I've been on the road for a month as a caterer for the rock band du jour. I'm averaging about four hours of sleep a night, and most of those nights are spent tossed about in a bunk the size of a Pez dispenser on a bus driving from one gig to the next. A steady lack of sleep does funny things to a person. True exhaustion shuts your brain down to its most basic functions. I've lost all interior monologue; everything I think I speak. I have temporary Tourette's, which isn't the best-case scenario when your job is catering to the whims and needs of rock stars. Sleep deprivation is more potent than any of the powders and pills floating around backstage. I'm one of the few on tour who does not have a drug habit, but you could never tell from my behavior. Three weeks into the tour and I'm stuttering incoherently most of the day with dark circles under my glazed, bloodshot eyes, laughing insanely for no reason, and falling asleep in random spots around the venue. When I get tired I tend to eat a lot in a vain attempt to energize myself. Add these symptoms together and it explains why one of the crew asked me where he could score some good pot. "I'm not sure," I replied, "but if you can tell me where I can score some good sleep I'll pay you handsomely." The joke was misinterpreted and a few hours later he was back with a bag of multi-colored pills. "Zanax, Valium, Ambien—your choice, Liz. Here's a whole bag of sleep for you."
Catering is one of the hardest jobs on a rock tour. We are the first to reach the venue and the last to leave, and our 18-20 hour days consist of nonstop, grueling labor. We cook breakfast, lunch, dinner, and after-show food for the crew, the band, and the local union labor; we also set up and stock the dressing rooms and the buses that cart us from town to town. A typical day begins a little before 8 a.m. We unload our flight cases of gear from one of the seven 18-wheelers that house the sets and lights. We are self-contained and carry everything from ovens to tealight candles. The first job is locating the local promoter rep to find a place to set up the kitchen and the dining room. Most of the facilities on this tour were never meant to house anything more than equine events, tractor pulls, and the annual pig racing competition. In Little Rock, Ark., a man named Jeb informed our crew that catering would be housed in the Milking Pavilion, "up yonder just past the Cow Palace." There's nothing quite like pushing a 200-pound flight case filled with dishes up a ramp covered in the remnants of last week's rodeo first thing in the morning. It makes you pause, look around, and wonder how the hell you got to this place. For me, it started a few years ago when I decided to quit my day job and become a full-time writer. I supplemented my meager income with a string of restaurant jobs, and that led to this—traveling the country caring for and feeding musicians.
When people learn what I do for a living they inevitably ask for the strangest request from a band. So far I have not been asked to supply anything too bizarre for the dressing rooms. In fact, I'm a little disappointed with how mundane some of these riders can be. On a previous tour I set up the dressing rooms for a controversial rap group. I expected the riders to ask for guns, whores, and cocaine, but all they really wanted was a fruit tray and some cognac. I suppose it's good thing that I haven't been asked to separate the stars' M&M's by color and size. Anything that frivolous would make me snap, and with the onset of Tourette's that I've recently developed, I'm afraid of what I would say should that situation ever arise.