Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How Our Van Got Stuck in a Tree, Parts One and Two

Hi and howdy! This story is a long one, so I divided it up into two parts. You can read them all at once, if you want, just like you can eat both peanut butter cups at once. On the other hand, if you're the kind who just eats one and then stashes the other one somewhere neither me or the kids can find it, then you may want to take this one part at a time.

Either way, it's the same mostly true story!

Part One

These events came to pass way out west, in California. The west coast is long way from where we live, smack in the middle of this enormous nation, but we had a van and we had dreams. So plans were made by our agent, Mr. Michael P. Halston of Big City Bookings, to send us and all of our talent and props out on a three-week trip to see what would happen if the mighty NDI live show was shoved in front of people from California.

I won't spend much time here explaining the route and the roads and the towns we passed on the way, since I figure everyone pretty much knows how to get there, although to be honest with you I did not know at the time how FAR it was. Once you clear Kansas the world around you stops looking like it is supposed to. Then that one giant mountain rears up in the distance. This is the mountain that you never ever get to, no matter how fast you go or how much coffee you drink.

Some things did of course happen as we wended our way west, but I will come back to those in another story, maybe. The important thing for now is that we got there. The Zebra Van actually made it to the Western Ocean, to Los Angeles. We dipped our toes in the salty surf and contemplated life, but the mighty NDI did not waste much time with Los Angeles. That place was okay but really it looked kind of flimsy, like it could tip over. Mr. Michael P. Halston was right when he said we didn't want anything to do with a scene like that. Instead he had cleverly booked us a string of shows in lesser-known but up-and-coming locales in the northern stretches of the state of California. So we drove north, for a long time.

I think the first place we rocked without mercy was a little town somewhere north of San Francisco. It was built on a pretty steep hill so when we unloaded our gear, all of the round things like drums and Barbie heads kept trying to roll away downhill. This place was crawling with what I guess you would still call hippies, although to me they mainly looked like more casual versions of some of my mom's friends.

This is where I got my first pair of used paratrooper jump boots. There was this hippie dude with long scraggly grayish hair selling stuff that wouldn't roll downhill on a blanket in front of the club. He had a sign that said "Just Tryin' to Get Back to the Garden." I didn't have any idea what that meant but there was a sweet pair of heavy nasty black lace-up boots on his blanket. "How much are these?" I asked politely.

"Those are from 'Nam," he said. He was smiling a lot. "My brother came back and he lived in the basement for like 30 years, man. These are boots, brother."

Right! "So will you take like 5 bucks?" I asked.

He leaned in toward me a little and I could see that he was missing a lot of teeth, and also that he was batshit crazy. "Do you know Maryjane?" he whispered.

"No, I don't think so," I said. This was the truth. I have never known anyone named Maryjane anything.

"Would you like to?" He was nice and smiley but really I just wanted the boots. I did not want some random skanky hook-up from a hippie selling his refuse on a 45-degree angle.

"No, thanks. Will you take ten?"

"I will take ten, man! Alright!" I gave him half of my entire bankroll and picked up the boots and walked away but I don't think he realized he had just made a sale. When I glanced back at him he was looking at where I had been standing as if I were still there.

The boots fit perfect and went nice with my retirement-man shorts. I wore them the rest of the trip. I was wearing them when we saw a bighorn sheep on a rocky hill by the road, and when we saw whales spewing whale-water out of their butts in the ocean. I was wearing them when we saw otters at play in a river by the sea, and I was wearing them when we stopped to pee in the middle of the fairy-tale giant redwood forest.

I was peeing on a tree the size of a moon rocket and looking at a banana someone had carelessly thrown from their moving car, thinking, "man, that is one fresh-looking discarded banana," when suddenly the banana moved. Seriously. I had not slept in a few days and the cold medicine was wearing off but I was pretty sure that this was really happening. Upon closer inspection the banana turned out not to be a fruit at all, but instead some kind of animal! Never had I seen an animal this color, at least not on land. It was huge and slimy and squirmy. I picked up the leaf it was clinging to and the thing pulsed and glistened. It was heavy, too. "Skipper! Goodtime!" I called. I needed someone to confirm this living hallucination. I was happy and relieved when they said they saw it too.

What now? Should we leave this animal, clearly new to science, to roam the primordial woods? Or should we take it with us and charge people $3 admission to see it at the merch booth? We were full of ideas, but in the end decided to put it back and hit the road, with our universe just a little bit bigger.

At the next stop for gas, in yet another little uphill hippie town, I was standing at the checkout counter buying some more cold medicine when my eye fell upon a little sales display. For $1.29 you could buy a lollipop the exact size, shape and color of the yellow slime-monster we had just encountered! There were dozens of them! A little sign read "Get Your Banana-Slug sucker Today." Talk about your unexpected development! The counter hippie told us that banana slugs were not only common in the area, they were a serious garden pest throughout the entire Great Northwest. And nobody ever told us!

