Sometimes, in a given span of time, so many things happen that you can barely see what’s going on. These four years were like that. Charlie Chaplin died, the People’s Temple drank Kool-aid, double-digit inflation hit, Reagan was elected, John Lennon was shot, and Voyager took photos of Jupiter. And we made a radical move, leaving the Midwest behind. Our tight ensemble of two doubled in size, and our kids started school. In the fertile green of Lancaster County, we started to put down roots, while touring became an ever-more-insane merry-go-round, spinning us all over the country. After years of writing plays, we suddenly became “playwrights.” And Linda Bishop learned that her name was Elizabeth Fuller.
We had moved from the grimy city to a sweet little suburban house in western Lancaster, with a huge mimosa tree in front, big back yard, two bedrooms, a garage, and a living room large enough for a real piano. The electric keyboard with headphones was a godsend for working when people were asleep, but when the music came I wanted to feel the bass notes in my bones, and I hadn’t had something I could pound on since Milwaukee. Now I hit the jackpot: an upright, yes, but a Steinway. I unpacked the Bach from the moving box and once again played those spare, gorgeous threads.
We’d worked our asses off the previous year, and now the money flew— a king-size bed, a dryer to go with our weird little portable washing machine, a plastic wading pool for the kids. We planted pumpkins, sold our van to a guy who needed to haul potatoes, and bought a new Dodge Maxi, three feet longer than the old one. Cruisilia van Vroom (the kids got naming rights) was delivered two weeks late, and I had to hustle to get ready for our fall tour. We had clocked 86,000 miles in three years, and I had a long wish list for the new conversion. I did well, but I had a lot to learn. Don’t wear shorts when working with fiberglass insulation. Map how to find the anchor ribs before covering them with paneling. Our neighbor across the street, hearing the power tools, came over one day to ask if my husband could be hired to panel her basement. I corrected her assumption and declined.
Thanks to my father welcoming me into his wood shop, I learned by watching, analyzing, and inventing. I couldn’t do the Las Vegas plush of commercial conversions, but it worked. Warm, comfy, and finished at the last minute.
Same routine. Nine weeks on the road, 5,680 miles, five flights on airlines and several on private puddle-jumpers. To the Midwest in Cruisilia, through Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan, by air to Colorado, Wyoming, and Oklahoma, and a side trip to Sacramento. We parked the kids with my mom for that one. Fifty-five performances of Dessie, one of Sunshine Blues.
In Dixon, Illinois, Dessie became too real. In the fight scene, Conrad's grip slipped to my neck artery, I blacked out instantly and hit the floor. After a groggy reorientation, I finished the show with a hematoma blooming from my chin and a swollen hand. Someone commented later that the violence was overdone, and the local ER gave Conrad a hard time about spouse abuse . . .