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Urniation, Gas Stations, and Interrogation.

Urniation, Gas Stations, and Interrogation.

The Miami heat has withdrawn in the night, leaving in its wake a damp chillness that can be felt in the bones. I walk across the parking lot of an Enterprise, having just dropped off one sexy black Corvette (and what a ride she was), to enter the next door McDonalds. Here, I await my next ride.

It is just past four in the morning as I sit down in a sticky vinyl booth. Headlights and taillights race past the window from a highway beyond, and the palm trees are black against the bruise-colored star-free sky.

Suddenly a van skids onto the lot, wheels screaming, and turns into a parking space in one swift move. It’s a ’91 Dodge Grand Caravan, white, with faded wood paneling stretched down the sides. This is a vehicular phenomenon I have yet to see in person, only on the cover of a Black Key’s album. This is the van I’ve been waiting for.

I watch its occupants march across the pavement, yellow under the Golden Arches, and enter. There are four.

The first to see me is my chosen contact. He is about 6’3”, skinny, and pale. He wears thin, too short black sweat pants, a tight black t-shirt advertising the Maryland Terrapins, and a leather jacket. Dark bags hang under his eyes, and he has a five o’clock shadow. He carries what is clearly a guitar case over his shoulder. There are no shoes on his feet.

The one behind him is just as tall, but with a significantly ripped upper body. His head is completely bald, revealing skin the color of wet sand, and he wears khakis cut with scissors at the knee, long black socks, converse, and a tight black Under Armor shirt. A pair of Ray Bans shield his eyes from view.

Next, with a goatee and black finger nails, comes a pale kid who is almost as short as I am. He wears maroon skinny jeans hung with jangling chains, and innumerable necklaces hang before an old black wife beater. He seems... excitable.

Bringing up the rear is a tiny doll-like girl, who looks a bit like someone’s little sister. She can’t be more than five feet tall, and has a page boy haircut. Her slightly pudgy face bears no makeup, and her baggy grey flannel looks like mommy's dress with those leggings.

“Long time no see.” The guitarist greets me with a hug.

Everyone, meet Quigley “Q” Matthias, my cousin.

The little girl, who I know to be Zelda Ray Avington, a bassist, approaches.

“Hi,” she says to me bashfully, and drags on his arm. “We’re gonna go order quick. The usual?”

“Yeah, thanks,” he says, and slides into my booth. Muscled up Alex “Wolf” Blitzer, a drummer, slides in beside him, and short Lance Valentine, a singer, pulls up a chair.

Together, these four make up a delightful mash-up of punk, pop, and 80’s New Wave, an all-the-rage bar band called The Clutch. I am here to travel with them for one day, and write about the Touring Band Experience.

“How long’zit been?” I ask Q.

“Four years,” he tells me.

“Ohh yeah, Uncle Billy’s sixth kids bat mitvah, or whatever?”

“Communion,” he corrects me.

I just laugh. He looks so grown.

“Q’s been talking about this all week,” says Lance.

Alex nods, affirming this.

“He’s been chronically vacuuming the entire van every time we hit a gas station,” explains Lance.

“Febreeze,” adds Alex.

Lance laughs out loud. “Yeah, that. Mostly after the unfortunate Warpath of The Bean Burritos two nights ago.”

Q isn’t paying attention.

“So, you made it,” Q grins again.

“Like I was going to pass this up,” I return the smile.

“Remember when we were kids? And every summer we did nothing but swing on that old tire and catapult into the lake?”

“And the rope broke and you cracked your shin bone?” I remember.

“Well, yeah.”

“That sucked.”

“Yeah,” he agrees. “So you were here on an assignment?”

I nod. “My publisher gave me a decent sized advance to write a travel memoir. So I’m traveling.”

“We just drove up here from Key West. We played a set at Sloppy Joes on Duval Street. Great venue.”

“What’s the plan for today?” I ask him.

“Well, we have a gig in DC at six o’clock tonight. It’s a festival.”

I begin counting the hours forward in my head. DC was not exactly close to Miami.

“It’s a fifteen hour drive if you go the speed limit. And I’m the only one who seems to,” says Q.

“Which means we’ll be hog tying you in the back,” Lance claps him in the shoulder.

“It’ll be close,” continues Q. “We’ll have to hustle.”

