Spring 1997, Greensboro, Statesville and Wilkesboro, North Carolina
I took the shuttle from the airport to downtown Greensboro. I had tickets for the 12th annual MerleFest Bluegrass Festival in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, but had no idea how I was going to get there from Greensboro. When my folks bought me the plane tickets to visit them in their new snowbird home in Florida, I added an extra sixty to get me to the four day festival of my acoustic music heroes.
I was traveling light as usual, just a big hiker’s backpack, so I find myself in downtown Greensboro. The only person I know from there I don’t even know and his name is
Dr. Eugene Chadbourne. You may have heard his great records like Chopping Down Weeds, or Big Boys With Little Balls. He played in Bongwater and Camper Van Chadbourne. A true legend and his name just happened to be in the phone book.
A woman’s voice. Hi you don’t know me, I say, but Im jus whistling through town on the way to MerleFest, y’all going? Eugene was in the studio but his wife said call back later, maybe their daughter is going with a bunch of friends.
I thought of a carload of southern Jewish southern belles leading me to four days of high lonesome paradise.
I still had to find a place to stay for the night. As I hung up the phone to the Chadbourne’s for the second time (no news yet) a man approached me with a half smile and a slight lifting of the chin that made me suspicious. I don’t think I was suspicious because he was black, but I couldn’t be too careful, so I acted friendly.
He wanted to know if I had somewhere to stay and suggested the shelter in the church where he was a member. We walked the ten or fifteen blocks across the bridge together to a large white building with an empty parking lot. He was an honest person. I checked in, got a bed in the large room and stuck my head in a book, not talking to anyone. After resting a couple hours and realizing this was no place to find a ride to a bluegrass festival, I left stuff safely there and went back to explore Greensboro.
No luck on the streets after a couple cafes and bookshops asking around, even calling a pottery place in Asheville thinking there would be a ride. Back at the shelter, the junkies told me they would give me ride for fifty bucks, a lot less than a taxi, which would be close to a hundred. I told them I would think about it, picturing my decapitated head and my fifty bucks going into their arms, then discreetly finding out the nearest town on the Greyhound Bus and bought a ticket to Statesville.
The afternoon is quiet and the little church shines at the edge of Main Street. Men’s chins seem different than I have seen before, even the young and fit have a flap of skin, and all appear to have buck teeth, vestiges of clever selective breeding.
There’s a pizza joint advertising all you can eat so I go in. Hey Baby, they all look up at me, the waitresses on break with the place empty. They say are you hungry Baby and point to what’s left on the steaming buffet. I put my pack down and dive in. They said they weren’t into bluegrass but they would give me a ride. We went to their house and did bongs, listened to Kid Rock first and then drove the convertible down Highway 12, one of them saying good thing they were giving me a ride cause right down that road is a town where they outlawed glass bottles on account of too many people getting cut up in bar fights. If some one of them guys picked you up hitchhiking, no telling what they might do to you.