Oct. 12, 2004 – 20 miles outside Lincoln, NE
All we remember is waking up in the air. We thought we were dreaming the sound — as if Godzilla were ripping the bus apart — and then there was quiet for a surreally long minute. “Shit!,” Jarico said, and flung the doors open and stomped outside.
We were traveling at our usual 55-ish mph on the freeway 20 minutes outside Lincoln, Nebraska. It was the middle of the night, but all our lights and reflective tape on the back of both the trailer and the bus were in perfect working order.
That didn’t stop a semi truck driver from falling asleep at the wheel and smashing into us at 80mph in his 40-ton hunk of steel.
We can’t remember who first corroborated the news — we’ve been rear-ended — but Fox had a front row seat to the proof, as she was sleeping next to the back window. She woke up to find that the trailer was 2 or 3 feet closer to her than it usually was.
We called out to each other, making sure we were all still alive.
Jarico trudged back to the Shoo Shoo Baby and paced, cussing and grabbing at his hair.
THWACK! He kicked the bus door — a rare moment of our Fearless Bleeder losing his cool — and put a spiderweb-shaped chink in the glass.
“The bus is totaled. Everything’s totaled. Shit,” he said. Then something about “there goes my life,” but we can’t quote him on that.
Sensing doom and protracted chaos, Big Daddy arose, limped over to somewhere near the fridge, dug around in a secret spot, and opened his “Emergency Pabst.” There was no cheap beer in the cooler, so jealousy temporarily superseded our groggy trauma.
As for this writer, we got up, patched the window-chink with some duct tape, and began to sweep and clean the front area of the bus. Everything had flown everywhere, and for whatever reason, our first instinct was to polish the brass on the Titanic.
Eventually, we rodeo klowns stumbled out in the chilly, pre-dawn Nebraska night to see the metal carnage.
With psycho late-night truckers whizzing past us like comets — for cinematic effect, and also to remind us just how fucking fast this dude must’ve been going — we filed around to the back of our ex-bus-and-trailer-combo.
The trucker sat in his death-rig, rubbing his head, groggy as hell. Jeremy, who’d talked to him face to face, theorized he might’ve been more than tired. Poor truckers, we’d been thinking earlier that day on one of our long between-gig drives — they’ve got totally shitty, grueling, savagely tedious jobs.
They spend weeks away from their families, and deal on a daily basis with extreme pressure to risk life and limb to make deliveries of soap powder and plastic vomit from here to there to keep America shopping. No wonder they just want to get the job done so they can get home. Little did we know our bored ruminations would emerge out of the darkness to bite us in the ass later that night. (OK, sorry. Bad pun.)
The trucker could only tell Jeremy and Jarico both that he “just didn’t see us,” and that he was “in a white sleep,” whatever that means. He’d gone and taken a nap at a rest area not far back down the road, woke up (sorta), had a sandwich, and revved up again to make his deadline, only to find his truck stuck halfway into a busload of miscreants and freaks.
His wake-up call was fiercer that this, even: while the Eastbound Rig of Doom smashed our new, festive, red-and-white trailer almost to half its length, a 10-foot piece of metal box tubing we’d salvaged to make repairs with, which was strapped to the trailer long-ways against the top driver’s-side corner, punctured the trucker’s windshield — coming within inches of impaling him in the head.
His semi truck obliterated not only the trailer, but almost everything inside it as well. True, we make most of our bikes and rides out of “pre-cycled” material — but the trailer is where we keep (kept) all the most expensive custom bikes, tools, BMX / road bikes, and the newest, shiniest carnival rides. You know, so we wouldn’t mess them up by handing them up to the top of the bus like the rest of our thrown-together stuff.
So all the Rodeo’s bike casualties are (were) both the most lovingly crafted and factually expensive things we’ve ever collectively owned. As Homer Simpson says, irony can be pretty ironic sometimes.
The bus also got killed. As most readers know from previous posts on this site, that vehicle is more than our home and the transportation for the entire Bike Rodeo, rides and all.
It’s a character in the rodeo … a well-preserved ‘66 schoolbus, painstakingly converted — over much time, in accordance with the letter of the law — into an RV … then further customized into a certifiable piece of art.
Hell, when we did our New York tour last year, and we towed the Holy Dogminican Order of Manny, Moe, and Jack behind us — we were the art, just driving down the road.
