Big Brown Eyes…
I had the unforgettable good privilege to witness the Old 97s perform live over a year ago in Dallas, Texas. I had heard from friends that they perform one of the best live shows in the state – and I’m just lucky enough to be a resident of that remarkable state. There were no big fancy lights, or even good lighting at all. There were no special effects or anything to grab the audience’s attention other than Rhett Miller and his band with their engaging charm and the hooks of their neuron-firing, hand clapping, sing-along, pop country.
The unique thing about an Old 97s show is the audience itself, in its vast diversity. My friends and I listen to anything from college rock to indie pop. We were seated next to what can only be described as a “frat” guy, and his two whore-ity – excuse me – sorority girl friends; both of whom seemed to be fighting for his attention all night. Not far from us was a couple all got-up in cowboy hats and boots. Scattered around the audience were punks,drunks, geezers, sneezers, greeks, geeks, jocks and – well – us.
Like I stated at the beginning, the show was unforgettable. One friend of mine did not have the fortune to attend this wondrous event with us lucky souls. Stuart is a bigger Old 97s fan that I am, and he had never gotten to see them live. As far as I was concerned, this was a crime.
I’ve got a time bomb in my mind…
This past Christmas I was feeling rather generous (being the poor recent graduate that I am); and when I came across an advertisement for the Old 97s playing a show in Dallas at the end of the year, I decided I would treat my friend and his wife to the experience of a lifetime. I bought tickets and we made plans to have plans on New Year’s eve eve.
We arrived in Deep Ellum around nine p.m. and made our way to the Gypsy Tea Room. There was already a line outside the door, and the show was not suppose to start for another hour. We waited outside and argued about the name of our band, and made fun of the endless stream of people coming by trying to buy tickets to she show, which had been sold out for over a week. We made fun of Melody, my friends wife, for forgetting her purse; she did not have her I.D. or her inhailer.
Eventually ticket-holders were let in, but we had to wait outside for a while still, as we were on the will-call list. As they let us in we argued with the bouncer to let Melody in even though she forgot her I.D., she promised, swore not to drink.
The streets of where I’m from…
Dallas seems to be one of the few major cities left that has not wised up to the idea of prohibiting smoking in enclosed public places (even Austin finally passed a law recently, which I thought would never happen). The show was half an hour from starting and the room was already filling with the nauseating haze of well packaged death. I had bronchitis at the time (which has become an annual celebration of the change in weather for me) and Melody suffers from asthma. We both knew immediately that it was going to be an uncomfortable evening, at best.
As ten o’clock approached the fog grew thicker and signs of life on the stage remained a constant nil. After a long enough time had passed for people to start wondering what was going on, the opening band scrambled onto the stage. I do not remember the name of the band, and I mean them no harm; however, their music was more fit for the all you can eat buffet dinning room of a cruise ship than to be opening for the Old 97s. It was, I admit, fun… for a moment. Around two-thirds the way through their forth or fifth song, however, it became mundane, in a hurry. The next thirty minutes were spent trying to breathe and wondering when this band was going to call a night a night, as each song grew more bland and less original. We patiently waited and inhailed the heated ash of tobacco as the opening band finally closed their set.
The empty bottle was half empty…
You could feel the excitement in the room. Can you feel it? Pure energy! We were in for a treat.
I hope. Sometime? Soon?
The air thickened, and Melody began to cough. I couldn’t blame her, it was getting impossible to breathe in this place. Air conditioning? Ventilation? We are in Texas, these things were invented for this state! The fans above us hung a few feet over our heads with not one blade to number between the score of them.
But we will wait. Soon the Old 97s will take the stage and steal our minds and brighten our hearts.
Okay, maybe soon.
It’s been a while now.
“Hello!??!” people began to scream. We all looked around at each other. People started to shed their outer garmets and we looked longingly at the stage.
The murmuring of the crowd grew louder. It had been twenty minutes now since that Carnival Cruise opening band left the stage. The feeling of excitement was changing; the energy was still there but now it was turning dark. No movement on the black stage.
