Dear Macaroni & Cheese.. I Love You… Love, Zo.

A Macaroniconic Creation by Zo!, Thanksgiving 2010

 

By now, it’s no secret that me and food are extremely close and have a very special relationship. So much so, that each morning I wake up, it is not out of the norm for me to map out an entire day of meals in my head simply because I’m that excited about having a “clean slate” of menu choices… Oh yes y’all, it’s serious. But there is one food in particular that I could probably eat at least once or twice a week for the rest of my life and I never get tired of it… Macaroni and damn cheese. Or to put it as the late, great Bernie Mac would probably put, Macaroni and… muthafuckincheese. To me, mac and cheese is “main dish material” while the chicken, steak, or whateverthehell that is served with it automatically becomes the side dish. Percentage-wise, my plate will run anywhere from 40-50% macaroni, and the rest will be left for the remaining 2-4 items that have been included for dinner. As a matter of fact, I’ll tell y’all how I became ruined… In college, I learned how to make my own from scratch….. and perfect it. I then became an official “Macaroni Snob.” Now, I can’t even eat everybody’s macaroni… Or better yet, I won’t eat everybody’s macaroni. I mean come on, you’ve had bad macaroni and cheese before…It’s pretty much tragedy on a plate. It’s even worse when someone hypes up a family member’s mac dish to you…


“Maaaan, you’ve gotta try my aunt’s macaroni… It’s CRAZY!! Best you’ll ever have!”

 

………then you have a sample of it……… *delivers a STRONG screwface* and it tastes like some damn noodles with Kraft cheese slices sitting in milk. That is the WORST. You’re left standing there damn near feeling sorry for the family as you wonder if that’s the best they can do as a unit! *reminisces on Wonder Mike’s last “Rapper’s Delight” verse*

Now while I don’t remember when or how my connection with this dish became so deep, I do know that it was early on in my life. With that being said, let me tell you a story…. Mac and cheese and I have a rich history.

Before I share this story, I need you to understand that I played baseball from the age of 9 until I was 22 years old and didn’t break ANY bones. I played football a couple years in high school… NO broken bones. Matter of fact, I have had a broken bone only ONE time in my life… I was in kindergarten, which probably meant that I was all of about 5 years old and I was doing what most little kids do during the day – “Plaaaaaying” © The classic 5-year old answer to “What have you been doing today?” Well, in the middle of my playing around… Moms made an announcement that absolutely made my entire day.

“I’m making macaroni for dinner…”

 

I know what you’re thinking… “Your mother made macaroni for dinner, ONLY?!” NO. See, that’s the only thing I remember HEARING. To ME, whatever she said probably sounded like this…

“I’m making MACARONI and dfnkjandsljnf and nfjdlkadjsnfanadn for dinner…

 

From that information, a shot of adrenaline went through my body that resulted in my jumping up and down repeatedly literally cheering for my mother and yelling her praises so loudly that the whole house could hear it, that is until…………………. *hangs head in shame* I lost my balance. Instead of jumping up and down and landing on my feet, I somehow lost my footing as some young kids do and I landed on my left arm. My excitement instantly turned to pain and my “hip, hip hoorayin'” turned into some pretty intense crying as the bone in my forearm made my arm look like I had two elbows. My father who was home and heard me crying in pain sat down and “re-set” my arm a/k/a put the bone back in its place BEFORE going into ER. I can remember going to the emergency room and getting the official word that I had in fact broken my left arm. They put that itchy ass plaster cast on my arm to wear for 8 weeks or so. I remember going to school and having my little unsteady handed friends sign with their “well wishes.” Pure hilarity. I even remember getting the cast OFF and thinking about how light my arm felt now that it was free. Anyway, I’m telling this story to get to the bottom line…. and the bottom line is: I broke my arm due to excitement caused by… MACARONI AND CHEESE. Now if that ain’t some history…..

…and after all that, I don’t think I even GOT any mac and cheese that night.

