Road Dawg celebrates the comforts of Home on the Road

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Last November, after a year of “sort of” shopping, if looking at ads online for RVs is considered shopping, I upgraded from my trusted old Cowgirl Camper Riley to the roomier, newer “Miriam.”

Now, eight months, a full set of new tires, two tire rotations, four oil changes and a few small tweaks, I am happy to report that Miriam has surpassed expectations for comfort and drive-ability. I have gotten used to the five extra feet of living space length and two extra living space width. The back up camera makes it easy to check how far I can back up, and I have learned to whip in to parking spaces in a snap.

The best part it, now that there is much more space, a FULL size shower and a queen size bed, it is easier to get darling hubby to fly out to join me on the road for vacation time. We have meals at the table inside, or outside, depending on weather, and there is room to REALLY cook, to luxuriate over a great cup of coffee pressed in the dandy french press I found at Wal-Mart.

I love this new mode of travel. I carry a few more clothes, an extra pair of chaps…well, admittedly, two pair of chinks and one pair of chaps, and don’t hesitate now to toss in more boots…and a bag full of what I lovingly call “traders”: bits, spurs, things I have collected but am willing to sell or trade for other things.

It’s home on the road. I’m loving it.

Road Dawg

Road Dawg’s First Road Dawg Wheels

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In 2006, Road Dawg was on the road, driving through Kansas to get to gigs in Colorado, and after stopping at 4 or 5 motels that had no vacancies, or looked like crack houses complete with working girls once one entered the lobby, finally, at 1:40 AM, outside Fort Riley Kansas, this conversation happened.

“Do you have any vacancies?” …a sullen stare, then a glance at the calendar…”yeah, for how many?” “Just one, one night” …another sullen stare…”OK, $89.95 plus tax” …”The sign outside says $64.95″ …”You want it or not?” ….”Well yes, but why the rate jump?”…”After midnight” …”I see, and can I get a late check out?” …”Like how late?”…”Well what time is your checkout?”…more sullen stare…“Nine o’clock“…”May I get a noon checkout, since I’m checking in at 2 in the morning?”….”The room isn’t available any more” ….“Um…now, what?”…”Room’s not available any more” at which time, she picked up the TV remote and started changing channels.

I walked out kind of stunned, drove my Jeep, which was my touring vehicle at the time, to the next rest stop, put up the sun shield and put towels in the windows, put the seat back as much as it would go, with the jeep leaded with sound system, guitar, clothes, ice chest, CDs…everything for a two or three week trip out…and as I struggled to get some sleep as cars pulled in and out, I thought to myself “This will not happen again”

That summer, as I drove, I started watching what was on the road, and noting brand names and model names of smaller RVs, I’d do research online. After several weeks of observing and reading, it seemed that a Class B Camper van would suit me well. A Class B RV is built on a 3/4 ton frame, typically, like a Ford Econoline  250 or Chevy 2500, has an added top to make it something one can stand up in and walk in, and will have amenities like a flip down or jack knife full size bed, small stove, refrigerator, toilet, and sometimes a shower. They are made for one person, or two who like to be VERY close, for weekend or week long trips. The fridge can be run on propane, or on electricity if the unit is plugged into power, and the hot water heater and cabin heater are also propane powered, if the unit is used for “dry camping” (not plugging in)

So the search began: now, in the summer of 2006, gas prices were starting to rise, so that Class B motorhomes were in high demand, and so were rather expensive comparatively speaking. But the smaller size was attractive, since the typical length is 17 to 20 feet, which lets them fit in a standard parking space just about anywhere. By mid fall, I’d researched enough to know that I wanted a Coachmen brand RV, for the efficient use of space in the interior layout. And by late October, I’d found just the right one, an older model with low miles, now owned by and RV repairman who had reworked it, updating the fridge, heater, seals, etc.. I flew to Tampa Florida, carrying a ticket to get home that was easy to cancel if I bought the unit, and enough cash to pay for it with cash.  The layout was just what I expected, and we made a deal, the seller gave me a lesson in how to run everything, light the pilot lights, dump the tanks, work the flushing mechanisms, and I was on my way.

That first RV was named Riley the Cowgirl Camper, because I was living the life of Riley in that rig. I took out the “kid’s bed” in the overhead space over the cab, and redesigned it into a place to hold a guitar, a couple of hat boxes, a suitcase, and a sound system. And I started booking tours differently: now I could stay out on the road, utilizing truck stops and rest stops as campgrounds, cooking breakfast and making coffee in the morning, and then getting on my way. I could shower and be ready to play. Now, one of the things missing from that 15 year old low mileage sweetheart of a rig was the original generator, and currently the price on a generator to fit that model was around $2000.00: I decided to live without it and with some rechargeable fans that could charge from the lighter input, I could slide this window open at night, hag the fan here, tilt it down this way just so, and have at least a tolerable night’s sleep on hot nights on the road.

The couple of times a year sweet hubby Rusty would join me were a learning curve for close quarters, as in “You go outside so I can cook dinner” …”but it’s RAINING outside”…”You want dinner or not?” but we made it work.

Had more than one scarey trip over a couple of different mountain passes in Colorado, Northern California, and Washington, as spring snows would catch me out traveling in the western states, and had a few last minute re-routes that could be as much as 250 miles out of the way to get around the mountains to where I was going, but it all worked, and it made me an official ROAD DAWG. I could tour for real, and by the end of the first year, the advantages far outweighed the gas prices for a 12 to 15 MPG vehicle.

Riley and I traveled 200,000 miles together over the next five years. She rarely let me down, she was compact, well designed, and yes, by the time I got everything in, it could be cramped, hard to get to the shower, and my saddle had to ride wedged between the passenger seat and the dash, but she was great, and she did her job. She’s now gone on to a new, hopefully happy owner. I put new refrigerator parts in, a new hot water heater, and had put new tires on her 6 months before turning her over, and the selling price I got no where neared what I had in her in upgrades and repairs, but I looked at it as all a part of doing business as a hard touring Road Dawg. Do I miss her when I’m in the new RV, the 24 foot long one that is 2 feet wider and is like a studio apartment on wheels, complete with a generator and queen size bed, and full size shower? No. But did I shed a few tears the last day I drove Riley, when I was headed to the dealership to pick up my new rig and turn her over? You bet I did. the last drive we sharedOut goes the old, in comes the new

So long RIley….hello Miriam. And the first four day fishing trip with Rusty in the new camper was great: he even got to stay inside while I cooked breakfast!

Til next time, we’ll see you on the road!

Road Dawg Walks A Memory

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Someone Else’s Memories

Early September was a scheduled break from the road for me, after I finished up my last August gigs in Colorado and Arizona, so I left the Cowgirl Camper in Central California, and flew to St. Louis Missoura (yes, I spelled it Missoura, I’m not from there, but hubby is, and he has trained me to say it like a native) to meet said darling hubby, we checked into our hotel neat the airport, went to dinner and played games like kids at one of those huge video game places. The next morning we drove to Columbia Missoura to visit the Mizzou Campus, and walk memory lane with hubby at his Alma Mater. We went to the University bookstore to buy shirts, hats, etc. for the upcoming Mizzou football game. If I was going to a Mizzou football game, I was going whole hawg.

