It was sometime in 1986, I think.
It would have to have been 1986, but early in 1986. My attempt at sobriety fell by the wayside during this time, and I crawled up on the wagon again and fell mightily several times before it finally took hold, so it's a bit hazy......but it was definitely on the West Coast.....specifically, outside of Seattle, WA. In 1986.
I was traveling with a group called the Repertory Theatre of America; four people in a van with three plays and enough scenery to fit onto a 16 foot square stage, and costumes and lighting and in a couple of cases, enough angst to light up the night. And on that particular day, we were on our way for the second time between Spokane and Seattle, cursing the schedule that had us crossing the state of Washington TWICE in the last two days.
We had done some maintenance on the van early that day; the brakes were getting soft and we cleared the expense with the main office and had it done at a Firestone dealership near the hotel we were staying at in Spokane. While we were waiting, I had an opportunity to walk about the grounds of the World's Fair that occurred in 1972, that my family and I attended. It was kinda cool to see some of the stuff that so impressed a ten year old through the eyes of a twenty something......
And then, we got in the van and took off for Seattle. Again.
We had a show close to the Sound, if I recall, and through a miscalculation, we were rushing to make up some time, and doing fairly well at that...until.
It was a freeway overpass, as I recall, and the driver (a fellow named Jeff) was making a lane change when the brakes locked up inexplicably for just a second, but enough to get us all at red-alert.
Jeff had enough time to say, "What the hell...." before it broke loose.
All I really remember of the moment was a wrenching sound of metal, the sound of a car horn, and the van lurching backward as if one of the wheels had fallen off. And then the sound of grating metal and Jeff furiously tried to keep us from heading into the other lanes of traffic or driving us off the overpass.
It seemed to last forever, but we would up on the shoulder of the Interstate. We did a quick inventory of the passengers and made sure nothing was broken. Jeff stated he was going to go look for a phone (strange to think of such a thing, but it WAS 1986, and cell phones wouldn't be readily available for a decade) and I would do a quick once-round of the van.
In the midst of this chaos, two great bits of comedy:
I walked around the van, looking for damage, and things looked pretty good until I got to the drivers side rear tire; which was completely gone...along with a part of the axle. The wound was leaking brake fluid, and the brake fluid was burning....right underneath that pesky gas tank.
I calmly walked about to the inside of the van and calmly looked at the two ladies who had shared so much travel time with me. I smiled calmly and asked if they would please pass me the fire extinguisher.
Eyes got really wide, but Devon silently reached up and handed me what I asked for. And I used it for what it was good for.
And that's when the Washington State Police car rolled up.
He gestured to me to approach, and I calmly did so. He greeted me warmly.
"Got a flat tire, eh?"
My response was to point to the other side of the Interstate when the tire and the remains of the axle still connected to it was lying.
"No sir, the tire's over there and it looks fine to me."
I got my laugh for the State Trooper. He admitted I had bigger fish to fry, gave me a sticker to put on the driver's side door in the event we had to abandon the vehicle, and drove away.
I honestly don't remember how we got the show that night, but we did. We were incredibly late; we set up as the dinner progressed. We put on some music and set up the stage like we were in a silent movie....lots of slapstick and far more trouble than it was worth, but those that watched seemed to appreciate the trouble and I explained in the pre-show that "A funny thing happened on the way here this evening...." and all was well.
From what I can remember.
I've had a lot of things happen to me, personally, just before shows were going on; injuries, fatalities, sprained ankles and wrenched knees, and all the emotional turmoil that makes life worth living. But that particular event, and the events that directly followed (hint: I was almost kicked out of Canada, I had an argument with a cab driver over American politics, I met and dated a waitress from Calgary and developed a hatred for February that has never diminished...) are the colors that bring the painting to life.
IT WAS FEBRUARY! NOW I remember!