The journey that began thrice

Originally, I was planning to leave for Spokane last Friday, giving myself a whole day to prep for the house show I was to be headlining in Spokane on Saturday.

Alas, a 3 hour brake job ended up taking all day long on Thursday, setting me back and causing me to be working late on other elements of the trip. It took forever because my emergency brake light was stuck on. They checked and checked and checked, and had gotten to the point of tracing wires and dealing with electrical, convinced that it was not a brake problem.

By 5:30 I said fuck it, and just decided I would pull the damn handle before I moved the van ever, and call it good until I could get down to New Mexico to hang with my pal who has a shop (and who I will be doing work on the van with anyway) to figure out what the stupid electrical problem is.

And of course, the tow equipment I ordered arrived late Friday evening without all the proper hardware I needed, so it was a somewhat stressful pain in the ass to get put together, too.

By the time I was planning to leave on a 5 hour trip Friday evening, I still had some things to deal with in Seattle and I was a deep fried shade of worn out tired. So much tedious shit had gone wrong I was walking around muttering ‘skullfuck’ most of Friday afternoon. So I decided to leave Saturday morning, rested, instead.

That was the first time I didn’t start my trip. No biggie.

Take II:

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I left around 11am Saturday morning, driving by that fuckass eyesore inconvenient ass canoe fucking sadium for the last fuckass time in a long while, commemorating my pleasure at this by snapping a picture while I waited at the light.

Not long after North Bend, I started having the roadtrip feels. During my first solo road trip in 2011, the surge hit me as I was maybe 20 miles south of Seattle. Pearl Jam’s “I’m Still Alive” came on the radio.

I hadn’t heard it in years, but that trip was all about confronting the darkened hallway of my past in California. I didn’t understand exactly what I was in for at the time, but I did sense that song was the perfect floodgate opener for what would come in the weeks later.

This time it was about 20 miles outside of town again, east this time, listening to Keep Going, when my cover of Heavy in Your Arms came on.

Like the Pearl Jam song, there were a lot of applicable layers to why it hit me like it did. It’s a fresh wound that’s also been salted recently. And like the Pearl Jam song, there is hope there.

I recognize how I anchor myself stationary in order to ‘be’ with people. How heavy I HAVE to make myself to justify doing that, how hard I lean in to them because of it. And I also recognize how much I received from them while I stayed. I recognize how much I still miss some of them, sometimes. A lot, sometimes.

But mostly I recognize how done I am with all that shit. I cried out my doneness. I cried out the regret and the pain and the loss and the missing. And I let in the goodness and the openness and the raw cold air taking its place. Just like I’d done with Pearl Jam, when I’d finally gotten done being anchored by my heavy past life in Sacramento.

Mixed in with the missing and the hope and the exhilaration was a sense of relief, of freedom. Against many odds and my own resistance and fears, the van was packed, running, stopping, full DOT inspected, puttering down the road. My motorcycle was softly swaying on the tow carrier and I had alternative, maneuverable, affordable transport other than the huge van. Just that I was here at all proved I could count on myself, and that I could trust my instincts well enough to ask and receive from people.

I started smiling through my tears. I started feeling the excitement. I started believing in the possibility, in the adventure, in all the shit everyone ELSE has been so excited about while I’ve been making big asks, and doing a lot of physical and soul grinding work to make this actually happen. I started believing in the positivity of my choice to leave, not just the necessity of it. I started having faith.

And then I smelled the smoke.

The first time, I figured it was the semi next to me, burning some brakes, like they do. I recently saved a friends van transmission with my nose and insistence that we pull over in Maui, so even though I thought it was likely nothing, I rolled my window down and sniffed and paid attention. Then the smell went away.

..And then it came back, right next to a road construction site another mile up the road or so. I wanted to believe I was smelling something in the air, but as my friend Neil so elegantly taught me not long ago, while wandering a crowded area with a friend, if you smell the same fart twice, that means it’s your friend farting.

In that teaching moment, I was the farting friend, in case you’re wondering. And in this case, I was pretty sure I was the farter by now, too.

Trouble is, I had no shoulder and nowhere to pull off for another 3 miles or so. The smell was getting worse when I opened the window. It took me a while to figure out my cab was filling up with a delicate haze of white smoke. And my brain kept spinning back and forth between believing it was me and thinking it was some horrendous tire fire or something somewhere.

As if I didn’t know tire fire smoke is black, or what burning breaks smell like. Stupid brain.

