HI THIS IS THE LAST ENTRY IN THE REPORTAGE OF THIS CRUCIAL TIME IN HUMAN HISTORY THE TOUR FROM HELL
Ok, so it's a bit embarrassing to admit this now that we've played shows in some of the craziest locations on the planet (Libera, Ethiopia, Newcastle), but some of us (me) were a bit worried at the prospect of playing in Belgrade. Even though we'd already been on some of the most harrowing experiences in our lives in the last 16 days, we still hadn't really played any equally harrowing places - we'd just slowly crept across the well worn path of western Europe towards the east. When we first started booking the tour, our idea was to go to the craziest places we could find. But instead of getting booked in Russia or Bulgaria, we just got sorted with super long drives to Sweden. So we were all really excited to go east, and also nervous.
We'd started the trip the night before after our show in Brno because we thought it was going to be a really long drive and that we'd get stuck in cell blocks on the border, getting individually terrorized until we were finally sent to labour camps in far off Serbia-Iraq border lands. We all loaded up on Czech energy drinks (they are made from horse milk) and headed south. The first stop on the E65 is Bratislava, which as we passed it's relative glittering lights and skyline, seemed achingly European and foreign to us, like a scummy Vegas hidden in the folds of the Balkans. We whizzed by and made our stop for the night in Gyor, Hungary, home of the Gyori ETO KC, number one womens handball team in Europe (I did not make that up). We arrived in pitch black at 4am to find a city already bustling with people on their morning commutes. In our tired and hallucinogenic state, it looked as busy as Picadilly Circus at 4pm, with people everywhere on the streets, waiting for the bus and everything - very weird scenes.
Since we were acting poor, we decided to get one hotel room and split it between the 8 people in the van. Somehow I got a room with the Beav, while Martijn and basically everyone else in the touring party slept in the van for the few remaining hours of night. This was the first time Fucked Up ever bought a hotel room on tour. We woke up at a leisurly hour the next morning, erasing any headstart we'd forged the night before. We ate at a cafe, where Sandy ordered a salad, and recieved a bowl of mayonnaise with some lettuce on the side. She was pissed.
We got to the Serbia border later that afternoon, after having spent the entire days drive worry about it, and then making preparations/lies to deal with it. I can't remember what we came up with, but it didn't matter because as soon as we pulled up to the gate it became clear that we wouldn't really have to say anything at all. The guy who checked us was clearly working there for the first time, because was being hazed as he checked us. Everytime he asked us a question we could hear his co-workers laughing at him from somewhere within the booth. We'd encounter this eastern bureacratic sense of administrative "whatever" later on in Russia, and it is always as hilarious as it is terrifying. Fortunately for us, this time it was hilarious. Since it was clear Martijns pidgin German wasn't going to mesh with his Serbian, he slowly and frustratedly got out of his dusty chair and came outside for a rudimentary check of the van. He kind of asked what we were doing, and we told him we were musicians passing through. He didn't understand/care, but he asked us to open the back of our van. As weeks worth of smelly clothes, merch, and musical equiptment spilled out, he asked if we were a basketball team (very popular in Serbian). Martijn told him we were, and he waved us through. Whatever.
These are the first three things we saw in the country of Serbia: A woman with a horse and carriage driving on a highway over pass that we drove under; a guy on the side of the highway selling bags full of a dozen peppers (probably for making paprika chips, Europes only flavour of chips) and a cop doing a speed trap. We got pulled over for speeding within 10 minutes inside the country. The language barrier was ridiculous. Martijn struggled through rudimentary German while the cop gave us his hardest "whatever" dialect. Somehow the both of them went back to the cops car to talk in private. Jonah went over to throw a bit more broken-German on the flames. Soon they had some how negotiated the penalty - either we could drive with him to a nearby police station, or we could proffer a 50 euro bribe in cash. We chose the cash, and on our way the guy told us where the rest of the speed traps where on the highway (about once every 10 minutes all the way to Serbia). Almost every car that drove by us on the other side of the highway would blinker us to let us know they'd seen police.
Soon we were approaching the suburbs of Belgrade. Mark explained that a loop hole in old Yugoslavian tax laws meant that home owners didn't pay property tax on unfinished buildings. Many of the houses we passed were empty on the first floor as a result of this law - people just bought houses, ripped out the walls of the bottom floor to render the houses "unfinished" and lived upstairs. I don't know how Mark knew that, but it seemed true since almost every house we saw was like this. At this point I was curled up under a blanket in the loft in the fetal position already counting the hours until we'd be back west.
We got downtown and went to the house where we'd be sleeping that night. They had prepared us a nice dinner. Me and Jonah went for a walk outside and encountered a grizzled old man, one of the oldest looking humans I've ever seen outside of a mine-shaft-disaster documentary. Luckily as well as being old and terrifying, he was also one of the most bellicose humans I've ever encountered. He was thin as a rod and wore a tight fitting green shirt with the sleeves rolled up to reveal wiry leathery arms. I think he had a pipe, and a huge chin. We both immediately christened him the Serbian Popeye. He noticed us from across the street and marched over to begin cursing us out in Serbian. Soon he was yelling and punching me in the arms and chest, for reasons we couldn't guess at. I tried to hold him off, wanting to avoid an international incident. Somehow he finally left and we scampered back inside.
