Scotland Diaries: Glasgow Karaoke

Thursday, August 22

Soundtrack: “I Wish I was Sober” Frightened Rabbit

Itinerary:

  • surviving the night in a ghost-ridden castle
  • breakfast
  • horseback riding!
  • Clydeside Distillery tour
  • karaoke in Glasgow

Dalkeith
In the middle of the night, I had to pee. Not wanting to turn on a light and wake up my roommate Anita, I made my slow, careful way down the stairs of our suite towards the bathroom. At the bottom of the stairs, a mirror hung on the wall. GODDAMNIT. If I’m already in a scaredy-cat mood, as one might be when staying in an allegedly haunted castle, there’s nothing that scares me more than a freakin’ mirror in a dark room. I tried to not look directly into it, avoiding any chances of seeing the ghost of Mary behind me. I’m not sure what I would’ve done had I seen anything–maybe blurt out “So what do you think of Saoirse Ronan?” then dive back into the bed and cower beneath the covers. Thankfully, I made it to the bathroom and back unscathed, and was able to fall back asleep.

In the morning, the four of us met up for continental breakfast; no one reported any ghostly encounters though some had had a rough night of restless sleep. We’d been going hard nonstop this whole trip so far, and exhaustion was catching up.

BUT! It turned out that there was a stable nearby, and they had availability to take us out on an hour-long trail ride. So far on the trip, our only major disappointment had been missing out on riding in the Highlands, so this was our chance to make it up.  We checked out of the castle and drove a few short miles to nearby Lasswade Riding Centre.

besties

Amongst our group, we had a mix of experienced riders and beginners, and the folks at the stable matched us up with appropriate horses. I was put on a dappled gray named Oscar, and we got along swimmingly. Our guide took us on an ambling trail across a river, then through a scenic meadow and a wooded park. At one point, we rode on the road (on the left side!! I was all geeked out about that), and did some light trotting. I love going on trail rides in Europe because they use English saddles, so I get to brush up on my posting skills from junior high. Everyone did a good job, and nobody died!

Our horses: Hugo, Tom, Oscar, Lucy

After an hour on the trail, our inner thigh muscles/allergies were fully awakened. We stopped for some Benadryl and Doritos, then got on the road to Glasgow, our final home base.

Glasgow
We had booked an Airbnb in Finnieston (the Logan Square of Glasgow), and our first destination, the Clydeside Distillery, was an easy 5-minute walk away, which was fortuitous because our legs were fried. We had signed up for a tour and tasting. Our guide was informative and the facility was located in a scenic spot right on the river, but let’s be real, the reason anyone tours a distillery is for the tasting. The Clydeside is so new that they can’t serve their own brand yet–since they opened in 2018, their premier whisky is still aging. But, we got to sample some whiskys provided from distillery friends of the brand, and if you are knowledgable about your spirits, you can even try to guess what they are Blind Date-style (though our guide swore she’ll never confirm nor deny a guess). We grabbed some bites in their cafe, and I enjoyed a dram with my coffee.

After resting/napping/reading for the rest of the afternoon, we geared up for some Glasgow nightlife. We grabbed dinner from an excellent seafood place called Crabshakk within walking distance from our flat, then went in search of karaoke.

From that point on, the night became a blur. I sang “Party in the USA” at the first bar and was pleasantly surprised when a woman stood up and yelled “Yeah Miley!!” and everyone began dancing (Glasgow is Team Miley, y’all). After getting in a few songs, the host stopped taking new slips so we moved on to the second karaoke bar, where things got even more hazy. Rounds of St. Mungo lager were purchased. Shots were shot. A fog machine overtook the karaoke stage.

who knows, honestly

We let the night take us on a real journey. We danced, sang, went in search of late night pizza, then settled for McDonald’s. I challenged a Scottish man to a pushup contest in the street. We met a squad of Glaswegian college cheerleaders and one of them did a backflip for us. Sometime around 3 a.m., Adrienne flagged us down a taxi and we poured ourselves into the backseat. Everyone did a good job, and nobody died!