I finally pulled into a rest area, went to the semi side, got out and popped the hood. Nothing. The smell wasn’t even very strong now, mostly in my scarf and clothes. Then I took a look down the passenger side of the van and saw this:

Neato.

I wasn’t particularly worried — I have AAA, I’d mentally prepared myself for breakdowns of many types, expecting things to go wrong. I wasn’t expecting them to go wrong on my first day, with a system of the van I’d just had worked on two days ago.

I knew it would take forever to get a tow (I was right – 5 hours), and that I was too far from Spokane for that to be my destination, so I cancelled my performance immediately, thankful that the house show organizer had found a couple of openers and the show would still be great without me (it was). Then I started trying to figure out wtf went wrong.

At first, I thought it might have been the weight of my motorcycle on the back. That was the only thing that was different from yesterday, when I’d eaten half a tank of gas driving that damn beast around running errands, and the back of the bike made for the load to be slightly heavier on the right side.

I know how ridiculous that sounds NOW, but at the time I had decided I wanted to take the bike off the tow carrier, turn it around, and try to make it the 30 miles into Cle Elum without waiting for a tow.

I walked around a bit and asked a couple truckers to help me get the bike off the rack (it’s not possible for me to wrangle it off myself). Once we got the bike off, one of them asked me what was up with the van, looking at my tire pensively.

We talked a bit about what happened, and soon thereafter I had confirmation from three separate people who tow shit for a living that there was no way the bike caused my breaks to seize up. We tried backing the van up to release the brake adjustment, which we confirmed was stuck slammed to the inside of the drum.

I suppose you could say the van moved.. If two inches of strenuous lurch and then locking up again under a tremendous amount of engine torque counts as moving. I tried both directions. Both back wheels were stuck as fuck. Which begged another question — why wasn’t the left back wheel of a rear wheel drive vehicle, which wasn’t brake seized, spinning?

Thus began the wondering of whether the ebrake was stuck on, perhaps the cable broke while I was driving or something. Plus that stupid light being on. But that seemed unlikely, given that I’ve left my ebrake on before (who hasn’t) and it’s more of a lagging kind of thing rather than a seizing up kind of thing, and I felt nothing while driving. I thought maybe it could have been the ebrake, and with the drag at 60mph for god knows however long I was driving, maybe I’d friction welded my breaks or something.

“You got a jack?”
‘Yeah.’
“Well, I’ve got tools. And I don’t have anything better to do, my pick up got cancelled and I’m stuck out here til Tuesday. This sort of thing happens to our rigs all the time. I’ll bet we can get this fixed”

The plan was to get things cracked open to see if I’d thrown a spring into the brake which had gotten stuck, check the shoes/see if I’d need to ride over to Cle Elum to get parts or not. So my new friend Marcus started working to get the wheel off and the brake cylinder open, while we talked about what could have caused the seize and what to do next.

*bang*bang* .. and the break cylinder open. *pry* … and the break cylinder open? … *tap taptap* OPEN SESAME, FUCKING BREAK CYLINDER!!..

Or, not. Not is fine too, I guess.

By this time, I knew I was getting towed back to the place that had done my break job, Tire Factory in South Park, and I’d be spending another night in Seattle. In fact, Owen eventually worked out a way for him to come in the next morning (Sunday) to get me back on the road, so I didn’t have to wait the entire holiday weekend.

That sounded about right, to me. I was convinced this was their problem, anyway. In fact, I was pretty pissed off, especially about that brake light, and letting them convince me my breaks were fine while the fucker was on. I was handling it super well, though. Like someone I didn’t really know very well.

Like someone who knew they could count on themselves, maybe.

Many hours, a nap, and much conversation later, including two more people coming over to see if I needed help/drinking water/etc, and my tow driver stopping by to let me know his person before me needed a tow to Tacoma (4 hours! yay!), Eddie from Cle Elum towing showed up, for the second time, to rescue Vandwell.

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Day 1: Spent at a rest stop outside of Cle Elum, waiting for this. Rear right brake (which was adjusted along with other brake work two days ago) stuck and burned to utter shit over the pass, van won’t move. Met many helpful people, was actually a pretty enjoyable day all considering, perhaps a blog post about that tomorrow. For now, lotion on my increasingly roughed up hands, an unexpected extra night of KEXP radio, van tea, and sleep.