That night, Rusty’s sister Cindy and her husband, Phil, all of whom I dearly adore, flew in, and we went to dine at a Columbia, Missoura college town institution, The Heidleberg. Of COURSE we had German food! It’s tradition! College stories abounded, and being the only non-Mizzou Alum at the table, I got to sit back and enjoy the great stories of the night Harpos’s burned down, how it was rebuilt exactly the same, how they used to come in on specials night, to eat spaghetti for a dollar. My three companions shone in their revelry and storytelling.

 We then walked the beautiful lush, landscaped campus, and I listened to tales of Rusty, Cindy, and Phil, all Mizzou grads, going through freshman hazing, streaking ‘cross campus, all the things college kids do. Names from the past came up, incidents were shared again, you just knew from listening that they had all shared these stories with each other before, but it did not matter. They were breathing in the atmosphere of their college, and wistfully telling college stories.

We walked to another college hangout, Harpos. The huge crowd was not there yet, and we wandered to the back bar, across the sticky floor, past the posters and neon, where the music was deafening, and after Rusty, Phil and Cindy shouted over the music for a few minutes, I let Rusty know that I was not abandoning them, but I had to get out of the damage-inducing decibel level.

 Upstairs was a rooftop seating area, and that was where we got a look at the new college crowd. Coiffed and groomed college boys flexed arms in their tight shirts, most sporting short hair that was gelled and spiked and highlighted just so. The most trendy and sporty moved around the tables, the slightly less so stayed where there were girls sitting around. The girls stayed on their cell phones, texting back and forth to who knows who…each other? Once in a while, a boy might get one’s attention, and she would look bored immediately and go back to her texting.

The four of us, who would all be older than these kids’ parents, sat down, and that’s when an energetic, bright looking young man said, “Hey, are you Mizzou Alumni?” Rusty, Phil and Cindy nodded. “Wow, that is SO cool that you are here, so I am just curious, when you went to school, did you do all the stuff like streaking, climbing the tower, stuff like that?”

Cindy and Phil went silent, but Rusty, who can talk to anybody said “Oh, yeah.” “So cool” says the kid. “So, what can you tell me about all that? I want to collect stories”
Now, here is where I expected my three companions to shine. They all went nearly silent. The young man continued to ask question, but was only getting low key, one or two word answers, with not much storyline. Amusing, here that the three who were reveling in their own memories just an hour before were now almost close mouthed about their history at Mizzou. History was not to be shared with kids the age of their own kids or younger.

Our new young friend indicated that he was trying to get one of the girls at his table to go with him to sneak into the library for an encounter behind a bookshelf, and she was not going for it. She texted furiously for a moment, looked across the balcony, rolled her eyes and pretended to yawn. But this young man was bright, engaging, and full of life. Her talents? Short skirt, 5 inch heels, poofy hair, eyeliner and texting. I said to him “forget her, find somebody who is interested in life”

“Good point!” he said. He shook hands all around with the four people older than his parents, and climbed out over the top of his booth, stepping over bored poofy hair girl with the cell phone, and said, “It’s been great to talk to you all, I’m off for greener pastures” We said our goodbyes. The girls texted furiously, trying to look bored, never making eye contact with anyone. Interesting statement about modern communication.

As he swung around the corner post and loped down the stairs, two steps at a time, Rusty said “That kid will end up being a senator…like Blutarsky from Animal House, but nicer looking” I agreed.

We slipped out of there ourselves, and surely the seats were refilled quickly with the bored texters and tall shoe totterers. The next day, our tailgate party was a wind-up for a football game that was hot and miserable, but being with Rusty and his sister, and her husband was a joy. I would not have traded the trip for anything, and I do hope that the young man we talked to hits all the targets on his bucket list, and when he is a senator someday, we’ll all say we remember him when.

Road Dawg’s Rules for Solo Travel

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Road Dawggin’ White Line Fever

If I had a booking agent who had booked this June and July for me, I’d be calling him up and saying “What the heck were you thinking?” But I went looking for my booking agent, and found her right there in the rear view mirror of the Cowgirl Camper.

See, the plan was, work really hard from mid April to mid July, packing in a month’s worth of shows in three weeks of May so I could justify taking a week off to spend with my sweet hubby when he flew out to Pasco Washington to meet me. May touring dates were pretty well packed in as a result, and while I’m not complaining to have had plenty of work, the routing and miles were fiendish. And since I was planning to fly home from Santa Barbara following my last July show in the White Mountains in Arizona, I felt that I needed to get a month’s worth of bookings in, between July 1 and July 16. Next thing I knew, I had taken “just one more” date so many times that I had 8 shows to play in the first 9 days of July, only two of those were in the same town, three days apart with other shows all over Colorado in between, and the rest were anywhere from 60 to 280 to 700 miles apart.

The fridge in the Cowgirl Camper was stocked with Diet Dr. Pepper, my favorite road dawg beverage, apples, bannanas, and a couple of those lethal little bottles of 5 hour energy drinks, the sugar free ones of course. Those do the trick, you just have to be sure you slug them down early in the day, so that by 11 PM when it is time to be asleep, that you can actually SLEEP.

Not meaning to hurt anybody’s feelings, but I just cannot relate to the women who ask me “You don’t drive all by YOURSELF, do you?”
Well yeah, Tinkerbell, I do. Who the hell else do you think is driving? “But don’t you get scared that someone will bother you at a rest stop or truck stop?” they say, wallowing in their own phobias. I don’t have a fear of heights, small spaces, large spaces, being alone, any particular animals, elevators, or any other things that reduce some people to stay at home and hide ninnies.

I said to one such fearful-ninnie type “If someone WERE to bother me at night at a rest stop, and I were not bright enough to start the engine and drive away, I deserve to get whatever happens to me” The point was lost on that one, but I know most of you know what I mean.

So, for prosperity, here are Road Dawg’s Rules for Driving All Over Tarnation and Back Safely and Efficiently.

Oil changes are cheap. On a 6 to 8 week tour I average two, sometimes three oil changes, just depending on the miles and conditions. Sometimes I will go 5000 miles between changes, if I have not been in dust or doing a lot of climbing. Oil filters are cheap. Checking tire pressure is free. When I need new tires, I get them. Maintenance on a touring vehicle is cheap, period, compared to emergency repairs. The Cowgirl Camper gets a new serpentine belt once a year, or every 40 or 50 thousand miles, needed or not.

You have to be a little bit smart about where you stop for the night. If the rest stop is full of meth addicts and they are shooting guns at each other, drive on. Not a good place to stop. If you stay there we will all just assume there is some kind of wish for peril built into your DNA. A rest stop is safer than a remote stretch of road. A wide spot where several trucks have stopped for the night is safer than an empty wide spot. Safety in numbers.

