Venue: The Bug Jar
Other Bands: The Show Is The Rainbow, UUVVWWZ
Venue: La Quinta with Beers Location: Buffalo, New York Date: 06.12.08 Other Bands: None
a.k.a. The Longest Tour Diary Entry In History
We started the morning gathering our things and milling around Stephen’s friend Corby’s apartment in Erie, Pennsylvania, debating if we had enough time to go hang out at the lake for a little bit, stop off at Niagara Falls on the way to Rochester, and still make it to the club in time for load-in. The consensus was that if we wanted to get breakfast (which we pretty much always do if we’re awake before noon, and then we have to get lunch – we have some demanding stomachs in this band of ours), we would probably only have time for one water-oriented trip. So we figured Niagara Falls was a bigger deal than Lake Erie. Probably true.
None of us had brought passports with us, since this little jaunt across the Canadian border was totally spontaneous (and thus perhaps ill-advised), but we decided that if (text-message answer service) Cha Cha said we didn’t need our passports to go to Niagara Falls, then that was good enough for us. Go for it, right?
The merch falling out of the back of the trailer was a sign of things to come.
Music in the van: Mates of State, Prabir & The Substitutes, Aqueduct, Arcade Fire, Tokyo Police Club Topics of discussion: labeled items in the bat cave, dehydrated aliens
We arrived at the US/Canada border only to be greeted by a melee of vehicles. The line of cars and trucks move through the customs gates like molasses, with the initial security stops en route to Canada seeming completely random. Some guy in a sedan is being asked to pull aside, but the seven of us in a twelve-pass van with a trailer go right on ahead. Okay, I guess they’ll get to us later.
And they do. We arrive at the toll-booth-like gates where the attendant asks if we have passports, which we don’t, so we all pass up our driver’s licenses. Since we don’t have our passports, he tells us to pull over into one of the parking spaces on the right. We park and wait a few moments, not sure if we’re going to be searched or what, until Eric H. finally gets out and walks over towards the office entry where one of the officers clarifies that we all need to come inside to the immigration office.
The immigration officer behind the counter kindly asks for all of our IDs as she asks where we’re headed. We explain that we’re a touring band just trying to visit the Falls for an hour or two, at which point she asks if we registered any of our gear with U.S. Customs. Oh. Um… Whoops.
I immediately think back to Chris Walla of Death Cab For Cutie having his hard drive with his recording projects confiscated at the US/Canada border for what I recall to be a similar mistake, and I’m envisioning all of our gear and electronic devices and everything getting taken away when we try to reenter the States and I’m wondering why we ever thought this was a good idea when…
She says that it’s alright -- we can get back across the border with our stuff, but we can’t drive any further if we want a hassle-free reentry to the US. She’ll have to print out a form that states a withdrawal of our application to enter Canada, thereby showing that we never actually entered Canada.
If we still wanted to see the Falls, we’d have to head down the road to the footbridge, where we could park the van on American soil and walk across the border – but there was still the possibility that the customs/immigration office there may not let us enter with just our IDs. She said it was worth a shot.
Then she ran a background check on all of us. This was interesting, since I’ve never had this happen while traveling internationally, so I figured either Canada had über-strict rules for it’s visitors, or we were getting screened to verify our nationalities/citizenship since we had no passports. I don’t think any of us had any idea that this was going on until she asked everyone else to leave so that she could talk to me privately. Immediately I knew what was going on. LISTEN UP KIDS: This is the part where all you youngsters out there get to learn a lesson from an old codger like me…
Back when I was a freshman in college I went to visit a high school friend at CMSU in Warrensburg, Missouri. It was early February, a bone-cold evening in the middle of winter, and I rolled into the little campus-town around nine at night – just in time to see my friend and his dorm-mates walking out the front door of the building on their way to the bars, which were a couple hundred yards away… but it was cold and they wanted a ride. Moments later I was parking in a lot right down the street, the dorm building still visible behind us.
Five hours and a handful of drinks later, everyone was pouring out of the bars. It had gotten even colder, so naturally the guys wanted a ride back up the street. We got in the car and waited for my friend, who was talking to his girlfriend a few feet in front of my car. My daytime-running lamps were shining directly in their faces, so I turned them off, cranked up the heat and waited, hoping his severely inebriated roommate wasn’t going to throw up in my back seat.