PS: Loretta’s in South Park for breakfast around 9:30, if you want the in person version, or are curious what fried brake smells like, cause everything I own smells like it now.
I will quit you yet, Seattle. (And sorry I am not performing tonight, Spokane)

Her name is Vandwell now, btw. And as she was pulled onto that tow bed by a metal rope with a skid under her back paw, I saw her big pretty face for the first time, a little sad, a little scared, a little sick, and I realized: I love my van. I love my big stupid rusty gas guzzling van. That, and also there was something in my eye.

I also noticed that with the skid, passively, all three of the other wheels were rolling, and the ebrake caused a noticeable change/lurch when Eddie took it on and off. So, no ebrake sticking there.

Eddie and I took my tow carrier off the van, since her fat ass took up his ENTIRE tow truck bed, and ratcheted it to the bed floor near the cab. I rode the bike back to Seattle, into the sunset, as it were. I beat Eddie to the tire place by a few minutes, hung around while he dropped off the van, got the tow gear back on her big dirty butt, and wished him a safe drive home.

And that was the second time I didn’t start my trip. Somewhat bigger biggie.

Take III

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I didn’t sleep very well that night, in a deserted parking lot BY THE RIVER (y’all happy now?). On Sunday morning, Owen rolled in around 9 and started getting to work on what I felt surely would be a much bigger deal than he seemed to think it would be. I was thinking for sure I’d friction welded my breaks dead and I’d be in Seattle another fucking week getting them fixed. But hey.. better than Cle Elum where I don’t fucking know anyone, right?

I started wandering around to find a place to get breakfast. The place I wanted was closed. I met an artist rapper named Kaev on the sidewalk. We walked for a while, chatted philosophy, drugs, trust, art. Sat in the Subway for a bit, until I gave him the $4 he asked for to cover the gap between what he had and the sim card he wanted. Then he disappeared. Funny how that works.

Did you know, btw, that if you stop in at Subway really early in the morning and order a cookie (so you can kill time in their shop, being the only place open at 9:15am on a Sunday in South Park), there is a possibility they will tell you with a crinkled nose that those cookies are from YESTERDAY, as if you wouldn’t want them? And when you say, well, how about selling me two cookies for the price of one, then, they might look over the entire case of cookies, about two dozen maybe, and offer to sell you the whole fucking batch for three bucks? Cookies have been on me ever since. YMMV.

Since I was back in the area, my friend Chris, who walked me through making the brackets for my bedframe last weekend, met up with me to get breakfast. Around the time Loretta’s was about to open, I got a call from Owen, asking if I was ready to hit the road.

I stammered a little, cause actually, I wanted breakfast now (that wasn’t cookies), and I was a little shocked that it’d taken less than an hour. Incredulous even. I had questions.

“You got the cylinder off?”
‘Yep! Needed a chisel and hammer, but yeah, it came off. Those semi’s, they’re big, they use big tools. I’ll bet what your friend had just wasn’t small enough to get in there.’
“Wait.. the pads are still good?”
‘Yep! You caught it early! They’re still super thick.’
“And the spring is still there? It didn’t break/get caught?”
‘No problem with the spring. Your adjustment wheel just froze up. I had to really work at it to get it loose’
“I’ll be right over. Do you still have the wheel off? Can I see?”
‘I can totally take it back off for you and show you.’

And show me he did. The shoes were, in fact, in darn good shape. There was a fresh coat of shiny metal goop on the adjuster mechanism that I found out was lubricant. He also told me about how neither wheel would move under engine power because the right wheel is always the drive wheel, so the left wasn’t trying, either.

I got under the van and looked at the star wheel through the adjuster hole and was taught how to use a screwdriver to adjust my breaks if they ever lock again — which they shouldn’t. But, as is made clear by the existence of this story, sometimes shit happens.

Slowly and surely, it was coming back to me, how much I liked working on my own cars when I was a kid. I started remembering my drum breaks on the Superbeetle, how I’d change my own muffler, and how I’ve periodically been thankful for my Dad teaching me about tools and cars when I was younger.

Chris, Owen and I put the bike up on the rack, and said our goodbyes.

The moment when I put Vandwell in reverse and she MOVED was very exciting, indeed. We were back in business, and while I wasn’t thrilled with losing 60 miles of gas, I was very glad I’d taken her back to Tire Factory and gotten complete with them, without being charged, or having to wait for the holiday weekend to be over, even. I gave them a chance to take care of me, and it worked out. Otherwise, like if I’d gotten towed to Cle Elum instead, I might have been farther along in my miles, but I would have been out more money, and stayed pissed at those guys for a good long time.