The show was pretty great. A lot of people showed up, and after telling us how the Serbian government denied his application to travel to Holland for a metal festival (seems kind of wise actually), one of our hosts burned his rejected visa application on stage with us after making a short speech. It was a punk moment for everyone. Speaking of punk, we were also selling our CDs for 2 euros at this show. Afterwards we roamed the town and everyone at the grossest looking street meat I've ever seen.
We got home at around 2 or 3 and were exhausted. Luckily by this point our hosts were blasting Fucked Up and Career Suicide records so loud it felt like we were at another concert. I tried to drive my head into the hardwood, and thought about ways I would kill Jonah the next morning, who was in the living room regaling out hosts with "crazy" Career Suicide stories and doing that dancing thing he does where he points his fingers in the different directions.
Somehow the next morning we woke up. Josh and Me were in charge of exchanging our Serbian dimitars into Euros. We went downtown and waited in a currency office for almost 2 hours. I felt like I was in Interzone. Bugs slowly paced across the walls, the clock looked like it was going in slow motion. Sweat poured down everyone's face. It was like the waiting room scene in Beetlejuice. There was two guys in there with machine guns, just in case. Josh went out for a smoke and was immediately apprehended by some border police or something, who asked why he was in Serbia longer than his passport allowed. I can't remember the exact details, but they'd misread the numbers on his passport in some horrifying Kafkaesque scenario and came this close to yanking him. We got our money and hightailed it out of that country faster than anything, and don't look back. The entire countryside was flooded on our drive out.
This day was a hole in our schedule, since our original Macedonian show was cancelled. We'd met a kid in the Czech last week who said he could put us up in Bratislava. We were really excited. At the hungarian border on the way back out, Sandy opened the backseat door to the van and it fell clean off of the van, right there infront of the border guard. Since it was Eastern Europe he just went "whatever" and we drove off. Sometime after this Martijn joked about how there was a rip in part of the vans lining and if he dropped his cigarette by accident inside the van, there was a chance it could fall into the gastank. I looked down and through a rip in the leather that surrounds the shifter, I could see the moving pavement below us. I had the only seatbelt on in the entire van. Beside me the 18 year old Martijn continued to chain smoke and cackle to himself.
We got to Bratislava extremely late. The show was in some band's practice space. It was in a long slender building directly under a series of highways. You know how in movies and tv shows when they want to show the private life of the hobo character, and they go to his house under the highway underpass and there is always like burning oil drums and stuff? It was like that. It was a great show. Josh got wasted and sang some cover songs. I wore a tire around my neck and a motorcycle helmet for the entire set and somehow wound up on the roof of the building while still playing. I could describe more about this show but I'm so "whatever" about this portion of tour at this point it's not even funny. Suffice to say it was great and atleast 18 people witnessed it.
That night we stayed in what looked like a bombed out apartment block. It was like a dusty painting - very beautiful and ornate, but with piles of cement and brick in the corners, the paint peeling from the walls. The apartments wrapped around a soiled courtyard. We got up and visited a supermarket the next day. Sandy bought cereal and a jar of weiners to bring home to her boyfriend, a purchase that would yield probably the funniest moment on the tour. Over the next few days she'd try over all adversities to keep the cereal box intact in order to lavish her man with a pristine gift after the long journey home. No one knew exactly what the point of bringing cereal and weiners home was, since you can get those easily in Canada, a fact we barraged on her at every opportunity, but over the next few days those items would become as precious to her as the ring to frodo, and her quest almost as perilous as his. They had a special secret spot in the van, which we regularly invaded to try and sully the integrity of the cereal box, or to empty the contents of the weiner jar out the window of the moving van. Soon Sandy developed a complex about the stuff, and began acting like they were her offspring, like some wild jungle cat trying to protect her young at all costs to her own safety or sanity. I can sympathize, because after 18 days harrowing adventure, we all had a bit of Kurtz in us and were all slowly losing our grasp on sanity. The kicker came a few days later into her struggle as she made a calculated decision to take a nap, thus risking the safety of her cereal box and jar of weiners. Even in sleep, the psycological implications were apparently too much for her shattered mind to bear, as one calm day from the back of the van her screaming cut through the silence like a knife through a hot dog. "MY CEREAL!!" she shrieked. We all went "wtf". She explained that during sleep she'd been having a nightmare that she had lost the box and woke up in a panic, bee-lining to the (still) safe cereal box that in reality, was still in tact. A few days later I'm pretty sure she gave up and just ate it in the van, with no milk.
The last show of the tour. It was in Nurnberg, which is where a lot of Nazi things happened. We went to visit the remnants of that giant stadium, the name of which I'm too lazy to look up on wikipedia right now. We climbed to the top to survey our newly forged pan-European cultural army. Groups of rollerbladers paced the cement walkways. It was anticlimactic. We figured maybe we'd just go back to Canada.
The show was a total write off. We barely played for 20 minutes and could already feel the warm embrace of our own beds. Except me and Josh who had to catch a 6am train to Venice the next morning. Also Mark, who was on his way to Russia. And Jonah who was flying to Rome. Sandy flew home to Toronto with her weiners. At this point atleast three members of the band had full on mustaches, so we look like total idiots. I'm not sure if I mentioned this, but I was wearing a poorboy cap, and a fanny pack for most of this tour. And I had a mustache.
The guy who did the show explained to us that the venue used to be a barracks for the SS. But that later it was occupied by the "even worse" US GI force, who used it as a movie theater.
Anyhow that was the craziest tour we've ever been on.