Bert Stratton

I’m in a klezmer van

Downtown Detroit has a lot of detour signs.  Just when you think you’re heading back to Ohio, you’re not.  You’re on your way to Detroit Metro airport and points west.

Don’t play for peanuts in Detroit.  You’ll feel like a fool if you’re lost and underpaid at 2 a.m.

In Yiddishe Cup’s van, each musician has an assigned role. Our drummer is in charge of windshield fluid levels.  Our dance leader supplies the bottled water. Our keyboard player loads the van; he knows the secret order of the gear.

Van life smells. Think about it: six guys in a metal container, topped with a cherry scent, courtesy of the van rental company.

The icing: scents from Krispy Kremes and Cinnabuns.  Our driver eats that stuff like he’s on death row.

One Yiddishe Cup musician plays his iPod so loudly there is aural seepage.  Not everybody is into Bob Dylan’s basement tapes.

The bandleader’s job is to monitor the musicians’ verbiage.  Everyone has a certain quota of words for the day, and after he has used that, he should shut up and read, according to the van guard.

Luckily, nobody in Yiddishe Cup is a motor mouth.  Nobody wants to hear about your stock portfolio, your computer, your illness, your day job, for too long.  Only exceed your word quota for safety reasons, like if the driver might fall asleep from drowsiness.

That, unfortunately, is a possibility.  Do you know how boring it is to drive I-71 to Columbus, or the Ohio Turnpike to Detroit, from Cleveland?

Little known fact: you can get lox and bagel at milepost 100 on the Ohio Turnpike.


Yiddishe Cup’s worst milepost: 213, on I-71 near Medina, Ohio.  We had a flat tire and waited for a tow truck at 3 a.m.  Our drummer kept repeating, “Here comes a truck with lights on top.”

I said, “Most trucks have lights.”

The tow truck was  heavy-duty, especially equipped for jacking up vans. And it arrived very late.

I had a lot of time to replay our night’s gig — a Columbus bat mitzvah.  After the hora, the mom said, “It wasn’t a freylekhs!”   I said, “It wasn’t Latin music!”  Apparently, she had wanted to be lifted in a chair, and I had cut the music before.  I wasn’t clairvoyant.

Bat mitzvah moms don’t always goes up on chairs.

Mile post 213, I-71, Ohio.  Bad trip.

About the Author
Bert Stratton is a musician and landlord in Cleveland, Ohio. He is an occasional contributor to the New York Times, Jerusalem Post, Cleveland Plain Dealer and City Journal. Byliner chose his essay "The Landlord's Tale" as one of the best magazine articles of 2012. He blogs at "Klezmer Guy: Real Music & Real Estate."