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The Do's & Don'ts of Overnight Van Drives

As reported in most corners of the metalsphere last Monday, the van carrying members of Wormreich and Khaotika, who were supporting Kult of Azazel on the “Reich ov Khaos” mini-tour, was involved in a deadly single-vehicle crash that claimed the lives of Khaotika drummer Nicholas Crisostomo, Wormreich guitarist Ian “Nazgul Vathran” McKinney and bassist Paul “Vidarr” Truesdell. Additionally, Khaotika vocalist, Lariyah Hayes underwent surgery for accident-related injuries and, at last word, Wormreich drummer Christopher “Profana” Pezzano remains in critical condition. There will be unseen scars as well, as this accident will forever haunt the psyche of Khaotika multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, Sergio Quesada who was driving and, as local police report, fell asleep at the wheel causing the 15 passenger van and loaded trailed to “leave the roadway, travel about 300 feet…and strike a tree with the passenger side of the van.”

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Now, I don’t presume to know a whole lot about either Wormreich or Khaotika (I’m a bit more familiar with the tour’s headlining act, Florida’s Kult of Azazel who were travelling in a separate vehicle), and I presume to know even less about the circumstances behind the accident: the tour had played Spartanburg, South Carolina on Sunday, April 5th with the next show being three-and-a-half hours away in Atlanta. The accident occurred around 7am on a stretch of I-85 in Jackson County, Georgia, 65 miles northeast of Atlanta. Maybe Khaotika, being based in Atlanta, were trying to get home to the familiarity of their beds and surroundings for a few hours before the show that night? Who knows? What I do know is that any time people get cut down in their prime, it sucks; moreso when they’re cut down in the midst of pursuing their passion. Metal Injection would like to extend our hearts and thoughts to everyone involved and their families, friends and band mates.

In light of this terrible tragedy, the brass at the 'Injection Institution,' being aware of my travel resume over the past almost-twenty years in the capacities of band member, tour manager, merch bitch/roadie and/or just some yahoo who’s been known to do long hauls all by his lonesome to attend everything from Maryland Deathfest to a grind band playing some kid’s basement, asked if could tap into the well of my insanity and offer up a few “dos” and “do not dos” of overnight van drives.

The easiest thing to do here would be to say, “Avoid overnight drives at all costs.” It might be the easiest thing to say, but it’s also the most unrealistic. Actually, the easiest thing to say is “Be careful,” but that’s more than a little vague. Plus, even if you try your damnedest to avoid overnighter's by crashing at friends’ places or getting hotels, you know at some point, a friend is going to bail on you because (s)he has to work in the morning, you can’t find a hotel to fit your meagre budget or whoever booked your dates will have you travelling 12 hours with tomorrow's load-in being at 3pm. At the same time, some people, myself included, sometimes prefer driving at night because there’s less traffic on the road, there are fewer people not paying attention to worry about and definitely very few to none grandmas and grandpas tearing down the interstate at 70 kilometers per hour (a.k.a. 45 miles per hour) in the passing lane.

Do: Be Prepared
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But shit happens, and the first do would be to be prepared. Take a look at your routing and schedule and plan ahead, figuring what nights are going to require those overnight hauls. Know what’s coming so you can take the necessary steps to coordinate a plan of attack with your fellow band mates and anyone who might be travelling with you. I know bands who have sculpted long drives with strict rules about rotating the position behind the wheel and the passenger seat every couple of hours. I know dudes who, when duty calls, will say “Fuck it” to watching the actual show and take as long a nap as they can. This may sound more regimented and restricted than the free-wheeling freedom normally associated with touring, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, and if that sort of thing works and everyone’s on board, then more power to you. Similarly, once you get to a certain level of road responsibility or until you’re making enough to rent a tour bus and hire a driver, you will quickly realise that you have to treat this like a job, even if you aren’t making any money.

Do: Take Shifts!

