When I was a teenager, I lead a bit of a wild life. Hard to believe, I know… I’m so dull and boring now that I’m a single mom and have to be somewhat responsible. Back in the day, I was hanging out with this U2-ish band in Boulder. The lead singer’s girlfriend was getting shipped to Maine the summer I left home, and that caused a chain reaction that somehow resulted in 13 scruffy punk-rockers and all the musical equipment including 2 drum kits being crammed into a van that was older than we were and driving across the country. How could anyone possibly see that as a bad idea?
The group was run like a commune. From what I observed on my weekend visits, they took turns being marginally employed while the others scrounged from food banks or had some sort of hustle that kept the pantry stocked occasionally. The cigarettes seemed to be provided by some miracle of faith; no matter how destitute they became, their basement apartment was always shrouded in a thick tobacco haze.
When they invited me to join in their cross-country adventure, I jumped at the opportunity. How exciting! I had the impression that if I supported them through the trip, when we got to our destination, then they would work and it could be my turn to relax and enjoy a little vacation. That’s how a commune works, right? We all take turns?
I was raised with a strong work ethic by two parents that had never heard of the “allowance” concept and had freakishly expected me to pay for all of my own entertainment and shopping expenses from adolescence. By the time I was nearly 18, I was living on my own and supporting myself with at least two jobs at any one time. Even at my young age, the concept of having a few weeks off from work while someone else paid the rent was already quite appealing. Especially when it was in a part of the world I’d never had a chance to explore.
I realized we’d need a van for the trip, so I purchase the finest automobile $350 could buy. It didn’t have a starter, but with 13 passengers aboard, there was never a problem pop-starting it.
I have a vivid memory of being stuck in a traffic jam in St. Louis one of the many times it stalled. I think we scared the ever living crap out the surrounding commuters as the door rolled open, 12 crusty, nappy-headed teens leaped out and suddenly started pushing the rust bucket down the interstate highway. It started with a bobbing KA-CHUNK….KA-CHUNK….KA-CHUNK and we sprinted barefoot down the concrete, dread locks flailing, vaulted back in the door as traffic picked up and sped away.
The thing I find most interesting about the van purchase is that while it technically belonged to me, the alpha and beta males in the group insisted on doing all of the driving. The interesting part being that I LET THEM. The one exception was in the early morning after our first night of driving. The sun was fresh over the Kansas plains and everyone else was dead asleep. I was the lone “morning person”, and so I was given the privilege.
About an hour in, a strong gust of wind swept over the highway and caught the hood of the van, slamming it straight up and shattering the entire windshield. Not being one to lose my head in stressful situations, I called for the lead guitarist.
“Dave?” He was asleep in the seat beside me.
No response. I could see only two inches of concrete in the gap between the hood and engine compartment as we cruised along at 65 miles and hour. I had taken my foot off the gas, but was afraid to do anything sudden.
“Dave!” I called more urgently this time. “We’ve got a problem.” Dave lifted his eyelid just enough to assess the situation. In a flash, he was leaning out the window in an attempt to force the hood down.
We were able to pull over and make adjustments with some baling twine we found on the side of the road. Other than the broken latch and shattered windshield, everything was fine and no one was
injured. I thought I handled the situation admirably; I was practically Captain Sully, saving our passengers from certain death! Yet instead of patting me on the back, the boys treated me with mistrust from that point forward. It was as though they believed it was my estrogen infused driving habits that had caused the crisis in the first place.
We were able to replace the windshield when we arrived in Lawrence, and the van didn’t break down again until we rolled into the remote town of Mars, Pennsylvania. We were stuck there for a week as we waited for parts. Surprisingly enough, some kid saw us at a show and talked her mom into letting us stay with them for the entire time. All I remember about that week was the the tap water; they had a terrible problem with sulfur reducing bacteria causing orange chunks that smelled like rotten eggs. I had been incredibly thirsty and reached for the only drinkware they had– black mugs. Moments later as I mopped up (what tasted like pond water) from the floor, the lady of the house kindly informed me that you couldn’t drink it straight from the tap. She showed me a jug in the fridge where the liquid had time to “settle”. There was a 2″ layer of orange slime on the bottom. She explained that it didn’t taste as bad when it was cold. Of course when you took a shower, you came out looking clean but smelling as though you bathed in raw sewage. The band members did not have this problem; they evidently found bathing more than once every couple of weeks to be frivolous.
Throughout the journey, most of my comrades had claimed poverty at every gas stop. After filling the tank for about the fifth time, I realized that while they did NOT have money for gas, nearly every one of them had gotten back in the van each time with a new pack of cigarettes and a candy bar or two. I seethed quietly and thought of my upcoming vacation in Maine when they would have the opportunity to support me.
When we finally arrived at our destination, I was fed up with paying for everything. I told them that I was saving my last $500 for a deposit on an apartment. I wouldn’t be paying for anything anymore, and it was someone else’s turn to shell out. I went for a walk to cool down.
When I returned, I overheard the two girlfriends still discussing the finances. They had decided that it was unfair that I was holding back money and I would be informed that I had to give them the rest. Still reeling from this, I staggered into the kitchen, where the lead singer let me know that I was now expected to go find a job. I reminded him that it was my turn to kick back and relax. The others looked at me pie-eyed and slack-jawed, utterly stunned at my comment. “Well, you’re more employable than the rest of us. You need to go get a job because it will be easier for you.”
That was the day I fully understood why communism (and socialism) will never work. I am a hard-working American. I take care of my health. I do my best to make wise financial decisions and give 10% of my income to charity. I do my best to help my fellow humans whenever possible. I am a good neighbor on my block and on this planet. I do not, however, believe in creating a world where having a terrible work ethic and living on Twinkies, chips, beer and cigarettes should be encouraged.
Go ahead. Call me a capitalistic pig. I can handle it.
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