When the Woodward Dream Cruise Leads to a Pearl Jam Concert
A road trip in a $400,000 Rolls Royce Dawn ends spectacularly at the author’s 50th PJ show.
“The universe rewards hustle,” Joe Rogan once told me after an appearance on his JRE Podcast. I've repeated that mantra to myself hundreds of times to get through work scenarios I don’t fully enjoy, or at hour seventeen behind the wheel of some comically uncomfortable homebuilt death trap, in hundred degree heat, with no air conditioning, and brakes touchy enough to send me sliding off a cliff if I use ten pounds pedal pressure rather than six. The point is for the video to look fun, I remind myself, not for me to actually have fun on shoot day.
“The universe will reward my hustle,” I’d say, sweating through my cargo shorts.
For the most part, my hustle has been rewarded. People call me and email me, asking me to drive fun cars in fun places, for which they will pay me real money. “Do something you enjoy, and you’ll never be at work a day in your life.” That's how the cliché goes, right?
That’s 50% bullshit, but for me, all the flights, all the travel, the grind—all that shit is worth it not to sit behind a desk, wearing a suit, and being someone’s bitch.
My dad has friends who sit behind desks; good people who make an honest living selling physical products through retail outlets to people who want to buy them. We had a guy who lived up the road from my parents as a kid who manufactured cardboard boxes. He was a billionaire. He made like six products, none of which he invented, and all of which were basically the same “bend and slice corrugated cardboard into boxes of various sizes.” My mom drove us past his house every day on the way to school. He parked the Rolls out front, and drove it to Newark every day to his corner office in his cardboard box factory. The Ferrari lived in the garage.
Twenty-five years ago today, Mom first allowed me to ‘walk into town’ after school. The main street of Rye, NY, was about a half-mile down from school, but doing anything bedsides immediately getting scooped by my mom made me feel rebellious. I spent my lunch money on a Zippo Lighter, a slice of Sunrise Pizza, and Pearl Jam’s TEN on cassette—my first album ever. I played it through the stereo of Mom’s Volvo 740 wagon on the way to school and home. I played it through my shitty little boombox. I brought that tape everywhere I went.
1992. My older cousin Mike unknowingly shapes my adolescence by bringing me to concerts—a lot of them. He brings me to Lollapalooza that year, where I see Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, Soundgarden, Ice Cube, Stone Temple Pilots, and Pearl Jam.
August 18, 2016. I’m landing in Detroit for the Woodward Dream Cruise. I’ve spent months planning for this weekend, a “workcation.” My housemate Nino is from Detroit, and his Sicilian immigrant father, a very successful restauranteur in Detroit, has set us up in a condo off Woodward Avenue for the weekend. I have negotiated the loan of a $400,000 Rolls-Royce Dawn convertible. We’re going to cruise; we’re going to eat delicious Italian food; we’re going to party it up in one of America’s finest party cities, and come Sunday, when the cruisers all turn their GNX’s around and head back to Ohio, I’m going to road trip the Roller from Woodward Avenue 300 miles to Chicago’s Wrigley Field for my fiftieth Pearl Jam concert, 24 years after seeing “Jeremy,” “Why Go,” and “Black,” performed before my 11-year old eyes for the first time, and nearly 25 years to the day after buying TEN.
Everyone has a band, a singer, a DJ, that ‘plays for them.’ I can’t relate to most music new or old, but I get Pearl Jam, and Pearl Jam gets me. Their three hundred-song catalog combined with their willingness to play all 300 of those songs, mean every show is different. Every new venue, stadium, arena, and setlist are a completely new experience. Some people collect stamps or baseball cards; I collect Pearl Jam songs. I live for the rarities: Force of Nature, Crown of Thorns, Hunger Strike, Unemployable, and Parachutes; the list goes on. Songs I’ve only seen performed live once, or never at all.
I’ve followed Pearl Jam across Canada; I’ve traveled thousands of miles, alone, to see them in Asheville and Edmonton. I once stood outside a Tower Records for 36 hours to get one ticket to a secret show in Atlantic City, and pushed my way to 10 feet from the stage in a carpeted ballroom meant for Bar Mitzvahs as they rocked the house with 300 people for 4 hours.
I brought my friend (and TST’s social media manager) Tim to 2 nights of Pearl Jam in LA, where Tim’s best friend Paul Walker (yes, that one), had Eddie Vedder play ‘Garden’ for him. Paul died in a tragic car crash six days later. I listen to the recording of that show at least once a month.
Most recently, in April, I saw arguably the best set list Pearl Jam has ever performed, opening the show in Philadelphia (#49) by playing the entire TEN album start to finish for only the third time ever, and then playing 26 more songs after that.
