Prairie Cats: Western Voyage, Summer 2000 (June 21-28)

The words that follow tell the sordid tale of Prairie Cats' westward trip in June 2000. All events are told from the perspective of Jason Grotelueschen, P-Cat Chief Scribe, with additional editorial assistance, advice and "don't print that"-verbal-threats-to-the-Scribe courtesy of the rest of the Cats.

The Players:

Jeff Koterba: guitar, vocals, unprovoked squawking noises in remote Arizona
Larry Frederickson: upright bass, vocals, obscure Zappa references
Jeff Schoening: drums, percussion, meteorologist storm-tracking schtick
Erik Johnson: alto saxophone, Brian Setzer news updates from industry insiders
Craig Crilly: tenor saxophone, clarinet, Bobcat Goldthwait impressions and "BB gun" war stories
Kevin Linder: trumpet, "dry heat" desert weather reports
Dan Schoening: trumpet, trombone, unwavering Cubs loyalty
Jason Grotelueschen: trombone, accordian, guitar, vocals, forgetting to hand Dan the damn trombone

The Gigs:

Wednesday, June 21, 2000: Sunset Night Club, Ft. Collins, CO
Saturday, June 24, 2000: The Derby, Los Angeles, CA
Tuesday, June 27, 2000: The Mercury Cafe, Denver, CO

The Route:

From Omaha, NE: I-80 west to Cheyenne, WY, and I-25 south to Ft. Collins, CO.
From Ft. Collins: I-25 south to Denver, CO, I-70 west to southern Utah and I-15 south to Las Vegas, NV
From Las Vegas: I-15 southwest and I-10 west to L.A., CA
From L.A.: I-10 east, I-15 northeast and I-40 east to Albuquerque, NM
From Albuquerque: I-25 north to Denver
From Denver: I-76 northeast and I-80 east to Omaha

The Ride:

Only the finest for the P-Cat Express: a white 15-passenger Ford Econoline van (featuring the charming Pointy Piece of Flesh-Ripping Death-Steel Poking Out Of The Seat), with plain black covered trailer. We're happy with the trailer, which is a big improvement from the U-Haul trailer with a big picture of Raggedy Anne on the side, which we were sporting during our trip to South By Southwest in Austin. The van itself is outfitted with standard "8-guys-on-a-roadtrip" features such as two coolers of tasty sandwiches and beverages, an atlas (YES, men do look at maps), various odors and aromas of stinky manliness, a brown paper bag of assorted·ahem·magazines (which prompted a particularly informative discussion/debate on a particular publication's "100 Sexiest Women in the World" poll) and bunches of tattered pillows and blankets. The sound system: a portable CD player plugged into the van's grubby tape deck.

The Days:

DAY 1 - June 21, 2000: Travel from Omaha to Ft. Collins; gig at Sunset Night Club in Ft. Collins

We somehow manage to get our gear stuffed into the P-Cat Express, and depart from Larry's house at about 7 a.m. CST. We roll through western Nebraska and Cheyenne, WY, before veering south to Ft. Collins. We reach our destination at about 4 p.m. MST, and unload/setup/eat/dress/freakout before our show at the very cool Sunset Night Club. We had to run our own sound (therefore our own Erik J is the man of the hour), but it all worked out. The gig is great, the crowd is beautiful and friendly and into it, and we're cordially welcomed back anytime. After the gig, some locals take us to a cool pizza/brew/billiards joint, where everyone unwinds. (especially Jason, the Drunk of the Night). We head back to our swanky Motel 6 around 1 a.m. A good day in the Rockies,we say.

Highlights: the gig and the lovely folks of Ft. Collins; Lucky Joe's restaurant in "Old Town" Ft. Collins (don't let the slow service turn you away·the food is stellar); Larry's "mega-mix" CD of MP3s such as Toto's "Africa," Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire," Petulia Clark's "Downtown" and Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back"

Lowlights: discovering that we greatly enjoy listening to the "Fart CD" (20+ minutes of flatulence) on the road; missing the Ft. Collins Brewing Festival by two days; clogged toilets at the Motel 6; Jason's drunken tomfoolery

DAY 2 - June 22, 2000: Travel from Ft. Collins to Las Vegas

No matter which Cat you ask, this day is likely to be referenced as the WORST of the trip (14+ hours in the van, although we have some decent stops along the way). We hit the road from Ft. Collins at about 9 a.m. MST, with the goal of making it to Las Vegas that night for some R&R·our next gig isn't until Saturday night in L.A., so we have some time. We make our way through Denver and west through the mountains·a pretty drive, but kind of strenuous with a full van and an equally full trailer. We then make the loooong haul through western Colorado and the desolation of southeastern Utah, before heading south and arriving at Las Vegas (and our Super 8 hotel) around 1 a.m. PST. Several Cats get their second wind, and head out for some late-night blackjack/slots and eats. We all crash by around 4 a.m., and catch a few winks before the next day's shenanigans.

