...Here you go. This is really long. Sorry. I didn't really proof read it SO beware: POOR GRAMMAR
The day began in Phoenix, Arizona. The four of us, Jarrett, Mike, Brian, and myself (Marissa) woke up in an apartment complex. Two kids from the Phoenix show, Nick and Gabe, let us sleep at their place. We woke up early and hopped in our van. We had the day off and needed to conquer more than half of the drive en route to our show in Austin, Texas. We had intended to drive 1200 miles within the next two days. It was sweltering outside, even in the early hours of the day. Once we cruised into the heart of the desert, however, the heat seemed unbearable. Mike drove for about six or seven hours until we pulled over in Las Cruces, New Mexico, to eat some lunch. After we ate, we got back into the van and pulled onto I-40. About one hour into our drive, the van sputtered, clunked, and stalled on the side of the interstate. Jarrett and Mike got out of the van and almost immediately told me to call AAA. The heat was blistering and there was no shade. Tractor-trailers whipped by our van going an excess of 70 mph. We did our best to pinpoint our location, gave AAA our information, and got back into the van.
AAA arrived within a bit over an hour. A stocky bald fellow named Chuy hopped out of his tow and asked us what had happened. Jarrett explained our situation to Chuy immediately: it was already late in the day, we were in a band, we still had a twelve hour drive ahead of us, and we were desperate to have our van fixed by the morning so that we could make it to Austin. Chuy said that his nephew could diagnose our van tonight and that he was a very good mechanic. Chuy took a brief peek under the hood, linked the van up to the tow, and hoisted it up onto his truck. Chuy then drove us to Walker Towing, a tiny mechanic shop running parallel to some train tracks in Las Cruces. The back lot of Walker Towing was littered with clunkers covered in desert sand. A huge slobbering guard dog (Mike pointed out how much this dog looked like the mutt from the Sandlot) grimaced and drooled behind our parked van. The heat was overwhelming. Chuy dislodged our van from the tow and Fernando, his nephew, popped the hood and took a look. He pinpointed our problem almost immediately – we needed a new fuel pump. Fernando was handsome. He seemed earnest and he was charming. He promised us that once he received the part in Las Cruces, we would be back on the road by 9 am. Tired, sweaty, but confident that we’d be leaving the next morning; Chuy drove us to a nearby motel.
We spent the night showering, watching basic cable, and drinking beers from the gas station next door. We all fell asleep around 1:00 am. The next morning, Walker Towing called around 8:00 am asking how many gallons our fuel tank took. Twenty-six or thirty? We weren’t sure. It seemed like a point of interest that Fernando would have been able to ascertain on his own. Turns out we needed a fuel pump for a 30-gallon tank. We would have to wait for the part to arrive from El Paso, which was about one hour away. If our van was fixed by noon, there was a very slight chance that we would still be able to haul ourselves to Austin non-stop, jump on stage, and play our show. We checked out and hoofed it to the nearest restaurant. The heat was blistering, there wasn’t a tree or shrub for miles. The four of us were carrying all of our bags down the edge of the busy highway. Mike and I had to indulge ourselves (yet again) in a volatile dish known as huevos rancheros (which can be done well, but when it’s made poorly it ravages our insides). The clock was ticking and no word from the repair shop. Disheveled and discouraged, we nursed drinks and stared longingly at our cell phones. Finally, we received a call from Fernando. They were coming to pick us up.
