Please Papa can I go
Down to Richmond to the traveling show
Please Papa don’t you say I can’t
I just want to see the elephant
— the prophet mcmurtry
I was 50 feet away from one of my favorite singer/songwriters on the planet. It was fate.
James McMurtry had been scheduled to play at a Fancy Boy concert venue in Phoenix. Luckily, it was on a Saturday and I had to work, doing away with the moral dilemma of whether it was safe to attend.
The venue refused to abide by The Basic Rules of Sanity: proof of vaccination and wearing a mask. Apparently, McMurtry has this weird notion that he doesn’t want his fans or himself to die for an hour and a half of songs, even if they’re some of the finest songs ever written.
So he moved the show at the last minute to a different joint on Friday, my day off. Sold out, I told myself. But no. Tickets were to be had. A small venue, maybe a couple hundred capacity, run by our favorite promoter over the past 30 years. It would be an honor to give them both some money after such a long, hard stretch. And it would be a chance to see McMurtry live, which has never happened.
We came close a long time ago. We were driving from San Angelo to Corpus Christi back when it was OK to be in Texas, when we stopped at Threadgill’s in Austin. The marquee said he was playing that evening. We were just outside. But the show was eight hours later and that drive home is ugly in the wee hours. Another time, we thought. We kept driving.
And this was it.
I ran the idea by Mo. She gave me an encouraging “NO.” I explained that vaccinations were required. She pointed out that I am severely immunocompromised, making me a sitting duck, if ducks can get COVID, and I believe the research thus far is inconclusive. So is that a maybe, I asked hopefully. NO. I mentioned that the new album is glorious. She mentioned that I’m sick. I don’t think she meant it metaphorically, but it’s hard to tell when her eyes start rolling around.
And that was that. Instead, we went downtown to the First Friday art walk. Coincidentally (really!), it just happened to be in the neighborhood of the McMurtry concert. We pulled into the parking lot. The wall separating us from the show, which was just beginning, was right there. I looked at Mo. She looked at me. I’m pretty sure she would have caved if I asked. I didn’t.
And then we kept driving.
Living in a bubble is so hard. I have two years to go before I will finish chemotherapy and build up any sort of resistance. Until then, getting the vermin likely means I’m a goner. Just how much are you willing to risk? We wrestle with that one every day.
And now we’re looking at the Oregon map. It’s the darkest red you can get, what the NYT comfortingly refers to as “extreme danger.” We’re supposed to drive there in three weeks or so. I’ve had a cough for a month. My lymphocyte numbers, the wacky little guys who protect you, are on extended vacation. And I’m dying inside with the fear of not seeing Rick.
Do we say screw it and go see him anyhow? We’ll be careful along the way, and we’re all going to die eventually. Worst case scenario, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad way to go out. Also, they might have pie. I like pie.
Or do we do stay home and delay the trip again, hoping things will get better by spring? Seems like it can’t get worse than it is now. But we’ve said that a lot over the last 75 years since cOvId* arrived. How long can you live in a bubble before you burst?
There will be other chances to see McMurtry. I’m not sure how many shows my brother has left in him. I desperately don’t want to miss the last encore.
They’re looking for a few good men
Could be war by summer’s end
Sure would hate it if I went
And never got to see the elephant
Being Smith Boys, Mike and I put off the decision. We’ll wait and see how things are in a few weeks. You never know. Even if you do.
We live behind our masks, inside our bubbles, fighting our fears. What should we do?
Only one thing is for sure.
I just want to see the elephant.
* if you type it cOvId, it seems much more wacky.