Oct. 14, 2004
The hard-working folks at the impound lot on the outskirts of Lincoln, NE couldn’t have been very amused that morning when they drove up to clock in.
“Oh, great,” they must’ve thought. ”Why are a dozen hoodlums sitting on our sidewalk at 8am? … Are they prisoners in transport, or rock stars on tour? And why are they drinking beer at this hour?”
The red sun rose over Lincoln, and we sat in the church van, torn between trauma-induced catatonia and meditations on the fact that we were lucky to be alive. At the impound lot, the Cyclecide crew said goodbye to the kind Minister from Milford and waited for Jarico and the rest of the towing team to bring the vehicles.
We all wanted to stay with the wreck and watch the experts figure out how to pull the bus and the trailer apart, but the highway proved too dangerous an observation platform for a dozen klowns.
So we got a lift to the impound place, sat on the sidewalk in a daze, opened some Fat Tire beers, whipped out our cell phones, and started calling everyone we knew.
The bus and trailer pulled in, each towed by different trucks. It felt like a funeral, though noone had died.
Once again, we were going to have to rely on the intricate web of freaks we call our extended family to get anywhere beyond the fence of this lot. Without hesitation, we centered all our conversations around continuing the tour — not on the quickest and cheapest route back home to San Francisco.
And we needed “obtainium” to press on. We’re used to getting things through this process called “finding,” instead of the usual “purchasing” — but this was a lot to ask of anyone on the fly. How do you transport a dozen klowns, 60 bikes, five carnival rides, band equipment, luggage, kitchen stuff, and bedding around the country?
How, for that matter, do you replace a vehicle like the Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby? Where will we all sleep, and cook, and hang out and play dice while we’re on the road?
How do we get back all that labor that made junk into original, rideable, beautiful vehicles?
How can we watch our bicycle circus ringleader witness everything he’s worked toward in the last 7 years get crushed by a groggy trucker and not want swift and just retribution?
How, for that matter, do we make sure we don’t get screwed by insurance companies on this, the darkest day of the Bike Rodeo?
Lawyers were called, people with buses were called, people who knew people with buses were called, people who knew people who knew people …
And then there was the discussion as to whether we should try to rent two passenger vans to get on down the road to Minneapolis, or one passenger van and one moving truck for all the stuff …
After only a few phone calls, it was evident it’d be cheaper to buy a used bus than to rent two new vehicles. There was a clean, pretty old schoolbus in the yard there, but Jarico said no, citing that it wasn’t the “right” one — small tires, not a diesel, etc.
We think Jarico couldn’t have stomached driving away from his dear departed bus in a “younger model,” so to speak. Plus, despite what the impound-lot owner said about its condition, it might not have even gotten us 20 miles down the road.
Then there was this little problem where the Rodeo had about $200 cash.
Did we mention the policeman didn’t even give the trucker a breathalyzer test or a traffic ticket? … “I never give tickets for accidents,” he said. Hello? Ever hear of “failure to maintain a safe distance”?
All plans and decisions carried an extra sense of urgency, since Jarico was slated to officiate his sister’s wedding in Minneapolis that Saturday.
For health and insurance-claim purposes both, we should’ve stayed put until the claims adjustor could come out the following morning and see the wreckage the way it was.
The impound lot owner regrettably informed us we weren’t allowed to sleep in our totaled bus that night while we waited — and by law, anything left in an impound lot overnight becomes the lot owner’s property the next morning. The people who worked there didn’t seem to like us too much, so we couldn’t take that chance.
So even though we were stunned, sore, bruised, swollen, and sickened, we had eight hours to rent vehicles or otherwise find a way to Minneapolis, unpack and untangle all our shit, re-pack everything on a new truck, and get Joe to the hospital. We had to build a new life by the end of the business day.
The trailer got dropped in a separate part of the impound lot across the street, and we all took a walk over there to see. It looked more like an accordian than a horse trailer, but damn if that piece of box tubing that almost trepanated the trucker wasn’t still sticking out straight as pie.
Jeremy pried open the trailer’s back doors with a “Texas toothpick,” and we all stood slackjawed at the snarl of bikes and rides inside. For extra dramatic effect, the paint can we’d used to decorate the “Ramp of Death” had been knocked with such force that the top flew off, splattering red slashes of paint all over the scene like Hollywood blood.
Upon lawyers’ advice, we won’t go into detail about what was lost, but let’s just say it was a difficult scene.
