Through snow, through rain, through tangled tire chains

As I played at the bar in Spokane, I could see the snow falling outside. Big fluffy flakes drifted to the ground as I made my way through my set. As a native of the desert, I hadn’t had much opportunity to drive in snow. The next day, and on subsequent tours, I got plenty of experience driving in lousy weather.

snow on truck

In Spokane, the next morning, I stood in front of my little truck, scratching my head over how to get the several inches of snow off, so I could head to my gig that night in Seattle. My housing hosts happily provided a broom. I swept off the cold stuff and motored down the unplowed street.

I thought the goddess of touring musicians would protect me and for a while, that’s how it looked. The further I got from town, the less snow there was on the ground, until it was a mere mention blowing across the roadway. It reminded me of how desert sand swirled across a road, a familiar and comforting image for me.

I pulled over for a leisurely lunch of barbeque, then hit the road again. As the highway rose in elevation, I was treated to a breathtaking view of the Cascades ahead of me, a luscious layer of snow on the highest peaks. Snow started to fall, first in scattered flurries, then thicker, as my truck kept climbing. Every few miles were polite signs advising motorists that chains were optional. Ice gathered on the windshield wipers, leaving wide streaks. As I peered through them, I saw a couple more signs about chains, each one more urgent, until finally, near the top of Snoqualmie Pass, a huge lighted sign with red lettering urged, “Pull over now and put on chains.” There was something about a fine too, but I was too busy finding a place to park to read the rest.

snoqualmie pass

Not my photo, but on the same road. There was a lot more snow for me. You can see one of those dreaded signs up ahead.

I eased my truck behind a VW van, its driver crouched behind one tire, expertly attaching the chains. I jumped out of my truck like I knew exactly what I was doing, opened the back and climbed inside to extract the little plastic box I carried everywhere. It had been on so many tours that the directions had rubbed off on the outside. No matter, I thought, I can figure this out. I yanked out a tangle of metal. I was never good at puzzles, especially standing in sub-zero weather by the side of some Washington state highway.

The guy ahead of me had just stood up, his chains already on, when I approached him.

“Do you think you could show me how to put these on?”

He cheerfully agreed, looked at my Arizona license plate and inquired, “What are you doing here?”

In the time it took me to explain, he had my chains on. I thanked him and climbed back in the truck.

Minutes after crossing the summit, the snow turned to rain. I pulled over to remove the chains and managed to get one wrapped around the axle. It was 20 minutes before anyone stopped to help me. Even a cop passed me. The goddess of VW drivers sent another angel. After bursting into tears, I profusely thanked him and got back in my truck.

There’s more to this story, but I’ve written a book and I want you to buy it. No, it’s not out yet. You’ll hear me screaming when I get a publisher.

That experience prepared me well for another snowstorm, this one in March. In Georgia.  Ah, the land of genteel weather and icy mint juleps. Seven inches of snow fell overnight, but that didn’t deter me. When a musician has a gig, we’re like the horses near the end of a long day. All we see is the barn and a warm straw bed. All I saw was a gig in Florida.

There was no one on the unplowed interstate except me and a few crazy truckers. The radio was no help — DJs squawked out church social and high school basketball game cancellations in counties I couldn’t find on a map. I saw no other option than to keep following the two icy ruts that substituted for the three lanes of highway.

The snow finally stopped, and then the gale force gusts started up. I kept going. Warm straw bed … warm straw bed …

I finally arrived at my concert, three hours late, only to discover that it’d been cancelled. And yes, I tried to call several times that day, but never got an answer.

lake pontchartrain bridge

The bridge in better weather.

Rain offered a whole new set of challenges. Once, when traveling a bridge over Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain, rain coming down in almost-opaque sheets, one of the windshield wipers quit. Fortunately, it was the on the passenger side. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of 23.79 miles (but, who’s counting) of bridge. Pulling over meant risking a rear-end collision, so I kept driving until I’d crossed the bridge.

On another trip, traveling across Kansas, my companion and I (also a desert dweller) saw what might have been funnel clouds. What did we know about tornados, except that one had carried Dorothy away? We kept driving because, after all, we had a gig. Soon, we stopped at a rest area, bought some coffee and walked outside. The wind whipped the liquid out of the cup and still, we got into the truck and kept driving. Fortunately, we fared better than Dorothy. I don’t think she played guitar anyway.

Then there was the ice storm in South Carolina. When I looked in the rear view mirror and saw a truck slide sideways across the highway, I figured it was time to get the hell off of Dodge, or in this case, I-85. I got off at the next exit where I was lucky to find a motel. I didn’t care if it was a Hilton that cost my entire last night’s gig income. I wasn’t going anywhere on that hunk of ice rink masquerading as an interstate.

The motel had no restaurant. There was nothing within walking distance. However, there was a vending machine and I had a take-out box from my last meal. Dinner that evening and breakfast the next morning was a root beer and a biscuit. The ice had melted enough the next day, that I didn’t need skates for my truck, and I could head for home.

After living in Arizona most of my life, I moved to North Carolina. During a week-long bout of icy weather, the power went out, but I was on tour in sunny Utah. My poor partner had to bundle up and camp out in the living room, the only place that had heat, as frozen tree branches crashed through the roof. That was one time when being on tour kept me out of the lousy weather.

Now I live in Canada. I’m in the middle of my third winter here, and doing my best to embrace it. The other day, I bundled up and made the 15 minute walk to and from a yoga class, in – 5 F weather. Not even the others in the class, Real Canadians ™, had walked. Hey, after a snowstorm in Snoqualmie Pass, I am woman, hear me roar.

***********

The book is out now. You can get Drive All Night here or at your fav indie bookstore.

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About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
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2 Responses to Through snow, through rain, through tangled tire chains

  1. mefoley says:

    Love your tour stories! Can’t wait for the book!

    (Ernest once revealed that he first started to consider me seriously as a partner for life when we stayed over Thanksgiving at a Sierra cabin at about 7500 feet, and I cheerfully got out to help dig the –unheated– VW bus out of a snowbank, and then hopped out to help get the chains off and on again every time we went out to the main road, which had been cleared. That was in 1979, so as a predictor of life partnership, snow chains are pretty good…)

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