Just then, Zelda screams for her band mates at the pickup counter. Their order, it seems, is ready.

In a mad flurry, the four of them scoop up various paper bags and drink carriers, and rush out the door. I grab my bag, and whatever I can help carry, and we file into the van, one by one, like ants.

Immediately, I am amazed by the space inside. It does, in fact, smell like Febreeze in here. The layout is much like that of an SUV, standard two seater front, standard bench in the back, standard third backseat, etc. Except instead of a third backseat, there is a wall of music supplies, amps, drums, and cases. A cross hangs from the rear view, along with the smallest pair of fuzzy handcuffs in history, and pictures of various artists like Keith Richards, Stevie Wonder, and David Bowie have been painted onto every possible surface of the interior.

Lance takes point, hopping into the driver’s seat as Q takes the passenger’s, while Alex, Zelda, and I take the back. In all of about twenty five seconds, we are on the highway.

Food is passed around. Everyone else takes an enormous burger, even tiny Zelda, while Q eats a parfait. I am, gratefully, handed a black coffee. Unexpectedly, I recognize the song on the radio.

“Is this the Whispers?”

Lance, who is singing along as he chews, nods.

It is 4:20AM. DC here we come.
 
HOUR ONE

“So tell me about the van?” I inquire, pen in the upright and ready-to-write position.

McDonald’s is digesting, rather noisily, throughout the vehicle.

“So we were brand new, only one gig under our belts,” began Q.

“And we realized that we would probably need to, like, get to places,” says Lance.

The road jostles us a little as I scribble. I am unintentionally elbowed in the ribcage by Zelda on my left.

“Thus far, we had only played Zelda’s cousin’s shotgun wedding, for which they paid us a cool grand,” Q takes a swig from his water bottle.

“Man, that chick was fat,” Lance notes. “Like she was hiding some fugitive whale under that dress.”

“She was pregnant,” says Q pointedly.

“Whatever.” Lance shrugs. “So Alex, unbeknownst to us, takes all the money, and buys this hunk of shit at a trade show in Ohio,” he explains. “And why did he choose this particular hunk of shit?”

“Pray tell, my friend,” Q smirks in front of me.

There is an audible groan from the other side of the car.

“Because the girl selling it was a groupie.”

“She was wearing lingerie, as I hear it.”

A bikini,” grumbles Alex. “It was ninety two degrees out.”

“She sat in this here driver’s seat, and stole his heart.”

“And his v-card.”

“That was probably in the backseat.”

“True.”

Alex stares out the dark window through his Ray Bans.

“Ah,” Lance sighs. “Alex’s first groupie.”

“And his last,” notes Q.

“So was the thousand bucks for the sex? Or for the van?” I asked.

Q and Lance look at each other, and say in unison, “The sex.”
 
HOUR TWO

In mid-drive along I-95, going approximately eighty miles per hour, Lance decides he no longer wishes to drive.

“I gotta pee like a goddamn racehorse,” he explains.

“Like a racehorse?” Zelda cocks her head to the side, vaguely dog-esque.

“Yeah. You ever see a racehorse pee?”

“Um. No.”

“It’s sort of like the jet setting on a garden hose. Only a lot more. And a lot yellower. And a lot more satisfying to watch.”

Zelda looks about disgusted.

“I’ll switch with you,” offers Q, and they proceed to partake in what remains to be the second most terrifying act of our trip.

Q removes his seat belt, as Lance hits the cruise control button, and then takes the wheel. Lance stands and shimmies behind Q into the passenger’s seat, and after a stomach launching swerve that almost slams the van into a guardrail, Q is seated in the driver’s seat.

Zelda pants a little beside me, while Alex looks mildly unconcerned.

I get the impression that not much fazes Alex.

"Thanks for not killing us all," I say.

“No problem,” says Lance happily.

Q snickers a little from behind the wheel.

HOUR THREE

We are somewhere near Orlando when Alex climbs into the way back. There is a space atop a few large black cases that is covered with a thick layer of blankets. He lays down, uses his arm as a pillow, and takes off his shades. Zelda acquires his spot, behind Q.

The sun is beginning to rise out my window, over the Florida greenery on the right. The sky is the color of lilacs as we pass an ALLIGATOR X-ING sign.