The only thing sadder than seeing a couple men almost cry over lost tools and labor-of-love circus rides is seeing a few other men whose bikes are the center of their universes untangle and cradle their dead two-wheeled babies.
This writer, for one, started to get scared we’d never have our shit back the way it was — that the Rodeo would look at all the work we had ahead of us and just give up and never recover.
We marveled at our stick-to-it-iveness even in the face of such disaster, and thought of all the other litigious-minded crybabies out there who would probably sue the insurance company 10 minutes after the accident, hire a fleet of movers on their dime, kick back in a four-star hotel while some low-paid immigrants took care of the mess, and then ask for a couple million dollars for “mental strain” or some shit like that. Us, all we want is for things to be the way they were before that poor sleepy trucker hit us.
“Bus Toss” is a Bike Rodeo term that refers to a near-daylong activity wherein, after a few weeks on tour when the Shoo Shoo has become scattered with peoples’ random possessions and everyone’s lost stuff and the smell is worse than we can stand, we remove EVERYTHING and sort through it all.
Usually, the words “bus toss” are uttered with a certain amount of giddy, spring-cleaning anticipation. The promise of newness brightens spirits, even though there’s always whining, and a completed bus toss proves better for Cyclecide’s morale than two free cases of beer.
This time, though, in the impending rain and underneath the hateful eye of the tow lot secretaries who couldn’t disapprove of our lifestyle any more without actually carrying placards and marching in protest — we had to do a bus toss, and we weren’t going to put our stuff back on the Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby ever again.
To top it all off, we’d run out of beer.
In the pre-wreck days, it was a mathematical challenge for the boys to pack all the bikes and rides on the top of the bus — two-wheeled carousel bikes first, then one-wheeled, then flat stuff and poles, then Suburban Intruders, etc. — but the boys knew the sequence, down to the last spoke and pedal. Now, they had to learn an entirely new loading pattern for whatever vehicle we got next, and take care to pack things in order of least to greatest importance.
Jarico pulled up around 4pm in the 24-foot box truck we’d finally located to rent, and the boys sorted and piled up all our worldly possessions inside, carefully but hurriedly. More than once, an employee or customer of the tow lot strolled by, ogled at the morass of crap on the asphalt, and asked in amazement, “Yall fit ALL that stuff on that bus?”
Meanwhile, since not everyone can load a truck at the same time, some of us busied ourselves clearing out the last left-behind possessions and little mementos from inside the Shoo Shoo — the hammocks; the “Lost Parakeet” flyer; the John Cusack poster; stickers and handmade art we’d collected on tour; Cyclecide Ladies’ Auxiliary stencils; our pee-apron; the quacking duck Silke bought Jarico for the New York trip; the bobble-head evil clown that sat on the front dash; scattered Camel Cash for Laird (who doesn’t smoke); a toy soldier buried under Jarico’s box of maps; and finally, after everything else, our “LOST” list that was taped on the front windshield, with Sharpie-scrawled items like “ Headlamp”, “Gentle Fawn rhinestone pin”, “Che’s Leatherman”, and the latest entries — “ENGINE” and “WILL TO LIVE.”
The impound lot owner had no interest in staying past his bedtime to watch over us, but he graciously extended our exit deadline to 2 hours past close. We had a lot to figure out, and even though we were going as fast as we could, we exceeded his request by a wide-ish margin. We felt bad, but helpless too.
While packing and cleaning the last of it, we took turns walking back up the stairs to the Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby one last time to say our goodbyes. We wrote messages on the bus’s interior, signing her like a yearbook as if it would somehow freeze the moment forever, and took little bits of her to remember her by.
On the spot by Jarico’s driver’s seat, where he captained us back and forth across the country and down to Mexico from rodeo to rodeo — right under the stencils signaling the deaths of five power lines and three bunny rabbits at the hands of the Shoo Shoo — Jarico drew a heart with an arrow through it and wrote, simply, “Good Bye, Baby.”
Reluctantly, we tore ourselves away, looking back at the bus until the impound lot’s fence closed, waiting outside the gates to take turns to get picked up in the box truck to go to a nondescript hotel near the highway.
Fox and this writer caught a ride with the tow truck driver, whose big, rumbly, dangerously heavy and unwieldy rig had no seatbelts for us.
We don’t think we’ve ever been more nervous in a vehicle in all our lives.
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