Auto Parts, Vicars and Tarts
We hope all of you had a great holiday. Brian and I recently returned from a wonderful trip to Canada, our first of three countries we will be visiting between now and Valentine's Day. We always enjoy heading over to our "home" of St. Joseph Island. Since Brian and I both have Canadian roots, it has been a bit of a homecoming for us to be back in Ontario. The good people of the island have adopted us as their own, which makes the chance to head over for a New Year's concert an exciting opportunity. We took off on December 30 to head first to Grayling, Michigan for a holiday concert. Brian had just got our van, the Green Hornet, back from the shop with new wheels, a fresh oil bath, and air filter. We declined work on the manifold, but we were seriously considering it. The Hornet was running in fine form. Heading from Chicago, we were right near the Michigan border when we heard a sound: "pu-phwump" followed by an intermittent crackling noise. Of course the van was running fine and being non-mechanics, we figured full steam ahead, just like the Titanic. A few minutes later: "crick-crack" and then again nothing else. I figured the plastic sheathing around the wheel hub came loose and that we could fix it at the next gas station. Finally: "cragglecrunk" and the tachometer began racing wildly. "Not the tranny!" Brian said. We got over the Michigan border and headed for the first exit. We took a chance on a left turn and headed toward a used car lot. "Maybe we can just make a quick purchase," Brian said. The Hornet sputtered and it looked like we might even be stuck in the snow, but somehow the old van pulled through. We reconnoitered the lot, which was closed and unplowed and spied a wrecker service and auto repair shop across the street. We managed to get the Hornet into the garage driveway, where it shuddered and wheezed. A thick red-brown liquid poured from under her belly. The mechanic named Russ hauled the van up on the rack to look it over. He poured a bit more transmission fluid into the chamber and it ran out as quickly as he poured it. "You broke your differential," he said. Sure enough, there was a chunk of missing metal the size of a quarter. "I don't know how you guys made it in here," he said. "You should have been stranded on the road." He doesn't know our angels.
Alas, the tough decision had to be made. We realized that this was it for the Hornet. Over 330,000 miles had been put on the odometer and it had reached the point where fixing the transmission would keep it going only for another part to fail. The parts would cost more than the vehicle itself. So we quickly called a rental place and got a minivan for the run up to Canada. The next half hour was spent hauling out the band equipment and putting all the miscellaneous materials that have accumulated over seven years into a black garbage bag. St. Brigid, the Iron Horse Concert Hall train, the garter belt, the license plates, maps, emergency jumper cables, picks, pens, coins, kleenex boxes, old guitar cables, new guitar cables, packs of strings for the mandolin and guitar, shirts from summer shows that somehow were wedged underneath the seats, a Christmas cowboy hat, a couple of books of poetry, and a book on the band The Doors were put in the big black bag. The folks from the rental company were kind and quick. It turned out the manager was a musician himself and he took pity on our situation and had us out on the road in less than 90 minutes after we had become marooned. We made it up to Grayling with no difficulty and were quite pleased with the amenities this rental van had to offer. No more fogged over headlights or drifting exhaust, and even the radio had satellite stations, which was like stepping out of the 1980's into the present for us. We could actually talk at a normal level for the first time in five years. So the ride was certainly more enjoyable. We didn't feel too sad leaving the Hornet to her fate. She had nothing to owe us for all the good service she gave us. Still, I felt a lump in my throat as we loaded up the new van and left her sitting at the wreckers.
