Brainiacs check out the short story Texas And The Reverend by Steven Christofor.
“Hey Steven…Steven…wake up! We’re gettin’ pulled over…wake up man! We’re gettin’ pulled over…FUCK…”
Roger had the sound of panic in his voice. I was in the sleeping cabin above, inside “The Reverend” a used camper that Roger had just bought. We were pulling to the side and slowing down. I sat up in the cabin and tried to get myself together when suddenly, realizing that we had stopped, I heard a cop’s voice – no mistaking that – OK, I was awake.
“Is there anyone else in the vehicle with you?” The cop sounded like cold Southern twang, very firm, but also polite.
“Just my guitar player, he’s sleeping in the cabin.” Roger’s voice went by in a flash, I could barley hear it.
The cop asked for license, registration – “Can you both step out of the vehicle?” he asked.
In an instant, the side door of the camper opened and a state trooper was looking right at me. I slid down from the sleeping cabin and stepped out of the camper. The troopers, there were two, didn’t ask if we were carrying any weapons, I guess we didn’t appear like the dangerous type, two dirty hippie lookin’ dudes who hadn’t eatin’ since the day before, not very threatening I guess. They didn’t even put hand cuffs on us. One of the troopers said something that went by in a blur and led us away from the camper.
Neither Roger nor I said a word, I wasn’t even sure of what we did. But as we walked to the police car, I saw they had a dog, a vicious motherfucker. The next thing I knew, I was in the backseat of the state trooper’s car with Roger.
From the back of the car we watched while the two cops and dog searched the camper. They were on the roof, tapping the tires, tapping the spare tire, in and out of the camper over and over again, looking under the car, looking under the driver and passenger seats…sniffing, tapping, looking…it was early morning, like 8:30am.
We both knew what the other one was thinking. We had just bought the camper a few days before – there was nothing in it…it was completely bare. A big empty tin can, not even a soda bottle laying around, or a finished bag of chips – no duffel bags, no clothes, nothing on the shelves and nothing in the few cupboards above the kitchen area…the camper was absolutely fuckin’ empty…except, for a hooded, dark blue sweat jacket on the back side seat, with a big bag of weed in one of the pockets…out in plain view, the single…the only item in the whole entire camper.
We were about to release Flowerland’s 3rd CD, “Grow” and we had an East Coast Tour booked. After more than 5 years together, the band had broken up the year before, with Jef leaving for good. We had gotten back together in the recent months with Brenden Keefe, the bass player from Blind Justice.
While driving through Texas, (delivering a boat, I believe) Roger’s father had come across a camper for sale and I guess it was a really good deal. Our last camper was dead from two previous East Coast Tours and Roger’s dad was going to help him get the camper. All we had to do was fly down to Texas, get the camper, drive back and hit the road – the tour was due to start in about a week. Along the way, in Kentucky I think, we were going to pick up the new CD’s, shirts, posters etc…our merchandise to sell on the road and also to distribute to the records stores – we had developed a working relationship with about 50 records stores up and down the East Coast that would sell our CD’s and shirts.
We booked our flight to Dallas – Jet Blue – I remember the ticket was like $97. After a hard year, we had finally gotten a new CD recorded and a little bit of merchandise together with a tour. This was our 3rd East Coast Tour and the clubs, record stores and college radio stations were all working with us – we could feel some momentum building.
I don’t remember if we flew out of J.F.K. or LaGuardia, but I recall it was a warm, clear blue day when we left for Dallas. Roger and I were getting along well enough and we were both in a good mood. Neither one of us had been to Texas before and we were looking forward to checking it out. As far as we were concerned, this was the beginning of the tour. We had come back from the edge and we were ready to rock.
While waiting in line to board the plane, I met a girl getting on the same flight and we hit it off. We sat next to each other on the plane and by take off we were making out all the way to Dallas.
When we landed in Dallas, Roger went to take care of business with the people who were selling the camper. I left with the girl and would meet Roger later.
When the time came to meet back up with Roger, I was waiting outside the girl’s apartment. Needless to say, things had been going better than expected. I was curious to see the new tour vehicle and the sun was just beginning sink lower in the big blue Texas sky, late afternoon…soon it would be time to check out Texas after dark and get some drinks…we had a lot to do and I was in full “on tour” promoter/hustler mode.
