Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Vantastic Blue Betty, Part II

Jon P (aka The Beast) and I found ourselves the proud new owners of a large van and were taking it back to New York City so our band would be independently mobile for the first time in its five-year life. A few minutes into our trip, the van died at a stop light.

I telephoned our other band mates. “The good news is we got the van,” I said. “The bad news is we just broke down.”

We managed to push the van to the side of the road. Jon popped the hood and checked the oil. It looked to have enough oil in it. Luckily, there was a gas station right across the street. We bought some motor oil as well as some soda and water and came back to our ailing vehicle.

After putting in some motor oil, we were able to start it again—great nervous success! We managed to drive it across the street to the gas station. We filled up one of the tanks with gas and stocked up on motor oil and bottled water. After saying a prayer to no one in particular that even avowed atheists make at times like these, I turned the key in the ignition and … the van started and was up and running again. It felt a bit weak but it was running, and we were back on the road. I was confident enough to take the van onto the Long Island Expressway and even pass a few slower cars.

We had to retrieve our good friend and former drummer, Joey Bones, from Port Jefferson, which was on our way back to the city. After many tense miles of highway driving, it was time for an even more tense drive through summer Friday Long Island traffic to get Joe from the Port Jefferson Long Island Railroad station, where he was waiting for us.

What had seemed like a quick turn off the highway in planning this day became a hellish ordeal of fearful driving. The van lumbered along on roads not meant for the amount of traffic it now saw regularly in the overdeveloped Long Island suburbs. I had to accelerate rapidly enough not to stall but not so much that I couldn’t’ stop if I needed to. Every stop light and potential backed up lane meant possible automobile death and hours stuck on Long Island, which would mean missing our band’s show that evening.

This is no way to drive. It’s doable, but it sucks. We lamented aloud our plight and spoke of our dream that someday the van would have “full stopping capability.” We envied all the other cars on the road that had full stopping capability – meaning they could bring their cars to a complete stop without having them die mid-stop.

At the Port Jefferson LIRR train station, commuters’ cars were crowding to pick up loved ones back early from their jobs in the city. Joey Bones got in the van and sat on the floor behind the driver’s and passenger’s seats. We exchanged greetings as I tried to maneuver out of the full parking lot without stalling. I failed. As I attempted to restart the van, a snotty commuter in a fancy car with full stopping capability honked at me. I scrambled for the horn and honked back.

We got rolling again and headed back to the highway. It was hot and the van has no air conditioning. This was not a problem when cruising on the highway and the wind can circulate through the multi-windowed van nicely, but while chugging along slowly or stopped in traffic, the van became a big box of stale heat. That it sat around gathering dust for several months did not help its cause either.

On the highway again, we realized we were already running out of gas and turned off in search of a gas station. Somewhere on Long Island, we drove along a road expecting that any minute we would come across a place to buy gas. It was another long, tough slog.

At one point, I wound up in a turning lane that I could not get out of in time and had to make a right turn down a quiet, residential street lined with well-groomed lawns and expensive-looking houses. In attempting a three-point turn to go back the way we came, the van stalled in the brick driveway of a very nice home. There was a lawn jockey statue holding a lantern in this driveway, which no doubt belonged to someone who could afford more than one car with full stopping capability and would probably appreciate our van on their property none too much. A few minutes and several attempts to start the van later, we were still sitting there. Each attempt brought a weaker response from its burdened engine.

We discovered through this part of the experience that putting the van in reverse causes it to stall quicker. After a few minutes, I tried to restart the engine again and voila! I realized that the driveway we were stuck in was a circular one, and we powered around it and onward.

After much driving, we found a service station with self-service pumps, but these pumps were attended to by two very pushy and meddlesome attendants, who kept asking us questions and offering to do everything we would normally do ourselves. It got very frustrating. Joey managed to spill gas on the van and ground and had to cut part of the plastic gas cap away with a knife when it got stuck in the handle of the gas pump. I did my best to clean the van’s dirty and dusty windshield while filling up two tanks and fending off the pushy station attendants.

Once we were gassed up though, the van went on a glorious run without stalling that lasted us all the way to Brooklyn.

By this point, the troubles of our journey had created a good camaraderie among us three. The improved performance of the van helped this, and somehow, in the course of our conversation, we named the van Blue Betty.

I believe it came up when we tried to sing a song about the van, to the tune of the folk song ‘Black Betty,’ first made popular by Lead Belly.

Blue Betty
Blue Betty is a van
We have to take her to the shop
Cause she loves to stop

We found our way to Queens and to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. We made it to our rehearsal space and to the show.

After the show, which ended very late (about 3 a.m. or later), we loaded things up and began the long slog home. Blue Betty would sit in my neighborhood until I could bring her to Westchester on Sunday. We had a show no Long Island the next day, and were planning on taking the train.

I dropped people home along the way; everyone was in a good mood, having saturated their evening with punk rock and copious amounts of drink. I remained sober and tired, bleary-eyed and desirous of sleep.

As I was about to go to bed, I got a text message from The Beast at exactly 4:20 a.m. “Betty’s ready,” read the message. “Let’s take her back to Long Island tomorrow.”

Inspired by this, I went to my kitchen and retrieved a beer from the refrigerator and drank it in the quiet solitude of my living room.

1 comment:

hoodawg said...

Between Blue Betty and the first van procured from Molson's father, you should be set on automotive literary material. For life.