“We’re going to be late,” Q announces nervously. He’s been counting to himself, and glancing at the clock as he drives, for the last five minutes.

“Nuh w-won’t,” mumbles Lance. His face is obscured by a black sweatshirt hoodie. He has taken Benadryl to sleep.

“We have at least twelve hours left to drive, not including traffic or pit stops, and the show starts in exactly eleven hours and forty two minutes.”

“Then go faster,” says Lance, rolling over in his seat toward the door.

“I’m already going 78.”

Zelda unclicks her belt and leans forward, wrapping her arms around Q’s chest. She whispers something I can’t hear and rubs him in a way that feels too intimate for display in a moving, occupied vehicle.

I can’t figure Zelda out. One minute, I nearly expect her to start sucking her thumb, and the next she pulls something like this.

“Eight whole miles above the limit. Wooo,” says Lance.

Zelda whispers something else and her hands move lower still.

“Sweetie? Not helping,” says Q.

She presses her hands into his chest and then drops back into her seat.

Alex snores lightly behind us.

“Just drive, Q,” I tell him. “We’ll get there.”

“I hate it when you drive,” says Lance.

“I hate it when you drive,” says Q.

The van turns silent but for the radio, which is playing an old Stone’s song I know, which brings me back to when Q and I were young. He spent a lot of time at my house back then, and when we weren’t swimming, we were listening to the ancient Crosley turn table my Dad kept in the attic. I could still hear him flipping through those musty boxes of records, like we were once again sitting in the attic, cross legged, writing songs of our own.

To the steady hum of Q’s driving, I find myself falling asleep in the ever-fading twilight.

HOUR FOUR
I sleep.

HOUR FIVE
I sleep.

HOUR SIX
I sleep.

HOUR SEVEN
I sleep.

HOUR EIGHT

My forehead is pressed against the scuzzy glass window. I blink the sunlight out of my eyes and locate the dash clock. It is eleven eighteen. We are somewhere in Georgia.

Around me, things are noticeably different. Alex is behind the driver’s seat once again, looking through his phone. In the light, I can see clearly each photograph painted to the van’s grey interior. For example, I now realize I have been staring at Eddie Money’s bare buttocks, and Lady Gaga in a cone bra for the last eight hours.

“I have to pee. Like a lot,” announces Lance. Apparently, he has woken from his Benadryl coma.

“You’ve got to be kidding me. I just passed a ton of fast food joints!”

“Yeah, well," says Lance. He falls into fidgety silence for a few moments.

Suddenly I can see some awkward shifting from the passenger seat before me.

Q wrinkles his nose.

“DON'T JUDGE ME I HAVE TO PEE.”

“You look like you’re trying to suffocate a pigeon down your pants.”

 “Y’know,” I tell them. “Friendship is like peeing on yourself. Everyone can see it but only you can feel the warmth.”

“Hah. I’ve heard that one,” says Q.

“You guys, if I don’t pee right freaking now, we’re going to need indoor windshield wipers.”

“Ya’ll nasty,’ says Alex.

Several uncomfortable minutes pass, in which I wonder why the heck Alex didn’t buy an RV from the slut in Ohio, and then we hit the jackpot.

“Look!” I cry. “A Dairy Queen!”

“LOOK!” cried Lance. “A HOPPER!”

“Look!” cries Q. “It’s attached to a gas station!”

“Ok, guys. We have to map this out,” instructs Q as we leave the interstate. “Lance, go pee: You have two minutes. I’ll run in and grab provisions. Alex, you’ve got gas." (Lance giggles at this.)

Q turns to me.

“I’ll help you inside,” I tell him.

He nods. “Two minutes guys.”

We pull under the roof, and park by pump number five. After opening the back hatch, Q tries failingly to rouse Zelda, but she is still on hour three of her Benadryl coma.

“She ain’ gon’ nowhere, bro,” says Alex as he rams the nozzle into the tank. Lance is sprinting for the bathroom.

Q rebelts Zelda and covers her with his sweater. Then we powerwalk to the mini mart.

I notice now he has a sort of loping walk, his back hunched, legs pushed out straight before him each time he takes a step, like some rebel soldier, with his hands in his pockets. I don’t think he walked like that when we were kids.

“Savory or sweet?” he inquires as we step through the doors.

“Savory?”

“Snacks, sandwiches, water,” he tells me. “Enough for five.”