The Foreign Exchange in Europe: Day 5 – Köln

I’ll be completely honest, I was mad as hell when my cell phone alarm went off to wake me up in the morning because in true “Zo! on the FE European Tour” fashion, I only got 2 or 3 hours of sleep and fell asleep laughing at random nignorance on YouTube. Why?… Because the wi-fi was free of course! Anyway, I started the day off with a breakfast of repeat champions – A croissant and apple juice (taken from the venue’s backstage area the night before) which looked like what I called a “grown man’s juice box.” For the record, every croissant I had in France was absolutely ridiculous. I was looking to see if there was some jelly or something…Didn’t need it, those joints melted when eaten.

We finally got on the road around noon for the four-hour drive to Köln. Now anyone who knows me understands that I have somewhat of an obsession with all things food, so you may be able to imagine how excited I was to discover the fact that Schweppes made other flavors of pop (<– Midwest shiff) outside of ginger ale. At our first stop, I picked up a salad and a LEMON flavored Schweppes and damn if it didn’t taste delicious!! Little things make my day, so please just bare with me.

Our SECOND stop on the road landed us somewhere in Belgium. When we pulled up, the rest stop didn’t even look like it was open for business. There were a few cars scattered here and there throughout the parking area and more trash than actual trash cans. Once we walked up to the place, the doors slid open automatically and there were a few people already sitting down enjoying a meal. Out of curiosity, I decided to take a look at what was on the menu in the spot… while there wasn’t too much of a menu, they did have a very interesting variety of food choices spread out in the display case… Including grizzly. 

I wasn’t feeling daring enough to take a risk on such a wide variety of mystery meat, so I went over to the vending machine and bought a Kit Kat, which seemed pretty safe to me…. Until I bit into it. I think it had been in the vending machine since the “…Break me offa piece of that Kit Kat bar” commercials… The joint tasted like chocolate covered wood chips. But I ate it anyway… Hell, what can I say I was hungry. We got back on the road and it was amazing to me to cross the border into Germany and see the language on the signs change instantly from French to German in the matter of a few… meters. We don’t get to see things like that crossing from Maryland into Virginia… I mean, the driving may get a little worse, but no primary language change. lol And when I lived in Michigan, we used to have to go through a series of personal questions and show off 28 qualifying credentials before getting to cross the border and seeing something different in Canada. So to simply drive into a different country uninterrupted was a different experience for me.

Pulling up to the venue (Bahnhof Ehrenfeld), we were all looking pretty confused… “Is this it? Is this the place?” It must be… This is where the navigation system directed us to and GPS is always correct and accurate, right?…………….. (no) The GPS was actually correct this time and we were able to walk right into the spot and begin to soundcheck, which took all of about an hour and a half… we were there for a minute. At this point, all I wanted was some food and some wi-fi. I was in luck… Soon after soundchecking, the promoter took us to our green room area, which was across the street from the venue itself… hmmm, now this is different. A green room across the street from the venue? I was told that not only did they have free wi-fi, but they were planning to feed us pretty well for dinner. I’m ON IT!! Kats got into the green room and started plugging in laptops, connecting the net to their phones like some damn fiends… That lasted until they brought that food out – Turkey schnitzel (I was on the net by this time and Googled it so I was completely aware of what I was about to show no mercy on LOL), rice, curry sauce, and potatoes with roasted tomatoes, onions, etc… Maaaaaaan, look. This was the best meal we’ve had on the trip, PERIOD. I would have taken a picture of the food, but I wasn’t even THINKING about it at the time, I wanted to eat immediately. And dammit, Germany came through on the food. I partook in a second……. and a third helping of this wonderful food, I just couldn’t let it go to waste as it looked so lonely in the serving trays. At that point, it was time to turn around and check-in to the hotel where we had about an hour to get ready before having to roll right back to the venue.