Another mechanic picked us up at the restaurant. He was nice, an older portly guy with bloodshot eyes. He was excited because we were a rock band, and he was blasting Theory of a Deadman (A funny you-tube favorite among Screaming Females). When we arrived at Walker Towing, we were told that more work needed to be done on the van. Defeated, we called our Austin promoter to cancel. The four of us retired to the scratchy loveseats in the sweltering waiting room. “Burn Notice” was on the twelve-inch color TV, whilst the mechanic’s tween son slept on the adjacent sofa. A couple hours later we were informed that the van was fixed and we could leave. Excited, we paid the $700-something dollar fee in cash and took off down the desert road. Pulling into the nearest gas station, our van spewed and popped. Stalling out again, Mike cranked the engine back on and took us back to Walker Towing. Yet again, we slouched and settled into the tweed couches in the waiting room, which at high noon was a veritable sweat box. Hours passed. Jarrett’s father suggested that we bring the van to a certified Dodge mechanic at a legitimate dealership. Labor would be more expensive but the quality of work would be better. We asked the men at Walker Towing to take our van to the nearest Dodge dealership. The dumpy fellow measured us up and questioned, “Tell me, when did you loose faith in us?” He seemed upset.
They towed us to the Dodge dealership free of charge. It was late in the afternoon now, and we knew we would have to spend another night in Las Cruces. Only a handful of guys worked at the Dodge dealership. Jarrett and I leaned over the service counter looking for help. Another corpulent fellow popped his head out of a back office. He had a couple piercings and gauged ears, so I thought he might be more sympathetic to our situation than the previous mechanics. We summarized our situation to the new mechanic, Peter, and he told us they’d do their best to get us out of Las Cruces by morning. I told Peter if he could fix our van by the morning, I’d give him our entire discography. We still had hope that we might be able to drive non-stop to our show in Nashville over the course of two days. There were a few motels within walking distance down the highway. We loaded all of our bags out of the van and prepared to walk in the scorching Southwestern heat to another sordid motel. As Mike, Brian, and I waited near our van for Jarrett, Jarrett pulled up in front of us behind the wheel of a white Buick Le Sabre. With a huge grin on his face, Jarrett said that Peter really wanted those records I had spoke of, and he gave us the Buick to get around in until our van was fixed. Giggling maniacally, we squished into the Le Sabre and drove to a motel. One more night in Las Cruces and we could leave. We cranked the air conditioning and sprawled out onto the slippery motel comforters. Desperate for some fresh food, Jarrett looked up the address for a near by brewery with vegetarian options. We drove our Buick to the brewery and relaxed in the bar, eating vegetables for the first time in the past three days. When we got back to the motel, I took a shower and doodled in front of the television set. The boys went to the biker bar attached to our motel. I fell asleep at 10:30 pm.
The next morning we slept in. Our phones weren’t ringing. Once we all got up, we took a ride down to the only halfway decent breakfast spot in town. After we all ate, we took a ride back to the Dodge dealership. Peter shuffled out of the garage. “We’ve run six computers into this already…” he began, “and we can’t figure out what the problem is.” He told us he’d give us a call immediately if they were able to figure out the problem. He said they were bringing in another computer from out of town to attempt to pinpoint our problem. At this point, the completing the rest of our tour seemed improbable. We went back to the café to devise a plan of attack. Our new goal was to leave Las Cruces tonight, with out without the van. Perusing different rental options, we settled on getting a Uhaul truck with a hitch for our van. This way, we wouldn’t have to abandon our broken vehicle and pay for storage or further repairs. We could bring our own van back to New Jersey and have the problem assessed by reliable mechanics and perhaps recoup some costs by selling a functional vehicle. Mike called Uhaul and made a reservation. Once we settled on our plan, we hopped back into the Le Sabre and made way to the nearest Uhaul store. We told them about our reservation and they forwarded us to another building down the highway. The woman behind the desk at Kleine Motor Co. was ghastly, witch-like and burnt to a crisp. She had a broken southern accent and a snarky sense of humor. We told her about our reservations and she looked at us quizzically. My head was in my hands on the desktop. If we couldn’t get out of this goddamn desert by tonight, we’d lose our minds. Surprisingly, she was considerably efficient and made a couple phone calls to find our hitch. Just as Jarrett pulled out our credit card to pay the $1000 + fee for our truck and hitch, Peter called Mike. “I got your van running pretty good,” he said, “come over and have a look at it.” The joy I felt at that moment was immeasurable.
