Red-Eyes Are for Losers

Taking an international overnight flight is exciting. You’re on a huge plane full of eager travelers, you get served an actual hot meal on board, and you wake up in another country, bleary-eyed but ready for new adventures.

Taking a domestic red-eye is not at all the same. There aren’t that many late-night flights leaving from any given airport each night. In my experience, there are only a few, and maybe even only one, leaving from each terminal. It’s a surreal experience being in an empty airport late at night. When you check in for your flight, your body is telling you it’s time for pajamas and tooth-brushing, and you’re greeted by this:

closed coffee shot

The concourse is dark and quiet, and shops and restaurants everywhere are closed up. When I arrived at Phoenix’s United terminal at 8:00 p.m. a couple weeks ago on my way home from recording with Tucson Chamber Artists, even Wendy’s was shutting it down.

Wendy's PHX

In the moment it just seems pathetic. Taking a red-eye does not make me feel like a jet setter.  That night I even got a little panicked because I knew I’d arrive at PHX a couple hours early and I planned to get a nice late dinner there before boarding. Luckily, there was exactly one business open — the sports bar next to my gate — and they had exactly one vegetarian option on the menu:

PHX veggie burger

You know how I hate disposable plates and utensils, but desperate times…

I arrived in Newark four hours later after having slept not a wink. Never have I been so happy to see this airport posted at a gate:

RDU bound gate

Usually I fantasize about jumping aboard a different plane but on that morning, even Pike Place Market and the Space Needle could not tear me from my intended path. I arrived in Raleigh, exhausted and grumpy but gloriously happy to be home. Of course, then I had to teach a couple lessons because of my brilliant planning (“It’ll be fine; I’ll sleep on the plane and this way I don’t have to reschedule my Tuesday students!”).

Once or twice a year I lose touch with reality and become convinced that a red-eye flight is the perfect solution to my travel needs. It is true that they’re often cheap, and you don’t lose a whole day to cross-country travel, except that you do, given the quality of life on the day you arrive. I have one more red-eye on my calendar ahead, the trip back from my visit to the Oregon Bach Festival this summer. Maybe it will be my last. What do you think — can I avoid future red-eye temptation? I know one thing: if I do it again, at least I’ll bring my dinner.


Dining alone?

While I’m on a gig, sometimes my dinner company looks like this:

dinner at El Charro

Lovely singer friends, at the ever-tasty El Charro

And other times, more like this:

dinner alone

Catalina Foothills HS auditorium lobby – oh yeah!

Being a singer is the best and worst thing about being a singer. Making music entirely with your own body is an amazing thing. Minus the worries about cold bugs and Airplane Voice from dehydration, a voice is certainly an easy instrument to travel with (much less stressful than a cello or guitar; check out this blog posting on Alban Gerhardt’s recent experience, or Sons of Maxwell’s humorous music video for the instrumentalist’s take on traveling).

But, being a singer is also, quite frankly, a pain in the butt. There’s the aforementioned constant worry about sickness that turns you into a ridiculous germaphobe. And there’s the fact that the voice is produced by a delicate collection of tiny muscles, cartilages and tissues which must be treated nicely.

Part of the difficulty of being good to our voices is that we don’t only use our voices for singing; we also use them throughout the day for communicating by talking. Marathon runners don’t finish a training session and then jog around for the rest of the day. But that’s exactly what singers have to do when they rehearse or record for 6 hours a day, and then spend their breaks socializing over meals or calling friends or family back home.

So, sometimes we do “singery” things like being unsocial and eating alone quietly. We try not to make phone calls on a heavy singing day. Email and online typed chats are a godsend for staying in touch without losing your voice, but it’s weird to tell your best friend you’re free to talk but you’re going to have to gchat instead. After concerts, we do our best to keep our audience conversations short and low-volume, and we have to avoid loud bars and restaurants.

It’s hard for me. I’m social and one of my favorite things about gigs away from home is getting catch up with friends from around the country. But sometimes, ya just gotta’ eat your bag dinner, alone, in the auditorium lobby…