If you are a solo female traveler, and you get out of your vehicle and parade around in short shorts and a little tank top at the rest stop, pose in the grass doing your stretches, turn the interior lights on and make a show of the inside of your vehicle and it’s contents, and show that you are alone, you are just too dumb to be traveling. Stay home, you are a liability to all the rest of us. You gotta be a little bit smart about that, too. Put some clothes on. Don’t start up conversations with strangers that reveal your plans.

If I have to stop at a rest stop, and it is night, and I decide to use the rest stop’s facilities instead of my own in the camper, I take note of who is around as I pull up, and before I get out. If I notice someone who does not look quite right, I figure it’s smarter to drive on. Or, I get out the side door, and say “I’ll be right back” to my imaginary traveling companion as I close the side door. When I am walking to my vehicle my keys are in my hand, ready to unlock the door and get in, and then I relock it as I get back in. If a place just has a bad feel, best to move on.

Should you pack a weapon? If you know how to use one, how to keep it from being used on YOU, and are really gonna carry it, sure. If it’s under the seat when you are traipsing around the rest stop advertising that you are traveling solo, or you are afraid of it, then don’t bother.

A truck stop is a safe place to stop for the night, for a solo female traveler. You are surrounded by a bunch of men (and some women) who can handle anything. Most of them are packing heat, and the majority are the kind of people who would help a stranger. Once you are in for the night at a truck stop though, don’t go wandering around unless you want to be mistaken for a hooker working the parking lot. Plus, if you go to start your vehicle in the morning and have a dead battery, you are where you can get help. A deserted road is a bad place to be with a dead battery.

Don’t run a gas tank to less than a quarter tank. Fill up every chance you get.

Have a good basic tool kit and know how to use stuff. You can span an arc between battery and frame with a pair of pliers and start a vehicle with a faulty battery connection in a pinch. Know what stuff looks like under the hood. Carry a set of spare fuses, in several sizes, and some heavy plastic tagger locks. You need a good tire pressure gauge, and a can of flat-fix can get you safely to a place where you can get a flat repaired, instead of changing a flat on a busy highway. When you have tires rotated, check the spare for inflation and condition too. If you have an RV, replace the scissor style jack that comes standard with it, with a good hydrolic bottle jack. Also replace the standard socket and blade tire iron with a crossbar tire iron and make sure it FITS the lug nuts before you head out. Pack a folding shovel in your road kit, and a tarp. Carry a flashlight and some first aid basics. I have a battery-less lifetime flashlight that rides on a hook right behind the front seat, and it is in easy reach when I’m sleeping.

AAA is a good investment, though I bypass that in favor of Geico’s roadside coverage: it is excellent, and they have never let me down.

Use a credit card for fuel purchases for easier tracking, and so you are not flashing cash…again, this falls into the “being smart” category.

Keep your cell phone charged.

Keep a quart of the correct grade of motor oil on hand, just in case, as well as transmission fluid. That is cheap insurance. When you refresh the radiator fluid, stash the empty gallon bottle for an emergency: should you need to hike for water for a hot radiator, you need something to carry it in. In a RV, you have a water tank, and can fill your gallon bottle from there for a radiator. Carry drinking water…a minimum of two gallons (two days worth) at all times.

If you drive through deer, elk, pronghorn, and other large wildlife areas, for less than the cost of a movie and popcorn, you can install a set of deer warning whistles on the front bumper of your vehicle. They work.

A current GPS device is a great tool, used with common sense. If it tells you to drive off across the desert on a dirt road to get to the highway, though, you have to remember that it knows only satellite co-ordinates, and you have to be smart about stuff like that. It does not know that roads are flooded, icy, rock strewn from an avalanche, or shut down for construction. Carry a full size road atlas, and double check when in doubt.

I don’t travel without a laptop and a wireless card, so I can get on the internet to check road conditions, and keep up with business in general, anywhere I have a wireless signal. Verizon has pretty good nationwide coverage, so I have a cell phone and wireless card through them. Most GPS units will find the nearest gas station, etc for you…if your unit is more than 2 years old, update the maps, or get a new device. They are relatively inexpensive nowadays, and getting better all the time. Yes, I have read the stories about people who followed GPS directions and got lost hopelessly in the wilderness where the satellite signals were not clear, or were scrambled…Darwin’s law will prevail when it comes to the really stupid of our race.

Know how long you can reasonably drive in a day, and plan accordingly. I can do 600-700 in a long day, but I have been doing that for many years. If 200 or 300 miles in a day is your limit, don’t push it further when you are scheduling your travels. Being alert and safe is more important. If you are driving for two days to get somewhere, allow an extra half day grace time. A full day grace time for a four day trip is nice to have if you should run into mechanical problems, become ill and need to lay low in a hotel or motel an extra day, etc.

For the really bonehead people in your life, pass along these Travel Tips for the Stupid.
Some people, no matter how much GOOD advice they get, still do stupid things, so what the heck, I give up, might as well tell them ahead of time the things they are gonna do any way.
These are from actual reports…really!

Hey, here is a real stupid idea…go on Facebook and announce that you and your spouse are going off and leaving the kids at home alone while you go somewhere for the weekend.

Take the dog along so it can roast in the vehicle while you are sight seeing, stopping to eat, having your vehicle serviced, etc. Also, it can be more unwelcome than YOU are when you stop in unannounced at the homes of “friends.”

Eat your way to your destination at fast food joints and be sure to get the extra large fries.

Here’s another Real Stupid Idea:
Put your name (if you are a musician) on the side of your vehicle, advertising what you do, so would be thieves will know there is some good stuff to steal in your vehicle. Stop in the seedy parts of towns for directions, and leave the car running while you dash in to ask for directions.

Leave on your trip with $20.00 in cash for a week long trip. No sense having cash on hand in case of an emergency.

What the hell…keep those bald tires on the car another year.

More Real Stupid Travel Ideas
Put your wallet, CDs, camera, I-pod, and other good stuff on the dashboard, or on the console so everyone can see them when you park, and leave the windows down, or better yet leave the doors open.Make a really big deal of carrying your instruments out and setting them down outside your vehicle while you load up. That way thieves can scope out the goods.

If you are going to stop over for a night at the home of a “friend” be sure you take along some extra people…what the heck, the more the merrier.
Stay an extra three or four days. Do all your laundry. Use their computer, their phone, their spouse, if you’re really ballsy.

Try out that new colon cleansing treatment the day before you leave on your trip.

Take along a friend who is a big time whiner, who is going through some daily personal drama. That always makes a trip last longer, or at least seem like it does.

Road Dawg Rambles Gets Road Repairs and Gets Lucky

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Road Dawg Rambles on Repairs

The Cowgirl Camper is 20 years old this year. She is mechanically sound, gets a lube and oil change every 3 or 4000 miles, and the serpentine belt is replaced every two years whether it needs to be replaced or not.