We walked into the venue and the entire crowd of people was waiting in the bar area of the place rather than by the stage. I remember thinking, “Damn.. that’s different.” Once we arrived backstage, the people began to file into the main stage area. The one thing that stands out to me about the stage was that it was much higher than normal, but once again when the music started… the height of the stage and the language barrier didn’t really matter too much at all. This was also The Foreign Exchange’s first show in Germany so it didn’t take the crowd long to get into what we were playing. Plus, it was the fourth show on the tour so by this time we were so locked in musically that our comfort levels allowed us to become much more loose on stage. At one time, I thought I was about to pass out laughing as Phonte introduced the crowd to one of the crew’s inside jokes…comedy in its purest form. Germany rocked with us though and there was a group of kats who stood right up front in the middle that knew damn near ALL of the words. They were with us all the way to “Maybe She’ll Dream of Me” when the damn house sound went out COMPLETELY. Not good after a 90-minute soundcheck huh?… It finally kicked back in after about the first verse… :-/ The show concluded with the crowd calling us to come back out for an encore and of course us going into the crowd to greet everyone who came out. Germany showed a ton of love and made it known to me that they were very grateful to have us there performing. And to prove how small this world is – I even ran into a dude who played college baseball at Vanderbilt almost the same time I was in school and we played against each other from 1997 – 2000. We started reminiscing on the WKU vs. Vandy matchup, the stadiums, and I made SURE to bring up the fact that I hit a grand slam off of them to contribute to our victory over them when we played them at home my sophomore year. lol Great times in Germany…

Photo by Jumana Mensah


Now, onto some rest and relaxation in Amsterdam!!

The Foreign Exchange in Europe: Day 4 – Paris

I was completely unable to get any type of sleep on the Jr. twin beds at the Backstage Hotel, so I ended up waking up at about 6am and just staying up to take advantage of the lovely free wi-fi provided by the hotel. I went down to the lobby area to put some breakfast together, which was cool because if you were “with the band” you were allowed to just go into the kitchen and help ya damn self straight outta the refrigerator. Talk about making yourself feel at home… Lobby call was not too long after that, so I gathered my bags and carried them down the hotel’s steep, narrow ass steps and grabbed a seat in the lobby to wait. Now allow me to explain something real quick… when traveling with nine people at a time with luggage, it is ALWAYS an adventure. “Say it with me one time” © Dilla… Ad-ven-ture. And today was no exception…

The rental car place in Amsterdam would not allow us to rent a second car due to some credit card issue. Ok, cool… Let’s get someone else out whose card matched their driver’s license information or whatever the problem is so we can all roll out. NO, not that easy. We went through this process with a couple different people before finally being able to find someone whose information agreed with their system. Let’s keep in mind that the rental spot was 25 minutes away from the hotel. So every time we had to try a new person’s card, there was another 25-minute commute involved each way AND the place closed at 1pm… See? Adventurous. Anyway, we were finally able to get our hands on the two cars and were Paris-bound at about 2pm, which means we should make it to the city at around 6/6:30pm, hit sound check, check in to the hotel, play the show, right? …Now what word did I ask you to remember earlier?
Once again, due to my lack of sleeping in the kid sized bed at the hotel, I was pretty much DONE in the car ride to Paris. I woke up when we stopped for food, but other than that it was pretty much a wrap for me in the front seat of that car. This means that the majority of the drive was nonexistent… But I do know this, the last time I woke up, the clock read 7:45pm and we were in some THICK traffic. I’m talking about the opening scene of Office Space-type of traffic. It was then that I finally realized, “Oh shit… I’m in Paris!” I immediately pulled my camera out and started snapping pictures from the car. I wasn’t sure what time the show was, but I thought we were still in pretty good shape despite the fact that we lost a couple of hours as a direct result of the city’s bumper-to-bumper issues. This wasn’t the case either. We were gonna have to get into serious rush mode as soon as the car came to a complete stop… Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of this until the car came to a complete stop. lol
Upon our arrival, I could see the line of people waiting to get into the venue. The good thing was they looked pretty excited to see us pull up. But we had to take everything we had into the spot because the traffic set us so far back time-wise that we were only allotted enough time to do a quick line check, change clothes, and play the show. So we rushed through a soundcheck, changed clothes (I snacked on a croissant or two backstage in the meantime, which were the BEST I’ve ever had in my life… LAWD!!), and were prepared to hit the stage…
Now when I tell y’all that the Paris crowd was hype as hell…. MAN. From start to finish, they were READY for a show and honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever played in front of a crowd that enthusiastic before. They were into it from the minute we set foot on the stage… Dancing, screaming, chanting, yelling our names out all during the show… It was beyond crazy. At one point in the show, they had a “Sy Smeet!! Sy Smeet!! Sy Smeet!!” chant going (That’s my horrible attempt at a French accent saying “Sy Smith” for those of you who may be a bit lost there). Despite being pressed for time, the crowd hung with us through every single song.. and they partied. We were called back out after the show for an encore and we gave them “Crazy You” off of the …just visiting too album just so they could have their fair share of some “Sy Smeet.” But then, they were even more excited when we walked back out into the crowd after the show to greet everyone. It was an excellent feeling once again to be a witness to those whose lives you have touched with music, there aren’t any words to describe what I was feeling while talking with the Paris crowd.
While the show was an absolute success, what is the word that we cannot escape while on the road? Ahhh, yes… of course – Adventure. Someone told us that the hotel was “only 150 meters” from the venue. Of course after hearing that and the fact that there was no parking available around the hotel, we all decided to walk it on over to the hotel. Maaaaan, about a mile and a half later with luggage and a steady rain in our faces, we finally made it to our destination! At least the hotel had free wi-fi once we got there, along with room keys that were attached to damn door handles. What a night… Well, no sleep tonight and it’s off to Germany!