It will be worth it, though. It will be great, we all encouraged ourselves. At this point, though, I am finding it increasingly hard to breathe; Melody must be having a hell of a time.
“What the fuck!!!?” came from the crowd (it might have been me, I am not sure). Over half an hour now. The audience was nearing riot, dissension, they were pissed off! I could feel it. And I was among them. We didn’t come here to stand around in a smoke filled room! And we weren't going to stand there much longer and wait. Soon questions would have to be answered. People would force their way onto the stage and fight. I could feel it, everyone could feel it.
Patience prevailed; there was movement on the stage! And it took less than forty-five minutes since that last group of people with instruments left the stage.
Will you sober up?
An noticeably inebriated Rhett Miller stammered onto the stage, followed closely by a visibly listless Ken Bethea (lead guitar). Only Murry Hammond (bass) had on a good face, but when does that smiling bassist not look like he is the giddiest man to ever breathe.
They started to play, and I tried with every oxygen deprived cell in my body to enjoy it. Melody coughed, and coughed, and didn’t stop coughing. We asked her if she was okay. She wanted to stay, she wanted to see the band; hell, we all wanted to see the band. This thing, these four guys on the stage, however, I am not quite sure what they were. The songs were well played, but where is that charm Rhett, and where is your excitement Ken? These guys had no interest in being here. And Melody started coughing again.
My heart wasn't in it, not for one single minute...
Four songs in, and we had to make her leave; she finally agreed to leave, at least. We walked outside into the cold air, and I could almost breathe again. Melody found no relief, though. An asthma attack had already started, and a little fresh air wasn’t going to help anything at this point. She started to panic because she couldn’t breathe and Stuart held her; trying to calm her down. An ambulance sat, parked, across the street, and I asked Melody if she wanted me to go get a paramedic to come take a look at her. She said no; I shouldn’t have listened. Stuart encouraged her to breathe; he breathed with her. Slowly, she calmed down.
Disappointed with the show, we decided to head down to Café Brazil, as was our custom, for some coffee and nachos, a surprisingly bad combination of foods. We immediately got Melody some water and encouraged her to stay calm. Several times throughout the short meal, however, she seemed as if she were going to pass out. She wouldn’t let us do anything, though. We should have just insisted.
Walking back to the car in the cold air felt great for me, but it became increasingly hard on Melody, especially walking past clubs with smoke drifting out their doors, and past trucks emitting the vilest of fumes.
I’m sick to death of trying…
Then it happened, she said she couldn’t go on any more. She started to panic. We begged her not to panic, that it would only make things worse, but she couldn’t help it at this point; crying, sobbing. There were some cops about twenty yards ahead, I ran up to them and asked for help.
“My friend!" I could barely think of the words to say, "she is having an asthma attack! Can you help us.”
That’s it? THAT’S FUCKING IT!?!?!? That is all you can do to help us. Tell us to call 911? My friend is over here, and she can’t breathe! You can’t do a damn thing about it?!!?
“I saw an ambulance around the corner earlier, is there not anything you can do, or try to do to help us??”
“You need to call 911.”
Damn Dallas cops. Caught in the urbane jungle of apathy and glazed eyes. These cops has more important things to do, like stand around and make sure the people in line for this club didn't try to cut in front of one another.
Stuart and I were pretty sure that we could get Melody to a hospital a lot faster than an ambulance could arrive in Deep Ellum. We were in the center of Dallas, after all; there were probably hospitals all around.
The full moon might work magic…
Stuart carried Melody back to the car, we made her take off her jacket to get away from the smoke trapped in it. We drove out of Deep Ellum as fast as we could. Both of us were on our cell phones, calling information, trying to get directions to the closest hospital.
“Okay, I got one! Dallas Medical City. Keep going down 35, until we come to 75, then we are going to take the…”
“I think 75 is in the other direction.”
“Then turn around!”
“I found one up here, exit number… shit, I guess we passed it already”
“Then turn around!”