Once, on a July day, I was leaving Oklahoma City around 5:30 in the afternoon, and the temperature was over 100 degrees. I was planning on driving to at least the Arkansas border that night, but the serpentine belt had a different idea. I heard a “whump-flump-rattle” and thought “Ut Oh” and looked for the closest off ramp and gas station. Steering became, suddenly, a major challenge, and that is not the greatest, going 60 down I-40. I backed the rig into a partially shady spot at a convenience store, popped the hood, and sure enough, the serpentine belt was gone. Not broken, not shredded, but gone. This had happened two years before, on a July day in Fedora, North Dakota…also on a 100 degree plus day.

On the North Dakota incident, I had lucked onto perhaps the only gas station that actually HAD a repair shop for 100 miles, and there was someone there. He confirmed the size belt the Cowgirl Camper needed, and he and his partner got me up and running in a short time. How lucky was THAT!

Now, here I was, two years later, serpentine belt was missing, and it was late…about 7 PM at least, on a Saturday night. I walked to a truck repair shop about a quarter mile away, and asked if they had a serpentine belt for a Ford Econoline 250 van. No such luck, they only serviced heavy trucks.

I’ve had Geico insurance since I bought the Cowgirl Camper, they had great rates an offered roadside service for RVs at not extra cost. I’d called them at midnight in central Texas, with a blowout on a front tire, and they sent a repair guy right out to help me get it changed and off the freeway (I learned that night that the lugwrench that was in the camper was NOT the right size…lesson learned!)

So, cell phone in hand, I called Geico, and got their friendly customer service person on the phone, and he was trying to send me a tow truck. “No,” I told him, I don’t need a tow, I need a mobile repair person with a serpentine belt to come to me” He was not understanding, so I said goodbye, hung up, and called back, and the next voice I heard was a cheerful woman who said she’d make some calls and get right back to me. A few minutes later she called back, and put me through to a truck repair shop who could not personally help, but he had a friend who did mobile repairs, and he sent him my way. The friend called to be sure of the make and model, and then called a parts store that belonged to a friend of his, who would open up for him to get a serpentine belt, and he was there in 45 minutes with everything he needed. Total bill” something like $75.00. Heck, in that predicament, I’d have paid $275.00!

Then there was the time in the middle of the desert, after dark, when my electrical system/battery when absolutely kaputt. A tow truck driver took the call from some 70 miles away, and headed out to help. He loaded me up and was driving me to a repair shop that could look for the electrical glitch, but he had another idea: he drove me to a Checkers auto parts store (open 24 hours) and suggested I buy a battery, and if that fixed the problem, he’d have their tech run a check on the alternator, if that was good to go, I’d be on my way. He was right…dropped me in the parking lot of Checkers, popped in the new battery, checked the system, and I was on my way instead of waiting for a repair shop to open in the morning. Geico covered the tow, I paid for the battery and tipped the driver 40.00 for using his tools and putting the new battery in for me. Bingo.

Just last week, while sweet hubby Rusty was with me for a week in Oregon and Washington, we noticed that there was a leak from somewhere near the main water tank in the camper…and the floor was damp. Rusty wedged up the couch which covers the water tank, and I looked in with a flashlight, as I flipped on the water pump. Bingo…the pump was looking pretty corroded, and there was a stream of water surging out every time the hose needed to pressurize.

We made do over the weekend, and online, picked a familiar sounding place, Thompson RV Sales and Repair in Pendleton, and called them. The upbeat young lady told me to bring it on by, they could take care of me.

So I pulled in to Thompson’s RV in Pendleton, anticipating needing a new water pump, and told the friendly folks there what was going on. They said they’d pull it around to the shop, and take a look, so I grabbed my phone and laptop to get some work done.  Forty minutes later, the repair person was back, “Yes Ma’m, the water pump was shot, and we have replaced it” Now, mind you, I was thinking I’d probably need a new one, and he confirmed that the one in there was probably the 20 year old original one, but I was also thinking they’d take a look, come see me, ask me what I wanted to do, and then go about it. But never mind, the work was already done. I steeled myself for 3 or $400.00, but hey, if you need it done, you need it done.

He totaled me up, something like $85.00 for the pump, and $45.00 for the 30 minutes it took to put it in! I felt like I’d hit the lottery, so I splurged on two new LED lights for the interior, which they told me how to install myself, helped me get an exterior “porch light” cover off so I could replace the bulb, and I was on my way. I stopped to thank the young woman I’d first talked to on the phone, and learned she was a member of the fun Fly fishing Cowgirl’s organization “Sisters on the Fly” (I’m a member too…and when she learned who I was, said that she was a fan, and had seen me perform last September during the Pendleton Roundup. She took me on a quick tour of her new “Sisters” camper, completely refurbished Pendleton style, right down to the Pendleton Mills fabric for upholstery.

The road is filled with perils, but it is also dotted with good folks who make an honest living….I know, because I’ve been so fortunate to have had them around when I needed repairs on the road. Road Dawg LOVES to find those great people!

Road Dawg’s Air Dawg Rules

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Road Dawg Talks Air Dawg Rules

Road Dawg flies a fair amount. Perhaps more this year than ever: a few days ago, April 22, to be exact, while on a plane, I did a count of flights: not counting individual flights with stopovers to change planes, ten flights since January 3. Count the plane changes, and that more than doubles, to something like 30 this year so far…but the point is, some of us fly a lot, some do do rarely. Those who fly more often, or at least pay attention to what is going on, are the other travelers we like to fly with. Road Dawg wags her happy tail at these nice people.

Here are the travelers that make Road Dawg growl and howl:

1. Mr. and Mrs. “stand in front of the line and just stand there when called up to the counter to check in.” OK, people, you know you are at the airport to check in, right? And you know you are at the front of the line. You have been in line for twenty minutes. The nice person at the counter is calling and waving to YOU. Wake up, get moving, or get out of the way.
2. Ms. “get all the way to the security agent before the check point, and THEN start looking for my driver’s license and boarding pass” Really, sweetheart, you know you need all this in hand, and there are signs all the way up to this point telling you to be sure you have these things ready to present to the TSA agent. Put your cell phone away and READ. Or get out of the way.

3. Mr. “why do I have to take my shoes off?” Oh come on, this has been in effect for a LONG time now. Just take your shoes off.
Mrs. “three shopping bags, a wrapped gift, a carry on suitcase, a purse, and a bulky coat, fumbling through security” Honestly ma’m, what part of “One carry on and one personal item” do you NOT understand?
4. Ms. “But I just got this double caramel mocha latte macchiato tutti frutti special coffee, and I need it, can’t I carry it through security?” What part of “no liquids” do you not understand, sweetie?
5. Mr. and Mrs. “Now, honey, you have to put your little rolling suitcase and matching Hello Kitty purse up here, so the nice people can scan them…no, come back here, honey, do you want to get in trouble? Be a good girl and Mommy will get you a pedicure when we get to Disney World” Ok, people, work with us here, there are other people who have planes to catch, get a hold of your kid, get the stuff on the scanner belt, and get on with it. Or get out of the way.
6. Mr. “Oh I forgot to take my cell phone out of my pocket, and forgot to take my keys out, and now the security buzzers are going off, so you go on ahead of me” No, sir, it does not work like that. We can’t go ‘til they reset the machine, and get you cleared. Unfortunately we do not get to move to the head of the line just because you can’t read the simple directions, or listen to the nice TSA officer who has been giving instructions.

