Entry 5
A weeklong electronic journal.
Feb. 18 2005 11:53 AM

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Hey, everyone. Epstein is wide-eyed and white-knuckled behind the wheel right now and things are looking pretty bleak so he asked me, Shagbark, to take dictation for his final diary entry. He's waxing poetic about the tour and his job but I feel like I have a right to sort of inject my own opinion here, considering my name, likeness, and character have been co-opted for this diary without any kind of compensation. Unless you count the fact that I haven't had to pay for anything all tour. But still.

I'll tell you this: Our troubles didn't start with the wrong turn outside St. Louis. It goes back further than all the arguments about Bush and Kerry and it happened long before the NBA turned into a circus.

Epstein would say (is saying, actually) that we're doing 80 turbulent miles per hour down a washboard road in the pitch black somewhere near the Ozarks at 1 a.m. because I wasn't paying attention to the map. I'm telling you that we're in this mess because of that craven psychopath who murdered John Lennon.

Suffice it to say that I fall into a horrible and uncontrollable depression every time I hear Lennon's voice and realize what a light we lost on that sick day 25 years ago. Epstein and I were somewhere in the middle of a four-volume set of Beatle interviews when we were supposed to make that turn.

Now it's a race against darkness to make it to Cincinnati in time for our show at The Comet and things are, to say the least, a bit dicey. Epstein punched me in the jaw when after hours of denial I finally worked up the nerve to admit we were 200 miles off-course. That's OK, I deserved it. I hope he didn't hurt his hand.

We finally pulled off to a little shack of a diner where the counter was being manned by a tall guy watching a boxing match on television. He flicked his eyes toward us and we ordered coffee and pie and grabbed ourselves a couple of stools. Thin blues wafted through the air and morphed into a jazzy Monk tune before separating into the lines of a Rachmaninov prelude. We turned to see a dark, suited figure hunched over a piano on a sagging stage near the back wall. Epstein apologized for punching me in the jaw and I told him not to worry about it. The man behind the counter brought us our pie and we ate in silence for a few minutes.

As the piano player finished his tune and wandered outside to smoke a cigarette, a dashing young gentleman flew through the door and grabbed a seat next to us.

"I can tell you about a place," he said, "Where you'll never have to wear those long faces. A place where you'll never grow old."

I told him to shut up and leave us alone. We grabbed our coffees and stormed over to a table near the window where we spread out a map and tried to plot our return to the interstate highway system. Epstein thought we were too far south but I was convinced we'd turned completely around and headed back west. In short time, both the dashing weirdo and the tall owner made their way over.

"I ain't saying you're lost," said the owner. "But I ain't saying you ain't, neither." The weirdo launched into a riff about "finding the highway of your imagination" and somewhere in the middle, Epstein threatened to bruise his fist against the guy's noggin (just like he had with mine). I jumped up to separate the two but was distracted by a paper airplane that sailed across the room and donked me in the head.

"You fellas are all just hung up," shouted the piano man from out on the lawn. "You need to feel your way back to that road you were on."

"Who threw that paper airplane?" I yelled.

"That there is no ordinary paper airplane," said a man who'd been pumping quarters into a pinball machine. "That there is the wave of the future. A paper airplane that runs on 100 percent biodiesel with no dangerous exhaust fumes and sturdy enough to be built 17 stories high. It'll fly around the world nine times if you throw it hard enough."

"Epstein," I said. "Let's get out of here."

It's an hour later now and we're still rumbling over some of the worst roads I've ever seen. We're tired and ornery and about 2 miles back we narrowly missed running over some creature that looked like a cross between an elk and an Ewok. I have to use the bathroom really bad but we just stopped about 15 minutes ago, so I'm kind of embarrassed to ask again. What can I say? I have a small bladder and we just pounded a whole pot of coffee. Epstein is talking about all the wonderful places we've been this week and all the people we've met and about how this place right here is not one of them, and I completely agree with him. I can't hold it anymore. I beg him to stop.

"Quinn!" he yells. "You just went! What's wrong with you?"

"You don't understand," I say. "You are the most gifted guitar gadgetry wizard I've ever had the privilege to play music with. You are wise and talented and a better navigator than me. You're usually right. But you can't understand how badly I need to pee right now. You don't understand my plight."

We stop and I find a bush. It's dark and creepy and I can't tell what's making all these noises I'm hearing. The Crispin Glover has two shows scheduled in the next two days, but this weird dark wilderness seems to hold more mystery and adventure than a rock 'n' roll tour. I consider whether I should make a mad dash for the woods, which is the kind of thing I've done before. Walked right past a place I was supposed to play in Seattle, got on a bus, and ended up in Equatorial Guinea for the next two years. It would be easy. I turn around and see Epstein banging the wheel in frustration.

John Lennon is dead and we're not getting him back, but somewhere in Boise there's a 16-year-old punk rock kid I have nothing in common with who had me laughing my face off at his wisecracks last week. And somewhere in Cincinnati, there's a bar waiting for The Crispin Glover to lay waste to it. I zip up and head back to the car.

"I think I know what we need to do," I tell Epstein.

"Good," he says. "Now can you finish taking this down?" He's stressing out about getting this entry in on time and I'm glad to help him. I pick up the computer and pretend to type out what he's saying.

We'll be in Cincy by sundown Friday. Guaranteed.

Jonathan Epstein is Slate's technical manager. He is relocating to Arlington, Va., after seven years in Seattle, Wash.