Finally, I saw Roger comin’ up the road, but I didn’t understand, the two guys who were selling the camper were still with him. One was driving the camper with Roger in the passenger side and the other guy was following in a small pickup truck. It wasn’t until they pulled up that I realized something was really wrong.
Turns out that some document that was needed for DMV was missing and had to be gotten before the car could be sold…plates, registration, insurance, would all have to wait until Monday.
“Fuckin’ Monday! What? Are you kidding?” This was the kind of unexpected bullshit that could pop up at any moment on the road…I had a feeling this new turn of events meant no going to the bars.
“Not only that,” Roger continued “these guys have to go back to Stockdale tonight and they have to drive the camper back with them…we gotta go too.” Roger seemed pretty calm about the whole thing which surprised me, because usually something like this would have really pissed him off. I wanted to go back and stay with the girl. “No way dude, you gotta come help me.” Roger said, beginning to get annoyed.
The two guys selling the camper were preachers, some kind of Born Again Baptist I don’t know what. And they also sold carpets. Before we could hit the road, they said they had to stop and pick up a shipment of carpets they had to bring to Stockdale. Stockdale, I was to lean, was about 5 hours away to the South West, the complete opposite direction of where we were supposed to be going.
I got in the pickup truck with the 2nd preacher and we followed Roger and his preacher-driver to some seedy part of Dallas, a desolate route lined with small, broken down looking strip malls and rundown freestanding buildings. We pulled into the carpet store parking lot – it had a lit sign on a pole about 20 feet in the air “Carpet King” or something like that…the store itself was a freestanding, shitty looking, mostly glass building with bright florescent lights. The whole area seemed dirty and this place fit right in.
We followed the preachers inside and they introduced us to the owner, an Iranian – “These guys are rockers! They play music!” All I could think about was getting the fuck out of there.
The preachers took forever with the Iranian owner, talking about who the hell knows what. Finally, the preachers gestured to a pile of carpets “Y’all mind helpin’?” Roger and I were good sports and we helped the preachers load both the truck and camper with these long, heavy carpets that took two people carrying each end to lift.
Over an hour later we finally got going, it was pitch dark by now except for the creepy buzzing streetlights and a big Texas moon. Roger rode with preacher #1 in the camper and I was with preacher #2 in the pickup truck, riding along a dark highway. The one good thing was that my preacher smoked cigarettes, so at least I could smoke. At some point, we stopped at some Jack In The Box type place and the preachers bought us fast food dinner – not exactly the rockin’ bar with hot Texas chicks that I imagined earlier.
It was a Friday night and we were somewhere in the middle of Texas, with two strange carpet selling preachers, who we didn’t even know, going to their place to stay until Monday when the DMV would open and they could finish the paper work and sell the car. It was a weird scene but we rolled with it.
The next day, I awoke as I had many times before over the years – I woke up not having a clue where the fuck I was. I was lying on a patio couch with some blankets on a screened-in porch, in a house on a very narrow dirt road with a baseball field on the other side of the road, maybe 30 feet away. There was a Saturday morning little league baseball game being played and I could hear parents cheering and yelling in their thick Texas drawl – thankfully, I wasn’t hung over.
Slowly, my brain pieced together what the hell was going on and soon enough I had a coffee and cigarette in hand. At some point, Roger and preacher #1 announced that they were going to the auto parts store.
“Why?” I asked.
“The camper blew a gasket last night…”
I didn’t respond. Roger and the preacher left.
In the daylight, the two preachers looked more like farmers. Their names were something like Jack and Jerry. They were older guys in their late 50’s. Grey hair, thin with pot bellies, dungarees, flannel shirts, dirty broken in baseball caps. Totally cliché. I didn’t pick up anything religious or spiritual about them at all, but they were nice enough.
The house was on a small lot and had a short dirt driveway. It was a medium sized ranch with an attached garage/workshop/church where they stored the carpets, had all sorts of tools and also held services. In a word, creepy.
When Roger got back the news was not good, our trip was getting weirder by the moment.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” he said, “the place doesn’t have the part we need to fix the gasket, they have to order it and it’ll take two weeks to get here.” Roger was trying to make sense of it. It was a little like The Twilight Light Zone.
We went back and forth with some ideas when preacher #1 says that he’s going to make the part we need.
