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coffee cup

Bothering the Coffee Drinkers (continued)

The parking lot behind him belonged to Greensboro, North Carolina, just across the interstate from Winston-Salem, an old tobacco town that used to be, and somewhere between laid-back Asheville and the booming Research Triangle, where he was playing the next night. It was a Sunday afternoon, and these factors combined to form the reason why he was there. Sundays were typically tough days to fill, and he'd decided, in a moment of foolishness, that any money would be better than no money. So, it was all because of routing, the Justification of the Week. After Chapel Hill on Monday, it was Richmond on Tuesday, Washington on Wednesday, and then to New York. Johnny Q told his manager, as they planned the shows, that he'd rather be playing than not playing, and after all, it was a new market.

"Yeah, the first time through is great," said his manager, "and so is the eighth. It's the six times in-between that kill you."

After the first set, Johnny Q grabbed a magazine and then snuck off to the CD department to spend his gift certificate, which he received on top of his small guarantee. Johnny Q searched in vain for the counter display of his new release, which the store had promised to set up at least one week before the show. He handed his items to the clerk, a young man with crew cut and a piercing just above his right eyebrow.

"Sounded pretty good," the clerk said, scanning Johnny's purchases.

"You could hear it over here?" Johnny Q asked.

"They pipe it in," the clerk said. "Do you know Silas Henderson?"

"No I don't." Silas was a peer, another singer-songwriter in the game. They'd shared a bill once, some little club in Birmingham, spent a few minutes talking about guitar strings in-between sets.

"He was here Friday night," the clerk added. "The place was packed out."

The past few days, Johnny Q noticed they'd been doing practically the same circuit. Every town he came to, Silas had just been there.

Johnny Q thanked the clerk and headed to the men's room to open up the CDs he'd purchased and read the liner notes. As he sat down, he was distracted by a copy of Tobacco Scene, the area's free arts weekly, which was neatly folded on top of the toilet paper dispenser. He quickly turned to the music section to see if anyone reviewed him--doubtful, since he hadn't gotten any calls for interviews. When he got there, the centerpiece was filled with a full-page article on Silas Henderson, complete with a photo of the man looking appropriately rugged with cowboy hat and 5 o'clock shadow. Johnny Q didn't read it, he turned the page and happened upon a small three paragraph review of his new CD, four stars, which took about two seconds to get through, as the writer mainly regurgitated the promotional sheet his publicist had crafted. But, he added an original thought or two at the end and then plugged Johnny Q's gig, although the starting time was wrong, late by half an hour. On the opposite page, there was a half-page advertisement for Silas Henderson's new CD, Dusty Roads and Roaring Engines. Disgusted, Johnny Q finished his business and headed back to the café', where he ordered an ice latte and surveyed the crowd he'd be playing to for the afternoon's second set.

Normally, at this point, Johnny Q would've gone around the tables, talk to folks, say hello, maybe move some product. But, he just wasn't up for it. He still had a couple minutes, so he walked over to the stage area, to fiddle with his guitar and pretend like he was doing something. Three college students closest to the mike stand were engrossed in some sort of passionate conversation, but as he passed, one of them, a girl with shy eyes and full lips stopped him.

"Do you have a minute?" she asked.

"Sure," he answered.

"I love that last song you played, I heard it on NPR, that's why I came, well, why we came," she laughed, nervously he thought.

"Really?" he said.

"My name is Joy," she said holding out her hand.

He wrapped his fingers around her rather clammy hand and shook. Johnny Q sat down, figuring he could push his break a little, as there weren't that many people in the house.

"I'm Brendan," the boy across the table shot out.

"Alisa," the girl next to him said.

They shook hands all around, but Brendan went back to talking to Alisa and Johnny Q continued his conversations with Joy.

"Are you going to be playing some more?" Joy asked, gesturing to the P.A., which was buzzing louder in his absence.


"Oh good, because we only got here for that last song."

Johnny Q had been wondering how he could've missed her. Joy smiled constantly, but there wasn't anything phony about it, she just seemed like the kind of person who would smile even when she was angry. It made the light dance off her nose ring, he thought.

"I love your style, your melodies are so distinct," Joy added, "They really pull me in."

Johnny Q thanked her, raising his voice a little, to be heard over the P.A., which was now buzzing even louder. Startled, she dropped the plastic lid of her latte and bent over to pick it up. The top couple buttons of her shirt were open and she took her time straightening up. Johnny Q suddenly felt better about the gig. Like a drowning man at sea, he'd been thrown a life preserver. And so he scrapped his idea to try out new material in the second set, deciding to concentrate instead on "chestnuts" from the past, as he tried to hook at least one new set of eyes and ears.   continue

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