7. Ms. “I need to dig through my purse at the end of the security checkpoint, because I have already lost my boarding pass” Oh, dear, do you not realize that we all need to get our things and repack out laptops, and get our shoes on, and you are standing right in the way? Get out of the way.
8. Mr. and Mrs. “walk two abreast, slowly, slowly, blocking the way out of security, where travelers who KNOW where they are going are trying to get through” Get moving…or get out the the way.
9. And another thing: in airports where they have “expert traveler” and “casual traveler” security checkpoints, if you don’t have everything ready to go, if you are toting a toddler, if you don’t have your things packed in a real suitcase or briefcase, you do not get to be in the “expert traveler” line.
10. Mrs. “Oh, good, a moving walkway, I think I’ll stand on it and let it carry me” Sorry, doll, it is a moving WALKWAY, not a STANDWAY. Sure if you are on crutches, or if you are physically unable to walk much, then take a break, to the right side of the walkway, so that walking travelers may walk by you. You make me crazy when you park yourself in the middle of the walkway and just stand there, oblivious. Get out of the way.
11. Mr. and Mrs. “we are basically lazy slobs, so we need the cart to take us to the next gate” Honestly, people, those carts are for folks who are ill, or who have true great difficulty walking through and airport because of an ailment or perhaps advanced, well earned age. Do you not feel the least bit sloth-like as the cart carries you past that cute couple in their eighties who are each rolling their carry on and toting a personal item, while they WALK to their next gate?
12. Ms. “oh, I love my high heeled flip flops, I’m going to wear them on the plane” Road Dawg is not talking tongue in cheek here, now, WEAR SHOES to the airport and shoes on the plane. If you have to wade out of wreckage, or walk over a burning floor or wing of a downed plane in the event of an emergency, the rest of us who have shoes on are going to have to step over and on top of you in order to get away from the wreckage, because you are mincing along. Wear real shoes.

NO! Bad Dawg! NOT Flying shoes!

13. Mr. “I’m not ready to turn my cell phone off, buckle up, and put my laptop away” When the flight attendant has to ask you personally to power down and put away, after making announcements all along, he or she has already made mental note of you. And so have the rest of us. While you’re acting important on our phone, we are seeing where the exits are, and we’re ready for anything, and if you make us late to depart, we are not going to wake you up from your head-phoned nap in case of emergency.
14. And last, but not least, Ms. “oh! is it time to deplane? Oh! I guess I have to get up now and gather my things…wait, can you help me with this? Can you hold this? Oh! I dropped my sunglasses. Let’s see, where is my purse?” Good grief, honey, did you not catch on that we were landing a half hour ago when the nice pilot came on the intercom to announce that we were making our descent, and when the flight attendants came through the cabin to check on everyone, and here was a BIG CLUE: the plane landed on the ground with sort of a bumpy motion, and taxied to the terminal. What part of that did not say to you “We’re here!” Honestly, how on earth to you manage in a car? Road Dawg shudders to think of it. Until next time, travel safe, travel smart, and catch on, or GET OUT OF THE WAY!


A Road Dawg gets some time off.

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Making time

I’ll admit, I have no tolerance for people who cannot either create a schedule, or follow one made available for them. I came up through the horse show ranks, working alone, even as a young teenager. I was on my own to get packed and have my horse groomed, warmed up, and be on time for my classes. Simple time management.

Later in life, when I was eventing, that ability to be ready on time paid off in the exacting world of having a 9:12 AM dressage ride, a 1:10 PM start time for cross country, and to be ready and circling at the gate as the start bell rang. I never understood people who, in spite of having help (which I never did) could actually be LATE and miss their dressage ride, or be unprepared when they got to the warm up.

I toured the upper level circuit with a wonderful young rider, as her 3 day event groom. She was a young lady who had been showing already for many years, and was at the upper levels as soon as she was legally old enough to show at those levels. She could show two horses at two different levels, which meant knowing two dressage tests backwards and forward, knowing two cross country courses, and then learning two show jumping courses. When I was hired to help her, she was then showing four upper level horses, and just doing the riding and course walking was a daunting enough task. So her folks, on the recommendation of both her current riding coach and a coach she and I had both ridden with in the past, hired me to help her have four horses braided, groomed, saddled, bridled, at warm up on time, and be there to pick up the horses after cross country, take care of them and leg her up on the next one.

She and I worked very well together for some time, because she knew how to manage time, and we’d line out our day, working backwards from her first dressage ride time. If that was at 8 AM, which at the upper levels, it often was, it meant my day in the barn would start at 4 AM with feeding, unwrapping legs, checking temperatures, and then braiding horses for dressage tests, starting with the first to go out. Sometimes I might be braiding one while she was out warming up another for the typical 45 minutes to an hour it took to warm up. Then I’d take the one that was finished with dressage, unbraid it, and start getting it ready for cross country.
     The work was hard, and exacting, sometimes stressful, but we had such a good working relationship because of time management practices that had been instilled in us at an early age.

Same thing goes with my life as a touring performer now: it’s all about time management, and I still work alone. If I have 1800 miles to go, that’s three days driving, with a half day of extra time added for emergencies (like a sudden change in weather that forces a 300 mile detour…it has happened more than once!) If show time is 7 PM, and I’m doing my own sound, it means being on site by 4 or 4:30, setting up, sound checking, setting up CD sales, then getting in makeup and show clothes, getting warmed up and being backstage and ready 20 or so minutes ahead of show time. I work best alone, I suppose, because with company, I tend to find myself lagging behind my schedule.

My darling hubby Rusty is also good at schedules, he is a disciplined sort of guy, with a race track background. He does not travel with me, but sometimes meets up with me on the road and tags along for perhaps show or two. He asks if there is anything he can do (and I do give him CD sales, if he wants to do that for me) and then he sort of stays out of the way.

But in all the running from town to town and working with a calendar, a road atlas and Mapquest to route a tour, with the gas stops, stops to fix lunch or dinner, sleeping in my RV at rest stops, truck stops or Walmart parking lots, one of the hardest time schedules for me to plan is the one for time off.

Not that I don’t include a day or two here or there, it is just that I don’t plan things to actually do: I might intend to visit a museum, or nature park, or see a movie, but when I enter “downtime” mode, I will find myself “vegged out” somewhere: in my RV if that is where I have that time, at the home of a friend, or at my Mom’s in central California, or perhaps with my sister in Reno when I’m up that way.  Day one of three downtime days is maybe looking at emails, paying bills online, and that may mean I’m still in my pajamas at noon. Next day I may do some grocery shopping, restocking things I need in the Cowgirl Camper, maybe scope out a fun thrift shop or goodwill to see if I find a treasure of a silk scarf there, or the perfect blouse to go under a jacket.