Our concert in Grayling was fun and the audience were good sports, playing their key chains (you have to go to a holiday show to get what I am talking about) and singing along with our music. We were treated by the Grayling Rotary to a fine prime rib dinner right before the show and that certainly helped our energy as we were running late due to the breakdown. But a great evening was had. A lot of Switchback fans made the drive through the snow to be with us that night. We headed out after the concert to Jim and Karen Sundberg's house near Traverse City, where we stayed the night. We all headed off the next day to Canada for New Year's Eve. The crossing over the border was fine and we made it to St. Joseph Island and Hilton Beach for the show with no problems. The temperature was pretty cold at -7 F (or -21 C for metrically gifted friends) but no snow and mainly sunshine. The hall was packed with people for the concert. It was not only sold out, but a waiting list was also created. Young and old gathered for a fine night of dining and dancing. We did our best Iowa-style dance music. Young Erik Sundberg came onstage and joined us for some light drumming, which added a nice touch to the night. We bopped back and forth between our originals and some favorite covers. Everyone was on the floor for "Unchained Melody" which is always fun to sing because we turn the reverb up Righteous Brothers high. Some of the kids who were kids five years ago are now young adults and it was bittersweet to see them out on the dance floor with their dates. "Apple of My Eye" brought out some more of the young crowd. Teresa Caughill taught us a new Canadian tradition called a Spot Dance. Teresa would have a gift which she would hold over her head and dance out in the crowd. Couples would put on their best moves as I would call out "Four paces to the left, Teresa, and five to the right!" Teresa would dance that way and slowly after paces to the right or paces to the left, I would guide her over to the best couple dancing on the floor. Another funny thing was that in World Junior Hockey, Canada was playing the USA. People were more interested in the score of the game than how long it was until midnight. For a while it looked like the US was going to prevail, but finally the word came back that Canada won 5-4 and you could hear a collective sigh of relief in the hall. (It turns out the US beat Canada for the gold in the finals. But we know who invented hockey...Canada!) With the game safely tucked into Canada's belt, it was time to count down to midnight. And the horns blared and people kissed as we all sang "Auld Lang Syne." Loading up the van after the show, the hot air from the hall billowed out in steam clouds every time the door would open.
We spent the next couple of days visiting with our friends on the island. We had a wild game night at Carmen and David Nelson's where we were able to try everything from moose to grouse. My favorite animal has always been the moose and now it is even more my favorite! Max served up a fantastic venison with a heavenly wine reduction sauce. Ma Nelson's famous butter tarts were kept secure in a cupboard until we were able to have a couple. Brian and I played some of our new songs for an appreciative audience while they sat around the Nelson's Christmas tree.
Saturday presented another Canadian custom. We played for Col. Cameron Ross' surprise birthday party and the theme was an English "Tarts and Vicars" party. The guys came dressed as vicars and the women came dressed as "tarts," except for one guy who came as Attila the Hun and another guy who dressed up as a nun. The nun was a good dancer and won the spot dance that night. The party was nearly without its guest of honor, as Cameron was hanging out at home watching the Maple Leafs play on television. After some pretty heavy hinting that he needed to come to the Legion Hall, finally he arrived. Before we knew it, it was already way past one in the morning. A lot of dancing and fun music were shared. It was hard to say goodbye to our friends on St. Joseph Island. We headed back to the Clansmen Hotel and got in about four hours of sleep. Soon we were on the road at 6 a.m. and heading through the cold down to the border. A lone coyote was the only critter we saw as we drove to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. We were stopped at the border and were searched as usual. It didn't faze us much this time as we gained an appreciation for what the border guards do after recent events. So we were quiet and cooperative and soon we were on our way back toward Chicago. We of course look forward to the summer and a return to our island home in July.
Memories of the Green Hornet
Reading Marty’s report on the demise of the Switchback van (the Green Hornet) really brought back some memories! It made me a little sad to realize there would be no more road trips in the Hornet. I loved that van because when it was loaded just right, with the power head between the back seat and the door and a yoga mat and fuzzy blanket over all it was the perfect place to take a nap. Especially if Brian was riding shotgun – then there was a good chance of a little mandolin playing to boot! And if you dug around long enough you could always find something to read stuffed under the seats or around the console. In the front there was a perfect spot for a cooler with water and sandwiches in between the seats. The radio was not the greatest, so there were a lot of stories told, and conversations for miles. Lots of laughter as Marty would bust into a monologue that was, at least at the time, comic genius. A little sadness, at times, as we pulled out of towns we’d have liked to spend a little more time in, too. I’ve been lucky to have been along for the ride on quite a few of the Hornet’s 300,000 + miles, and, come to think of it, a few of the breakdowns, too. Is it silly to feel nostalgic about a vehicle? Probably, but the memories from the road are safely tucked away, and I’m sure I’ll smile whenever I think of the Green Hornet!