Requiem For a Band Van
The band van, she is a unique beast. Countless stories have been told about the misadventures bands have had to endure because of their lack of proper funds to secure a road-ready vehicle that isn’t likely to kill them at the drop of a hat. And then of course there is the tale of the Butthole Surfers and their hollowed-out Chevy Nova, with the back seat removed so band members could travel lying on the floor and sticking into the trunk, next to their trusty canine friend Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad. If you know a local, DIY punk band, you know some folks with some insane road stories. (Ask St. Louis art-punks the Conformists sometime about some of their blizzard travels, or when they drove onto an on ramp with their singer Mike napping in the back and the rear doors wide open.)
This week, my band finally said goodbye to the 1995 Ford Aerostar minivan that served us for the last four years.
We bought the Aerostar in September 2006, the day before we left for our tour of the Southeast. Our previous van had shit the bed a few months prior (prior van not being the one that was stolen from in front of Yale’s house and driven into his neighbor’s porch on his birthday; that was three vans before the Aerostar), and good procrastinators we are, we waited until the absolute last minute to secure transportation for a tour we had spent the last three or four months booking. I literally drove to our practice house directly from the DMV, where I had just registered the damn thing, to meet the band, load the van, and head to Chicago for night #1.
That night, we got our first flat tire. Later in the tour, the battery died in rural North Carolina on our way to an insane house show in Greenville. The van was jumpstarted by a heroic pick’em’up truck driver who had to have been Boomhauer’s cousin. “Awdangthisagoodbattryinthispickemuptruckitdonestartedaneighteenwheeleritellyouwhut.” The rest of the band socialized with our young hosts as I wrenched a new battery into place in order to finish the tour, after which we were convinced this deathtrap we just purchased for $800 from a single father in Cudahy (whose kids were tickled to death that a rock band bought their old van) would promptly cough its last and die.
In 2007, the rear hatch stopped opening; the four-day Midwest jaunt we did with Replicator saw us hauling drums and amps through the only door that would open from the outside—the driver’s. (Of all these quirks, only this one ever was repaired—we decided pretty quickly that we couldn’t live with that one, no matter how ironically hilarious we found it.) When Jake over at Riverwest Auto started concentrating on Volkswagens, he still would take our van when it needed a new alternator (like it did in 2009, when we had to pull out of a Minneapolis show with White Wrench Conservatory as the van slowed to a halt outside Baraboo). I like to think he was so amazed the thing kept running that he wanted to see how long it would last with his own eyes.
It’s perhaps a testament to the might of Ford engineering that the Aerostar survived despite my band’s complete incompetence in the realm of preventative auto maintenance. How many oil changes did we give it in four years? Hell if I know, but I’ll bet I have more fingers on one hand. After driving 10 hours from Portland to San Francisco through the mountains of I-5 (aka The Highway That Killed the Exploding Hearts), Adam from Police Teeth pulled each of us aside separately at the afterparty and implored us to buy new tires, as he was sure they were about to explode from wear. “We just met you guys. It’d be really nice if you didn’t die.”
When we got back from that tour, the exhaust finally fell off. On our way to a show with Poster Children in Chicago last October, the tailpipe started dragging outside of Racine. We pulled over, yanked the pipe and muffler free, tossed it in a gas station dumpster, and soldiered on to the Bottom Lounge. Never did get around to repairing it.
So now, with the engine sputtering and refusing to accelerate without copious gas pedal abuse, repair costs have finally conspired to exceed the Aerostar’s original $800 price tag.
Lots of bands we have met in our travels have had really nice, top-shelf vans. Replicator’s Supernaut, an extended-cab tank of a war machine, was the Star Destroyer to our Millennium Falcon, the Alliance cruiser to our Serenity (seriously—seeing them parked side by side was like a cruel joke at our expense). But which ship had more personality—the mass-produced tool of the Empire, or the hunk of junk that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs? Had we ever lost this van in a game of cards, I would have been heartbroken.
Tonight, after signing the title over to the fine men at Lakeshore Mobil in Shorewood, I drove to the Blackbird and bought a round of shots for my friends and me, and we toasted the death of the HiFi van. Salut, you crazy deathtrap! Thanks for not killing us.