Band on the Run: Re-United with Lost Guitars (The Precipice of Air Travel)

Ember Swift, Canadian musician and touring performer, will be keeping us up-to-date on what it’s like to tour a band throughout North America. Having just arrived back from Beijing where she spent three months (check out her “Canadian in Beijing” series), she offers a musician’s perspective on road life. Enjoy!

So I got on a flight out of Maui, Hawaii at 9:30pm island time on Friday and arrived in San Francisco at 5:30am PST. A quick transfer to my (already being held) Vancouver flight and I was back in the air and heading towards my band and the next gig…

without my guitars.

What is it with United? I have had more mishaps (re: lost baggage or stolen luggage) with this airline than any other.

[I guess in this case the transfer time was too tight because no one from that Maui flight who arrived in Vancouver got their luggage. But still, the stats are stacked against United and me. Am I alone here?]

What’s worse is that the call center is in India. The attendants speak English and are very polite, but they’re in India! While trying to track y guitars, I needed to give a geography lesson on Canada while giving my delivery address:

“No, it’s a province. Canada doesn’t have states. It’s the province of British Columbia. <pause> No, there’s no zip code. The equivalent is a postal code. <pause> Yes, postal code. There are letters and numbers. It’s…”

And still, they couldn’t locate them. They told me to call back in a few hours and hopefully their computers will have been updated.

I was reunited with my band without my guitars and there was no time to wait for them to (possibly) arrive on the next flight from San Francisco. The gig that night was in Grand Forks, BC, in the interior of the province about six hours east of Vancouver, and so we had to hop in a vehicle and drive on in order to make it there in time for sound check.

This part of British Columbia is truly stunning. It’s hard to stay grumpy in the presence of such majestic beauty. By the time we got to Grand Forks, I was long recovered from my sleepless night of air travel and the anxiety of lost instruments.

Mountains heal.

We were kindly loaned a guitar that worked out perfectly (a hollow body electric the same shape and similar weight to my Gretsch) and I just geared the whole set to suit an electric guitar sound as opposed to an acoustic. We had a great time on stage and were well received by the modest but appreciative audience at The Festival at the Forks.

They put us up that night at a hilltop spa called Ponderosa Pines. Three kilometres up a rocky dirt road and it felt like we were driving into the clouds. There was nothing around except the view and a steep decline. This single lane path (or was it a long driveway?) seemed to be etched into the side of the mountain itself.

Adam, our drummer, said “These are the times people accuse you of exaggerating when you re-tell the story. You just keep saying ‘no, it really was like that’ and no one believes you.” And he’s right. Maybe these pictures I snapped the next morning will give it some credibility.

Back in the car again pointing west again towards Vancouver and we were following a Budget cube van. When it’s brakes came on suddenly ahead and it swerved right, we slowed too, just in time for us both to miss the young black bear that had leapt out of the bushes and struck out across the highway.

Just the night before, while sitting beside a British guy returning from Maui to the U.S. with his family mid-vacation, we spoke about Canada and all the cultural stereotypes of our country. He jokingly said, “Yeah, Canada, aren’t you shaking the black bears off your legs up there?” I laughed and told him that our legs have no room for black bears for all the beavers trying to take us out at the ankles. We both laughed then and I added the truthful statement that it had actually been ages since I’d even seen a black bear.

Not so now.

And I’m happy to report that the little black bear survived the highway.

When we got back to Vancouver, the guitars still had not arrived at the address we’d given. Another call to India and I found out that one guitar was still in San Francisco and the other was in Vancouver and was supposed to have already been delivered.

Now the reports were starting to conflict and I had memories of last year’s “missing” (read: stolen) pedal board that resulted in a $2,000 insurance claimed and a long fight with the airline. Also, this summer Adam’s custom snare drum (also on United Airlines) took two weeks to be returned to him. When my anxiety level started to spiral upwards, I knew it was time to run.

Running is my release of choice.

Forty minutes later, all stress having sweated out my body, I arrived back to where I was staying to a message telling me that both “red bags” (my cases are red, but the attendants rarely referred to them as guitars, much to my concern!) would be delivered that evening between 9 and 12 at night.

Nothing to do but wait. My flight back to Ontario wasn’t until today anyway.

11:48 on the hall clock and I got a call saying that they were just a few minutes away. To my relief, at 11:56 I was greeting the delivery man and my guitars at the doorway of the house we were staying in. Now earlier today, I flew back to Ontario with my (hopefully not-to-traumatized) guitars who haven’t made it out of their cases since Hawaii. I was so hesitant to let them disappear down the conveyor belt yet again!

But I’m here to report a great big sigh of relief.

When I picked them up in Ottawa, I loudly and gregariously thanked the special handling baggage personnel for not losing them. They laughed and responded with a hearty “You’re welcome!” while I was letting out my held breath.

And now I’m home. On the ground. Guitars in hand.

All’s well.