Occasionally, when I'm traveling around the globe as I do someone will ask me the very general, "what's the craziest thing that's ever happened to you?" A question that's inevitably met with a prolonged sigh and a "where do I begin?" response that generally yields nothing in the way of quotability. It is the interest of these moments to which I've collected these memories in writing. These are part of a large scale, ongoing project that I will probably never finish. But I'm gonna keep trying... I've learned a lot on the road, here's a little bit for ya!
(Some names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.)
It was the early to mid '90s and we were in Madison, WI. It was the morning after the show and we were all ready to get out of town and on to the next destination on the schedule (where ever that was, I have no idea). Well, we thought we were all ready to leave town anyway. Turns out that one of us had other ideas about where we were going—our drummer at the time, Stan Fliegel, had another destination in mind. Now you have to realize that this was before the age of cell phones and it was way before the advent of the GPS system, so that meant that someone had to be in charge of reading the map and truly navigating us to where we needed to be. This person at the time was Stan. So, after dragging our asses up at the crack of noon, we all get in the van ready to hit the road.
"I'm not sure who thought of it. Roman candles were spotted and an idea was born."
Unbeknownst to us, Stan had lurked out a coffee shop he wanted to hit before we got on the road. Now, today, that would be a welcome endeavor in our group but back then his love of coffee was just another thing that we found annoying about him. So he's up in the passenger seat saying, "Turn left here. Now make a right. Go about a mile up this road and bear left." I suppose we should've been paying attention to the fact that we weren't heading for any sort of highway and that we were in fact heading right back into town but, hey, we were young and attention didn't get paid to worry too much other than where the next bunch of weed was coming from. It was when we heard him say, "Okay, park here." that we finally realized something was up. We parked and he jumped out of the van with his nerdy little book bag he used to carry all the time and he said something about "wanting to go grab a quick cup". Ugh. a collective "What the Fuh..." was uttered among the rest of us as he dashed around the corner and out of sight. So there we were, parked in some neighborhood in the middle of Madison in the mid-July and we had no idea how long we would be waiting for the little coffee lover to be back.
I'm not sure who thought of it. Seeing as how it was the middle of July, that meant that the 4th had just come and gone and that meant that we still had some fireworks in the van. Roman candles were spotted and an idea was born. We thought it would be super funny to light the Roman candles as soon as we spotted Stan coming around the corner, and we were right - it was funny. Funny and incredibly stupid. Well, stupid or not it had to be done and so (our guitar player) Brock Smithman and I grabbed a Roman goody from the stash and lay in wait for a sighting of Fliegel. As soon as we saw him turn the corner, practically skipping with the joy of his tasty cup of premium joe, we lit the fuses. It took a minute or so longer than we would have liked for the things to start going off but we were able to get a couple of good shots in on the hapless drummer before he very wisely dashed right into the van. That's when the gravity of our stupidity hit us. There we were, standing in the middle of the daylight with lit roman candles, each of which had about four more shots to go. Since it was the middle of the summer in the Midwest that meant that anywhere there used to be nice green grass, there was now dry yellow straw, just begging to go up in flames. Which, of course it did.
I can't say that we really realized how much trouble we were in, not yet anyway. After having a couple of shots go off in the van, we stood outside and fired the remaining shots into the ground, hoping that we could get away from the scene before anyone noticed what was happening. There were a few little fires starting up around us and we attempted to put them out with a few half drank bottles of water that we had on hand before we tried to pull away. That's when reality set in. A parking enforcement officer pulled in front of us followed closely by a couple of regular cops and then the fire trucks. It was like a scene out of a bank robber movie the way they swarmed in on us. Quickly it was apparent that this little coffee detour was going to be a lot longer than our navigator had initially thought.
Long story short, they took me and Brock down to the station house where they proceeded to lecture us on the dangers of fireworks, especially at this time of year and they were quick to comment on the sheer stupidity of our endeavor. As luck would have it, the person with the show money to bail us out of jail just happened to be the target of our attack, Stan Fliegel. He was the resident responsible guy and he did most of the settling up with the promoters at the end of the night, thus the nerdy book bag. So there was a little satisfaction in the fact that when he pulled his book bag out to get the necessary finances to release us prisoners, I noticed a considerable burn mark smack dab in the middle of the bag. I smiled a little on the inside at this sight and remembered fondly him holding it up to defend himself from our misguided onslaught of idiocy.
A series of "I hope you guys are happy” and "Lucky for you guys, I was...yadda yadda yadda" followed us pretty much all the way to the next gig, which we barely made due to the lengthy delay of the afternoon's misadventure.
Lesson learned: None. I'd do it again, exactly the same way if I had to do it over again. That bastard had it coming and, as it turns out, so did we.