It took the two preachers and Roger from Saturday afternoon to Monday morning to get things right with the camper. All these little problems kept occurring which should have been a warning, but we had a tour starting in a few days and our best hope not to fuck up the very moment we had been working for, was to get this camper to work. It was a nice camper, white, some kind of Toyota I think, with a sleeping cab, kitchenette, bathroom, etc…big enough to put all the gear in plus enough space for three or four people to be comfortable. It was old, but in pretty good shape, except for the engine apparently.
Finally, Roger and the preacher took the camper for a test drive and came back about 15 min later. Roger came over to me, “It seems like everything’s working alright. We’re gonna go to DMV and finish everything and then we can get outta here.” This was about 11am Monday morning. They didn’t get back till almost 2:30pm that afternoon. I guess no matter what DMV you’re at, they’re all designed to be a pain in the ass and the one in Stockton was no exception. But Roger was back and everything had been taken care of. The camper was his.
As we were getting ready to go, I happened to look at the license plate. “What’s this?” I asked. I couldn’t believe it. The license plate was a piece of roughly cut cardboard with the numbers 12345 written on it in thick black marker, with flashing colored lights around the cardboard.
“That’s what the license plate number is…” Roger had a straight face, simply relaying the facts. “They didn’t have any metal plates so we had to use cardboard. It’s all they had at the DMV.” If cardboard was all they had, well what could we do? The tour was four days away now.
We finally hit the road and headed to Austin where our friends Seth and Trang were living. Seth and Trang were both old roommates of mine who were now married and living in Austin, which was on our way. It was dark by the time we got to Seth and Trang’s but it was all good. Seth had some kind bud and we all got stoned and went out to a bar not far from their house. After such an ordeal it was good to be with friends, really stoned, with cold beer, whiskey and cigarettes.
We hung out for about two hours and then we headed back to Seth and Trang’s house to get the camper and leave. We had lost a couple of days with the Stockdale delay and we had to get back to start the tour. Before we left, out of the blue, Seth hooked us up with a very generous bag of good weed. We were very appreciative…
We got in the camper and drove off towards the highway, Connecticut bound. About 15 minuets later, just as we were getting onto the on ramp for the highway, all of the sudden, an absolutely insane thunderstorm came crashing down out of nowhere. I’d never seen anything like it before. The whole earth seemed to shake with the deep rumbles and sharp crashes of thunder while huge streaks of lightning lit up the whole, vast sky…and then, just as we were getting on the highway, the camper stalled out…it just died…we rolled to the side of the on ramp and for a few minuets, we just sat in silence. I still had a buzz. The rain was pounding on the camper like metal hitting metal and the wind seemed like it was going to knock us over.
Then, in a sudden motion, Roger reached and turned the key and the camper started up…we got on the highway and drove into the crazy thunderstorm.
The next thing I knew, Roger was waking me up and less than10 minuets later I was sitting in the back seat of a state trooper’s car with Roger, while the troopers searched the camper. It was a beautiful day out, blue skies, big white clouds, bright yellow sun.
It was beginning to sink in that this was a very bad situation…while I was trying to make sense of it all, I noticed the two troopers had stopped searching. They were in front of the car and talking to one another.
One of the Troopers walked over and opened the door, letting us out. He said something to Roger about the license plate and let us go – two seconds later we were driving away.
The Troopers passed us and sped off down the highway.
I looked back and the sweat jacket was on the seat, just as we had left it. I went back to get it. “Dude, the weed’s still here!”
We decided to roll the weed into joints so we could eat them if we got pulled over again. We were in Arkansas about an hour past Texarkana. We couldn’t figure it out. Had the cops not seen the sweat jacket? Had they seen the jacket and not checked the pockets? This was good smelly weed, they should have noticed something right away. What about the dog? The only thing we could come up with was that the troopers were looking for drug smugglers and just couldn’t be bothered to bust us for such a small bag compared to what they were looking for.
Regardless, we could have been on our way to jail, but we were driving free on a beautiful day. It was too good to be true – Roger named the camper “The Reverend” because he thought somehow the two preachers were looking out for us.
About an hour later, Roger picked up a hippie hitchhiker who was heading to the New Orleans Jazz Festival. We told him what just happened and smoked a joint or two…
Later that afternoon, we dropped off the hippie at the Memphis Bus terminal and wished him well. Before we got back on the highway, we decided to go by and visit Graceland. We didn’t go inside. We pulled up across the street and smoked a joint for Elvis while taking it all in…and then we hit the road…