Day 6 – Part 1 – McTour

I awake in the thick heat of the van bunk, and roll out into the brightness. We’ve stopped off at a service center for gas and snacks. The thing about this part of the country along I-90–passing through Indiana, Ohio, and New York–is that there are few exits and they are often toll portals or else don’t have services. So rest stops get replaced with full-on corporate strip malls. There’s never local flavor or culture, just a collection of fast food and quick marts, and gas. When America is traveling, healthy and thoughtful living is on hold.

Speaking of which, I want coffee. I’m in a jet lagged dream state, and steady caffeine provides a bump in alertness. There’s a McCafe, which seems like a rare opportunity to get something besides road sludge. I wearily ask from behind shielding shades if they have espresso. The cashier orders up an espresso, and someone runs to start it before I’ve even paid. I let her know that I don’t want an espresso, I want a soy latte. A manager comes over to confirm that I want an espresso and a latte. I am not quite able to catch up with what is transpiring, but I explain that I just want a soy latte. But it seems there is no soy milk. So I make a split moment poor decision and ask for drip. I stumble outside into the Sun, as likely some McDonalds employees are left with their orphan espressos.

The band sees my McDrip and proceeds to mock me for being a McKai. In their eyes, McBrown is a far deeper sin than generic brand road brown in a cup. By the end of the tour, all–and I mean all–McDonalds will have been gleefully pointed out to me with offers to pull over. There are a lot of McDonalds.

We continue to enjoy Stuart’s tollbooth exchanges, before reaching our pal’s fine home in Marlboro. We receive a nice tour, and then get to work: Jake naps in the air conditioned comfy-chair-ladened living room, we plug in all depleted devices for charging, take care of hygiene, and Stuart begins to dissect the chime-a-tron. Dave and I jump on wifi and search for chime samples as a back up plan. We are skeptical we’ll have a consistently working chime-a-tron, even if it is fixed.

An hour later, Stuart calls us into the garage. All the fragile silk threaded suspensions have been severed as the unit was bashed around in the trailer. Yet, Stuart thinks the rest of it should theoretically be in good shape. Dave and I work out that there are only 5 notes that we collectively play for the entire set, so Stuart gets to work on threading just those specific suspensions.

A chime-a-tron is similar in design as cheap grandfather clocks or doorbells. The “chime” is a small gauge rod, centimeters in diameter, that hangs from a thread. When you press a key, it triggers a piston to strike the rod from below. The rod vibrates with the help of carefully attached weights that tune the vibrations. At the top of the rods, there is a long pickup that captures the tones and sends the electric signal to an amplifier.

Another hour or so later, and Stuart calls me out to help him stand the thing up so we can adjust the placement of the pistons. He plays the first note and… Success! The chime rings out, and we let out a cheer!

Good thing, because Dave and I couldn’t find a decent chime sample. Stuart carefully loads the unit onto one half of the back loft. This baby is getting preferential treatment the rest of the trip!

Time to hit the road for the final push to Cambridge.

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