Which brings us back to Detroit, and what was supposed to be a mostly relaxing weekend of cruising around in a “Tuscan Sun” (Translation: Metallic Orange) Rolls-Royce Dawn, eating Italian food, and sitting in expensive traffic looking at random contraptions on wheels while being gawked at, admired, and envied by, well, everyone.
“You’re going to get car jacked going downtown in that thing,” Nino’s lovely and hospitable mother advised us. I don’t really listen to advice well, so we went downtown anyway, and she couldn’t have been more wrong. Detroit’s less-fortunate citizens loved the Roller, and I went long out of my way to explain that it wasn’t mine, before letting at least 50 people sit in it, play with the motorized suicide doors, the massage seats, and making sure every single one of them get a ballin-ass photo for Instagram.
My luxurious Detroit getaway was interrupted by the hustle. I was needed in Pebble Beach, 2,500 miles away, for 12 hours on Saturday – the very 12 hours of the Dream Cruise Itself.
“But, Rolls Royce! But, Dream Cruise! But, Pearl Jam!”
I agreed to do the gig at Pebble Beach, flying to San Francisco, driving to Monterey, then about-facing back to Detroit in the same day. After all, I was not going to miss Pearl Jam, and I already had flights and tickets. I also was not going to miss an opportunity to earn a living not wearing a suit behind a desk. I leave the Roller at Detroit airport and hop a flight, away from my vacation, to go to work.
The universe rewards hustle.
Dac, a behind-the-scenes person on the television pilot we’re filming at Pebble, picks me up at SFO at 11 AM for the 2-hour drive to Monterey. He is about my age, about my demo, driving a borrowed C-Class. He notices my Pearl Jam “Stickman” tattoo immediately, and knows what I need – XM Channel 22, Pearl Jam Radio. Halfway through the ride, he informs me that he actually knows Mike McCready, PJ’s lead guitar player, and tells me about McCready’s 50th birthday bash the month before, in which Cheap Trick performed. He shows me photos and is not bullshitting.
I immediately decide that me meeting a guy who knows a guy in Pearl Jam is the universe rewarding my hustle and ask for a request to be put in, to play ‘Unemployable’ at the second Wrigley show. I have never seen ‘Unemployable’ live, and listened to the studio version at least a hundred times. I’ve never even heard a live version of the song, although I’m sure it’s been played at least 4 or 5 times. Pearl Jam sounds better live, always, in no small part to increasing the pace of every song 5-10%.
We do the gig at Pebble, and head back to SFO to catch a 12:30 AM flight back to Detroit, scheduled to land Sunday at 9 AM; what would become a 27 hour work day.
“Man, I’m so fucking jealous you get to go to the Wrigley show,” Dac says, while carrying impressive speed through the 101’s sweeping bends, northbound.
“Did you hear back from McCready?” I ask.
“Man, if I hear Unemployable, all will be right and good in the world. The only thing that can top the Philly set is if I actually got a request in to the band, and if the band honored that request.”
I don’t have my hopes up. But I also do. I really do.
The Dawn is a sight for sore eyes in Short-Term Parking. Stuffed in between two non-descript, non-colored SUV’s, it’s ostentatious and regal, with a belt line the height of most modern crossovers, a hood the size of a pool table, and painted like a gold-dusted tropical fruit. After 5 hours overnight on a United Air Lines plane put into service the same week TEN was released, there is no better place to take a load off.
I glide back to Woodward Avenue sipping on a Venti Latte, cruised it once or twice to find some Sunday Stragglers who just can’t go home, return to the condo, hammer out last week’s column, and pass out for eight hours.
Monday, the day of the show. Six in the morning; first light. I have a full tank of gas, a $400,000 chariot, and it’s 290 miles from Woodward Avenue to Wrigley Field, which the roller’s GPS says will take five hours. More coffee, a fresh pack of cigarettes, going barefoot because the Roller’s carpets are fucking two inches thick and delicious, and with radar cruise control, who needs pedals anyway? Pedals are for poor people.
Having caught up on sleep, I throw the top down (which takes up so much trunk space I have to put my suitcase in the back seat) and head west. Though it’s a chilly morning, the Roller’s climate control offers powerful-direct fire vents, plus the requisite massaging, climate controlled seats. My face and left arm are chilly, everything else is perfect. The windshield, the top of which stands over five feet tall, disperses air and noise with aplomb; as Pearl Jam’s ‘Backspacer’ album blasts from the powerful Naim stero. I find that I can even place a Bluetooth call to my girlfriend, with the top down, at over 80 miles an hour, with virtually no strain on either end.
