Three Songs in My Life with Nada Surf, Part Two: "Blizzard of 77" - by Colin Gawel
January hadn’t been that cold, but February turned brutal. Ohio can land on either side of the jet stream and that particular month we might as well been on the shores of Hudson Bay. It didn’t get above 10 degrees for weeks at a time, and the mood at home was even colder. My car had broken down and I didn’t have the money to fix it. Adding insult to injury, I had recently blown out a tire on my bike too (a ten-speed). Not that biking to work was a serious option at this point.
The coffee shop opened at 6am and if I left my house at 5:20am, I could make it there on foot by 5:59. Down the hill towards the river, cut behind the strip mall, through the woods past a small graveyard behind the Speedway gas station and to the Golden Bear Center where the newly named “Colin’s Coffee” was located.
Business wasn’t good. But I guess that was to be expected considering the previous owner couldn’t find a buyer and was prepared to close the shop even though he still owed 18 months on the lease. At the last minute, I stepped in and he basically handed the keys and said, “It’s your problem now. Good luck.”
Oh, and I didn’t know anything about running a coffee shop except how to serve coffee, be friendly and clean the bathrooms. The learning curve was steep.
However, I was running low on options at that point and the coffee shop offered flexible hours allowing my wife and I to avoid using day care for Owen. That was like a salary in its own way and we got to be hands-on parents. I looked at that as a hidden blessing, though it didn’t much feel that way on a day to day basis.
The Fifth of July Tour had ended after eighteen months, and despite our best efforts, over a hundred shows, two singles, and endless promo....we were back home and ass-out. Pretty standard stuff for rock n roll, but this time my actions had a deeper effect. About twelve months into our tour, my wife confessed that she couldn’t take anymore of this. She was working full time, taking care of our two year old son and I was mostly gone, without making any money.
I reminded her that I had promised to see this through to the end. We had talked and agreed that it would get tough, but we would see it through.
We had both agreed.
“I know we agreed, but I just can't do this any more. I need you to stop touring."
“I’m sorry. I know this isn't fair. But I can't stop until the date I agreed to. I can't stop. I'll make it up to you."
And to make matters worse, I was having the time of my life. Not like it was a non-stop party, it was a ton of work. But my days and dreams of being a semi-relevant touring artist were numbered. I truly had an appreciation for each gig and the chance to play the songs we wrote together one more time.
I agreed with everything she said. She was right to be upset. It wasn’t fair. She asked me to call off the tour and come home. I said no. She said if I didn’t call off the rest of the tour it would do irreparable damage to our relationship and possibly threaten its very existence.
Six months after that phone call, the tour was finally over, Watershed had failed by any reasonable metric and I was home for good. For better or worse. It wasn't exactly a homecoming. My wife was still understandably upset and I wasn’t sure if I could change that.
But just like that Watershed tour, I dug in. I put my head down and made that long cold walk to the coffee shop every morning in the dark. I knew I had to figure out a way to pay some bills and for her not to spend every night sleeping with her back to me. I owed her for her patience and support.
I had no answers and no quick fixes. I retreated to my default setting of optimism. I would just do the best job I could every single day. I would control what I could control, i.e: my effort. I would apply it as a business owner, as a husband, and - most importantly - as a Dad.
Just like that cold dark morning walk, it was an exercise in faith. I could not see clearly where I was going, I just knew I had to keep walking and eventually, somehow, someway, I would get our family to a better place. Or maybe I wouldn’t. Things could fall apart. It happens to well-meaning people all the time. Certainly I was no exception.
Anyway, February was cold. I slept in my long underwear to save time dressing with my 5:10 am alarm. The stars were bright and my breathe was frozen. Every morning on that walk, the first song I played was Blizzard of 77.
And I played this song every morning too.