I took the opportunity, since I was in Seattle again, to hit up Ballard one last time to pick up my NAS, which I’d realized I’d left just before this break shit went down. I was getting low on gas, the needle had hit empty, and I remembered still having about 6 gallons left the last time it’d been there — plenty to get 9 mostly-highway miles away to the Safeway by the shed for the cheapie gas. Right?

#nope.

Not only did I run out of gas, like full on engine death out of gas, I ran out of gas … on 99, in the battery street tunnel.

For those of you not in the know, it’s a two lane one-way tunnel with a 40mph speed limit where people regularly do 60+, with zero shoulder in sight, an onramp/merge point about 50 feet past the tunnel, and a concrete median between lane directions once you’re in the daylight again.

In short: A motherfucking death trap. Even if I could have gotten out and pushed, it would have been a level of stupid I just won’t go to anymore.

I can still hear myself mumbling encouragement as my dead full ton van full of everything I own in the world rolled along like a fucking steel whale in the dark. Just a little farther, boo, and we’ll be heading slightly downhill. Maybe we can get off the highway and onto Harrison if you have enough momentum, big girl. Hoo, that’s not looking so likely, creepy mccreeperson. Just get us out of the tunnel, then. Keep rolling until we’re out of the tunnel.

I came to a stop a few car lengths outside of the soul eating dark, with my hazards on, and my eyes unable to stop watching in my rear view as people blasted out of the hole, seeing a horizontal motorcycle hanging off my ass end, gears in their heads turning, changing lanes around me.

First things first: I called 911. I never call 911, and honestly, I was pretty cool and focused about this whole thing. I knew what to do, that I wasn’t getting out of my car no matter the fuck what, and that I had AAA and I’d be covered (if you don’t have AAA, fucking get it.).

But I did use 911, because that was the quickest way to get the information I needed to get to the people I needed to get it to rather than trying to fuck with my shit cell service to look up numbers. Besides, I knew I was about two freaked out drivers away from having the cops called on me, anyway.

I am in a very large stalled vehicle in a very, very unsafe location. I said, yo, you need to know I’m out of gas on 99. I’ll call AAA after you, it’ll be a quick fix, but I have no idea how quickly they can come to me, and when they get here, they’re gonna be a sitting duck in the road (my gas tank is on the drivers side, and I was in the right lane where I’m supposed to be). You might wanna get someone down here. Like, now.

I called AAA for the second time in as many days which is as many days as I’ve been on this fucking ‘adventure’, and get an estimate ‘within the hour’, but I’ve been red flagged, so it should be less than that.

Well let’s fucking hope so.

I settled in, continuing to watch Rear View Roulette in some weird abstract fascination. Being a holiday weekend, traffic was fairly loose. I wasn’t bogging anything down save for maybe two or three cars when someone had to actually stop and wait a few seconds to get around me. But it was steady, always cars coming.

I remembered hearing that they generally ticket people for breaking down on the bridges and wondered if I’d have to deal with any shit when the cops showed up. I hoped since I wasn’t actually fucking traffic up they wouldn’t think about it.

At one point, a big truck changed lanes smoothly behind me, seeing me in plenty of time — but the Car to Go that had been tailgating that motherfucker blind barely, barely missed my bike.

Every time a large vehicle came up on me slowly, I fantasized that they’d stop, hop out of the car with a gas can and come ask if I just needed gas.

I wondered if maybe I should make a cardboard sign that says “Need Gas!” and keep it in the car, cause, despite the encouragement from my friend that I keep 10 gallons of it with me in the cab.. that ain’t gonna happen.

Then my phone rang.

“Hi, this is Mikey from AAA.”
‘MIKEY. How far away are you man.’ (in my ‘I have a sense of humor AND this is fuckin serious’ voice)
“I’m about 5 minutes away. Are you past the denny onramp? Or before it?”
‘I am just outside the tunnel, before the onramp. I’m blocking the right lane.’
“Ok. I will be there soon. Hang tight.”

5 minutes. Ok. Cool.

About two minutes later, a giant truck pulled up behind me. I watched in the mirror as the door opened and showed a big WSDOT on the side. Then I noticed the light bars — not tow lights. MOVE THE FUCK OVER lights. They started blinking bigass arrows toward the left.

The tension broke and I laughed. FOR ME?