“Okay, we take 75 to um… what did she say? Crap, I can’t remember now, I’ll call back.”
“Yeah, I just called asking for directions, we are on 35 going North, we are supposed to take the 75 exit … What? Don’t take the 75 exit? The last lady told me…”
This went on for over twenty minutes. Melody so patient yet panicked. I can only imagine the thoughts that were going through her mind. In a situation like this, how can you not consider that each breath that you force into your lungs might be your last. And there was nothing we could do for her but try to find a hospital.
If you have never been to Dallas, it is notoriously impossible to navigate. You can drive next to a high way, on what can only be assumed is an access road for twenty minutes and still not find a way to get on the high way. Just because you can see where you want to go doesn’t mean you are going to get there.
Finally we saw a cop sitting on the side of the road. We flashed our lights at him and pulled up behind him. Finally we are going to be able to find a hospital. The car’s wheels spin in the gravel on the side of the road and he speeds off. Damn cop! Run away because you are afraid we are going to attack you! To Serve and Protect your own ass.
We try to follow him but we loose him.
"We have to just call an ambulance!"
"I know, I know... you are ri... Over there, two cop cars sitting in a parking lot!"
We pull up and this time, this cop doesn’t speed away. We tell him what is going on, and he offers to lead us to the hospital.
He took his time about it. This is an emergency! Does he not realize that! He is a cop and he can just turn on his lights and sirens and we will not have to wait at this light for five minutes! It took another ten minutes to get there, but he got us there. If it weren’t for that cop we would have been driving around Dallas for another twenty minutes, lost. We expressed our deepest gratitude as he drove away, uneffected.
Do you wanna wind up in a graveyard…
We rush in through the doors of the emergency room and inform the nurse of what is going on. Stuart and Melody are immediately rushed behind closed doors, leaving me in the waiting room.
Good, they are going to take care of her immediately. Good.
Disease and anxiety hang over this crowded waiting room thicker than the smoke at the venue. Panic is on the tip of every finger and tongue, but with no release it settles into the bottom of every soul in this room; waiting to be somewhere safe to cry.
Almost every seat and wheel chair is occupied. I find a seat in the exact middle of the room and try to read, but I can’t. I cannot concentrate. This is all too uncomfortable; this is all too depressing. I eavesdrop on every conversation I can hear. The wait is around four hours. That one group in the corner keeps getting bigger, more people keep arriving. They were all probably gathered for a holiday together. They probably haven't seen each other in a year, and as unexpected as the wreck that brought the ambulance outside, Dad or Uncle, halfway through a laugh, is struck by silence. They are in the hospital waiting room now; with the rest of us. Who is next? The elderly lady holding the hand of her worried son behind me and to the left? Or me? My heart keeps beating faster; I can feel it, I can hear it! Family Guy is on the television. I kind of like this show, but it can’t hold my attention either.
I walk outside to call my sister, but she is asleep. I tell her what is going on and she is falling asleep the whole time. I don’t want to go back inside, but I can’t stand outside much longer or I will freeze, I already can’t control the shivering.
I got back in. I sit. I wait. I have to go to the bathroom, and you wouldn’t believe how many men obviously can’t hit a rather large target from a relatively short distance.
I can’t wait anymore. It’s been almost an hour now and I haven't heard anything about Melody!
I walk outside. It’s too cold. I walk back into the vestibule. There is a young guy in there, about my age.
“I couldn’t stand it in there anymore,” he says. He, like me, is looking for any kind of normal interaction that will distract him from what is going on all around us.
“Yeah, me either. It’s just too much.” I almost break down and cry at this point, so much pain and every part of existance that we run from, pilled on you in one stark white room, but it isn't safe enough to cry yet.
“My name is…”
“Well, are you ready?” from behind me. I turn around and it is Stuart and Melody.
“Yeah. Yes I am!” I turn, “it was nice to meet you,” and we leave.
When we got here the triage nurse grabbed the first person he saw and told them to set up a breathing treatment for her. It took an hour, but she is fine now. We are all fine now. We are set free from this place.