A few minutes later he hopped in the car, and the second I pulled out of the brightly lit parking lot, there was a police cruiser behind me with its lights flashing.
Now, the bottom line is that I shouldn’t have been driving, period. Did it matter that I was only moving my car to a parking lot a block up the empty side street? No. Did it matter that I had turned my headlights out five minutes before, and didn’t remember that they were off because the parking lot was so well illuminated? No. I had been drinking, I had a carful of drunk, underage college kids, and despite the fact that I passed the field sobriety test, I was underage.
A half an hour later at the police station (which I had come to find out was located at the opposite corner of the parking lot I had parked in – I could have seen it from my car, and any officer could have seen us walk right over from the bars), I’m thinking about that last drink that I downed right before leaving the bar, and how it’s had plenty of time to spike up my BAC by now – not to mention that I hadn’t eaten anything for dinner. I’m screwed. They finally have me blow, and it’s over the legal limit. I’m another campus-town DUI – another statistic for the MADD pamphlets.
So if all of the obscenely obvious dangers inherent in drunk driving don’t deter you young and reckless college kids from getting hammered at the bars and getting behind the wheel, here’s a more random and obscure consequence: Canada considers a DUI/DWI/OWI a “dangerous” conviction, and will not allow those who have been convicted to enter the country without permission from the Canadian consulate for 10 years following the completion of their probationary period. Just when you think something like that has been nicely filed away in your young, dumb past, it will rear its messy head, embarrass you, inconvenience you, and make you vividly remember what a complete ignoramus you were.
So, after being informed that I would not be entering Canada - and that any attempt to do so would result in imprisonment - we decided we had had enough of our (albeit polite) northern neighbors, and we u-turned it back towards the good ol’ US of A.
Not so fast. After waiting in another molasses line of vehicles, we finally reached the U.S. Customs gate, where the guy in the booth scoffed when told we had no passports, sneering to Mike, “No wonder they kicked you back.” After zipping our IDs up into an envelope-sized bag, he tells us to pull over into one of the parking spaces on the right (sound familiar?) and go into the adjacent office.
[NOTE: Present tense used for dramatic effect] The lady at the desk is nice enough, and we all laugh out loud when she asks if any of us are carrying over $1000 dollars in cash. She takes all of our IDs, and asks Mike for the keys to the van and trailer, which she hands over to this beefy bald dude with a bad attitude and Jesus tattooed on his elbow (I found this placement interesting and slightly unsettling).
No phone usage is allowed in the office, so when Kiley’s phone starts to ring on the counter top, bald guy shoots her the evil eye and waves her away from answering it. She recoils her hand, he turns away, and it rings again. And again. He whips his glare back to her: “Well, can you silence it!?” My finger hits the off button before she can even react. It’s truly amazing how the U.S. government and it’s law enforcement agents can make you so nervous even when you’ve done nothing wrong.
After having our van and trailer searched despite having documentation stating we never actually entered Canada, and getting a second “private talk” confirming why I wasn’t allowed into Canuckland, we were finally sent on our way. Many lessons were learned in that hour or two – one of which being that our first Canadian tour will need to be officially endorsed by the Canadian consulate (we’ll probably send them a CD just for good measure – I hear our band sounds Canadian anyway).
We approached a toll booth just outside of Buffalo, and as Mike went to slow down, the brakes seized up. Putting all of his weight on the pedal, the van finally slowed to stop just behind the car in front of us. He later compared this to what the brakes feel like when you run out of gas and the engine shuts off. Moments later, the brakes were working again, but Mike was still a bit frazzled and we were all a little curious about what had happened, so we stopped at the next gas station to have a look under the hood. Ryan, Stephen and Mike poked around but nothing obvious presented itself, so we rolled over to the service station next door.
Ernie and Johnny at FastTrack seemed immediately enthusiastic about trying to help us figure out what the problem was, but once Ernie felt the brakes seize up for himself and Johnny couldn’t find any immediately visible problems, they recommended we take advantage of the warranty we have with Ford and get the van towed to the closest dealer.
