When the rain came we sang hymns
And prayed for more for California’s sake
Come summertime we’ll find it’s too dry
When the rain came so will the chardonnay
When the rain came
We danced and drank it in
-- Helyn Rain and Jeff Left, “When the Rain Came”
Any amount of rainfall in California is a blessing these days. But it sure doesn’t feel like it when the only storm of the year hits on the very first day of the tour. It turns out the weather’s even harder to embrace when, after packing the bus in the rain and finally hitting the road two hours later than expected, the ceiling starts leaking buckets directly onto your driver. And it’s downright impossible to be grateful when, after a pie stop at a berry farm, your 35-foot school bus gets stuck in some very fresh mud and you can’t get it out.
There’s an old parable about luck and expectations: A farmer whose only horse runs away refuses to accept his neighbors’ condolences, saying neither he nor they have real knowledge of what's good and what's bad in the cosmic scheme of things. Months later, the horse comes home, bringing with it two beautiful wild horses which the farmer adds to his stable. Seems lucky? While riding one of the wild horses, the farmer’s only son is thrown to the ground, crippling him. Seems unlucky? A war comes, and all the able-bodied men in the town are conscripted. The farmer’s son, who is still crippled, remains with him, and the farmer remains stoic.
The first day of the tour was rich with mixed blessings and mixed curses. Pancho got an acting gig he didn’t expect to get, which seemed like good luck. But it meant he had to leave the tour basically immediately, and rendezvous with us again on Wednesday. He didn’t even get to play that night, and his girlfriend Natalie got sick on the way to drive him home. We didn’t have time, leaving Berkeley, to stop for groceries, which seemed like bad luck, but we got to eat pie for supper which seemed like great luck, but then we got stuck in the mud which seemed unlucky. But we didn’t have to spend our AAA tow getting out, didn’t break anything, and met some friendly strangers in the process.
Also, the light was gorgeous, and we got to stretch our legs and feel the new sun on our shoulders for longer than we would have let ourselves otherwise.
Then there was the matter of booking. We knew it made the most sense to spend the night in Santa Cruz, before heading to Drum Canyon the next day. But as luck would have it, we didn’t find a place to play in advance of leaving. So we planned to get to Santa Cruz early, post up somewhere in town, and do some daylight busking to the sidewalk. But because of rain and mud, that didn’t work out, either. At the end of our misadventures, we ended up showing up at the UCSC trailer park, a little after the night fell and the fog fell and the rain started up again, and having to do a 29-point turn into an empty spot.
The UCSC trailer park is singular. 42 trailer spots are nestled into the idyllic redwood forests of UC Santa Cruz’s campus. The park is a legacy of a 1980s student housing shortage, when students bought mobile homes and started parking them in lots and in the woods. Though the university is currently making moves to replace all the old trailers with new, university-owned ones, and turn the space into something more like traditional student housing, most of the units in the park are still owned by the residents themselves, and have been handed down from generation to generation of students. These trailers are surrounded by gardens and tchotchkes, muraled with peace and love, and many bear names like, “Creamsicle”, and “The Guardian”.
This might sound like the perfect place for a bus named "Splendor". But, personally, my expectations for the show itself were pretty non-existent. Not low, just opaque. Granted, it was my first day and I don’t know much about touring, but we were muddy, sugar-crashing, sleep-jonesing, and completely unsure how late any of us would have the energy to play, or if whether we’d get an audience at all. The bus had been there twice before, both times great, but maybe they’d just gotten lucky. And UCSC trailer park or no, you can’t roll up unannounced into a strange backyard, haggard, road-worn, and conspicuously giant and blue, and expect other people to get excited, especially if you’re too tired to get excited yourself. My biggest aspiration was we’d be able to get enough sleep before being booted and ticketed by the campus patrol in the morning.
As it turns out, that was either very wise and stoic of me, or very naive. Because the UCSC trailer park is one of the highest-powered good vibe radiators on earth. And so is Splendor, especially once the show has started, especially at the UCSC trailer park.
Following a potluck dinner at which we witnessed a lot of mutual affirmation, and consumed a lot of food other people prepared, James, Derek, Angela, Jeff and Helyn (who, for the record, made a delicious salad), and I (Rosie) all performed to a bus full of a happy audience. We traded the stage pretty frequently, playing short sets of two to three songs each. And then the UCSC kids showed us what they got. Some, but by no means all, of the highlights: Anna Rose, who showed up despite her homework to jam on the flute to James Wallace’s “The Wire,” a guitarist named Rae who with her friends singing did a Staples-style “Sittin’ On-Top of the World” (as one friendly-stranger-on-acid told us when he found us stuck in the mud, it was Bob Weir’s birthday), our friend and trailer park neighbor Dandelion sang “Feelin' Groovy,” and sketched us doing our thing.
Campus security did eventually show up, at around 11. The officer informed us that quiet hours started at 10, but politely asked us to stay acoustic and be “mindful.” He also said, “This looks awesome.”
Another big treat of the night was we got to play with Jeff and Helyn again, and see them perform, before they continued off on their own van adventure (which is also their day-to-day life). The couple is just wrapping up work on an album, and played a ton of new songs off of it, including the very topical “When the Rain Came” -- about the joy of rain after a long drought. You can keep track of them on Jeff’s bandcamp, and Helyn’s website.
Our audience slowly trickled down until Wiley finally announced it was time for bed. The six of us bus-sleepers: Wiley, Angela, Derek, James, Victoria (a very cool traveler from Ireland we met in Berkeley, who will hopefully rejoin us soon), found our places, and my place was a hammock in the atrium.
I haven’t perfected hammock-sleep yet, and I was pretty cold and anxious about falling. But I must have fallen asleep, because I remember waking up. When I woke, it was to hear Wiley say, “Oh shit, there’s a ticket.”
And then I, and the rest of the bus, unseen from my hammock, muttered, “shit.”
Wiley crept forward from the bed in the back to the dashboard, to assess the damage. Then he turned around and headed back to his sleeping bag.
“Not a ticket,” he said to all of us, as he made his way.
“What is it?”
“It’s a note.”
“What does it say?”
“We love you.”