I began gigging when I was 13 or 14 years old, starting a DJ business and playing dances at schools and recreation centers on Friday and Saturday nights in Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province.
Because I was too young to drive, I had to hire drivers to get to my gigs. By the time I entered grade 11, I’d had at least a couple of drivers already, but having moved to a new school, I needed to hire someone new.
A mutual friend introduced me to someone I will call “Driver Guy,” or DG for short, a couple of months after the school year began. As it happened, I had back-to-back Friday and Saturday night gigs coming up that weekend and DG said that he was buying a van just in time to do those gigs. We negotiated a few details, and everything was set.
Now, the Friday night gig was my first at a venue called The Barn (because it was one…), which was the student center at the University of Prince Edward Island. This was a big deal for me, and I wanted to make a good impression.
DG showed up at my place at the appointed time, not with the promised van but with his dad’s 3/4-ton pickup truck. He said the van deal had been put off for a day, but he would have it for Saturday’s gig. The truck had a covered box on the back and was clean inside, so I said “fine” and we loaded up the gear and headed off to the gig. “We” was DG, our mutual friend John, and Kenny (my lighting guy) and me, so it was a bit of a squeeze to get four of us into the cab of the truck.
The Waiting Game
The gig came off fine, finishing up around 12:30 am. Looking back, there couldn’t have been much gear for the four of us to pack up, but being teenaged boys and hungry, John, Kenny and I suggested that DG run down to the local McDonald’s (about a half-mile from the venue) and grab some takeout before it closed at 1 am. DG agreed and drove off as we packed up and carried the gear down the stairs and into the front entrance area to await his return.
And await we did…and waited, and waited, and waited, and waited some more. This was many (many!) years before cellphones existed so we had absolutely no way of finding out where he went, or what had happened to him. So we waited… and waited some more.
Eventually, the caretaker for the venue went home, telling us to be sure to pull the door tight behind us on the way out. And still we waited and waited until eventually, around 3:00 am, DG came back. I can’t remember if he had the food or not but he certainly had a long story about the truck having a flat tire and the nuts being rusted onto the wheel so badly that the garage had to use a torch to take them off. I tried, without being too obvious about it to look for evidence of this, but it was dark so I couldn’t really be sure if it was true or not.
Later, when I got to know him better, I learned that DG could spin out a pretty tall tale with a perfectly straight face. To this day, I’m not really sure what happened but a couple of possibilities that occurred to me was that he might have paid a visit to a girlfriend, or he just spaced out, drove home (about 20 miles away) and someone said, “How’d the gig go?” which maybe triggered an “Oh shoot!” moment.
Whatever happened, we loaded the gear, he drove us home, and he assured me that he’d have the van for that next night’s gig. I really didn’t have a lot of options at that point so all I could do was wait and see what happened.
Which was… the next evening he showed up with… the van, a 1972, long-wheelbase Ford Econoline covered in primer paint, with a leaky gas tank that could only be filled about half-full, and various other defects, both visible and unseen. I guess the seller had visions of fixing it up and making a “Shaggin’ Wagon” out of it and then ran out of money. I remember that part of this vision must have included a stick shift as the column shift was long gone, leaving an oval shaped hole in the floor with two flat steel bars sticking out of it. The one on the right was reverse and first gear, the one on the left was second and third gears, and when shifting from first to second (or vice versa), you had to put the stick that you were shifting away from in neutral before engaging the other one.
Now this night’s gig was in Tignish, a French-Canadian fishing community at the extreme western tip of the island, about 90 miles away. I’d done this one a few times before and wow, it was wild! As it happened, DG also had an errand to do on the way to the gig, which was dropping a younger brother, complete with his full hockey gear, off at a relative’s house on the Royal Canadian Air Force base in Summerside.
It happened to be on our way and there wasn’t anything I could do about it at that point anyway, so again we loaded the gear, including an extra pair of 15-inch-loaded loudspeakers that DG insisted we take, even though I said they weren’t fully working, and the five of us headed on up the highway. With DG and John in the seats up front and DG’s brother Kenny and me sitting in back, on the gear, the drive to the base was mostly uneventful.
However, once we dropped off our passenger, things started to go sideways. As we were wending our way through the streets of the base housing, a military police car began following us, and continued following us off the base and a few miles up the Trans-Canada Highway, where we were pulled over. Of course, there was a problem with the ownership slip for the van, which DG insisted was because the transaction had happened just that afternoon.
In any case, he was invited back to the police cruiser to discuss this while John, Kenny and I sat in the cold and dark van, waiting. After about 20 minutes, DG won his point and we were allowed to proceed.
Now, by this point we were starting to get behind on our ETA, and we still had 40 miles to go. So we took off at a fair clip hoping that we had a enough gas to make it.
Having done this gig a couple of times before, I knew there were two gas stations on the way about five miles apart, with nothing much in between. As we flew past the first one, the subject of gas came up but, having missed it already, we decided to press on for the second one.