So, Mike called the repair shop at the local Ford dealer, but the guy he talked to seemed to have zero interest in helping us get back on the road since his shop was about to close. We’d have to drop the van off and they would look at it in the morning, but if the problem is what it sounds like, we might have to wait until Tuesday for a part to come in. That’s five days away, and we have shows we have to play between now and then.
So, trying not to totally panic, we get on the phone and try to find somewhere that will rent us a van. Problem is, not many places rent twelve-passenger vans. Ernie kindly offers to give Eric H. a ride to the U-Haul down the street, but he returns with the news that they only have cargo vans for rental. None of the major rental companies in the area have any large vans for rent, and moreover, none of those companies have any vehicles equipped with hitches, because none of them allow their vehicles to be used for towing purposes.
As Eric E. put it, “I can’t believe this problem doesn’t come up more often.” At this point, we’re considering renting a clamp-on hitch to hook up to the back of a rented minivan, but the possible pitfalls of that situation quickly outweigh the benefits. Our next thought is to rent two vehicles (a minivan and a sedan) to pack ourselves and our gear into, and hit the road to Rochester, thinking that we could come back and get the van in a few days.
By now the tow truck has arrived, so we unload all of our bags and suitcases onto the parking lot behind the FastTrack, and decide to divide and conquer. Once the van is cranked up onto two wheels, Mike hops into the tow truck to ride over to the dealership and drop the van off.
Ernie kindly agrees to drive Eric H. and myself down the road to the airport to try to rent a vehicle or two. Why the airport, you ask? Isn’t that more expensive? Well, yes, but it’s 7:00 pm and everywhere else is now closed.
We make a point to give a CD to anyone who lends us a helping hand when we’re in a pinch (because, let’s face it, it’s really all we have to give), but sometimes it backfires. As Ernie peels out of the FastTrack parking lot with the two of us in his new black Mustang, he tells Eric to put in the CD we had just given him a few minutes earlier.
“Alright, let’s hear what you guys sound like.” We laugh nervously as he weaves in and out of traffic doing about 10 over. “Naw, you don’t wanna listen to it right now…” He insists. “Book Of Matches” starts and he cranks it. I’m in the back seat and the kick drum has never sounded this loud. We don’t even get through the chorus before he remarks that “this is good shit,” and promptly turns it off to call his wife and tell her he’ll be home late.
We get to the airport and he drops us off at the rental area. We thank him as he reminds us about all the local bars that we’re supposed to come back and play, and then he peels off.
[NOTE: We find out later that he headed back to FastTrack to do multiple donuts in the back parking lot for the benefit of our stranded bandmates. Guess he was ignoring this guy…]
We head up to the row of rental desks, only to find that everyone is already booked for the night, save for Enterprise. The girl behind the desk, Shannon, tells us that they have no minivans, but if we’re willing to wait until their customers with reservations pick up their vehicles, she could get us an SUV for the night. We decided that since we have no idea where we’re staying for the night, or how long we’ll be without our van, we should at least secure a method of transportation for the next 24 hours, despite the hefty price tag. Thus, the wait begins.
Back at the FastTrack station, Mike returns from the dealership (the tow truck driver was kind enough to give him a ride on his way back – allegedly reaching speeds of 80mph on city streets) to find Eric E., Kiley, Ryan, and Stephen killing the time with beers, a camera, a tree, and a snail.
(click to pop-up)
Two hours later, the sun has long been set and we finally arrive with our shiny white Chrysler Pacifica (which I will admit is a fun drive – eww, gross).
We pack everyone in, and decide that what we need more than anything is some authentic Buffalo Wings, so we head over to the Brewpub, recommended to us by Shannon.
The night draws to a close as we check in to the La Quinta down the street. It’s always nerve-wracking trying to sneak all seven of us into one hotel room without the staff catching on, and we never like doing it, but it’s usually the only thing we can afford to do without making three of us sleep in the van (which I guess we could do, but hey, we’re a rock band – we’re supposed to break hotel rules, right?).
I apologize for the lack of brevity, but feel it justified, having had more significant events transpire in this one day than should have reasonably occurred in the entire tour. So there. Reading never hurt anyone. :P
Cheers, Steve | GAH