The Foreign Exchange In Europe: Day 3 – Amsterdam

Still on a high from the the first London show, I was damn near about to stay up all night until we were to meet up in the lobby and get ready to hit the train from London to our next stop… Amsterdam. I did actually end up falling asleep, but only for a couple of hours. Woke back up, threw my things in the suitcase and prepared myself for a train ride. I wasn’t aware that we were to catch a second train in Brussels, which was no problem, but the connection was made interesting because there was about a ten minute window between trains. We were given fair warning while we traveled on the first train, so as soon as the ride was complete, we knew we needed to hop up, unload luggage for nine and hurry up to that second train. And this is exactly what happened… We were all by the luggage racks before the train even came to a complete stop. Once it halted, we opened that door, two people stepped outside to receive bags as a few of us stayed inside to pass them down. After making sure everyone’s bag was accounted for, the pace went from leisurely walk to swiftwalk/powerjog. As we walked up, the train was about 2 minutes away from it’s equivalent to “All Aboard!” call. Thank GOD our first train arrived approximately 7 minutes early, or else we would have been a bit short. But we made it and all was good… well, kinda. We got our seats and because of my lack of sleep the night before, I was knocked OUT. When I woke up, everyone who was sitting near me was gone. I saw no Phonte, I saw no Ab… and my heart skipped about three beats and lack of sleep turned into the absence of logic, “These kats LEFT me in Europe!” But then I looked up and happened to see Nicolay and figured that I was still good to go… but I was still kind of curious as to why kats just got up and left their seats like that. Fatigue overtook my curiosity at the time, and I fell right back to sleep. I woke up again and found that we weren’t in Amsterdam yet, but I do remember smelling something a little funny. I looked around a little bit, didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary and laid my head back for more sleep. Finally, upon making it to our destination, the only thing I wanted to do was put something in my stomach. So I grabbed a quick sandwich, chips, and Vitamin Water at the station before we caught a couple of cabs to the venue, Paradiso. While waiting for the two cabs, Phonte and Ab started telling me why they changed their seats so abruptly.

“Maaaan, you were OUT on that train so you didn’t even see what happened!”

I’m standing there in suspense, like… “Can y’all please tell me what the hell happened on that train ride?”

“Man, this girl hurled on the train! She threw up on herself AND her friend!”

Oh damn… I KNEW something smelled like vomit, but I was so tired that as long as none was touching me I was good in my seat with my sleep. Needless to say, I didn’t feel too far out of the loop by missing someone throwing up on the train… So thank goodness for catching up on sleep.


I heard before the show that Paradiso was a large venue, and kats weren’t lying. We had a TON of space on that stage to maneuver and I’m not exactly sure how many people the place holds, but I could tell that it was significantly bigger than Cargo. It actually kind of reminded me somewhat of NYC’s Highline Ballroom.