I told the witchy woman behind the Kleine Motor Co. counter that we’d return as quickly as possible, and not to cancel our reservation. Back on the Dodge dealership, Peter said that they had replaced a couple coils and once they got some new sparkplugs in, we’d be on our way. He told us it’d be done in a half hour. I urged him to hurry, as we had a reservation placed on a Uhaul hitch and it was imperative that we leave tonight. It was late in the afternoon and the end of business hours was creeping in. The four of us slinked into the Dodge dealership’s waiting room. We fascinated the car salesmen. “What kind of music do you play?” one of them asked. “Oh…some rock and roll band is playing in El Paso at Wet n’ Wild tonight…have you guys ever heard of Rush?” Sure, sure we said. We’ve heard of Rush. “Actually I don’t think the band is playing…it’s just a laser light show.” Oh, cool. An hour passed. Peter popped out of the hallway and summoned us to the desk. “I need to have a talk with you guys” he said.
“Your van runs like shit. It’s running, but you can’t drive it to Austin. You can definitely get it to Uhaul.” My stomach pulsated and tied itself into a knot. “I know you guys are traveling and are strapped for cash so I’ll give you a deal. We worked on it all day. I’ll charge you for a diagnostic fee and for parts. That’s it.” Despite the fact that the van was immobile, Peter’s gesture was kind. We walked back out to our van and jumped in. Jarrett turned the key, and the van struggled to spark. Another crank, and the engine refused to turn over. It wouldn’t run at all. I called Kleine Motor and urged them to hold our reservation. We’d be back in minutes, I said. Back into the Buick and back to Uhaul. The woman behind the counter entered all of our driver’s license information and had us all sign a contract. Jarrett handed over the credit card the woman handed over the keys. Mike and I got back into our Buick and made way back to the Dodge dealership to wait with the van whilst Brian and Jarrett went over to another rental spot to have the hitch affixed to the Uhaul truck. (Mind you, Uhaul knew the year, make, and model of our van, and approved for us to haul our conversion van on the ascribed hitch.) When Mike and I arrived back at Dodge, we gave Peter a singles CD for his good intentions. We sat in the air-conditioned waiting room while one of the car salesmen blasted our singles CD on the waiting room stereo system. I was in a tizzy, feeling such a cluster-fuck of emotions that I preferred to sit outside in the sauntering heat rather than stick to a leather sofa listening to my own voice blast out of some demo subwoofers.
Peter left at 5:00 pm and one of the round salesmen offered to stay with us until our hitch showed up. Jarrett and Brian arrived with the hitch in roughly 45 minutes. With the hitch on the seventeen-foot Uhaul truck, the vehicle was a genuine monstrosity, and it was about to get even worse. We couldn’t push the van up a knoll in the parking lot, so Jarrett managed to crank the engine and putter the van onto the shoulder of the highway. Directions to load the tow were on the side of the hitch. Two heavy-duty industrial straps would hold the front tires, and two clunky chains would grip our rear and front axles. Jarrett cranked the van into drive again and carefully climbed up onto the hitch. The end of our conversion van hung precariously off the edge of the tow, and we were unable to wrap the straps securely over the driver’s side wheel. Jarrett put the van in neutral while Brian, Mike, and the salesmen pushed our van forward mere inches onto the tow. I stood in front of our van with the signal to stop. The sight of the van creaking back and forth on the hitch made me feel sick. Hot tears welled up into my eyes. We were covered in sweat. Things seemed hopeless.
First night of towing
However, the extra nudge up the tow gave us enough leeway to secure the van. Traffic whizzed by us and the van rocked back and forth on its hitch. We unloaded all of our gear out of the van and into the Uhaul. Once we were confident in its placement, we crammed into the front of the Uhaul truck – suitable for three adults – and took off onto I-40. I couldn’t believe that we were moving, and in a matter of minutes we’d be out of the scalding purgatory that is Las Cruces. We drove until 2:00 am, pulled off of the interstate and checked into another slimy Motel 6. We unloaded our gear from the Uhaul and back into our van’s cage. Then we went to sleep.