Day three, the little nagging voice in my head kicks in, saying “Time to get back to work” I may pull out that afternoon instead of getting up early the next day to start driving, if I have 600 or more miles to go. I try hard not to plan driving more than 200-250 miles on a show day. I like the freedom of being able to set up, and then have a quick nap before getting ready for a show.

Two weeks ago, I had a couple of nice down time days in Palm Springs, at the home of a friend whom, up ‘til those days, I had not known all that well: I knew she was a nice person, knew she was of good character, and a get it done kind of gal, but other than than that, I knew little of her real life. We had hours to visit, see some sights, have some wonderful discussions on all levels. I learned so much about her in those couple of days, and treasured having the opportunity to have some down time with her. I entered those couple of days looking forward to getting on down the road to my next stop, but ended up staying an extra day, just to be spend some more time talking with this treasure of a woman. I am so glad now I could make the time!

 I had a show last week in Elgin, Arizona: a fundraiser for a community center with seats for about 120. My best girlfriend in Sonoita, Arizona, who has spearheaded shows for Ian Tyson, on a big scale, and others on a slightly smaller scale was heading up this one, and I knew she would have all the bases covered. All I had to do was be there and do my job. And the next day, she and I lounged around at her home, took a nap, watched Oprah interviewing Shirley McLaine, and finally went for a walk before dinner.
She and I have no expectations of each other to entertain each other, which is why I love hanging out at her place when I have down time. We can talk for hours, or not talk at all. Time worth making time for, indeed.

I had two more down time days ahead, and went to Sierra Vista, Arizona tomorrow to see some other friends who keep a guest room ready for me whenever they know I’m in the area. I love these folks, too because they have no expectations of me, and if I come out for coffee in the morning, that is fine, if I sleep late, fine, if I’m out walking or shopping at dinner time, no one calls to wonder where I am. I love it.

Thursday morning I was on a plane at 6 AM, on my way to Salt Lake City, will do a show Friday in Wyoming, and am now flying home for five days back in Tennessee, so I can keep some doctor appointments, and ship some boxes of CDs ahead to California for my next run on the road. And spend some precious time with my darling hubby. To me, it’s just another week of Road Dawg life…but this year, in addition to being everywhere on time, I’m also making more time to be with my family and friends. Time spent in good company is never wasted.

A Road Dawg goes on about boots

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Road Dawg 101 (Part 2, boots)

Onward with the boot discussion, lat time, I talked about my first important boot landmarks. Working in the saddlery trade, I got to have first look at new models, and as Ariat developed their sole and insole systems, I saw the changes coming to the boot trade: zero break in time, and instant comfort.

We live in an instant world, don’t we? We want to put on boots and they fit and feel great right this minute, and we don’t want to wait for custom boots (or pay the premium price for that exacting hand work, in some cases)

So as Ariat worked out their English line of paddock boots, I went through a couple of models ‘til I found that their zip model Pro series, with water resistant leather uppers was my everyday favorite. At that time, I was going through some nerve damage issues that make me walk like a horse with navicular disease in both feet. The slap of pavement was almost unbearable, and the gel insoles in that new boot model saved me. I was at a horse trial once, needing to walk my cross country course the normal 3 times I usually walked courses, and I was having so much foot pain that I could only walk the mile and a half course once in my sneakers with added insoles. Then I put on my paddock boots, and got the support I needed to get my course walking done.

So the important lesson is, just soft alone does not do it…support is a key factor in boot comfort. The Ariat paddock boot’s arch, in their Pro model, at least, had perfect support for me. Not so for all other boots.

I got a pair of their newly designed tall field boot, and after having a bootmaker adjust the tops for me to fit my riding style, I wore them happily for the rest of my eventing career.

As I started playing music again, my old collection of cool cowboy boots came out, but to my dismay, the changes in my foot shape were enough that those old boots no longer fit, save for one pair of classic Noconas with 16 inch tops: black calfskin, with blue and purple ten row stitching up the tops, and I’d added some blue and lavender between the stitch lines, which gave me a propane-blue flame look. I sold a pair of burgundy eel skins, and a pair of red snakeskins, both with 16 inch tops, because they not longer fit, and I had become a calfskin kind of gal.

Looking at the offerings from various ready made boots, I found nothing that was feminine and pretty…it was the start of the “fat-baby” age of boots, in the late 1990’s, early 2000, and I detested that look of a toddler’s boot with a thick sole. I wanted real boots, smooth soles, tall tops, and had my fill of black and brown. I was looking for color.

My first pair of custom boots were bright yellow with red roses, green leaves, and blue vines. Still have them, they are on display at home. Next ones were by Caboots, the custom shop for Champion Attitude boots in El Paso. Using one of their stock retro designs, I worked up a color scheme of turquoise, black and red, with some orange poppy accents, with bluebirds, and foxing on the toe and heel, and they made me up a perfect, one of a kind boot. The result may still be in their catalog as an example.

I found some custom looking boots from another company, tan and lavender with black foxing, and wore them a few times, but since the tops on those were 12 inches, they caught my skirt bottoms. No bueno for me.

The next from Caboots were one of their Autry patterns, I had them make up in a 16 1/2 top, adding a retro stitched down mule ear. The tops were light tan, red vamp, black foxing again (does not show sole scuffs from walking) and green vines and red and blue flowers, and instead of the steerhead that is standard on that design, they did my initials on one boot, music notes on the other. NOW we’re talking!


I was sitting around swapping songs one evening at a festival with my old pal singer Bill Barwick, and a woman comes up almost screaming about my boots. “WHERE DID YOU GET THOSE!” she demanded.
“They are custom, by Caboots in El Paso” I told her. “So were is the store, I want to go there” “Well,” I explained, “it is not a store, it is a custom shop. If you fit in standard sizes, you can do a semi-custom, pick your size, width, toe and heel style, and then pick the style, and colors. That’s what these are, semi-custom”
“Oh so I can go there an get some just like those, and they will have them in my size?” she asks, still not getting it. “Well, no, they will make them for you just the way you want them.” I tell her.
“Why do they have a J F on the fronts? Is tat the name of that kind of boot?” she asks. I am keeping my patience with this dum-dum in check, when I say “those are my initials, for Juni Fisher”
“Oh! so you can get them with different initials on them?” she asks, incredulous. “How much are they? I have seen boots that cost more than 100 dollars, and that is just too much”
“Well this semi custom done up like these will run you more than that, but it really depends on what you want.” No sense bursting her poor little bubble brain.
“So, “ she continues, “You went there and got to pick these out, and they just happened to have boots that fit you with your initials on them?”

OK, so now, it is not going to send a customer to Caboots for me to explain any more, a hundred dollarsm much less 800 or more is gonna blow her mind, and my pal Bill is about to laugh out loud, as am I. So I tell her “YES! wasn’t that lucky?”