Rolls-Royce’s are typically reserved for the chauffeur crowd, but to allow someone else to drive you around in one of these cars it to miss out on one of the most wonderful and unique driving experiences available anywhere. You don’t drive a Dawn so much as sail it down the road, with parallels to be drawn much more alongside yachting than traditional driving. Hit the gas from a red light and the nose rises, the rear squats, and the Roller builds speed while facing skyward, eventually settling “on plane” when you lift enough to set your desired pace.
“They’ll get out of your way, I learned that driving the Saratoga.” – Captain Ron
And that pace? You can’t drive a Rolls and be in a rush. It’s not that these car’s aren’t fast, quite the contrary. I’ve no doubt this Dawn will run a 12-second quarter mile if pushed, but that defeats the purpose. When you’re in a Rolls, time slows down. The world will move at your pace. Show up late, and those waiting for you will wonder if you value your time over theirs. Show up late in a Roller, and they don’t have to wonder; they already know.
“Paulie might have moved slow, but that’s because Paulie didn’t have to move for anybody.” – Henry Hill
Handling? Braking? How about a ‘Ring time? - None of these questions are relevant to the people building Rolls-Royces. Between Detroit and Chicago’s metro areas, you’ve got a pretty wide cross section of decent highway pavement to abysmal city tarmac in areas with virtually no public works to repair them. Make it softer, make it heavier, make the bonnet longer, the Spirit of Ecstasy shinier, and keep the rest simple.
Ride quality over all. The only priority in developing this car, it’s become clear, is to completely isolate you from the road. Sure, it will get around a corner or stop in a panic-brake situation (once) but you had better be prepared for that, because you’re so far removed from whatever is going on outside that suicide door, it’s far too easy for the mind to wander – to Pearl Jam, and whether I was going to hear Unemployable after fifty shows, or to my girlfriend, and all the ways I would love to absolutely ruin the Dawn’s cocaine-white interior with her. To the fact that I’m about to drive an orange, $400,000 car with no top through Gary, Indiana – the murder capital of North America.
I took a 40-mile detour to the Gilmore Car Museum, a quaint facility on a farm far, far from anything, but providing an opportunity for some back road pace. The Dawn actually can get around a corner at an impressive speed, once. One corner at a time it’s amazing, but switchbacks require a lot of sawing at the wheel and managing weight over massive 21” tire. Dotted lines meant passing four, five cars at well into the triple digits. I can’t imagine what they thought of me, but I was having too much fun to care.
The Gilmore Museum is, like many of America’s car museums, stuck in the 1960’s with bad, terra-cotta tile floors and dull incandescent lighting. Nevertheless, the collection is impressive, with the lowest-mile Tucker 48 in existence, one of the last Shelby Cobra’s, two of the first ten Chrysler 426 HEMI engines ever made, and a variety of cars from many decades, spread out like Graceland, over several disconnected buildings. Their billboard advertising worked, as I had no idea this place was even there, but is a lovely detour and surrounded by grassy, picket-fenced photo-ops for the Dawn.
After getting back on the highway, I didn’t touch the pedals for 2 more hours. I’m not the biggest fan of Tesla’s auto pilot, since it takes more focus to be ready to steer at any time than it takes to simply be steering, but radar cruise control has never been more at home than in the Rolls Royce Dawn. Is there anything more yacht-like than simply setting the throttle and only having to make minute corrections through a wood-centered tiller? The Dawn keeps a conservative distance, even when set to “Russian Oligarch” because even 15” brakes can only work so well with a car this heavy, and carries me into Chicago worry-free.
I arrive at the Omni Hotel off Michigan Avenue and hand the valet $40 in tips to keep the Dawn up front; the first of nearly $200 in tips I hand valet parkers in just under 24 hours. Presumably, if you had the cash to own one of these things, you’d just let the valets park it wherever, but if it’s a borrowed $400,000 car, you tend to get paranoid and not want valets, well, being valets. After all, this was Chicago; Ferris Bueller tried to valet park a California Spider here and we know how that turned out.
I met my friends at the Omni, and we summarily decided that we would not leave the Roller parked at the hotel; we would drive to Wrigley field and attempt to find an outdoor parking lot that would let us tailgate before the show. Pearl Jam has a great tailgate scene at the right venue, and in 49 shows, I have never seen a single person tailgating from a Rolls Royce. The energy surrounding Wrigley was palpable. As we drove past the marquee, top down, feeling good, we could hear sound-check happening inside. The first parking lot was right out front, and the attendant wanted $100.
“Oh, come on. That’s the Rolls Royce tax, right? You’re not really asking a hundred bucks to park for 4 hours.”