Rose’s painting on the back door of the bus — an exact replica of the art on the side of the WWII plane that Jarico’s grandfather flew, and the bus’s namesake — is gone too. Monster Garage’s jocko-mobiles and Xzibit’s shiny pimped rides didn’t have nothin’ on the Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby.
Fox busied herself taking pictures of the wreck. (Spose you’ve figured out by now we don’t have much access to a camera.) Che shined the flashlight on the spot where the trailer hitch should’ve been, and the tongue of the trailer had pierced through the bus’s body and literally sliced the engine in half.
Bell-housing, oil pan, oil pump, pulleys, drive shaft, crank shaft — all smashed into an unrecognizable hunk of metal. The “Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby” would never drive again. Only soft-tissue injury and a giant pool of used motor oil prevented us from kneeling to weep.
Jeremy pointed out that were it not for the trailer, which absorbed most of the energy from the impact, none of us might be talking to each other. The spare tire mounted between the trailer’s body and hitch also probably helped with the “slight bouncing” motion we experienced in addition to the “powerful collision” thing.
It was also quickly surmised that had the semi driver swerved at all, or otherwise hit us from any angle rather than straight-on, it would’ve sent us toppling and rolling end over end, and on into Rodeo Clown Heaven. We called 911, and the cops came.
Linda and others were convinced that the tiki pinata that was stolen at the Fat Tire party and stashed on the bus had become our cursed equivalent to the Brady Bunch’s / Simpsons’ “Monkey’s Paw.”
This writer countered that we’d been blessed with protection from serious bodily harm because we’d just bought a $3 black-velvet Jesus portrait, hand-painted in peaceful blue hues and eerily Chola-perfect brush-strokes by a man named Angel, at the Denver thrift store and hid it under the bed so Jarico wouldn’t yell at us for having too much thrift stuff.
You know you’re a generational cliche — or is it just bored, or searching for meaning — when a stolen tiki pinata and a black velvet Jesus are placed with the responsibility of either sabotaging or protecting your and your best friends’ lives.
We called folks and called folks — insurance people, tow people, rental-car people — and nobody wanted to tow a bus and a trailer, much less transport a dozen shocked and dirty clowns anywhere close to a city center.
Finally, a kind Baptist reverend from Milford (the next town over, make the hot-mom jokes yourself) was summoned by the police department at 7am-ish to pick us up as a Good Samaritan favor to the universe. He swooped in like a gentle-voiced angel and drove us in his church van to the impound lot where the Shoo Shoo was sentenced to die.
The whole ride there, three things were on our mind: 1) what this amazingly nice guy must have been thinking, picking us up, looking at our “FUCK WORK” stickers and dreadlocks and whatnot, and having the kindness and/or restraint to bite his tongue and make pleasant conversation; 2) how (like Anne Frank says) most people are good, Christians included — it’s just the fearful and immobile people in any society that suck; and 3) it’s really weird to ride in a van, with air conditioning, that doesn’t lurch, or stink, or only go 60mph tops — or feel like home.
Pending settlements encourage us to refrain from fiurther details of the accident, including exactly who all was hurt and how — but it’s a certainty that we are all overcome with a wash of conflicting emotions: (first) our luckiness to be alive and (way second) the total loss of our home and substantial loss of property.
“Too Dumb To Die” is our signature motto, but this time its cadence seems a little spooky … like if we invoke our battle cry too often, maybe our luck will run out. Or maybe the invocation will continue to protect us from (major) bodily harm.
Or maybe we’re just hopped up on Vicodin and trying to grasp ideas out of the fog and write for the first time since after our lives were quite literally tossed up in the air.
Right now we can’t remember which famous writer said it, but someone once put forth the proposal that all artists, dreamers, and free-thinkers are “protected” throughout the course of their lives on Earth.
Uber-philosopher Joseph Campbell noted similarly that people who “follow their bliss” (yecch, what a new-age way to put it) often find themselves being “helped by unseen hands.”
We would like to give an almighty shout-out to whoever those unseen hands are attached to. We owe them our lives, over and over again. If they had bodies, we’d take them down to the bar and buy them some drinks, that’s for sure.
So that’s the story of our Day of Infamy. Sorry for posting a full-on 15 days after the fact — neither total life upheaval, nor Vicodin, nor lack of Wireless while speeding down the highway lend themselves to timely Web-logging. In the next post, we’ll tell about the aftermath, and Fort Collins, and Minneapolis, and New Orleans. OK?
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