Q then rushes off on his own, and I dash around collecting armfuls of the first stuff I see: sandwiches, chips, crackers, and such. After dumping this onto the counter, where the check-out lady is looking irritated, I find the big liter sized water bottles, and return with six of them. Q meets me with an equally large pile of candy, fruit, and what looks like the store’s entire supply of RockStar energy drinks.

As the young people say these days, we have cleared the bitch out.

We are only half way through the order, and sixty dollars in, when Alex audibly honks the horn outside. He is parked precariously across both a crosswalk and a handicap space. Lance is presumably still in the bathroom.

“So how long have you been doing this?” I ask him.

“Two years.”

“You wanted to do this for two years?” I look at him incredulously.

“Hell yeah. Best thing there is,” he grins again.

“Why?”

“It’s the life, man. We’ve seen a ton of the country. We get to meet people. We get to play music. I mean, what else is there?”

“$115.92,” says the cashier irritably.

“Life is a highway. You gotta live it,” says Q to me as he hands her a card. We make out with nine full bags between us. Alex honks again as we hop in the van. Lance is still not here.

“We got tuh go, ya’ll,” Alex points out.

“I thought he only had to pee?” I wonder aloud.

“Excuse me,” says Q, and he hops out.

The bathroom door is clearly visible from our perspective, and since Alex has the front windows rolled down halfway, we can clearly hear Q bang violently on the door, and yell, “I DON’T CARE IF YOUR PANTS ARE AROUND YOUR ANKLES. GET OUT HERE.” He holds his ear to the door. “PERHAPS THE SHADY BURRITOS FROM THE SHADY STREET VENDOR WERE NOT SUCH A GOOD IDEA, THEN?”

Then he returns to the back seat. Five seconds later, Lance follows, zipping up his pants.

“Damn burritos,” he mutters as he sits down gingerly in front of me.

Alex takes off at Mach-speed, violently launching Lance into the chair back with a whump.

“If I projectile diarrhea in my pants, it’s your fault,” he grumbles.

“I don’t think ‘diarrhea’ is a verb,” says Q.

HOUR NINE

There is much crumpling of wrappers and such as we eat. The sandwiches are dry, and frankly disgusting, but this moment, eating them in a van (not just any van, a 1991 Grand Caravan) with a bona fide touring band, makes them delicious. Lance has downed half a bottle of Pepto Bismol. He claims to be much better.

“You ever think about home?” I ask Q, who, beside me, crisply bites into an apple.

“Oh, yeah.” He nods. “Yeah.”

“Who did you leave behind?”

“My parents.” Immediately I recall fuzzy memories of his trim blonde mother, and his father, my mother’s brother. He rumpled my hair a lot. “They really get the life, y’know? Even if they wish I had, like, a place to live,” he explains, analyzing his apple. “You know my sister. The brainiac? Works for NASA and everything.”

He takes another bite, chewing things over for a minute. Then he looks down. I realize this is the first time ever I see him not smile on this trip.

“I had a girlfriend, too,” he says quietly.

This seems like dangerous territory. I steer out of these waters.

“How did you guys start? The band?”

“Well,” Q perks up instantly. “We were in high school, right? And like, I played guitar always--”

“Yeah,” I interrupt quickly. “I never did know where you learned -?”

“I lived in Canada for eight months when I was ten. We moved there for my Dad’s work, remember? I hated it there, ‘cause like, all my friends were at home, and it was cold, colder than Maryland, and it was just so... different. Anyway, we lived in this real sketchy townhouse in Montreal, next door to this weird sketchy old guy. He was, like, Doc Brown weird, and he always played the guitar at night on his stoop. Apparently he was part of this big punk band in the seventies. So I asked him to teach me. And he did.”

It was one of those stories that didn’t sound true. But I remember him leaving. I don’t remember him picking up a guitar before he left, and don’t remember him putting it down when he got back.

“So the band, right? So we were in high school, and Alex played percussion in the school band, and I played a million and one instruments, and one day after practice, with him on some hand drums and me on a piano, we just started jamming. That’s when we decided to start a band. We were fifteen.”

“Where did Lance and Zelda come into the picture?”