Photo by Sarah Jane Van Beek


Once the show began, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Amsterdam crowd. They were definitely there in numbers, but it took them a second to warm up. But once they did, I saw a ton of people dancing around and having a great time. It’s always interesting to me when I see kats who speak a different language able to recite lyrics to a song WORD FOR WORD. I LOVE that. I was checking for it all night long because up until then I had never seen it happen first hand – further proof that music is the universal language. Holland partied with us, sang with us, and even laughed with us when we improvised on stage (i.e. the Gospel-influenced “Pay My Bills” joint). And the people were friendly as hell when I came back out to greet – including a kat who approached me and said that he traveled from Italy to see the show. Dude was all smiles and so excited. The fact that he didn’t speak or understand too much English made it even more of an experience for me. Our music and performance had just made his night and what a helluva thing to be able to do. To bring that much joy to someone that you can barely communicate with?! Music is POWERFUL. I also had the pleasure of meeting Nicolay’s family who came out there about 20 deep, including his mother, father, siblings and cousins… very good people. I was also able to get up with a good friend of mine who I used to teach with in D.C. who now lives in Amsterdam. Now that was a good feeling to be able to meet up six time zones away from home. Bottom line: The Amsterdam show was a WIN.


Of course the “Post-Game Meal” was in order after the show. So our homegirl Pay pointed us in the right direction through the square where there was a spot called Wok To Walk. Maaaaan, you talk about a damn food victory?! Phonte, Ab, and myself picked that menu up and ordered with enthusiasm in our voices (Ab had already visited the spot already, so kats were thoroughly excited about the place already). When dude called our first names individually to come up and get our plates, kats hit the George Jefferson speedwalk while waving one hand behind us to get this food. Wok To Walk officially provided me with my first satisfying meal of the European Tour.


From there we retreated back to our hotel… The Backstage Hotel. With a name like that, it was pretty obvious that they catered to bands, artists, etc. The place was dope design-wise. It had a ton of different old show promotion posters up, guitars on the walls… Even the rooms were furnished with road-ready travel case material. It was kinda crazy. And free wi-fi too?! This has is too good to be true!! Well, it was… Once again, I was in a bed that didn’t fit my body. Matter of fact, it was smaller than the London hotel bed. I was so afraid that I would fall off of the damn bed and get stuck in BETWEEN the two beds. Luckily that didn’t happen though… Up late again until we’re off to the next city.

The Foreign Exchange In Europe: Day 1/2 – London

Call me what you want… but when I went in to the school to teach today, I was definitely more focused on how my first shows and performances in Europe were gonna go moreso than the activities occurring in my own classroom – I can’t lie. I would catch myself zoning out rather regularly throughout the workday, only because I was so anxious to not only see what it was like in the U.K., but I wanted to check out London’s response to our music and actually be able to shake hands with everyone and thank them for supporting for all these years. So you can imagine how quickly I rushed outta that school when 3:30pm came around so that I could get some last minute running around done before finally getting on the road to Dulles Airport. I made sure to pack half of a library, iPod, and all other essentials to keep me busy for the upcoming 7-hour plane ride to Heathrow. I even made sure to grab a nice skrong draink to down fairly quickly to help with the napping process. Met up with our bass player, Kush in the terminal not too long before boarding the plane and got it moving to our gate. Apparently the Strong Island Iced Tea that I had assisted me in my quest for sleep because the entire plane ride over, I attempted to watch the movie “Wall Street 2” and could NOT make it through the entire thing… shameful considering the fact that I had over seven hours to do so. I would wake up to rolling credits, rewind it…. doze off again and wake up to another part in the movie that was completely unfamiliar looking to me. COme to think of it, I didn’t even stay awake long enough to catch the take-off. When I woke up the first time, I thought we were still taxiing on the damn runway… until I leaned forward to look out of a window and found out that this was NOT the case. By that time we were 30,000 feet in the air pretty much set at our cruising altitude. While the plane ride wasn’t too bad at all (I think my much needed sleep played a significant part in that as well), the length of my legs require my upgrading the seat on the return flight, so uh-ruh… I’ll be doing that for next week. Once we arrived, of course we had to fill out our “landing card” before making our way through UK customs. Passports and work permits were presented, and we were good to go. We walked down to baggage REclaim as they call it and picked up our bags, connected with our people and were out. I didn’t know what to expect once I arrived in London. The first thing I noticed was the consistent rain… It wasn’t pouring, but it was certainly dreary as all hell. This didn’t stop me from having my camera out at all times snapping pictures of any and ALL things on the drive to the hotel. Once we arrived at the hotel and got up to the room, I walked in and saw the size of the beds… Lawd.

