This is always an interesting time on the tour; the last week is the beginning of a transition from the road to home. For many people it is a happy period when the light at the end of the tunnel shines on the home, the family and all of the precious things that they hold dear in their non-touring life. For others, it’s the start of an uncomfortable time where the loss of the road life means unemployment, an unknown future and the difficulty of establishing a routine that doesn’t count on a day sheet slipped underneath their hotel room door.

There are plenty of people who make their living away from home. People in the entertainment industry are not the only ones. From traveling salesmen to deep sea fishermen, oil rig roughnecks to career military personnel, there are many careers that involve being away from house and home. I have personally been away as much as 220 days out of the year (though that was before I was married). For many people the travel, the hotels, the buses, the airplanes and airports, the bad food and the isolation wears them thin and they look for a way to stay home. Some find it and never look back. I don’t think this post is for them.

More than once I’ve seen those who have retired come back, usually because they have a unique skill and a need for the good money the road offers. For a long time people have written about something that has been called “wanderlust“, “traveling shoes” or a “traveling bone”. It’s not always a blues tune or a tale of drifters, nomads, carneys or one-time lawmen with a deep dark secret wandering the wild west drinking themselves to death. Just in the same way that there are those who live in the same house in the same town all their lives and are perfectly comfortable with it, there are those who feel more at ease when they wake up with a new vista every few days.

I think this conversation will be better if I just delve into my own feelings and experience. I tend to drift into generalities and ramble on when I’m afraid I might expose some part of myself that might make me or someone else uncomfortable. I have been touring since the mid-80’s when I first said yes to a teching job with a jazz artist. My first tour was two weeks in Japan in the summer. I was completely blown away by how different Japan was. It wasn’t just the language or the appearance of the majority of the people. The smell, the sounds,the culture, the spacing and size of the accommodations, the food, the behavior… as confusing and odd as it was, it was also exciting. How could people do things this way, different from us in the U.S., why would they be content with these differences? I hit the wall after 10 days and had to be reined back in by someone with more travel experience.

As I traveled for the first few years, I really welcomed each new place. Those with more experience would complain about what was missing or the lack of modern facilities but I was really content with just not being home. Here were places with history, different beliefs, different foods and different ways of doing things. Some of it seemed illogical to the ways I had learned but when in Rome… you know? I began to enjoy returning to certain cities for their vibe and people.

I had the chance to travel with a few different tours and different crews. I found that some people who tour actually can’t stand change and seek out the exact same thing in each city. They would be in the nearest McDonalds or Irish pub within 30 minutes of arrival. The differences were not welcome. They would constantly seek out the comforts of home. I have to admit that I’ll often settle for a tuna sandwich in a corner store before ordering what might be a $45 fried workboot in brown gravy with cabbage and saffron. I’m usually up for the local specialty if it’s not some sort of a macho bar bet of a meal.

In just looking at these two descriptions from the first paragraph, it might initially look like a difference in attitude. I’ve discussed this transition with professionals, road people and “normal” people. Though I think there are many kinds of folks who make their living touring, there are some common traits in most people who spend time living on the road. There are certainly a large group of people who ran off to be in the circus; they were probably never very comfortable at home and had to go. There are those who could not handle a “real” job with the standard salary, tie, politics and moral intrigue.

When the tour begins to end, I often find myself becoming irritable as I sense the big change that is about to occur. I’m about to lose my road family (some forever) and re-enter my home family. I have to change my daily schedule, my attitude, my behavior and my language. I’m about to resume sharing my life with my wife and family after selfishly hoarding my private time to myself. The two worlds collide and when the dust settles, life gets back to normal. I find that the two worlds defy and depend on each other for existence; I am hugely grateful for my wife’s hard work and double duty that makes it possible for me to have a nice home and an easy life on the road.

I suspect I’ve talked about this before, but there is a scene in the movie “Riding Giants” (which is a documentary about big wave surfers) in which the wife of Laird Hamilton(THE big wave surfer) talks about her husband when there is no surf for him to ride. She mentions that he not only loses focus when he doesn’t have the ability to surf but even gets depressed as his purpose eludes him. I so clearly draw a parallel to that with touring. We often get attached to our jobs and careers and sometimes in not the most healthy way. I have gone through periods where my touring work was the only thing that validated me. The transition to unemployment (for in the fear-based mind, that is what it is) is welcomed until I’ve caught up on my sleep. Then there is a need/fear/want to find the next job ASAP no matter how much reserve sits in the silo.

I think it’s different for everyone in the end as they dream of their children running into their arms, their favorite restaurant or the privacy of their own bathroom. Right now I’m thinking of being hugged by my wife, getting to pick up the cats for the 3.5 seconds they will allow me to hold them and a week without the smell of cigarettes or diesel fumes. We’ve got a big three days ahead of us here in Dublin but beyond the curtains and barricade, we can all see the light at the end of the tunnel.