The four of us crammed into the three-seater
9:00 am the next day, we unloaded our van and put the equipment back into the Uhaul. Crammed back into the front seat, we stopped for gas. Since we were driving nothing short of a tiny tractor trailer, we were afraid to drop into towns so we made plans to live exclusively off of Subway sandwiches. We were in Texas and the heat was crushing even in the early hours of the day. The Uhaul guzzled gas. I did the math, and if we were to successfully make it home with the van on the hitch, the gas alone would cost an excess of $900. We had to make it across Texas within the day if we hoped to make it home by Monday evening. Sitting in the front seat was difficult. A round, plastic center consol jutted out into the center seat. Brian and Mike’s legs were crushed under the dashboard and Jarrett and I had to assign both of our butt cheeks to the same seat. Our seating arrangements seemed like a recipe for insanity. After seven hours on the road, Mike wanted to take the risk of laying down in our van (on the tow) while Jarrett drove the Uhaul. He was terribly uncomfortable in the seat and tired from driving over seven hours. The van was an oven, but it was better than being caked together in the front row of the Uhaul, unable to even lift your arms. We made another stop and Mike hopped into the van. We drove for another two hours. When we stopped, Mike hopped out of the van, soaked in sweat with his curly hair frayed into a crown atop his skull. He looked insane. “It was terrifying,” he said, “but I stayed back there ‘cause I knew you guys were comfortable.”
We tried this position for a little while but it's what drove Mike to sit in the van
So the four of us were reunited in the front of the Uhaul, zipping down the interstate at a dazzling speed of 65 mph. Around 10:00 pm, we crossed the Texas border into Arkansas. Two hours later, we resigned for the day at another shitty Motel 6. Jarrett stayed up in bed watching soccer while the rest of us passed out in the glow of the television set.
Wow, only 1200 more miles!
The next morning we got up earlier, around 7:00, and hopped back into our truck. The boys lined up at another Subway for breakfast but I couldn’t stomach another sub. We filled up the gas tank and drove back onto the interstate. Our goal for the day was 800 miles. At this point in the game, we’d already traveled nearly 1,000 miles, not mention driving across the entirety of Texas in a single day hauling a massive conversion van on a shifty hitch. About 100 miles into our ride, another driver on the interstate flagged us down. We had blown a tire. At this stage in the game, every misfortune seemed inherent – like we were cursed – we poured out of the Uhaul and looked for the burst tire. The rear axle tire on the hitch wasn’t just flat – it was shredded to bits. Tiny fragments of burnt rubber were plastered to the boiling blacktop, acrid steam rose up from the frayed tire edges. Trucks passed us at 70 mph. The heat was incomprehensible. The grass was tall and dry, covered in ants and spiders. There was no shade. Jarrett crawled into our Uhaul to get the number for roadside service. Unable to pinpoint our location in the middle of nowhere, Arkansas, Mike and Jarrett jogged down shoulder of the highway to read a mile marker while Brian and I sat in puddles of insects. When Mike and Jarrett returned, Jarrett was on the phone with Uhaul yelling. Mike told me that the two of them saw a three-foot long snakeskin on the side of the road and that Brian and I should stand by the truck. “We have to get away from this highway,” Jarrett insisted. Uhaul told us to call a cab and that no one would arrive for another hour and a half. Jarrett got on the phone with his father, who guided us through removing our truck from the hitch, so we left the tow on the side of the highway, speeding away from the scene in our Uhaul to get away from danger. The next town over had little to offer – a Waffle House and a couple gas station. We walked into Waffle House to get a table and wait for roadside service. I’ve never had an affinity for Waffle House, and I think it’d be safe for me to speak on behalf of my band mates that we collectively hate the place. Flies were landing on our shoulders, we were covered in sweat, and the collective pungencies of cooking grease and filth made me want to vomit. “It’s funny how this place is the manifestation of how I feel right now” Brian remarked. (Thank god we had him for comic relief!) We got some waters and iced tea and sat down. Jarrett was on the telephone and I had my head in my hands. This was incomprehensible. I never imagined that tour would end this way. We waited for