cigarettes a day. When the sputtering stopped and he gathered himself he croaked, “what really brings you here.”

“I got dragged to a convention by my parents—they wouldn’t trust me home alone, so here I am.

“I don’t blame them—what’s her name.” Jake laughed at his friends quip. “Now, now, don’t take offense, Brad, Jim here’s a party animal and that’s the first thing he thinks of. If he had parents, they wouldn’t trust him either.”

“Harsh, man, Jim.”

“They trust me; stuff just happens—a lot, lately, too.”

“Dude, you’re a half-good lookin’ guy. What’ya doin’ here without a gal on each arm.” Jim adjusted himself on his seat. “We just had some extras there for the takin’.”

“Yeah, Jim,” this is exactly why Brad’s parents didn’t let him home alone—guys like you probably get him into trouble all the time.”

The manager came over. “You’re corrupting this kid, Jake.” He smiled at them, “You ought to know better. This is how you came to your downfall. Don’t drag him with you.”

“They’re fine,” Brad said. “By the way, I came in here because you guys sounded really tight. The rest of the street has crap playing.”

“That sounds like a left-handed compliment—”

“But he’ll take it,” Jim said. “Anything we can get.”

“No, really, you sound great.”

“You’re not just sayin’ that because of our babe-magnet,” Jim said, pointing the top of his bottle at Sid.”

“Yeah, he’s good, but overall you guys really go together. Your manager mentioned something about ‘Red Dirt’ music.”

“That’s because Sid’s from up state and that’s where that stuff comes from.”

“That and Oklahoma.”

Brad looked at the two band members comparing notes, glad they were including him in their conversation.

“Jim,” Brad said, “how do you get here from Wayne, New Jersey?”

“That’s easy and you only get one guess, and from looking at all these same tee shirts, it ought to be obvious.”

“Oh, University of Texas, DUH. So you came down here, but why would a Wayne Hills guy want to come here?”

“The short of it is that I played football for Olsen at Wayne Hills and might have been the startin’ running back for the Longhorns but I wrecked by knee in spring football.” Jim looked down into his bottle. He had told the story many times before but this time he saw no need to embellish his personal tragedy to a kid stranger.

“They immediately decided to red shirt me, so I practiced my freshman fall  but, naturally, I didn’t get in to any games—how could they put me in with Jabril Johnson going for the Heisman that year. Then I tore up my knee that spring. Poof, everything went up in smoke, my career, my scholarship...”

“Then what happened, I mean, if you don’t mind tellin’?”

“Nah, I don’t mind,” Jim said. “Can’t change anything about it.” He took a long draw on his beer and drained it and waved to the bartender for another.

“Don’t let Skip see it’s your second.”

“Second? Shit it’s my fifth. C’mon, I sweat it all out like you do.” He smiled broadly at Jake. “You’re not my big brother—“

“Yeah, Skip is.”

“Nah, he’s more like our mother.” The guys snickered and Brad laughed with them.

“Back to the short story. I played guitar by myself in some of the small coffee houses and then joined up with Jake, here. One day, Skip walks through the door and watched us.”

“More like he fixated—he hung out in the back and after a couple of nights it started feeling creepy, so finally I worked up the nerve to find out whether he was a stalker or a serial killer,” Jake said. “So I asked him flat out what he was doing spyin’ on us like that.”

“That’s when he told us about Sid, this hot, young, rising star on the Red Dirt Circuit,” Jim explained. “We had no idea what he was talking about but it was fifty dollars we didn’t have at the time.”

“How old is he?” Brad asked.

Jake looked at Jim. “Lesee. When didya drop out of UT?”

“Three years—no two and a half years ago.”

“That sounds right because it was just after Leslie graduated and dumped me. That woulda been then because I was desperate for work. This guy Sid  came along right then and he was just outta high school —graduated that June. That makes him 20 or 21.”

“So what are his chances? Your manager—Skip—seems to think he’s on the brink or something,” Brad said.

“It’s hard to tell. I’ve only been at it nearly these three years and he’s had nibbles, but so far, nothing. Maybe because we’re with him every night we don’t see that much difference—“

“That’s not exactly right,” Jim said. “I can see that he’s a bit more polished and he certainly has more stamina than when we first started.”

“He wanted to play all that straight country shit.”

“I’m not talkin’ about that,” Jim continued. “He’s more apt to finish songs strong to the end and the way he phrases his lyrics, it’s like he’s not lazy anymore. It could be just a matter of time—“

“Or happenstance. Right place at the right time,” Jake said. The he added, “it could happen any night; you never know when an agent looking for the right guy will walk through that door.”

The three looked at the entrance almost expecting an agent to walk in but all that milled through the portal was more UT undergrads with rust colored longhorns on their chests.

The man they called Skipper suddenly stood up. “It’s time to make the donuts, boys.”

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