“Same time. We looked at each other and realized we’d need a singer, since I didn’t much like the spotlight, and all he wanted to do was hide behind his drums, so we thought about it, asked our other friends, but we didn’t know anyone who could sing. I mean, there were the drama dorks, but well. We weren’t playing show tunes.

"So one day, someone pulls off the greatest stunt in school history. It was the night of the homecoming game, and everyone was there, since it was a huge rivalry game and whatever. So the game starts, and yada yada, and then suddenly, some guy runs stark raving naked across the field belting the Star Spangled Banner. And Alex and I looked at each other and went, ‘That’s our guy.’”

“And Zelda?” I inquire, scribbling madly as the car tossed us back and forth.

“We held an open audition for bassists. We sat through something like thirteen kids, and the very last one was this little, teeny thing in what looked like her older brother’s clothes. I mean, the bass was bigger than she was.”

“But then I played,” says a little voice in the back, croaky with sleep. “And you loved me.”

“Indeed we did,” agrees Q, looking into the back at Zelda, who is sitting up, smiling blearily. “You’re awake.”

“Mmmm...” says Zelda.

“She was incredible. No other way to describe it." Q finishes off his apple.

“And the ages around here?”

“Alex, Z, and me are all 19 this year. Lance is 20. And that’s part of the story. The Clutch sort of fell of the face of the earth for the two months that Lance went to college.”

“One month and three days,” Alex snorts.

“Hey, look,” defends Lance. “When you get to Philosophy 101 and the syllabus is thicker than the roll of toilet paper you used that morning? You run like hell. It’s called survival.”

“You are an inspiration to us all,” Q rolls his eyes, and he turns back to me. “Anyway, that’s when we started touring for real.”

“While you were in school still?” I ask. I couldn’t imagine my Aunt and Uncle being pleased with that.

“The morons dropped out. Hypocrites,” Lance sticks his tongue out.

“We all got our GED’s within two months,” Q explains.

“Wow,” I say.

“Someone pass me a Rockstar? I’m dying back here,” says Zelda.

I rummage through the bags, and dig up a Fruit Punch.

“Thanks,” she says appreciatively, and drains it in about seven seconds.

I remember to close my mouth, as I stare at her agape.

It is half past twelve. We are passing the North Carolina line.

HOUR TEN

Beside me, there is a sudden flurry of movement as Q lifts his guitar case off the floor.

“Turn down the music, please,” he instructs. Alex does this.

He unsheathes the instrument, along with a notepad that has seen better days, and a chewed up pen. The guitar is beautiful, a gleaming mahogany with perfect strings, and intricate black swirling designs along the fret board.

“Meet... Lucille,” introduces Lance, and then he fake retches. But I notice that, despite the chuckling throughout the van, everyone has shifted to face Q, watching, waiting.

He begins to strum, unevenly at first, just a few chords to himself, and then scribbles in a jagged scrawl across the page. He hums as he does this. Then, the song is born for the first time.

It is beautiful, arrestingly so, and heart wrenching like a kick to the gut.

I’m coming home, one day, says the chorus
Until then, I have to say
I’m wishing someone was there to care for you
Wishing someone was there to share with you
All the love I left behind for you
All the love I left behind
 
When Q has played himself out, I look away as he wipes his face. The moment is too intimate for other eyes, like I’ve just walked in on a foreplay session. I wonder what this must be like, to be this exposed. There is no room for privacy on this van. Q doesn’t even try to hide the tears.

How does anyone live like this? I wonder to myself.

HOUR ELEVEN

We are still in the midst of North Carolina agriculture. Outside my passenger window, greenery surrounds us in the form of fields, tractors, long uncut grass, and tall north eastern trees.

I don’t know how Q is still awake. He doesn’t consume caffeine, and he has not slept at all. He either plays along to the radio with Lucille, or stares idly out the window, looking pensive.
Lance has been telling me about the supposed Funniest Thing That Has Ever Happened While Touring.

“...And so this girl jumps on the stage, right? She’s real busty, but she's flappin’ in all the wrong places, right? And right then and there, in the middle of Chelsea Dagger, she just strips. I mean it all comes off.”

“Drunk,” clarifies Alex.

“Guys?” says Zelda from the way back. “I have to pee.”

I turn around. She is sitting on her knees.

I’m beginning to think these people have a bathroom fetish.

“Care for an empty RockStar can?” offers Lance.