The driver walked to my passenger side, I shuffled over (the van is so wide, I can’t adjust the rear view mirror while sitting in the position I drive in.. it’s like two steps to the passenger side) rolled the window down and let him know AAA was close, and thanked him for showing up so quickly. I wasn’t sure what they’d be sending, but I was really pleased it wasn’t a cop, which is what I guess I was expecting.

I really don’t like cops. Not because I have anything to hide or reason to fear them, other than not having the money to pay the damn tickets they write, but because the police as a system require a bunch of brainwashed (in the best cases) uniformed oppressors masquerading as service workers. The institution of policing is one of the most violent dirtyworker tools of the imperialist capitalist colonialism bullshit I fucking hate about America that’s infecting the rest of the world. Their jobs exist, and have always exited, to bully and injure and kill a demographic of people I have come to care about, and many Seattle police have fucked over and hurt and maced friends of mine. Upon first glance I pretty much fit the stereotypical demographic they’re supposed to ‘protect’ (rich/not obviously poor, white) but I don’t trust them, I don’t think we as a society need them, having them around makes me nervous, I can’t pay their fucking ransoms, and I don’t like dealing with them basically ever. Which is kinda why I don’t call 911.

But I’m glad I did, in this case. For me, it was the smart thing to do, and having that truck on my ass felt like the most direct protection I’ve had in recent memory. I was in a bad way and someone flat out had my fucking back, no question, literally, standing up and in the way for me. I really felt the bigness of the truck, the power in the engine, the magnitude of that signal saying, fuck off, get out of the way, heed, we’ve got this. I felt covered. It was good.

I’ve had a lot of support from a lot of people in recent weeks, amazing support. And, I didn’t realize until I wrote this, after having some rugs pulled out from under me by people I thought I could trust to stand the fuck up for me and help me when I’d fallen flat on my face, how much I needed to feel something just like that truck at my back.

And then a second WSDOT truck came, stopping behind the first, and I chuckled again. YES I AM THAT GUY. I AM THAT FUCKING GUY WHO RAN OUT OF FUCKING GAS IN THE WORST POSSIBLE PLACE EVER.

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I called Mikey back to let him know I had a posse behind me now. He said he was almost there and he had an officer with him. I had a flash of a cop in the cab with him waiting to fingerwag me and write me expensive tickets. I pushed the thought away and decided I’d play that as it came.

Mikey showed up a few minutes later, escorted by a police car with lights on, who rolled right past us and kept on his way. Mikey got me my gas, shared a few commiserating words (He has a suburban that likes to run out of gas before empty — I just didn’t mention I actually WAS empty :P), was helpful, fast, and friendly, and did in fact completely avoid getting run down in the middle of the street just as I’d suggested.

Mikey left. The WSDOT guys smiled, waved, told me to have a good weekend. I was moving again, about 15 minutes after I’d stalled in the tunnel. I got back to Ballard and picked up my NAS, filled up my tank, and went on my way toward Spokane.

I stopped at the same rest stop, which will be closed permanently in two days, to get a healthy picture of Vandwell, pleased to not have been inhaling break smoke getting up there this time. It’s really a shame, save for the Bonneville Salt Flats rest area, this was by far the nicest one I’ve been to.

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I caught up with Marcus in Ellensberg for lunch, still hanging out waiting for his next pick up of hand sanitizer or apples. “I wish I’d thought of lube!”, he said. Indeed. :P

And, I stopped at a scenic overlook, walked up (and down) a bigass hill in flip flops to snap some pictures.

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I’m now safe in a little attic in Spokane in my friends, Craig and Mark’s, house, who have been fans of my music from the beginning. I played their house a couple years ago for their wedding, my first house show ever, and here is my home base for the next week or so, complete with a bath tub that I am using indiscriminately, along with the ridiculous selection of bath sauces Mark picked up for me knowing how much I dig his tub.

I’ll be getting the glass tinted in the van on Friday and after that, be continuing on my way, potentially camping a night in Coeur d’Alene. I’m thinking Zion, after that, but the for-sure part is that I’m heading south, toward Los Almos, and what is sure to be a prime selection of problems to solve, working on getting the AC functional in the van.

Here’s hoping I’ve gotten this good batch of teaching moments and calamities out of the way, and I’ll have mostly smooth sailing for a while. I was shocked at how tired I am today after all that excitement and problem solving and learning. Which, it turns out, I’m remembering, I’m actually quite good at.

Also; My stupid parking break light? Still on.

It’s been a long time since a blog post took 4+ hours to write. Time for another bath, I think.



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