No fries with that: An artist’s guide to surviving while eating on the road

Congratulations. All the hard work, sleepless nights, and submitting and resubmitting whatever you submitted has finally paid off.

And now, people in different states, from cities that are nothing like where you live, will be lining up to see you speak, tell jokes, and read from your transformative work. But here’s the catch: You have to make it to the stage in perfect health in order to perform at the highest levels.

With that in mind, I will teach you how to eat on the road, so that you won’t die before reaching the stage–– or have to read to an audience with bubble guts that make you fart uncontrollably. 

A long time ago, when my career was in its infancy, I almost died on stage from spitting up. I did this, and survived, so you don’t have too. 

“D, you up!” Mr. James said, “Come on baby boy, they are waiting for you.” 

“They” were 250 teenagers from the Bay Area. My first book, “The Beast Side,” had just hit the New York Times Bestseller list–– and that appearance transformed my modest three-city tour into a whopping eight states, with some paid gigs, and a Fresh Air feature with Terry Gross. Then, a woman who worked in the mayor’s office in San Francisco heard the Fresh Air interview, and forwarded it to Mr. James. Three weeks later, I’m about to present my work to a diverse collection of Mr.James’ students, who have been reading, studying and loving “The Beast Side.” 

“You okay back there, D,” Mr. James said, “You need something?” 

“I’m good, gijifijkwwndbdwnb!” I hacked, while mint-green “Exorcist”-like fluid sprayed out of my mouth and into a waste basket. Mr. James, now in the doorway behind me, said, “Man, what in the f**k!” 

“I’m good, I’m good, let me hit this mouth wash real quick” I said, wiping the ooze off my face with a napkin, “I’m ready. Let’s go.” 

“I can’t let the kids down, but more importantly, I cashed your deposit — and I don’t do refunds.”

“Oh hell nah, your eyes are all grey,” Mr. James pushed back, grabbing my arm and slinging me to a chair, “You can’t go on.” 

“But Mr. James,” I said, slowly rising to my feet, “I must go, I can’t let the kids down, but more importantly, I cashed your deposit — and I don’t do refunds.” 

With that, I spit out what remained in my stomach and rinsed out the remaining residue with water and more mouth wash. Then I took to the stage and earned my money.  

The event went well, my jokes landed and the pressure of selling books was off because Mr. James’ organization had already bought 300 copies for the kids and staff. And if I had any doubts about my performance, they were wiped away by Mr. James’ instant offer to invite me back. But still, what went wrong? How could an entirely rational person like myself almost tank a perfect gig?

Well, the first rookie mistake was alcohol. I went out for maybe a round or eight, which led to me looking for any bar food (rookie mistake #2) to feed the alcohol. I had never been San Francisco and also considered myself to be the Black Anthony Bourdain, so I ate what ever they placed in my face. Snails? Sure. Tartare from and unidentifiable animal? Sure, West African elephant sliders? Sure. Undone chicken wings and lobster eyeballs? Sure, sure, sure, sure. The problem is that Bourdain was paid to eat lobster eyeballs, D Watkins is paid to read and write. The filthy combination of it all merged into a gigantic germ inside of me, causing me to gross out myself — in addition to Mr. James and the rest of the internal staff. Never again. 

I love a good cocktail like anyone else. Especially in a new town, but it’s bad for business. For starters, alcohol is poison and has two jobs: to distract you from whatever is essential, and to point you to aforementioned bar food. 

I don’t know how bar food is made. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if they rubbed the wings, French fries, the poor excuse of vegetables they call “side salad,” and whatever kind of sliders across the fecal matter-covered kitchen floor before force-feeding it to drunks. I have never eaten bar food and then woken up in the morning and said, “I am excited to go inspire 250 teens.” 

I am not a total square. You can celebrate on the road, but you must do it after all the events, signings, and dinners with the faculty and staff are complete. And if you are lucky enough to be on a multi-city tour, then you only celebrate once your appearances, readings and dinners with organizers and or staff members are over. 

“The excitement of someone outside of Baltimore wanting to hear from me took me out of character, and had me eating crazy but alas, the vicious nausea and uncontrollable farts brought me back.”

The old me would have never been sick before hitting the stage. I suffer from the highest level of trust issues to the point where I would never eat from a person’s home, hit a blunt after somebody, or take a bite off another person’s plate because I thought that any and everyone was trying to kill me. I know this is extremely unhealthy. However, if you want to stay healthy on tour, you must adopt that mentality.

The organizers, the fan who baked you fresh cookies, and the professor from the fancy college who keeps saying, “Please take a sip of my extra dirty martini” — they are collectively try to kill you. Throw those fresh baked cookies in the trash as soon as that fan is out of sight because they are no good.

The excitement of someone outside of Baltimore wanting to hear from me took me out of character, and had me eating crazy but alas, the vicious nausea and uncontrollable farts brought me back. And I realized that the purpose is to do a great job, to entertain, to be funny and engaging, and you need a clear mind to accomplish those goals. Luckily I survived, and San Francisco was good, but it could have been great. The goal is always great. 

 So what do you eat and what do you drink, and what should you avoid? 

Before we get into the list, I recommend washing your hands at least 100 times daily. This may sound extreme, but I haven’t had a cold since the first Bush was president. Maybe I did, but I got over it so quickly that I don’t remember because I wash my hands, until my skin aches and peels and falls off. 

I know it sounds crazy, but we are all adults here. We know that coffee will send you to the bathroom 10,000 times a day–– and bathrooms you do not clean yourself are full of hundreds of thousands of germs that will make you sick and potentially prohibit you from performing well.

Drink tea. Tea works, especially when you can order a cup of hot water and rip the packaging off the tea bag yourself. That way, no one touches the tea bag except you, and you are safe because we know you have washed your hands more than enough times. 

Fast food places are notoriously dirty. It should be called fast food because it quickly gets you sick. But if you must eat at a fast food place, because it’s the only option–– try to see if they sell fruit or prepackaged items. Bananas and oranges are the best because you have to peel them, meaning that you are the only person touching them, and again, we know you are clean because you wash your hands. Prepackaged salads work as well, even though you run the risk of eating withered, disgusting genetically-modified vegetables, you know that they have been cleaned and sealed away.

I would never recommend Starbucks anything. However, they have locations in most cities and typically have an assortment of prepackaged vegetables and healthy chips.

The boiled egg, the boiled egg, the boiled egg–– the boiled egg is king, queen, Beyoncé. The boiled egg is Beyoncé. It’s full of protein, you can easily extract the egg yolk and call yourself healthy, you can get it soft boiled and call yourself fancy, and most importantly–– most places make them with the shell on, which means that you will be the only person to touch it. 

Being the only person to touch your food is extremely important. I wish I had a long list of options to try, but I don’t. Our careers are delicate, and getting the opportunity to present our work in front of strangers, it’s truly a blessing. We don’t want to squander those opportunities because we had to try those St. tacos, from the booth on the street, with no plumbing–– which means you and the person who made that delicious street Taco have no place to wash your hands. 

Take shots, drink as much as you want, and explore when you are on vacation, Not working on the road. Because if you blow an event , that organizer will tell other organizers, and you may not get booked again.

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