 

 

Nashville-eoke

This might be my greatest life advice: find yourselves some friends who are just as ridiculous as you are. In March 2015, a good friend and I created a ragtag team of karaoke enthusiasts for monthly outings to a revolving assortment of bars all over Chicago. 4 years later, Karaoke Club is still going strong, and for the second year in a row, we planned a destination outing. In 2018, we went to New Orleans, and this year, we picked Nashville, Tennessee.

Since the first time since I first visited Nashville back in 2007, there’s been a “bachelorette-ization” of Music City.  Our Airbnb was located in a neighborhood that barely existed 10 years ago, now a hub of development, high-priced boutiques, and cookie cutter houses used exclusively as Airbnbs. While eating brunch in the Gulch, 4 or 5 party buses rolled by, piercing our hangovers with rampant “WOO!”ing. But thankfully, Karaoke Club is fantastic at finding our own good time, and this trip did not disappoint.

a woman sings karaoke in a karaoke bar inside a double-wide trailer.

karaoke at Santa’s Pub

Our group of 12 arrived in Nashville at various points throughout the day, by car or plane. We had barely been in town for a few hours before we found ourselves in a private karaoke room singing along with cosplayers, handing over the microphone to a dude in a full mascot suit who grunted along the chorus to “Beauty and the Beast.” After getting warmed up amongst superheroes, we headed to our next destination, Santa’s Pub, a double-wide trailer turned dive bar where the bartenders will sell beers by the six-pack from a kitchen fridge.

From that point on, the night becomes a beautiful blur.  We watched a woman wail and slay “Whole Lotta Love.” I sang “Wrecking Ball” and a drunk woman on the front porch later complimented me by telling me she had a “spiritual experience.” We laughed at so, so many hilarious moments, and inside jokes were born. Our hair and clothes absorbed the smell of beer sweat and cigarette smoke and we danced and applauded and stayed til the end when the (very patient and friendly) bartenders turned on the lights and we skedaddled outta there to our waiting Lyfts.

I nearly barfed during brunch the next day, but it was totally worth it.

The next night we ate BBQ then explored Broadway, wandering in and out of packed bars where live music poured through every open storefront window. Tourists, bachelorette parties, and stumbling twenty-somethings jammed the sidewalks. The gutters emitted that Vegas-y, Bourbon Street-ish smell of bleach covering up beer and vomit. Somehow amidst this mess, we found a great time. A guitarist mouthed “thank you” at us when we sang the chorus to “Dead or Alive.” We danced to the Spice Girls. And then we got the hell out of there and found a karaoke bar in Printers Alley. Jell-O shots happened. We sang a few songs, then moved on to a gay bar where we danced to Ariana Grande, Britney Spears, and Jonas Brothers before calling it a night.

Broadway at night, a street filled with neon signs and sidewalks full of pedestrians

Broadway, a.k.a. Honky Tonk Highway

Oh, but our last night… You know those nights that start like any old Saturday evening, then end up taking you in completely unexpected directions? From the first round of drinks at a bar packed with pub crawlers decked out as superheroes, to the weird phenomena of the song “Mambo No. 5” following us everywhere, Saturday grew increasingly hilarious. We escaped downtown and took a taxi to East Nashville, where we had heard about a talent show fundraiser happening in a small music venue. Almost everyone in the bar was roughly 15 years younger than us, with arty haircuts and hipster thrift lewks.

The talent show was silly and amusing, obviously thrown together last minute, but it was a lead-up into a set by a local band, Molly Rocket. The lead singer could really wail, the drummer rocked it out in pink pajamas, and modern dancers performed on a makeshift side stage. I instantly loved it all. We were already buzzy from music and drinks and the thrill of stumbling into this place when the band beckoned us to lay down on the floor for the next song, and we all complied. A net released from the ceiling, and dozens of balloons spilled onto the crowd, which we batted around like kittens rolling on our backs while the lead singer filled the room with her voice and writhed onstage.

a balloon drop in a small rock venue

Balloon drop!

