After I got fired, Francisco asked me if I wanted to play guitar on some dates down in New Orleans with him. I said I sure did, but I warned him that I don’t drive long distances very well because I get bored and fall asleep. He said it would be okay.
He planned to show up to pick me and my gear up at around 8 AM on Friday. The problem being, you see, that I usually go to bed around 3AM, so 8 is smack in the middle of the night. I took a nap from 12 to 4AM to try to stay up a little later.
I piled all my shit up on the back steps and started waiting for Fran at about 7:45. Europa happened to come home around then, so I ensnared him with conversation, hoping to trick him into being around when Fran showed up and we had to load the van up. It worked.
The rental van containing Francisco and the other car containing Bald Mike the drummer and Willie the bass player appeared at the same time. Bald Mike’s not really bald, but his hair’s getting a bit thin up front. He’s built low and thick like a fire hydrant. He wears glasses most of the time, but when he has them off he squints moleishly. This appears to have no negative effect on his drumming.
Willie’s full head of hair is twisted into orangish beginnings of dreadlocks. He’s 17, weighs maybe 90 pounds, and is very thin. With his explosive orange hairdo and thin frame he rather resembles some sort of exotic palm tree, but he’s a good player, especially for his age.
Everyone began milling around and pulling gear out of cars, laying it around our driveway. I unloaded the rental van with Europa’s help.
Packing a vehicle is an art, I think. I quite enjoy the challenge of getting a shitload of gear into a small space. It’s a very zen activity to me. It involves the labor of lifting things and moving them around, as well as fitting things into place. Fran, on the other hand, lobs whatever he has on hand into the vehicle, to the peril of both his gear and anyone nearby. This packing job was too big for that sort of frivolity, so I unloaded his avalanche and packed it all back up in an orderly fashion.
We got it all in, hoppped into the van, and we were on our way with our fearless leader at the wheel. He had elected to take the first shift of a 9 hour drive, which was fine by me. I planned to get a good nap in and then maybe take the last shift.
As we got on the highway and started getting up to travelling speed, we heard a very loud farting sort of a noise from outside the van. It sounded like it could have been a Harley or something, but there weren’t any around.
“Was that us?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Fran said, scanning the guages.
“Boy it would sure suck if this van exploded not even an hour into the trip.”
There it was again. FRAAAAAAAAAAAP! It sounded like it was coming from the front of the vehicle somewhere. I pulled the rental agreement out of the glove compartment and dialed the number on it. Someone answered.
“Hello?” the guy at the rental company answered.
“Yes, hi. My name is Jim Hodgson and I’m in one of your vans and it’s making an enormous farting sound from time to time. Can you help us?”
“Farting sound?” he asked.
FRAAAAAAAAAP went the sound.
“Do you hear that?”
“Yeah I do.”
“Your van is farting like that. That was your van”
“Uh…” he said.
Fran started motioning frantically from the driver’s seat for me to hand him the phone. I handed it over. They worked out that the van was not supposed to make that noise, but not much else. I looked up at the top of the windshield where it joined the roof of the car, and noticed a bit of what looked like duct tape.
Could we be riding unbeknownst in a van whose windows are only held in by duct tape? Could that tape be coming off? I told Fran to pull off the highway, and he drove down an exit ramp to a red light.
“I’ll call you back,” he said into my phone, hanging up by clipping it shut.
I opened my passenger door as the van stopped, Fran’s pocket knife open in my hand, and like a pirate I climbed over the open door onto the front of the van to the cheers of Mike and Willie. I sliced and diced the duct tape, which had indeed come unstuck and was flapping in the wind. Problem solved.
We got back on the highway, and the van stopped farting. Now, however, it was making a loudish whistling noise.
“What the fuck’s that noise?” Fran asked.
“Maybe that’s the noise that the tape was there to correct” I suggested.
“EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE” said the van.
“That’s really annoying.”
We rode along for a while, listening to the van whistle. Finally, Fran shut the van’s vents and the noise stopped.
“Oh,” he said. “Well, that’s better.”
We were about an hour outside of town, and our first obstacle had been overcome, so we pulled over to rent some movies. Fran desperately wanted to watch Planes Trains and Automobiles on the portable TV/VCR combo he’d brought along. I decided to take the next shift at the wheel since I was feeling pretty alert and confidant.
Now, I hate driving a lot of the time, particularly on long distances. I just don’t have the attention span for it. I get irritable and fidgity waiting for water to boil, let alone waiting for Louisiana to creep up on us. I figured I’d better do my time early while I was somewhat conscious.
“You call that a fucking shift at the wheel, Fran?” I asked as we loaded back up in the parking lot of a movie rental place. “Maybe fifty miles outside Atlanta and you want to watch a movie.”
“Yeah I know, terrible…” he said, but he was busy setting up his little portable TV. It had two screens, one for Mike and Willie in the back and one for Fran.
I pulled the big assed van onto the highway pointed south, and put my foot down. We were on our way to New Orleans.