Last summer I had the good fortune to get measured for my first pair of full custom boots by Ed and Thea Disney of Buffalo Run Boot Company, and I turned designer Thea loose on the tops, giving her color ideas, but wanting her to do something she felt represented her work, as we were working out a sponsorship deal. She came through with a beautiful boot in pale palomino, navy blue, and plum, with impressive top stitching.  

And almost at the same time, I worked out a sponsorship program with Caboots, and their Priscilla Sanchez worked up a one of a kind design with black roses on pearl tops, and guitars detailed to match my beloved Larrivee guitars’ unique details. (Not one of my Larrivee guitars in the photo, Caboots photographed the boots with a guitar on hand for their catalog before they shipped them to me)


I am boot happy these days! The Road Dawg is a boot snob…and loving it!

Boots, the early years

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We were farm kids, growing up. Red Keds with the round rubber capped toes were the shoes little kids in our family got for the first of the school year. We may have had some hand me down dress shoes, but I can’t remember any that we actually wore, besides for dress-up play.

Women’s shoes started at size 5, and that was the size that let you go from red Keds with round toes to WHITE Keds with semi-pointed toes. At last, something to wear with your Easter dress! For me, that transition to big girl sizes was when I was about 9.

My first cowboy boots that were new to me, not hand me downs, not something four cousins ahead of me had loved and worn to death, were Acme roughouts, purchased by my mother for me as an 8th grade graduation gift. I just HAD to have roughouts. HAD TO! Dust? I didn’t care. Polish? I didn’t care. They were my 4-H show boots, my every day riding boots, my treasured only boots.

I finally wore them out, and by that time, had another pair, these of smooth leather, in waiting. My Dad had a boot polish kit and I learned to dab and buff like a pro. When I was in High School, I was the captain of our FFA Livestock and Horse judging teams, and I taught my team mates to give their boots a quick “shine” on the back of their pants legs as they waited to go in for their oral presentations of their judging results. At 15, I had scrimped and saved, and got my first English boots, from a store that carried goods from the Miller’s catalog. They were Marlboro brand Dress boots, complete with boot garters, and I was quite beside myself with having real tall boots to wear. Those boots also got polished just about to death.

By the end of college, I had discovered Justin Ropers, the tres-coolest boots for the rider who was on and off horses all day, and they had a casual professional look I loved. Those served me well up through my late twenties as work and dress boots, of course, only in the standard cordovan color. If the big name reined cow horse trainers were wearing cordovan, so was I. I loved the way my spurs rode on those ropers. When the edge between the boot top and sole would finally dry and crack, I’d get them patched, and then had patches on the patches, when times were tough, and I needed to either buy boots or make a payment on a snaffle bit futurity entry. I’ll never forget at my first snaffle bit futurity, in the first go-round of the reined work, I felt the patch on one boot give way in the middle of my first run down and stop, and thought “Dang! I’m gonna have to win to be able to afford to resole these boots!”

For the rest of the futurity I wore my nicer dress boots: taller boots with a higher heel, being careful to not put them on til I was ready to ride, and to get them off when I picked stalls or walked through mud. I won the futurity, though, and got the old pair of ropers patched again, plus got a NEW pair of ropers (on sale)

My Quarter Horse clients kept offering to get me boots that matched my various chaps (nope, cordovan was still the badge of the professional, colored boots were for the non-pros) and I never regretted sticking with that look.

But moving to the coast (Santa Ynez) and meeting a gal named “Henri” would change forever the way I looked at dressing up and still being Western. Henri could reach into her closet or mine, pull out something hip and cool, accessorize it, tug out a shirt tail here, pull a belt over one hip there, and she was always the cutest one, no matter where we went. She’d dress me, and all the guys wanted to dance with me…a big deal for someone to whom dressing up had meant my newest Wrangler Cowboy cuts, and my tidiest oxford shirt. I then went to work at Jedlicka’s Saddley in Santa Barbara, and suddenly had access to the cutest boots the minute they went on sale. I bought colors, I bought tall boots, I bought fun boots. Henri said “No Fair, Fish, now you have more boots than God” “God” I told her, “does not need boots, so I can have more”

The boot collection began to grow, sale by sale, need by need. I started Fox Hunting, so my English boots came out again, thankfully still fit, and then, to save wear on them, I wore my pull on jodphur boots, from the days when I showed some Saddleseat horses for clients, with half chaps, for every day riding. I moved to Tennessee to take a fox hunting job with a new hunt there, and my collection of cowboy boots got tucked in the back of the closet, so that I could adapt to the Irish and British looks of Paddock boots and Khakis for showing hounds, Paddock boots and half chaps with breeches for doing conditioning work on three or four horses a day, tall boots with breeches for hunting days of course, and then, because I had my hunt’s “colors” awarded to me, I had patent tops added to my dress boots…as a hunting professional who wore a red coat, I could have had tan hunting tops added, but because I was on a whipper-in’s pay, I could not spend the cash at that time to have a pair of dress boots made with tan tops, so wore my black patent topped hunt boots. I’d found a pair of black laced field boots on clearance (the traditional correct field boot is tan or cordovan, but black is commonly accepted) and wore them for “ratcatcher” days, which are the informal days during the week.

Where as the show riders had field boots with grippy soles, to help them hold a stirrup, I wanted slick soles to I could get out of a stirrup faster if I needed to, but to help with the foot fatigue, I wrapped my stirrups bottoms in several layers of Latex bandage, covered with black Vetwrap. Perfect!

I galloped steeplechase horses ’til my late thirties (and ’til the 3 cracked vertebrae in my neck started really catching up with me) and for that wore jod boots and half chaps, and only wore my nicer well fitted field boots for horse trials, for all three phases.

I retired from eventing a few years later, figuring I’d been lucky long enough, and was going to retire “sound” while I could still get out of bed in the the morning unassisted…and my paddock boots rested by the door, if I decided to go for a quiet ride, I put them on, but they began to gather dust as I started back to chasing music, as I’d done back in my days in Santa Ynez. Deep in the dark recesses of my closet, I had a great collection of my old ropers, and my dressy boots from dance band days, and I started wearing them again. Now they were classics….and OK, I admit, I had started to become a boot snob. I wanted boots like no one else had…I was about to become a custom boot kind of gal.

More to come on that journey of color, style and fit!

A Road Dawg talks Guitars and Airlines

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I remember the first time I flew a commercial flight. It was such a confusing, big deal for an 18 year old farm kid who had never been on the leaving end of a trip to the airport.

The next time, a few years later I was over packed, and over loaded with carry on bags, none of which had wheels, and I thought I was going to collapse from carrying two carry-ons through the DFW (Dallas Fort Worth) After that, I was starting to learn, and then came the day I was in my early thirties, and my Mom flew to visit me, not long after I moved to Tennessee. She had a suitcase with WHEELS! Wheels! She handed it to me, and showed me how to slide the handle up. My life changed.

When she flew home, she put her things in her larger wheeled bag, and left me with the carry on size wheeled bag to keep. It was a Travel Pro brand bag, dark navy in color, and I was most assuredly Queen Shakkabooboo when I wheeled that bag around.

