In grad school, I was pretty good friends with two other guys in the program. Adam was starting his transition away from being a pastor, and Rod was back in the Midwest after a career as an actor in Los Angeles. I was the baby of the group, both in age (by at least a couple years) and definitely in life experience. Once or twice a week the three of us would make the trek from the Letterman Building to The Atrium to grab breakfast, avoid work, decompress and debrief.
In a lot of ways, grad school is set up to make sure you don’t actually get to know any of these people you see everyday. So, in an attempt to break through that, we decided to pick ten or so songs that meant a lot of each of us and burn CDs.
I don’t remember most of the songs I put on my disc, but I know “Cannonball” by The Legendary Trainhoppers was one of them. Graham and I had seen the band playing with the Avett Brothers during our Summer of Concerts, we’d bought the CD, and that’s the song that had stuck with me (and still does). It was the soundtrack for the thousands of miles I drove during grad school, miles of colorful memories and questionable decisions. When that period of my life ended and I partnered up with danee, that song was there, too.
“Texas by Dawn, Arizona by Night” popped into my head every time we left Austin, pointed toward California. It’s around sixteen hours from our old apartment to the Arizona/California border, another four to danee’s hometown of Chino Hills. Times out just about perfectly.
“Pack your bags, pack ‘em all, we ride tonight.” When we made the move from Austin to Fort Wayne, we did not do a great job of planning. We left late, in the middle of the night, pye taking off before I did to get a head start, leaving me to throw the last few things in the U-Haul and drop our keys off. By that time, we were leaving Austin sadder than we were when we showed up. But there was a job and family in Indiana, and I was excited to show danee what life was like in this weird little city I grew up in.
That concert with the Trainhoppers and the Avett Brothers was one of the things I had in my back pocket when danee and I were talking about moving. In the years since then, the Avetts had gotten pretty big and I’d always been annoyingly proud about having seen them so early, at the corner of Wayne and Calhoun.
Damian Miller, the bass player for The Legendary Trainhoppers, died last week. He was 32, incredibly young, and judging by my social media feeds this last week, loved by a ton of people.
I didn’t know Damian, but he was a part of this song I love, this song that made it easier for me to move home from Austin, this night that made me love Fort Wayne just a little bit more. And I’m really grateful for that. There are so many people in this town who are feeling the loss of Damian deeper than I can imagine. And it feels a little weird to be writing this, sort of, addendum to all those stories of friendship and family and love and sadness, to be tacking on a post-it note that I’m afraid might be read as just “Dude, I liked your band.”
So here’s the point I think I’m trying to make: since danee and I moved here, I’ve been chasing nights like that show. The Bomb Shelter, Quarantine, pye’s bowling birthday party, the super-weird pizza party before Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, it’s all aimed at making this place feel like a place where something is happening
There are hundreds of things that make nights like those great, but more than anything else, it’s the people involved. And there are plenty of people in Fort Wayne working on making awesome nights of their own, and I’m trying to get better at thanking them when I have the chance.
I never got to thank Damian, but this is a small thank you to the rest of the Trainhoppers, and everyone else who’s making Fort Wayne a place worth calling home.