We’re Not In Kansas Anymore: Diaries From The American Road

Writer Matt Roper is on tour, performing in 26 American cities in just one month. He’s picking up the the kind of life-saving tips you can only learn on the road – including how to outrun an alligator

This life of mine has become so chaotic in recent weeks that at last I’ve started to crave boredom. I’m sitting in a café in the middle of nowhere. We’ll call it Smalltown, America – the Midwest. There’s nothing here and it’s almost blissful. A freight train has just passed the window beside me, leaving the sound of silence in its wake, except for the quiet hum of the refrigerator behind the counter.


I’m in the middle of touring the United States with a great crew of people, to 26 towns and cities in the space of a month. We’ve covered around 5,000 miles from New York down to Washington D.C, and south through the Carolina’s, Florida and Georgia, then up again through the Midwest.


There’s a few of us, squeezed into a tour vehicle along with a pile of sleeping bags, suitcases, stage props and a cooler, out of which we live on such things as peanut butter sandwiches, quinoa, chicken salads and litres of soda water. They’ve got us through a weather of blazing sunshine and one relentless blizzard. One of the crew is a contortionist, another a recovering alcoholic, one more does the bulk of a driving, and then there’s me sitting in the back seat knocking back aspirin while complaining about what all the sitting might be doing to my circulation. But it is the stuff of dreams – even if we’re not tooting cocaine while writhing around beneath piles of groupies.


Billboards scream at us from the roadsides of the Great American Highways. What a pillow of reassurances on which I place this restless head at night. Jesus Christ is alive and well and living in Indiana (“beyond reasonable doubt”), Gun Shows are always coming to town next weekend in South Carolina (“keeping tradition alive”) while in Florida, strip clubs even have space available outside for parking trucks (“with showers available”).


I’ve learned some interesting things beyond the highway, too. Everybody in Florida seems to be an expert on the matters of escaping killer creatures – somebody always seems to know somebody who knows somebody else who lost a limb to a reptile. Our host in Orlando taught me that if you ever find yourself needing to escape the jaws of an alligator, you must run in the pattern of a zig zag – its eyes being on the side of the head, they can chase you down faster if they – and you – are  running in a straight line. The same could be said for horses, I suppose, but you don’t hear of many people being chased down and eaten by one of those. But then you don’t put money on an alligator winning the Grand National at 14-1.


The other thing I wanted to mention is that while Americans might not be accustomed to buying a round of drinks, the hospitality experienced on the inside of an American home is actually second to none. We’ve stayed in a hotel only once, with friends and associates putting us up nightly elsewhere. We’ve laid our heads down for the night in crumbling mansions, designer houses and – on one occasion – a floor in a flat in Iowa City also occupied by a dog named Morbo whose way of passing the time was to hop up when you least expected it to and bite you on the arse. If only he had eyes on the side of his head.


But the audiences we’ve met have been well worth the many hours spent on the road. So far, I’ve fallen in love with the people of Kansas City, Atlanta and Indianapolis in particular, and we have Dallas, Amarillo, New Orleans and so much more to come. But tonight will be spent in Springfield, Missouri, where we’re hoping at least some of the population of 160,000 will come out to be in our audience. Will they find us delicious? Only time will tell.


Matt Roper is a British comedian touring America. His relationship with Lush goes back to 2011 when he performed for the muddy festival-goers of Lushfest, returning the following year to curate the line-up of the comedy stage. As he travels around the world, he shares his musings with us here in a series of writings – a sifting of thought from a restless but always seeking imagination.


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If you ever find yourself needing to escape the jaws of an alligator, you must run in the pattern of a zig zag – its eyes being on the side of the head, they can chase you down faster if they – and you – are running in a straight line

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