Every time I caught one of my friends’ eyes, we’d shout at each other “This is the best!!” It was the perfect blend of music and art and giddy drunkenness creating a boundless feeling where you’re totally in the moment in a way you’ll never forget.

After the band finished their show, DJ Ponywine played an hour-long set that consisted entirely of remixes and covers of Ginuwine’s “Pony.” We danced the entire time, and if you think it would ever get old hearing those familiar opening bass synth kick in every 4 minutes, you are dead wrong. Afterwards, the venue slowly cleared out, and we got invited to the after party at a bar up the street. If there was anything we’d learned so far that night, it was to say yes to everything, so we went.

I can barely remember the conversations I had there, but I do recall standing outside under a nearly full moon, meeting new people, exchanging stories, and having an overall fantastic night. I randomly found Einstok, a beer I loved from Iceland. We talked to Nashville locals about Chicago and then, for a final time, the house lights turned on, and we boot-scoot-boogied outside with the horde of giggly, stumbling twenty-somethings and scattered to our various Lyfts and Ubers.

Listen, I’m nearly 40 years old and I am not a person who closes down the bar on the reg, let alone twice in three nights. I nearly keeled over onto a plate of Nashville hot chicken one morning because this body-ody-ody is now more accustomed to yoga and a high fiber diet than 3 a.m. pizzas and Yuenglings purchased by the six-pack. And though this trip probably took 3 years off my total lifespan, every second was worth it. Days later, I’m still remembering all of the jokes that were made during our trip, and the adrenaline rush of singing onstage with friends and strangers (and sometimes, a dude in a Beast suit), and rolling around on the dirty-ass floor of a gritty rock club batting balloons while shouting “This is the best night ever!!”

Travel Pairings

Book: this one was tough for me because for some reason most books set in Nashville seem to be mystery thrillers (the John Grisham effect, I guess?) and I wanted to read something set in the music world, so I brought Daisy Jones & the Six
Film: Nashville, duh
Music: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “The Nashville Sound”

Iceland Diaries: Karaoke North of the Wall

Thursday, Feb. 16

The alarm went off at 7 a.m. Outside of the Land Rover, the sky was still dark. We’d never fully see the forested area where we spent our last night on the road. I got dressed, put my clothes in my backpack, and then tucked myself as small as I could into a corner of the Rover so Kurt would have room to change and pack. We set the GPS for Reykjavík and began the 2-hour drive back to town.

family reunion!

family reunion!

After dropping off the Land Rover at Kúkú Campers, we took a taxi to our Airbnb. Our friends wouldn’t get back from their Höfn road trip until that evening, so we had the place to ourselves. Thursday was also the only day that our trip overlapped with my sister Lauren and her husband Charlie’s Iceland trip; they had flown out a few days earlier than us and went on a 3-day ice caving expedition. We met up with them and exchanged vacation stories. Most excitingly, Lauren and Charlie had seen the Northern Lights the night before! A lucky combination of a clear night sky and a 4 on the Aurora forecast had allowed them to view the lights from the courtyard of their hotel. Lauren showed us some of the amazing photos she took on her camera; they got a light show for a solid hour.

our most frequent Icelandic lunch: hot dogs

our most frequent Icelandic lunch: hot dogs

We walked downtown to get lunch at a hot dog stand and do a little shopping. We discussed checking out the Icelandic Phallological Museum, but it a long walk away, and I said “I feel like the whole world is a penis museum.” Instead, we had a few pints at an Irish pub called Drunk Rabbit.

Back in Chicago, my friend Ray (part of the Höfn crew) and I have a monthly get-together with friends called Karaoke Club, where we visit a new karaoke bar every third Thursday of the month. Since February’s third Thursday fell during our Iceland trip, we made a plan to hold a club outing in Reykjavík. During our vacation preparations, Ray did some research and found a hostel on the west side of town that has a private karaoke room. Before leaving for Höfn, Ray left a note in the kitchen for us with the name of the hostel and a start time of 9 p.m.