nearly two hours. Roadside service called Jarrett’s phone. They were pissed, claiming that we had abandoned our situation and saying that they were unable to fix it if we did not return immediately. Jarrett calmly tried to sort out the situation and asked if there was anyway they could repair it without us, but they insisted that it was impossible. So we tipped our waiter and left. Back on the side of the highway, we noticed that our tire was already repaired. The two workers were real Bible belt meth-heads. The man was named Larry. His arms were covered in deep, festering lesions and sweat poured off his tanned baldhead in the Arkansas heat. He had a maximum of three teeth. His cohort, a slim woman who looked like a stick of beef jerky, had lips that caved into her cavernous, toothless mouth. It was difficult to understand her. I tried to appeal to their good side and thank them for fixing our tire in the heat, but they seemed uninterested. Mike backed the truck onto the ball of the hitch and Jarrett cranked the hydraulic pump. The roadside workers wrote off some paperwork and we were back on the road. I had to pee and we needed gas, so Mike pulled off at the nearest exit. “It smells like burning rubber,” someone said. Halfway onto the entrance ramp at the Exxon, we noticed that the tire had burst again. Not yet shredded to bits, but flattened completely. We parked the truck exactly where it flattened out, and called the service workers again. We all assumed that Larry and his sidekick had put a new tire on a bent rim, and that the tire popped because the integrity of the rim was compromised. Jarrett was back on the phone with Larry, who said, “Oh, it popped again on ya, huh?”
The four of us meandered back and forth through the air-conditioned rest stop, perusing the candy selection and trying on novelty sunglasses. I told the clerk that we were unable to move the truck and she understood. Jarrett was pacing back and forth furiously beside the Exxon rest stop, wading his way through a chain of Uhaul supervisors to file a complaint. Larry and his toothless cohort arrived shortly. They idled by the fuel pumps, filling the tank of their work truck. We took our records out of the van and put them in some shade. Jarrett spent the next hour on the phone while the two Uhaul workers dilly-dallied, talking on cell phones and entering and exiting the Exxon store. Eventually the toothless wonder ambled over to me in the parking lot and something along the lines of, “There is nothing we can do, you gotta call Uhaul.” I couldn’t believe it. The two workers revved up their white work truck and screamed out of the gas station. It was just the four of us and our broken tow in Brinkley, Arkansas. Jarrett spent another hour on the telephone, demanding assistance and a refund. The negligence of those two roadside workers put our lives in danger, and not only that, they abandoned us at a gas station! It took hours for Uhaul to even agree to send back out someone to repair our rim.
Having a blast at Exxon
We sat for hours at the Exxon, boiling in the early afternoon sun. Our faces were red and our arms were burnt. Plans began to change. Jarrett decided that since things had already gone so awry, it was best to put Brian and I on a bus or plane out of Memphis (which was a mere 70 miles away) and leave the driving to Mike and Jarrett. Once the tire was repaired, Brian and I would get dropped off in Memphis and make our way home while Jarrett and Mike drove our gear back to New Jersey. The thought of leaving the boys was upsetting, but I knew it was best for Brian and I to leave and make their driving experience a bit more comfortable. Finally, the roadside crew arrived at the Exxon.
Jarrett was on the phone with Uhaul when they truck pulled up. It was the same two tweaked out meth-heads, twitchin’ and raring to go. We were in shock, and Jarrett confessed to the Uhaul operator, “I’m sure that you understand why I might be upset that you sent the same two people to assist us…listen, you don’t have to be a robot, I’m sure you understand…” The operator rattled off more pre-programmed Uhaul jargon and hung up. Larry and his lady pulled a junky tire out of their truck and got to work. After another 45 minutes, the tire was repaired and they began to work on another tire on the truck itself that had gone bald. After they finished their work, we handed over the same paperwork and they signed off the mileage and whatnot. Just as Jarrett was getting our contract back, the toothless woman smacked her concave lips and said, “I got some advice for ya, you’ll get better service if ya don’t cuss at folks on the phone”. A nice threat to send us back onto the road with!