When I laid stomach-down on the bed to connect my laptop to the net, even with me positioning myself diagonally my feet were STILL on the wall. lol The free wi-fi was non-existent at the Thistle Hotel as I had to kick out £9.99 ($15.55) for just 24 hours of low-speed net access. I love it.

I went on a food mission that didn’t take me far at all as I was on foot and the rain had picked up pretty significantly by this time. I ventured across the street to a hole-in-the-wall spot and got a simple chicken sandwich and chips. The sandwich consisted of… well… a grilled chicken patty on a bun. Therefore, you will find NO pics of this plate on the net as I had to doctor it up to the point that I damn near remade the thing. Had to throw that meal down pretty quickly in order to make it to soundcheck/rehearsal on time as we had to run the entire set with a new drummer for the tour, Laurie Lowe… Our regular drummer, Biscuit was unable to make the trip with us this time. We made it up to Cargo, which looked like a nice spot to me… and more importantly, once soundcheck started the soundman got our levels right and had us sounding GOOD together. So at this point, I was even MORE hyped up than before for the show to begin. We hurried back to the room for a QUICK turnaround of about 30 minutes, just enough time for a quick shower and a change of clothes. It was at this very moment that I realized I would have to supply myself with my own washcloths upon returning to Europe because there aren’t any in the hotel rooms. I used a hand towel to wash up with… Just a side note. lol

We rode back to the Cargo and found out that we had to walk through the crowd to get to the dressing room… Welp! Ok… The funny thing is, I looked up and a flashlight ended up in MY hand to lead the crew through this packed up ass, shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. So I’m stumbling through people in order to clear the way for the crew, with a flashlight in hand looking like damn security of the first world. I could hear a couple people calling out our individual names as they gradually started to realize who was pushing their way through them. I even heard a few people say, “Zo!” …and others say, “Zo?” as I walked by them.
At the start of the show, I could already tell it was gonna be a night for the books. London was READY… We came out, and they were into the show from start to finish… From crowd response and participation to knowing all the words to the songs… they were ready to go. The personal highlight of the night for me on stage was the response I heard from Phonte simply saying, “I’ve got my man Zo on the keys.” The people got LOUD… The reaction caught me COMPLETELY off guard… so much to the point that I had to STOP playing the keyboard and just kinda stand there looking extra surprised. I couldn’t do anything but look at my kats on stage and say simply, “Wooooow.” Actually, someone asked me later on, “Why did you look so surprised when the crowd cheered for you?” Maaaaan, look. I haven’t heard a reception like that outside of Detroit and D.C. Very rewarding and humbling experience. Then to be able to walk right back out into the crowd after the show to take pictures, shake hands, sign albums, and greet everyone who has been following FE’s music and some who have been following my music for years was a huge bonus for me. Overall, the show was the perfect opening show for the European Tour run. Playing to a sold-out, hyped up crowd in a spot that I have never been before. Sounds pretty damn great to me.

AFTER the show, I was in for a not so great surprise as I decided to order the “Jerk Chicken Sandwich” at the venue and upon its arrival, I discovered that it was actually grilled chicken cutlets with lettuce and some damn chipotle mayo. :-/ Someone took it even further than that and ordered some calamari… I won’t even comment on it. I’ll just show you the picture.
Regardless, one a helluva show in London…… If this is any indication of how the remainder of this tour will be, then I. Can’t. WAIT for more.