[Ed has flown the coop for a week of R&R, and I know he has a number of Ur-Turn submissions in his inbox. Normally, we wouldn’t be running a piece from a prior Ur-Turn contributor, but these are not normal times. Mike George sent me this, and its a fitting finale to Panther Week. PN]
My auto insurance bills remind me of two things: how old I was when I got my drivers license, and how much older I have become since . You see, I got my license on my eighteenth and a half “birthday”, so the first due date of the year reminds me of the license, the second of my graying hair. Oftentimes on paying the first bill I think back of my first Road Trip, which took place no more than three months after Oregon gave me the go-ahead. My best friend Matt had moved to Culpeper, Virginia to drive a snowplow for his uncle. I wanted in on the action.
At that point in my life I had been drumming for three years, and wasn’t about to leave my prized pawn-shop Tama kit on the left coast, so I packed all the drums and cymbals and hardware into the trunk of my red ‘85 Town Car. Also my 60’s Silvertone guitar with matching tube amp/case. Oh, and my first bass guitar and small amp. And a suitcase or two. This left ample room in the cabin for my box of tapes: King Crimson, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Rush, Yes, The Who. All of which would suffer the dreaded right-channel scratch, meaning I had the Ford Premium Sound System. Fortunately the FPSS had an auto-reverse feature that would play side two automatically, which in turn would then scratch the left channel evenly, balancing out the audio burlap nicely.
In those internetless days, one had to use an actual “map” to plan their “quest”. I chose familiarity: Coos Bay to Portland to Wyoming for the first leg. This would allow me to revisit a revered drive from my youth, (recounted here), and to keep on to the flyover state of my birth to leech a room at my paleolithic great aunt and uncle’s trailer near St. Louis. Cough. I covered the 21 hours to Rock Springs, Wyoming with little issue, save a $325 speeding ticket for doing 80 in a 65 near Irrigon, Oregon. I hadn’t yet been introduced to the delights and frugalities of tent-camping, so a hotel room was secured. There was a music store down the way where I purchased King Crimson’s newest tape, “THRAAK”, which I played so much on the ensuing journey the FPSS treatment erased Bill Bruford’s cymbals. Robert Fripp should drive a Towncar…
Day 2 saw me on to Denver, where I joined I-70 eastbound, which takes you by exactly nothing of interest until Chesapeake Bay. Culpeper, Virginia surely doesn’t count as interesting, especially when you went there to drive a snowplow and it was June. After 3 weeks of mostly smoking cigarettes in Matt’s apartment, I was offered a drumming gig that I was very interested in. It was precisely the type of loud, lewd, lascivious funk-rock gig a wannabe Keith Moon like me would love. Only it was my friend’s band in Coos Bay, meaning another 3000+ mile trek across places only a mother could love. (I’m looking at you, Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois.) Oh, and the gig didn’t pay. So I did the obvious thing and accepted it.
I decided to sight-see a bit on the way back, which meant an entirely different route. Some history teacher/propagandist from my youth had made Mount Rushmore a must-see, so I set off in a northerly direction after visiting family in Cincinnati, Ohio. Part way along the 465 Indianapolis by-pass I noticed the engine temp gauge was reading abnormally high. All else seemed fine, so I kept one eye on the temp, one eye on the speedo, one eye on the road, and drove on. My plan was to drive all day and get a room somewhere near the giant bureaucrats and see them the next morning. I wafted imperiously, a/c keeping me cool, Bill Bruford fading away. Every so often I would roll down a young Jack Baruth’s favorite partial window and have a smoke. That IS what it’s there for, after all.
The odometer spun along, mile after interstate mile. Set the clock ahead an hour for Central Time. Tolls in Chicago; bad traffic snarls. Illinois gone; Wisconsin comes and goes. Into South Dakota to find a roo… SHIT! Minnesota??? I pulled over and consulted my analog map, and the results were ugly: an 86,943 square mile oversight had added over 4 hours to my granite-faced destination. I had already driven over 11 hours; now what? Keep going, that’s what. Hell, I had done 21 straight on the first day out here, I can handle this 10,000 lakes nonsense just fine.
Daybreak came and bore bad news: the lightning storm to the south I had been admiring was getting closer. As the morning rolled on, the rain began. By the time I hit the exit to Route 16 and the manly slab the storm was on me. No real point in going to see something you won’t be able to see. So, after setting the clock ahead an hour for Mountain Time, I kept going. Mapquest is telling me this was around the 21 hour mark, so I must have felt a touch of motivation to best my own three week old record. Not long after this, I saw something astonishing: a giant green alien of some kind up among the clouds! Fortunately I looked back at the road in time to avoid a crash. When I looked back up to the skies, the q-bert looking creature had flown off. I began to feel a tad sleepy.
Sheridan, Wyoming seemed as good a place as any to get a room. After all, I’d been driving 24 hours at this point and could use a nap. I don’t remember the exact price the desk maid quoted me, but it woke me up and convinced me to keep going. So I kept going. Right into the curb behind my parking space. Fortunately it only bent the bumper down an inch or so to the left, so again I kept going. Crossing into Montana brought another astonishing vista: a cosmically sized oil tank aloft the mountain range 50 miles ahead. It had to have been 100 miles wide, and 20 high! I had no idea Montana was such an oil-based economy. I then nodded off, and started dreaming that I was driving into Montana and was about to rear-end a U-haul. Fortunately I woke up in time to pass the U-haul safely. By this time the oil tank, like the alien, had vanished.
The hours rolled by. As I wound down I-90 towards Idaho and daylight waned, I saw something astonishing: a marathon runner jogged past my car as if I had been standing still! He even had a number tag on his back. I kept taking the increasingly sharp turns at increasingly fast speeds trying to catch him, but to no avail. Shortly after this I saw what he was running from: herds of gigantic elephants in the trees to my right! Stampeding maniacs trumpeting their way down towards Lake Coeur D’Alene for water!
That must be what they’re up to. I was stupid tired by now, but kept going to avoid being trampled. Fortunately I made the long downgrade without further incident, and headed towards Spokane. No way I was stopping until I was safely past the lake. I set the clock ahead an hour for Pacific Time.
I cruised through Spokane at the 38 hour mark. The astonishing sights had juiced me up a bit, and I was pretty certain I could make it to Seattle to visit a friend. That would only be 5 or 6 more hours. Back on I-90 in the dark of midnight, I saw something astonishing: a giant checkerboard-patterned cloud, lit by the moon! I began playing against some unknown, and probably gigantic, hand, but was so tired I couldn’t play well and resigned after a few moves. I also had to pee badly, and fortunately there was a rest stop ahead. I woke up in time to navigate the exit safely and parked the car.
I then saw something really astonishing: I don’t recall what it was, but it must have been in the box of tapes because I woke up four hours later with my head in the box.
I made the remaining ten hours to Coos Bay without incident. Just like in my recent Nevada escapade, the next day the car made an odd noise. I took it to dad’s trusty mechanic, who put a long metal bar up to his ear and touched various engine parts, ending with a diagnosis of a failing water pump. That explained the high temp readings I had seen on and off. Fortunately the old 302 held up long enough for me to get home. If I had overheated, those elephants would have gotten me for sure.