At this point, we’re all horrified at the prospect of getting back into the truck because we convinced ourselves that the two meth-heads sabotaged our hitch ‘cause they thought we were rude dope-smokin’ northeastern hippies. Fuck it, we thought, it can’t get any more dangerous than it’s already been! It’s about 5:00 pm now and we only want to make it the 70 some odd miles to Memphis so Brian and I can get on a plane (we looked it up, and a bus ride was 30+ hours and $260+ - not worth the extra $100 it takes to get on a plane). The radio in the truck is off. Brian and I have our eyes locked on the rear tire, checking it for debris. Mike is staring at the road with the utmost intensity. The cab is completely silent. Twenty miles down the highway; Mike tilts his head towards the passenger seat. “There it goes,” he says. Unbelievable. Back on the shoulder of I-40, trucks whizzing by us in excruciating humidity, I was unable to even comprehend my own disbelief. The tire on our hitch was cut right down the center, frayed and deflated. Jarrett was on his cell phone immediately. “We’re going to leave this trailer here,” he told the operator at Uhaul. They threatened to charge us for the abandoned tow but somehow Jarrett convinced them otherwise. I was on the phone with AAA; we were going to have our van towed to Memphis. Some 2 odd hours later, the final character rolled up. Kevin, an employee of White Motor Co. said he got a call for an abandoned hitch. Uhaul called first so he’d have to tow the hitch to Forrest City, about five minutes away, then come back for us for the AAA call. Okay. Kevin loaded the hitch and pulled onto I-40. He returned about an hour later with a different truck, loaded our van, and took off with Mike in the passenger seat. Jarrett, Brian, and I followed in the Uhaul. Seventy miles to Memphis is a $200 tow. Money became a moot point. Getting home safely with our gear was the new priority.
The third tire
When Mike and Kevin arrived at the Dodge dealership AAA had dispatched them to, the dealership was gone. The building was abandoned. AAA looked up another dealership, and we drove across Memphis to drop off the van. The sun was setting and by the time our van was unloaded from the tow it was dark. Kevin was a nice guy, and he tried to get our money back for the extra mileage from AAA but failed. We wrote the dealership a letter explaining ourselves and dropped it in an overnight box along with the key. Back in the Uhaul truck, I made flight reservations for 7:10 am the next morning. Jarrett drove us to the airport and Brian and I grabbed our bags and started walking towards the terminal. Jarrett and Mike took off for home.
I-40 in Arkansas and our sweet tans!
JIMBO a.k.a. KEVIN...our van's final trip
Brian and I couldn’t check in until early the next morning. We were trapped in the cold terminal; the only open storefront was the Hudson News. Custodians coasted by on floor-waxers, female security guards gabbed on walkie-talkies. At 5:00 am, we were able to check in and access the terminal. (I was deemed “unpredictable” through security and had some huge woman pat my belly.) Our flight took off at 7:10, we transferred in Atlanta and left at 11:10 am, then arrived in Philadelphia at 1:17 pm. Two hours later, Brian and I were home.
OH MY GOD we're at the airport WTF
When I got into Meat Town U.S.A. I fell asleep immediately. When we left Philadelphia Mike and Jarrett were a mere 340 miles away from home, so I figured they would be home in five or six hours. They rolled into New Brunswick a bit after six. Jarrett had no voice left and both of the boys were exhausted. I made my way father’s house in Union, New Jersey.
The next morning (today) Jarrett and Mike dropped the gear off at my grandmother’s house. Our van was junked, irreparable. I brought my car in for service this morning, as we have plans to take it up to Canada for Ted Leo tour.
So, in closing, albeit from our experience being among one of the worst I’ve ever had in my little life, I’m glad (and you should be too) that the four of us made it home safely. Hopefully we can get our paws on a new van within the next two months so we can continue playing shows across the country….but not in Arkansas or New Mexico (just kidding).