Karaoke Club: Reykjavík edition

Karaoke Club: Reykjavík edition

It was Lauren and Charlie’s last night in Iceland, so we splurged on a really nice dinner at Lobster & Stuff, a restaurant on the water, then walked over to Oddsson Hostel to meet our friends for karaoke. Oddsson is the swankiest hostel I’ve ever seen, more of a hotel hybrid. The karaoke room is a soundproof mirrored cube in the middle of the restaurant/bar of the hostel, so people can watch you but can’t hear. It’s pretty much the greatest thing anyone’s ever invented. We loaded up our song choices in the self-service karaoke machine, and proceeded to drink, sing, and have a blast for the next few hours. My song choices: “It’s Oh So Quiet” by Björk (I had to), “Break Free” by Arian Grande, “A Whole New World” duet, “Love on Top” by Beyoncé. There may have been some Carly Rae Jepsen too; it’s hard to remember after we were a few Einstoks in.

The karaoke machine shut off promptly at the end of our rental period (fittingly during Ray’s rendition of “We Gotta Get out of this Place”), so we met up with the rest of our friends and walked back to the downtown area, hit up one more bar for a round, and went back to our Airbnb to finish off our remaining Duty Free alcohol while keeping an eye on the Aurora forecast. The website didn’t look promising, but we didn’t want to give up hope just yet.

Thoughts on November 10

This is pretty much a brain dump, so bear with me.

It’s been a rollercoaster of a week. On Monday evening, I went to an early voting polling place near my house on the northwest side of Chicago. After the moment I touched the screen to pick Hillary’s name, I paused and let myself savor the small but historic moment. Tears gathered in my eyes.

It would be the first of many, many times I’ve cried this week, and the only time that the tears were happy.

Yesterday, we woke up to confirmation that many peoples’ worst nightmare came true. I cried for multitudes of reasons, among them being that the horrific racism and xenophobia we’ve witnessed over the course of the campaign season had won. I cried because it was a perfect example of why so few women report their sexual assaults: they get called liars while the men who perpetrate these crimes get away with it (or get elected president). I know that people had their reasons for voting who they voted for, but I cried because they were willing to overlook the fact that minorities, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, Muslim Americans, and all other marginalized groups would suffer because of how they marked their ballot. Everything felt broken on multiple levels.

I don’t want to write any further about the election itself because it’s all been said by people much more eloquent than me. But I do want to share what I did to get through the ugliness of yesterday and how I managed to find some catharsis and even joy. I connected with my people through texts, Facebook, Twitter, and secret discussion groups where we all felt like we could be safe to share our feelings without someone chiming in to pick an ugly fight while our feelings were so raw. You can rail on the concept of social media all you want, but yesterday, it was my salvation.

And through social media, we made a plan to go out and sing karaoke together. I arrived at the bar first, and as my friends walked in, we all began to cry again, but we were able to give each other much-needed hugs. Then we all began to sing. Lyrics took on whole new meanings under the circumstance of events, and we laughed-cried, shouted the words together, and danced.

“We are strong, no one can tell us we’re wrong, searching our hearts for so long, love is a battlefield”

“Soul, I hear you calling, oh baby please give a little respect to me”

“Oh I’m just a girl, all pretty and petite, so don’t let me have any rights. Oh, I’ve had it up to here”

It was emotional and loud and cathartic and exactly what we all needed. Shit may have just gotten very, very real, but I will always be able to turn to music to help me cope. When you’re several beers into the night and running the mic on a divey karaoke place with people you love, playing air guitar and drunk-wailing “Don’t Stop Believing,” you can remember that there is joy to be found in this world.

I see others using pop culture to cope: gifs of Harry Potter’s friends raising their wands in solidarity, or the people of District 12 raising their hands saluting the Mockingjay, or photos of Mal from Firefly with the caption “May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one.” I see people turning to literature and poetry: “Do not go gentle into that good night.” “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” Art is our place of solace, or our battle cry, or a voice for the voice we need when we’ve lost our own. Art is important. Even Pat Benatar.