I’m sitting with my legs outstretched on a bench in a very large gray van traveling at 70 miles per hour somewhere between Vancouver, BC and Edmonton, AB. This is the beginning of a twelve-hour drive, one that was preceded by a four-day drive from Jacksonville, FL to Vancouver.
I’m listening to Ween on headphones, Jason is listening to the Bill Bryson audio book A History of Nearly Everything while he drives and Keith, Dan, and Annie are asleep on the futon that was placed on the ground of the van after two benches were pulled out. This particular twelve-hour drive is one that we’ve done a number of times but it holds a special place in all of our hearts as a result of it being fucking beautiful out here.
There are mountains, rivers, raw countryside, and a crispness surrounding everything that makes me feel like a man. I breathe deeper and fill my lungs with glorious, clean, Canadian air. Roads are cut into mountains as if God himself drew the lines with the tip of his finger. Trees towering overhead pointing to a sky that is something to be seen only by the naked eye make me feel like I’m flying. We’ve been on the road for about an hour now and everything is groovy.
Every time a song ends in my head Bill Bryson sneaks in and I hear some fragment of history and it’s kind of nice. Choosing the correct soundtrack to your journey is very important. It all depends on your mood, which for me is usually twitchy and restless, so things that occupy my mind are essential.
I’m really into Frank Zappa so I can listen to his records over and over again, particularly the live recordings. I try and keep up with the rhythms and play along in my head, which in a way keeps me fresh and my brain chops healthy. I also tend to become a bit obsessive over certain songs and replay them a couple times a day on tour, which is what is currently happening with Ween. “Chocolate Town” is a song that I cannot stop listening to.
Being in Canada keeps us off our phones so we don’t get raped by phone companies. No data in the van means no communicating with the outside world, which is slightly crucial on tour and on long drives so as to not go completely crazy. Sure, there are other people to talk to, but I tend to want to reach out occasionally after being on the road with the same people for four months straight. So having no phones is tough, but there are other ways to entertain yourself.
Road trips have been around longer than cell phones anyway. In my opinion, the iPod is the crucial factor of any long burn. It is the warm sweater in winter, the mother’s milk of tour. Really, any form of playing music is a necessity, but the fact that you can internalize your music and get busy on listening around other people using the radio and whatnot is a beautiful thing.
Having headphones on for twelve hours is probably not recommended, but neither is smoking and those recommendations pass me by like a breeze. Speaking of which, there is a strict no-smoking policy in the van after a vote was taken and everyone but yours truly voted for no-smoking. It was a landslide.
That’s why stops on the road for gas or to eat or use the facilities are such a treat for me. I’m usually the first one out of the van. In my own personal “tour guide,” cigarette breaks would be right up there with the iPod as a necessary element, but that doesn’t apply to everyone.
Getting rest is very good on long drives; the occasional nap is something that makes the hours just slip away but for some reason i have a hard time nodding off while we are driving. Sometimes it works, but mostly I lie there and stare and different corners of the van, the air conditioning vents, the clouds, all the while tapping my feet wishing I could sleep like some nap insomniac.
It’s a strange problem to have. I sleep fine at night, I just can’t really nap. It may have something to do with my “ADHD” that a doctor diagnosed me with as a teenager, or it could be I just need to wear myself out everyday until bedtime like a toddler. Either way, the no-nap aspect of a very long drive is a major setback. I just try and tell myself I’ve been half-napping by laying down, getting some kind of rest. I’ve always envied Keith for his ability to just pass out literally anywhere.
Looking out the window takes up most of my time. Sitting up just looking out the window thinking. Listening. Being in the driver seat or in the passenger seat is the social zone. The usual freestyle rap about nonsense or extremely offensive material occurs a lot. The rap battle winner is usually whoever can go to a more disturbingly dark place.
Sometimes we discuss our music, what’s going to happen on the next record; how to improve our live show. Occasionally we will discuss the music that is being played as we drive and sometimes we will sit in silence watching the road pass underneath the van, the countryside whizz by our windows.
Otherwise I’m usually listening to headphones pondering the existence of things, counting the minutes until we stop so I can smoke, or wishing I was some giant who could just run around the hills and mountains as if they were stones in a creek, hopping from peak to peak. Entertaining myself with my limited attention span is difficult, but I maintain. It’s kind of like I’m just flipping channels in my brain never settling on one particular program.
Despite the boredom and monotony of being in a vehicle for days on end, there is something beautiful about the road. Call it wanderlust, call it running from something, call it a calling. I guess the thing that gets me through constant long drives and being in a van that can sometimes resemble a minimum security jail cell for days at a time is the destination.
Sometimes that destination is the hotel bar, but every time I think about the final stop being the big show, the sun shines a bit brighter, the road seems smoother and the tapping of my feet turn from a nervous tick to a dance. The show is why we are on the road in the first place. It’s where all that energy building up in the van is released.
The van is the gun, we are the bullets, and the show is the trigger being pulled. BANG.
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Tim Arnold is a drummer and vocalist for the Philadelphia-based band Good Old War, a trio who have become known for their rousing live shows and heartfelt brand of super-charged-folk music. Tim has spent ten years driving around the country and performing, with over 30 tours and thousands of shows under his belt. His music has led him to some of the biggest music venues in the world, but not without also allowing him seeing every hick town and dive bar along the way. He will spend 2012 touring worldwide to promote the band’s new album,Come Back as Rain, and plans to take you along with him.