The following story is an excerpt from my piece in “Tales from the Rock N Roll Highway” by Marley Brant.
For even the most seasoned touring band, the long cross-country drives can get pretty monotonous. All you see is mile after mile of the same countryside, the same restaurant chains and the same crappy coffee to keep you awake. Not to mention the same smelly, crabby, hung-over companions. But things pick up a bit when you have to cross an international border. Life takes on a heretofore unfelt urgency. Lethargy gives way to desperate scurrying, futile cleaning and furtive inserting. Even waiting in long lines takes on a feverish intensity.
I recall one such crossing into Canada. It was my turn to hold that night’s worth of marijuana (which we refused to forgo for even a single show). Things went smoothly at first. We pulled up to the border, waited our turn, presented our identification, endured the standard snide comments about our band name, and submitted to the customary search of our vehicle. But something suspicious turned up in a suitcase, a sticky leaf, a green crumb, something. We were informed that we were to be strip-searched. The border guards said it would go much easier for us if we just gave up whatever we had, but I was damned if I was going to help them incriminate me. Besides, how much help did they really need? The weed was right there in my jacket pocket. They had no trouble finding it all by themselves.
For the first time in my life, I found myself in a room locked from the outside. As I sat there, deprived of my physical freedom, I suddenly found myself in the grip of primal urges. The door to my room had a window that looked out on to the hallway, and I began leering with uncharacteristic brazenness at any female officer or government employee that happened past. Finally, some guy came in and told me to sit down and get away from the window. Meanwhile, the authorities conducted a thorough search of our vehicle and belongings. They hadn’t yet found enough contraband to make a proper arrest. But they had more than enough to allow them to terrorize me. I’d never again be allowed into their country; I’d have my passport revoked altogether. I would henceforth be unable to make a living. This was okay with me, for I was sick of touring anyway.
But after their search turned up nothing else illegal, the guards were obliged to let us go. But there were consequences nonetheless. We arrived at the club far too late for a sound check; we had barely enough time to set up our equipment before we were scheduled to go on. There, in front of a packed house at one of Toronto’s most fashionable showcase lounges, we learned that the frustrated border guards had stolen the tubes out of our amplifiers. After a long delay and much yelling and stumbling around, we used the opening band’s equipment and played a decidedly inferior set.
We never got another shot at a club in Toronto of that size. Most of the people who’d shown up that night elected never to do so again, and henceforth we were relegated to smaller bars on the other side of town. Of course, it’s always possible that audience might not have liked us even at our best, but I guess we’ll never know.