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WEDNESDAY READING: Still on the road with New American Shame

Fly fishing, black ice and roadside markers

The Weekly Volcano's in-house drummer, Geoff Reading, publishes his weekly music column on every Wednesday. It's called "Wednesday Reading." Get it?

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We were five guys who loved rock, but there were certainly other passions in the van. Literally. Johnny and the previously mentioned guitar tech, Brian Roe, had each brought their fly-fishing reels. At some point in the first few hours of day one, the tour manager/sound guy promised our fearless lead singer that if we made good time on this first leg of the drive there would be an opportunity to stop off somewhere on day two and let a couple guys get their lines wet.

The enormity of this error in thinking would be realized just moments before it was too late. 

As the sun set on our first day as a touring band the atmosphere in the van was still party-like. We were making great time. We were almost to Butte, Montana, elevation 5550 ft.  Talk arose of where to stop for the night. Johnny was driving. I was riding shotgun. It was dark and the temperature outside couldn't have been much above freezing. Johnny said he was fresh as a daisy and felt like continuing - so off we went into the good night.

Even before you leave Butte proper, Interstate-90 starts a southern parallel of the Deer Lodge National Forrest. This goes on for about ten miles before the freeway plunges east and up into forest and the hills. In five miles you gain another 900 ft of elevation. Just passed mile exit marker 233, we crossed the Continental Divide at just under 6400ft.

We had Kid Rock BLARING at a volume that could only be described as ignorant.  Some in the van knew it. Some were carelessly... well, ignorant. At some point the pilot and I noticed an inordinate amount of road markers. They weren't the normal, ‘glow-when-your-headlights-hit-them' variety. You could only see these markers because they were all white - like what you would make a picket fence out of. They weren't uniform, either. Some were just the upright "picket" while some looked like makeshift plus signs. I started trying to spot a common trait, but there were so many I was baffled.

What I DID notice and recognize was a dull sheen on the black top. It may have just been wet, or it may have been black ice. I was hoping for the former, or to never have confirmation of either.

With every mile he hurried past, the babbling of the river Johnny would be fishing in the morning grew louder in his ears.

The road was diving and climbing around mountainous twists and curves. These were NOT roads to be trifled with. The shoulder of the eastbound lanes, at this point, consisted of almost entirely sheer jagged rock face or guardrail - defending the imposition of a hundred foot plummet.  The motivation of the driver was beginning to unnerve a few of the passengers. There were grumbles to turn the music down and a bit of, "C'mon, man ... slow down ... this could all be black ice."

The music was brought down to a dull roar. The speeds subsided to a degree that made our previous clip seem like suicide.

There was more talk of stopping for the night. I was actually enjoying the "God's-Country-in-the-dark-with-the-stars-out drive and was probably the deciding factor on not stopping.

I kept my eye on the roads sheen, the speedometer and those darn roadside picket pluses. It was a bit exhausting, but also quite exhilarating. I felt like there was a vague remembrance of what the signs meant, and why they were there, but somehow it was lost, and nagging at me...The pickets ...  the pluses ... the mountains ... the curves ...

Just then the backend of the van gave way on a sheet of black ice.  Coming around a slight inclined left-hand curve that leveled off just as the road straightened, Johnny had accelerated up onto the eventual flat straightaway a nanosecond too early. The laws of physics finally released the outcome on the "less than/greater than" debate. Turns out, our Length times our speed times our weight had just become GREATER THAN what the black ice on the road would bear before denying us sufficient traction - thus rendering the steering wheel an insufficient means of piloting the vessel.

We crested the slight incline of the hill still moving at a handsome pace. We were also completely out of control. Johnny instinctively and aggressively attempted to counter the spin. This actually enhanced our momentum. The shock that we were sliding passenger side first towards the guardrail was cut short by the violent whipping around of our back end in response to the correction.   It took no amount of schooling to deduce that if there were a second whipping back to the passenger side we would be going over the guardrail.

Just as another steering correction was about to be fatally attempted, from the back of the van came the voice of god ... 


To this day I don't know if it was one person or two people - all I know is it scared the shit out of me. It must have done the same to our captain, because that's exactly what he did. The instant power and momentum were removed from the equation, the trailer full of gear acted like an anchor, and our progression toward peril ceased to advance.

That was that. "Next fucking hotel, we're stopping." Almost immediately, it was "no blood, no foul."

We already had our first near-death road story!

As we got to the stop sign after exiting the freeway, it came to me.Those weren't pluses on the side of the road; they were crosses - each one marking the spot where someone had died in a car accident.

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Comments for "WEDNESDAY READING: Still on the road with New American Shame" (2)

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ursula said on Nov. 28, 2010 at 9:20pm

HS that is freakin good writing.

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yeah right said on Dec. 11, 2010 at 2:07pm

picket pluses? that's good writing? the reader knows that you should have known and probably did know that those were crosses. so the creating of tension in the writing fails in the believability department. but that is artistic license for you - just like immigrants in border states, anybody can get one.

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