I was working for an upper level three day event rider, who’s family would fly me to where ever they needed me to be on hand to get horses ready for their dressage, cross country, and show jumping phases, and because I did not want to ever be caught looking for a suitcase that did not get on the plane with me somehow, I became an expert at packing one rolling carry on and one smaller carry on. It contained everything I needed to get horses “turned out” perfectly, including my own little container of special hoof dressing (this was WAY pre-9/11) I even carried braiding needles and the right kind of braiding yarn, something that we professional 3 day event grooms coveted more than anything else. My suitcase would have a pair of muck boots for muddy conditions, two pairs of khaki pants, one or two nice blouses, pajamas, a toiletries kit, and that was about it. I wore my waxed coat, and when I did not need to wear it, rolled it up and tucked it into the handle apparatus of the rolling case.

Hence, I learned economy in packing.

Nowdays, as a professional entertainer, when I fly to a show to perform, if I can get by with one skirt, one or two pants, a couple of blouses, a dressy jacket and a half dozen scarves, sometimes, I can afford the space luxury of two pairs of boots. But really, I usually plan which ONE pair of boots I most want to wear, and plan the clothes around that. My guitar goes as a carry on, packed in a bright red Calton case, which I have aftermarket fitted with a handle on the headstock end, and wheels at the bout (the big) end.

Both my Red Calton guitar cases have handles and wheels

I pack my rolling brief case with my laptop, a notebook, a book to read, maybe some snacks for the plane, and my minimalist makeup bag. If I get somewhere with no suitcase, the hotel can give me toothpaste and toothbrush, deodorant, etc, but they will not have makeup.

My rule for traveling to a show is: travel in something you could go on stage in, in a pinch. Sure, it won’t be your best look, but you could do it if you had to, maybe borrowing a belt. I wear my hat to the airport. It goes in a plastic garbage can liner (20 gallon size) and slips under the seat in front of me, resting on it’s crown. If you put your hat in the overhead, you will get it crushed, at the very least, and with a stiffened quality fur felt, you can even BREAK the brim. It does NOT go in the overheads. Just trust me on this.

My guitar goes in the overhead on larger planes, gets gate checked on smaller planes. I check in early (up to 24 hours ahead, online) if I’m on Southwest, so I have early access to the baggage bins. My rolling briefcase then goes in along side the neck, and if I need to put my coat on top of it all there is plenty of room.

GATE CHECK AND BAGGAGE CHECK DO NOT EQUAL THE SAME THING….read on!

If it’s a smaller craft, and the bins don’t have enough width for a guitar (if you insist on carrying a jumbo size guitar, you are probably not going to get it to fit in most overhead bins, period) then I hand it over at the gate as I board, for gate check, and pick it up as I deplane.

Simple, right? But here is one bit of advice: (or two) DON’T ASK at the check in counter if you can carry your guitar. The answer will be “no” because they don’t know, and the standard answer is “no”

Just have it packed well and carry it. If you can add some extra bubble wrap around the headstock you will give the headstock further protection in a standard hardshell case, but just know that the hardshell case most guitars come in it is made for the rigors of the back seat of your car, not for a baggage hold of a plane, even if you are GATE checking your guitar.

And don’t ask the flight attendants to find a place for it for you in their closet. They may offer to do so, and that is fine, but don’t expect that you are the only person on the flight with a slightly oversize carry on. Your guitar is one carry on. Your briefcase is your second carry on. You are done, at that point with carry ons.

Caltons come in a plethora of stock colors and sizes, and some shops carry a few in basic sizes. Exact measurements of the upper and lower bout, neck, depth, etc will help you get a great fit.

Get Calton Cases in great Colors!

There are a couple of other quality flight cases, but there is a good reason why bluegrass pickers who travel with valuable pre-war Martin guitars use Caltons: I have not tested this, but they say you can back a car over one without crunching the guitar inside, and I believe that! Sure, they are not cheap, but what is peace of mind worth? Feel free to pass this along.

I’m going to hear from some folks who say “…but what if my guitar is a Gibson J-200?” And I’m going to shrug…that is a jumbo. It’s going to fit in a few overheads, but not all. I know musicians who travel with them, and the smart ones put them in a flight case, well packed, and check them when they have to. They do what they need to do to assure a safe arrival.

Here is my rub with checking a guitar…well, several rubs. Scene 1. You check your guitar in a flight case with your suitcase. Baggage inspectors, as they run it through screening (you better believe, bags go through screening and hand inspections after you check them) and while the case is open for them to inspect it, the guy inspecting it gets called to look at something else. Your case is left open. Next guy closes the lid as he goes by. Next person comes along, thinking they are done with it, picks it up and tosses on the baggage cart. Notice I did not say that anyone LATCHED the lid. So the lid drops open, and your guitar tumbles out onto the cement floor, or if the lid has any stickiness on it’s own, it may wait to fall open as they load it on the belt from the tarmac onto the plane. Remember, you signed off on it when you handed it over.

Scene 2. (and this one happened to a friend at an airport) He checked his guitar, went down to baggage claim to get it, along with his suitcase. Guy waiting for a bag two or three people ahead of him as baggage comes around reaches for my friend’s guitar. My friend says “No, that one is mine” and the guy says “oh, sorry” and lets go. My friend looks up after getting hold of his guitar, to see the guy headed out the door, with no guitar. That guy was seeing an opportunity to pick up a guitar off baggage claim and get out the door with it, knowing that no one involved with baggage security EVER checks baggage claim tickets as people pick up luggage.

I had to let go of a guitar once (poor airline choice, in my early days of flying with a guitar) on a flight to Denver, and at Denver, it takes FOREVER to get to baggage claim from your gate, and your baggage is there, going round and round, and sometimes being taken OFF the belt before you get there. As I came around the corner, someone was standing over my guitar, looking at the tag, and then looking around. No, they did not think it was THEIR bright red guitar case….they just knew it was an expensive guitar case that probably contained a guitar of some resale value. I walked up, and picked up my guitar, and the person looked away, and walked away quickly. Scarey, huh?

Do I pick road guitars based on if they fit to carry on board?? Well, sort of. I have a Calton case that fits my OO size guitars, and another that fits my OOO size, and I know those fit in large overheads. If the guitar does not fit in one of those cases, it’s not going on the road with me. I like to arrive with my best guitar in hand. And I hear from some musicians who say “I have a Martin such and such or a Taylor such and such, and I don’t take it anywhere, so I just use this cheap guitar.” Why would you do that? Why would you want to play a guitar that does not sound the very best you can sound? Doesn’t make sense.

And one more thing: Guitar and other cased instrument friendly airlines are: Southwest, United (and their subsidiaries) American, Frontier, and Continental was fine last time I flew them. Guitar hosile airlines? I’m not naming names that start with Del.., Nort….., Air Can…, I’ve heard form another musician that the two US based ones have eased up, but I’m not counting on it, based on past experience.

See you down the trail!

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