“Hundred bucks, and you leave the keys with me.”
I almost went for it out of laziness, but fortunately reasonable heads prevailed with a resounding, “Fuck that noise.”
Two blocks away from the stadium we found another lot at a much more reasonable $40. Throwing another $20 on the fire meant yes, I could park the Rolls up front, hold on to the keys, and yes, we could drink Eddie Vedder’s favorite cheap red wine, from the bottle, in peace, while standing around it and taking photos for our own Instagram. I told my friends about Dac the PA and McCready, and how I had put in a request to hear Unemployable, and how I wasn’t getting my hopes up, but it was already too late and they were already kind of up.
The average age of the members of Pearl Jam is about 50 these days, as is the average age of their audience. I find I’m one of the younger people out there. I’d say I’m out of touch, except Pearl Jam has sold out Wrigley fucking Field, so if I’m not cool, neither are these 60,000 other people. And the six members of the band are the highest-energy middle aged men you’ll ever see, especially drummer Matt Cameron and Eddie Vedder, who have the stage presence of college kids, but with a quarter century of practice.
The set opens strong, with Oceans, Off He Goes, and Why Go, before Eddie stops to have one of his standard politically-charged between-song chats. He dedicates a song to a soldier returning from war who’s lost at least one limb. Later in the show, he dedicates another to a cause significantly more important than “Matt’s 50th show.” There are probably a thousand people in this audience who have seen more than 50 shows. I feel like such an asshole for even asking for a song, but fuck it; you all know you’d do the same thing if you met a guy who knew a guy in your favorite band.
The show continues on, three sets, thirty-six songs. It’s a perfect evening in Chicago, not too hot, with a light breeze. The sound quality in a stadium designed a hundred years for baseball games is insanely good. Our seats are dope, twenty rows up from the plate, with the stage out in Center Field, facing home.
I get to hear some of my personal greats; Immortality, State of Love and Trust, I am Mine, Crazy Mary, and Got Some, alongside hits like Jeremy, Last Kiss, Alive, Courdoroy, BetterMan, Rockin’ in the Free World, and Yellow Ledbetter. They even break out the ultra-rare “Don’t Gimme no Lip,” and covers of “Surrender” by Cheap Trick, “Sonic Reducer” by the Dead Boys, and “Your Time has Come” by Audioslave. By any standards, an epic Pearl Jam show, and one that left the die hards and casual fans alike satisfied. And by wrapping up the show, and indeed the 2016 tour with the Beatles’ “I’ve Got a Feeling,” my 50th show came to an end. Without hearing Unemployable.
We wander back to the parking lot, discussing our favorite tracks, our favorite moments, and the Orange Rolls Royce that’s waiting for us in the parking lot.
“You probably have to fire like 20,000 people, you probably have to be the kind of person who can end someone’s life, or at least their career, to be able to drive something like this,” my friend Alex says.
“Yeah, to spend $400,000 on a car, you need to earn $800,000, because of the taxes, which means you need nearly a million dollars in money you won’t miss to buy something like this,” my friend Brett agrees.
“And you don’t get that kind of money without stepping on a few people along the way.”
After dropping my friends off at their hotel and rolling down Michigan Avenue back to mine, I reflect on the people I know who actually do drive Rolls-Royces. There was the cardboard box king of Westchester, who built his business from the ground up and most likely hasn’t trodden on the poor to buy that thing. He owns a small business and grew it for 40 years. There’s the guy who owns the body shop I like; he has a Ghost. He works 12 hour days, does good work, and grows his business at an impressive, yet controlled rate. He fixes crashed exotics, and has more Instagram followers than I do.
These two examples stick with me – the universe rewards hustle, and if you want to own a Rolls Royce, it means hustling harder than you ever thought for a very long time. It means being smart about your business, your life, and it may even mean ruining people along the way to your $400,000 reward on wheels.
And while I may not have been rewarded with an intangible object, 4 minutes of one song…. that was my own fault for thinking it was possible in the first place.
The universe rewards hustle, as long as your expectations are within your control. And as long as you are very lucky.
The real rewards come with this – the fact that I put 600 miles on one of the finest motor cars ever conceived by man in utter relaxed comfort; the fact that I put smiles on hundreds of faces in 5 days; the fact that I gave two friends an experience of how the other half live. And the fact I’ve been able to see my favorite band fifty times, and write about it, for a job that didn’t exist when I told my guidance counselor, Mrs. Nebauer, my life’s goal of never wearing a suit.
To call that work is a reward in and of itself. And if I work hard at it for another fifty years, I too may own a Rolls Royce Dawn, because if you’ve got four-hundred grand to burn, it’s absolutely worth every penny.