Cheap Foreign Labour / Freetime = Jump the Line / Those Pendolino washrooms


I have returned to Espoo after my mini-tour with Scandinavian Music Group. On Friday morning I caught the 10.04 train to Rovaniemi. However, what should have been a ten-hour ride took an additional hour and fifty minutes. What is it with me and Finnish trains? I now believe that if I am a passenger, I must jinx their promptness. Two years ago on my way back from–guess–Rovaniemi to Helsinki, the train was delayed 5½ hours due to a sudden snowstorm.

On Friday’s trip north, the locomotive konked out in Kemi. We were stalled and weren’t going anywhere. After a delay of over an hour, one young passenger, with the assistance of a train official, exited the train and clumsily tripped down a steep hill to a highway on-ramp. From there, she called a taxi. I saw her continue her journey by car while the rest of the passengers could only wait. We were waiting for a replacement engine.

My plans were that I was going to eat dinner in Rovaniemi and shower and change into new clothes, prior to the SMG concert. That hour and fifty minutes was enough time to do it all (ahem, I am a <very> slow eater). However when I checked in to Matka Borealis hostel, I only had time to put on a new T-shirt and brush my teeth, then left for Café Tivoli. The club was pretty big for a town like Rovaniemi, and I was among the first to arrive at 22.30. Showtime was a few minutes after midnight and by that time, the place was packed. Rovaniemi can really bring out a crowd, and I was impressed.

SMG performed sixteen songs (three less than their Helsinki Tavastia gig). This is the set list:

100 km Ouluun
Letitä tukkani
Huomisen sää
Onnellinen nainen
Kaikkeen kyllästyy
Ei mun oo hyvä olla yksin
Juokseva mies
Sällittävä syksy
Vastusta mua
Tällaisena kesäyönä
Kun tuuli oli viilee
Minne katosi päivät
Onnelliset kohtaa

Joel came out from backstage almost immediately and we chatted a bit, but it wasn’t till much later in the evening (between 02.00 and 03.30) that I got to speak at length with him and Antti Lehtinen.

Antti stopped me mid-sentence and asked me to repeat my pronunciation of “out”. I repeated the word, and Antti confirmed that yes indeed, Canadians do say “oot” versus Americans’ “OWT”. (I still can’t hear the difference, Antti 🙂

I left the club just before 04.00 and went to bed at 04.15, needing to get up three hours later to catch my train to Jyväskylä for SMG’s next gig.

The train ride was ten hours and although there was a negligible eleven-minute switchover in Seinäjoki, the trip lasted as long as the (alleged) ten-hour trip from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, a far greater distance. In Jyväskylä I found a Middle-Eastern restaurant which gave me one of the biggest servings of chicken, rice and vegetables that I had ever seen. In spite of being famished from the night before I could not eat all the rice and felt bad that I had to leave some.

SMG played at Lutakko club and I arrived at 22.30. Opening act, Stella, was receiving a tremendous audience response and they even played an encore song–how often does that happen to an opening act? SMG came on earlier than in Rovaniemi, just after 23.30, and played the same set list as the night before.

After the final encore, I looked behind me and saw that the audience was no more than three deep. Excuse me? Where was everyone? Jyväskylä has over twice the population of Rovaniemi (85.000 versus 36.000) so where was everybody? And unlike Tivoli, which stayed open till 04.00, Lutakko closed almost immediately after the concert. Antti and I talked and talked and pretty soon the rest of the band and crew had packed up the stage and equipment. He asked if I wanted to continue our conversation out back, and that’s when I became their unofficial roadie, hired at slave wages to pack up the tour bus. The things you can do with exploited foreign workers.

Antti invited me to go out on the town to celebrate (the band is taking a break from touring till 6 May) and I climbed into the bus with Terhi, Joel, Anssi, Kössi and their road manager. During the short bus ride, the band was trying to decide where to spend the evening. I kept hearing “Free time!” yet didn’t realize this was the name of a club until we got there.

There was a lineup outside Freetime, and Terhi spoke with the doorman to try to persuade him to let us bypass the queue. She told me “You’re with the band! Speak only Finnish”. I managed to pull it off as a cheap foreign labourer SMG roadie and we were soon all permitted advance entry.

Back in Helsinki at Tavastia, I had told Antti that I do not drink alcohol. I never buy drinks in clubs and I don’t think Antti was going to let me get away with having another Coke again (as I had drunk in Rovaniemi). He treated me to a Finnish Karhu beer, and I savoured it slowly. I really don’t have the stomach to gulp down a bottle of beer; I am not used to it, even Finland’s low-alcohol home brews. So when Antti came up to me again and presented me with a vodka with cranberry juice, he had to tell me to drink up already, as he had another drink waiting for me.

Antti and I really hit it off talking about the temperamental English language and when and when not to use certain phrases (as it were). Do you say DUH-rector or DIE-rector? Howcum in hockey it’s DEE-fence and in government there’s a Minister of de-FENCE?

We kept talking till the club closed at 04.00. We said our goodbyes and made tentative arrangements to see each other after I get back from Denmark. I fly to Copenhagen tomorrow morning, where I will spend three nights. Then from 29 April to 9 May I will be cycling around Bornholm. Joel told me to say hi to the hippies on the island. Sure will, man!

The double-night partying with the band in combination with two early train departures Saturday and this morning left me with only 7½ hours sleep over two nights. I am tired, yet as with airplanes, I cannot manage to fall asleep in a train. (Now ask me about falling asleep in a car. I always nod off in cars. Good thing I don’t drive.)

My train from Jyväskylä to Helsinki was a 200 km/h Pendolino. I have ridden these trains before and I always am leery of using their washrooms. Now, the washrooms, even for able-bodied passengers, are the size of bachelor apartments, yet I cannot feel comfortable using the facilities if I have to press a fingertip-sensitive dot on the wall to close, then another one to lock, the washroom door.

Call me primitive but the only way I’m going to be sure the bathroom door is locked is if I move a lever into a slot and I can see it slide into place. I can’t do my business in peace if I’m reaching for the door handle lest anyone should, ahem, interrupt. So I now no longer mistrust E-airline tickets. I still have doubts about computers having the upper hand on washroom locks.

Thanks Antti, Joel, Terhi, Anssi and Kössi for welcoming and befriending me during my three-gig mini tour with you. I even rode your bus and loaded equipment; guess that makes me one of the road crew now. Good luck at your first gig outside Finnish soil, in Tallinn, Estonia!

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