The suckers were delicious. With our universe widened even a little bit more, we again hit the road.

But the event I wanted to tell you about involves a giant redwood tree and our Dodge Zebra Van.

Part Two

We were on maybe the sixth day of driving uphill when we came across a sign that said "See the Tree of Wonder! See the Giant Drive-Through Redwood!" Then there was another sign. And another, and another, one every few hundred feet. We figured they must be serious, seeing as how they had cut down so many trees to make signs to advertise this tree. So we pulled in to check it out.

What the signs were talking about turned out to be a gigantic redwood through which someone had actually bored a tunnel wide enough to drive a car. Somehow this unfortunate tree was still alive, with big green branches fanning out hundreds of feet overhead. The clever people who had gutted this tree were turning a nice profit on tourist suckers like us. They had it set up so once you pulled into the little drive to just see the tree and satisfy your curiosity, you discovered you were also in line to drive through it, and that cost $5, and good luck backing up or trying to turn around because everyone honks at you and shakes their fist. Five bucks was a considerable sum in those days, at least to us. But there we were, in line to drive through the Tree of Wonder.

When it was our turn the attendant hippie took our $5 and then looked at our van and shook his stringy head. "Better fold in your mirrors, man." That was all he said. You would think that as a professional Tree of Wonder attendant he would have developed keen skills of estimation and car-to-tree ratio assessment, but he hadn't. He had made a mistake. But we didn't know that yet.

With the mirrors folded in we inched forward into the tree. Goodtime was driving, and he is highly skilled, but this one was beyond even him. We were about halfway through when up above, coming from the roof, there was a sound like this: "Screeeeeeee!" Suddenly all forward movement ceased. GT gunned the motor. No dice. We were wedged solid in the Tree of Wonder. People behind us began to honk.

"Whoa, man! Stop!" The incompetent hippie attendant appeared at the front of the van, waving his arms. "You're stuck, man!"

As often happens when events are spinning beyond your control and people are yelling and you haven't slept since Wednesday, things began to take on a comic air. Inside the van we were curled up in our seats, helpless with laughter. Except for one of us -- GT. He wasn't laughing. He was mad.

He rolled down his window and shouted, "Why did you tell us it would fit? Are you stupid?" He shouted this into the blank wood wall of the tunnel. I doubt the hippie heard him. People started getting out of their cars and coming around to the front to stand next to the hippie and peer in at the Zebra Van full of rock n' roll idiots that was stuck in the tree. They weren't all that mad. They were more curious. Their slack faces made our view of the scene even funnier.

So what do you do when you get your car stuck in the Tree of Wonder? As it turns out, there was a solution. But it took the mad owner guy getting out of bed from his afternoon siesta at his house up the hill and waddling down to the tree, smoking a cigarette and waving off the hippie attendant. He stuck his head into the front of the tunnel and shouted, "Stay there for 15 minutes!"

That was a good one. But it calmed everyone down a little and the people got back in their cars to read their maps or take a nap. We got out a guitar and tried to write a song about the experience, but for some reason it didn't really lend itself to any of the riffs we had kicking around.

After fifteen minutes the owner guy came back. We expected him to have a tow truck or some kind of complicated specialty tool for prying vehicles out of trees, but he was empty-handed and unaccompanied. "Okay," he yelled, "Give it a try!"

Give what a try? Had the tree expanded? Had our van miniaturized? But we did what he said. Goodtime started her up and eased on the gas. The "screeeeee" sound returned, but we did make a little headway. We were actually moving! More gas, more "screeeeee," and before we knew it we were through the tree and out the other side, blinking in the bright sunshine of freedom!

I am more of the type to thank the Rock Gods and not question miracles, but GT knew there was a secret behind our escape and he wanted to know it. He leaned out the window. "Hey!" he shouted. "How did you know that would work?"

The owner guy stopped berating the hippie attendant long enough to turn his attention to us. "Easy," he said. "You come off the road, your tires are hot, they're expanded. You sit there a while, they cool down, they lower your vehicle." He turned back to the hippie, who was obviously receiving some on-the-job training.

"Huh," said Goodtime.

And what else was there to say? We had certainly gotten our $5 worth. We left the Tree of Wonder and continued north, free and easy.

Okay this one was loooong! Hope you liked it, folks. Come back soon for more tales inspired by true events.


  1. I have a cramp! NDI stuck in the tree of Wonder, now that's rich. hahaha

  2. Thank the was exciting. Thanks for sharing.


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