Highlights: cool rest stop in western Colorado where we play in the river and throw the frisbee-disc around; the lovely mountains west of Denver and near the San Rafael Canyon in Utah; the sheer entertainment value of canyons, where people can pretend to shove each other to their deaths and then shout expletives across gorges and hear them echo back; the awesome view of Vegas' lights as we come over the mountains from the north

Lowlights: 14+ hours in a van; the mighty Econoline van vaporlocking in southeastern Utah and giving us a momentary scare; most of southeastern Utah; 10% grades on mountain roads; truckstop buffet soup with a disgusting film on the top; woman at Colorado rest stop who beats her dog in plain view of everyone; realizing that we had parked right next to a spot where an RV had dumped its "bathroom receptacle" on the ground at a rest stop; repeatedly losing our frisbee disc in the trees; a moron in Vegas who calls Kevin a "f*g" because he doesn't have a match/lighter so the guy can light his cigarette

DAY 3 - June 23, 2000: R & R in Vegas

Our agenda in Vegas for this fine Friday is simple: to relax and see as much as we can. We head out on foot around 10 a.m., eat breakfast and hit the town. Over the course of the day, we see Bally's, MGM Grand, Excalibur, New York New York, Luxor, House of Blues Vegas, Ceasar's Palace and other essentials. A little blackjack, a little drinking, and a LOT of walking. But, as Kevin keeps reminding us·"it's a dry heat." After freshening up at the hotel, we head back out that night for dinner and more carousing. We see the Venetian and the "pirate battle" outdoor show at Treasure Island. We make our way back to the hotel, and all Cats are snoring by around 1a.m.

Highlights: $1.95 steak-and-eggs breakfast special at a nearby hotel (8 Cats feast for $23 total including tip); the "dry heat" of Vegas; the overall jaw-dropping excess of Vegas' hotels and lights and casino craziness

Lowlights: blisters on our feet from walking everywhere; bad service and expensive drinks at House Of Blues Vegas; ladies who run through the streets screaming "PEDESTRIANS ALWAYS HAVE THE RIGHT OF WAY" while their kids weave through traffic and almost get killed

DAY 4 - June 24, 2000: Travel from Vegas to L.A., gig at The Derby in Hollywood, CA

We depart Vegas at about 10 a.m., and make our way through the desert to L.A., where we arrive at 3:30 p.m. We find the home of our gracious hostess, Ruth (Craig's aunt), who lives on Iowa Street and next to Nebraska Street (seriously), in west L.A. We descend on her house like a swarm of locusts, but she bears with us like a champ. We eat, clean up and drive across town to our gig at The Derby in Hollywood. Despite the club's strange setup (the main dance floor is in a detached room with the band on a big-screen TV), the show is spectacular·we play well, and the crowd is incredible. During and after the show, we mingle with locals and drink pricey martinis and brew (although we do get a bunch for free). We pack up the van, and most of the Cats head out for breakfast before going back to Ruth's·Jason spends the night in a hotel near Pasadena with his wife (who flew into town the night before, but neglected to tell Jason where she was staying) and a few friends from Phoenix.

Highlights: watching the reaction (laughter) of an officer at a California Dept. of Agriculture checkpoint on the interstate near the California border when he opens our coolers full of beer and sandwiches ("you guys are all set, aren't ya! Have a good time, and welcome to California·"); prime lodging at the home of Craig's cool aunt Ruth; looking around at the Derby and remembering absolutely everything from the movie "Swingers," getting "rock star treatment" from locals who ooh-and-ahh about our show and ask when we're moving to Southern California; seeing friends from back home who had seen us at various shows in the Midwest; California-style pizza; legendary martinis; BEAUTIFUL L.A. people

Lowlights: the gas station from hell (where no gas pump can be operated for longer than 10 seconds without having to pay the attendant again) in Las Vegas; traffic and smog and super-bumpy I-10 in east L.A.

DAY 5 - June 25, 2000: R & R in L.A.