“I drank, like, three of those,” she says looking desperate. “How long ‘til we can stop again?”

“Exactly one hour and eleven minutes,” Q checks his phone.

Zelda lets out an audible groan, and Lance hoots with laughter.

“Hark who’s laughing,” Q frowns.

“Touche,” says Lance and he picks up his phone as well.

“What am I gonna do?” she whines, twisting a bit.

“We’ll think of something,” says Q reassuringly.

“Well, according to Google, there is a device called a SheWee, which looks sorta like a cross between a shovel and a funnel. ‘SheWee is an award winning portable urinating device for ladies, allowing you to urinate whilst standing up or driving in the car...’ Hah, this is hilarious...”

I look out the window. There is literally nothing around but farmland, fencing, and plant life.

“You could try a bush?” I suggest rather unhelpfully.

“Uunghh...” says Zelda.

“Omigod look at this girl dude, she’s totally peeing with this thing...” Lance holds up a YouTube video of some girl with her pants down. How he is getting internet service out here, where Dorothy’s tornado probably originated, beats me.

“I’ve got an idea.” Q jumps up suddenly. He hops in the back and pulls out a two liter of soda, and hands it to me.

“Either drink this, or dump it. I don’t recommend drinking it, though, what with the bladder issues we’ve been having around here...”

I dump it.

He then proceeds to gather duct tape, a smaller, empty soda bottle, and a pocket knife. I hand him the empty two liter.

With these tools, he constructs the most ingenious thing I have yet to see. Q has cut the top end of the smaller bottle into a funnel, lined it up perfectly with the mouth of the two liter, and secured them together with duct tape, all at lightning speed. He hands the device to Zelda, hops into the front, and tells her, “Do your thing.”

I turn around, then, and try not to listen to the garish clatter of urine on plastic and the awkward sigh of relief that followed.

Best. Boyfriend. Ever,” she moans blissfully.

“Disaster averted,” Lance nodded approvingly.

“I try,” said Q.

HOUR TWELVE

I sleep (again).

HOUR THIRTEEN

Someone’s phone rings, waking me from a shaky upright slumber.

“Dana? What’s wrong?” this is Q’s voice. “Well... I’m not sure. We’re at least two hours away... I know the show is at six... We can do that. Yup. Later.

“We may have to alter the set,” he tells the band. Then he explains to me: “Since we’re late, and it’s a scheduled festival, we may have to cut some songs. We can’t go over on time.”

So they run through their song list, pruning one song at a time as we continue along I-95.

HOUR FOURTEEN

“VIRGINIA! LAND OF THE VIRGINS AND SUCH!” cries Lance when we cross the line. It is close to sunset. The sky isn’t as orange here, as it is in Florida, I notice.

We are all singing along to “Beast of Burden” on the radio, as the van moves along at an outrageous speed. Fencing whizzes past us like the whirling contents of a blender.

“Um,” says Alex suddenly. “Shit.”

That’s when I see it. Something enormous, white, and shaggy stands stark on the double yellow line.

“WE'RE GOING TO DIE,” screams Lance. There’s no way we won’t hit it. It’s too late. We’re too close. I feel Q tense beside me and my nails dig little crescent moons into the vinyl.

I’m not sure what happens next, but suddenly my stomach is catapulted into my ribcage, then into my spine. My head slams against the window, and my legs seize up. Then it’s over. All is still.

The van gives an enormous creaking groan, and I realize that I’m upside down.

“Is everybody okay?!” calls Q. I think he is still beside me but I can’t be sure.

“Yeah,” we all respond when we find our voices.

Damn,” says Alex.

“That was fucking AWESOME!” hoots Lance.

We all climb out of the van. Even Zelda is alright, though, we aren’t sure how. The Grand Caravan is lying on the driver’s side in the grass, roof leaning against a fence.

“What the hell was that?” I ask.

Q points down the road from which we came.

“Look.”

We did.

“Naw. Uh uh,” says Alex.

It was a llama. He didn’t appear to have moved much.

“We did NOT just get run off the road by a llama,” denies Lance.

I notice a sign stapled to the fence post. It reads Sherry and Gary’s Dairy Farm: Cattle, Goats, Buffalo, and Llamas.

We all started laughing. Then we sit on the edge of the grass.

“...So what do we do now?” asked Zelda.