We don't have a show until Tuesday night in Denver, so Sunday is funday (although no fun really happens until mid-afternoon). Jason spends the first half of the day helping his wife fly out of town, before he takes a cab to Venice Beach to meet up with rest of the Cats (who had spent the morning and mid-day doing laundry) at 4 p.m. We hit the beach, as well as numerous shops (to buy souvenirs for the families), and eventually a cool bar where Jeff S plays tambourine for the band while the rest of us drink far too much. That night, we eat at a cool Mexican restaurant while Ruth babysits us and deals with our bickering and obnoxiousness. We eventually make it back to Ruth's and settle in for the night.

Highlights: seeing Jay Leno driving on the freeway near Burbank and hearing him yell "Hi, Nebraska!" as he rolls by; the various freaks and cool people and muscleheads on Venice Beach; Dan getting to meet the last "Chicago Cubs Girl" at the bar, Jeff S wowing the crowd at the bar with his tambourine work while sitting in with the house band; early evening on the beach; Mexican food with REAL crabmeat; Ruth and her high tolerance for partying musicians

Lowlights: Jason and his wife trying to get to, around and through LAX airport; drunken band drama

DAY 6 - June 26, 2000: Travel from L.A. to Albuquerque, N.M.

Our original plan was to get out of town by 4 or 5 a.m., to make the long haul to Albuquerque (our halfway point to Denver, since we didn't want to go back the same way we came). Thanks to Jason sleeping through the alarm, we don't actually leave 'til about 6 a.m. PST (which turns out to be fine·the early a.m. freeway traffic in L.A. isn't nearly as bad as we expected). We head east on I-40, which runs parallel to the famous Route 66 most of the way (since we play the song "Route 66" at our shows, we know the names of all the towns we see· "Gallup, New Mexico·Flagstaff, Arizona, don't forget Winona, Kingman, Barstow, San Bernadino·") This day of driving turns out to be far better than the "hell haul" from Ft. Collins to Vegas. We roll into Albuquerque at around 9:30 p.m. MST·a few Cats head out for some nightlife, but most Cats crash at our Super 8 hotel (throughout the trip, we manage to squeeze all eight of us into two rooms at every hotel we're at·cozy). We're all slumbering by around midnight.

Highlights: getting out of L.A. without fighting traffic; good desert driving; seeing a convoy of colorful NASCAR trucks on the highway; stopping at the famous Meteor Crater near Flagstaff, AZ, so spacegeeks Jeff K and Jason can see the big hole; a suprisingly Vegas-esque view of the nightime lights of Albuquerque as we pop over the mountains on our way into town from the west

Lowlights: 12 hours in the van; the smelly aftermath of eight guys eating Mexican food two meals in a row

DAY 7 - June 27, 2000: Travel from Albuquerque to Denver, CO; gig at Mercury Café in Denver

We leave Albuquerque at around 7 a.m. (after a gut-busting stop at McDonalds), with the goal of getting into Denver by mid-afternoon, to beat rush hour before our gig that night. We roll through northern New Mexico and Colorado, and reach our Super 8 hotel (we like Super 8 'cuz Kevin is a VIP member, but this particular Super 8 is not-so-super) in Denver at around 4 p.m. We unwind for a few hours before heading to The Mercury Café for our show. It's a cool place, with two levels (we play upstairs, where there's a big ballroom·meanwhile, a jazz band plays in the downstairs lounge), a restaurant and cool bars with cool bartenders. The show is cool·a great crowd and a solid performance by the Cats. We hang out for a while after the show, and a few Cats head to Denny's for breakfast with some locals·then back to the hotel for our last night on the road.

Highlights: good jazz on the van's soundsystem as we roll north; good beer and a rockin' crowd at The Mercury Café; realizing that swingers like to travel between Ft. Collins, Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs and that the Cats could easily do 4-day weekends here and make a killing

Lowlights: bad food at Denny's; overall crustiness of our Super 8 hotel

DAY 8 - June 28, 2000: Travel from Denver to Omaha, and HOME

It's been a great trip, but we're happy to be heading home. We roll out of Denver at 6 a.m. MST, and arrive in Omaha at around 4 p.m. CST. Along the way, we stop for huge cinnamon rolls and greasy biscuit sandwiches near the CO/NE border, and for Runzas (it's good to be back in Neb.) in Aurora, NE. We get back to Larry's and unload, and attempt to clean up the van·overall, we've spent about 60 hours living in that vehicle during the past week. The Cats scatter, and return to their respective domiciles·all in all, a fine week, indeed.

Highlights: sweet 'n hot Runza cookin' and big cinnamon rolls; getting out of the van and going home

Lowlights: the end of a fun trip

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