“We’ll never make the show. Not a chance in hell,” says Lance.

The drinks have bust in their bags, since we neglected to put them into the cooler, except for one lone two liter of vanilla Coke. We crack it open like champagne, and half of it fizzes over the sides. We pass it around, chugging straight from the sticky bottle.

It is quiet here. The five of us sit in pensive silence. What does one say when in such close proximity to averted, uncertain death? What does one do? All I could feel was numb. Numb that my dear cousin was still breathing. Numb that his friends, these kids, were still breathing. Numb that I was still breathing.

“The truth is you don't know what is going to happen tomorrow. Life is a crazy ride, and nothing is guaranteed,” said Alex suddenly.

“Eminem?” I inquire. He nods.

“The most important thing,” Zelda chimes in, “is to enjoy your life - to be happy. It's all that matters. Audrey Hepburn.”

I give this a shot too. “We do not remember days, we remember moments. Cesare Pavese.”

“I think I’ll remember today,” says Lance. "How often does one almost die from llama-related injuries?"

We all laugh in agreement.

I’m not sure how much time has passed when Q suddenly stands up and observes the van. The fiery orange sun is setting behind him in the distance.

“We can get it moving again, right? C’mon. If we all get under it, I bet we can lift it.”

So we try. I’ll tell you, if not for Q, I’m not convinced we would have gotten out of the Land of the Virgins. It becomes obvious to me, here, that my cousin is their true leader.

There are a few false starts, and a couple cries of “My foot!”, but eventually, we roll the Caravan over, and with a cacophony of mechanical groaning, it bowls upright onto its wheels. There is a general hoopla of celebration.

“Aww. Poor Mortimer.” Zelda approaches the van and gives it a pat on the taillight.

I give Q an inquisitive look.

“She named the van,” Q answers.

“LET'S HIT IT!” Lance calls excitedly as Alex adjusts his shades and we return to the van. Then we take off.

DC is close enough that we can taste it in the air.

HOUR FIFTEEN

I’d forgotten that DC traffic was so... horrendous.

“Whose brilliant idea was it to come here during rush hour?!” Lance cries. He is behind the wheel for this, our final hour.

“Hey, why do they call it rush hour when nothing moves?” I smile. Q smirks at me.

“Obscure Mork and Mindy reference,” I explain to the others. They are not old enough to know what I am talking about.

City buildings tower over us, large and intimidating. The clock reads five fifty three.

“We’re gonna be late we’re gonna be late we’re gonna be late...” trills Zelda behind us.

“We should change costumes now. Save time,” says Q. He reaches into the back one more time to dig out and distribute individual bags. An assortment of chains and dark materials emerge. Alex helps Lance pull on a hat and a blazer in stop and go traffic.

Then the venue passes on our left. The Caravan gives an insanely loud cry of delight. A bright SOLD OUT sign shines next to the words FESTIVAL, a few other band names, and eventually, THE CLUTCH.

“So this is it,” Q grins at me.

I don’t actually want to leave. I don’t know what to say. Thank you for this tremendous opportunity? If I can ever repay this momentous occasion, please do not hesitate to ask? You guys are, like, really freaking awesome?

The doors unlock and the van hatch opens on its own. I realize that a. obviously, crew guys have opened it from the outside, and b. we are parked in the back of the venue. It’s a smelly, disgusting back alleyway. Someone appears to have puked in the far corner. I think it might be Cheerios.

Alex, Lance, Zelda, and Q jump down from the van. I follow suit.

“One last question?” I ask of Q. He nods at me as he’s pulled into the building by people who continually remind him that he is very, very late.

“What are your goals?”

He doesn’t have a lot of time to consider this.

“Keep on living,” he answers. “Life is a highway. You just gotta live it.”

My voice gets stuck as I watch him get swept through the back doors.

I didn’t even say goodbye, I think to myself. I wonder what the show will be like. I wonder if there will be an encore. I wonder if I could sneak in through the front with the old I’m A Member Of The Press ploy.

Then Q’s head emerges in the doorway.

“What are you doing?” he shouts. “C’mon!”

He grins at me.

I grin back.

If this is anything like the last fifteen hours have been, I’m in for one hell of a show.

i don't have a title for this.

i don't have a title for this.

The Summer of Me

The Summer of Me