Next do is to make sure someone always takes a shift in the passenger seat to help keep the driver from nodding off. Usually, there’s enough adrenaline still coursing through at least a couple people’s veins from a night of performing, hanging out with old and new friends, the physical exertion involved in loading gear and whatever post-gig meal/snacks have been shoved down various gullets that will allow someone to easily stay up for a couple hours with whoever’s driving. Take advantage of that. A tip for the driver/passenger team: I find it works a lot better to converse about topics that get you fired up, if not, have your blood boiling. If shitty Republican policies, religion, your favourite team languishing in the basement of the standings, St. Anger’s merit/lack of merit, psychotic ex-girlfriends/boyfriends/spouses, or anything else you’re passionate about comes up, discuss and show your work, as they say. Even better is if driver and passenger are on the opposite sides of a topic and can have a spirited discussion without coming to blows. Before you know it, a couple hours will have melted away and the only thing you will have noticed is that you need a drink because of all the yapping you’ve been doing has dried out your mouth. On the same tip, there are a couple nuts and bolts things to take note of in the quest for overnight energy. Do throw something on the stereo that’s going to amp you up. This means different things for different people. Some people love sports talk radio, others want blustery conservative blowhards to get them angry about the future of America or pissed off enough to start yelling and throwing things at the center console. Grind, fast punk and death metal do it for some people. Many people are shocked I can listen to Explosions in the Sky and NPR for hours on end and stay awake. Comedy albums are always good as laughter is the also the best medicine in helping with alertness.

Do: Split up the drive!
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Do, if possible, split the drive up. If you have the luxury of time and can do half of it, pull over and sleep for a couple hours before resuming the other half, do so. As far as where to pull over to catch some shut eye, I shouldn’t have to tell you that pulling off onto the shoulder of I-anywhere is a bad idea. Rest stops are probably your easiest and best bet. The stops that have signs posted about not being allowed to park overnight refer more to those who would set up tents and create small-scale refugee camps on site. It’s also a means to alert potential Beltway Sniper wannabes into thinking the areas are under constant surveillance, not those trying to keep themselves alive by taking a break. Since I’ve been involved in this racket since the mid-90s, I’ve never had any member of any law enforcement or security patrol ever say anything to me or anyone I know about resting up at a *ahem* rest stop. Worse comes to worst, North America has a big box store, gas station or truck stop at just about every exit in the country and those places’ parking lots are nice and empty at four in the morning. If you find yourself in a more built-up, urban area, shoot for church parking lots or street parking. Try to avoid neighbourhoods that are too residential and definitely avoid the rich part of town. Industrial and warehouse areas are your friend as your van will blend in with all the other vans and trucks hanging around. If you do find your van being invaded by the bright maglite of The Man, explaining who you are and that you’re just trying to avoid the destruction that would follow in the light of the 20-car and truck pile up you might cause if you kept pushing yourself should gain any intelligent cop’s sympathetic ear. You may look like a bunch of dirtbags covered in tattoos, pentagrams, upside-down crosses and beards, but at least you’re showing some sign of responsibility and keeping them from having to file mountains of accident-related paperwork. If some cop does give you an excessively difficult time, go find somewhere else to crash and count your blessings that you didn’t get shot in the back while “resisting arrest.”

Don't: Rely on Caffiene

If you have no option but to do a long drive non-stop, either because last night’s show ran late, you were late loading out, you got stuck in a combination of NYC traffic and road construction or what have you, don’t rely on caffeine and chocolate exclusively to help you soldier onward. Mix up the coffee, energy drinks and soda with water, juice and Gatorade. One, it’s not good for your heart to be mainlining caffeine and sucking back energy drinks at too regular a pace. Two, combining all these liquids and diuretics will have you needing to piss like a racehorse on a regular basis. You’d be surprised how easy it is to stay awake when your bladder is about to burst and you’re driving on one of those sections of I-90 in northern New York state where you can go long stretches without seeing a travel plaza or exit. Additionally, before long overnight drives, don’t scarf down carb-heavy foods as that shit will put you to sleep quicker than Soundgarden’s live show. As much as it pains me to say it, if you have an overnighter leaving from, or in the vicinity of, Rochester, NY you’re better off skipping the garbage plate.

Do: Excercize always helps!
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Do a bit of physical exercise when you do make a stop. There’s a reason exercise experts and gym rats will tell you not to work out before bed time, as it gets the blood and adrenaline flowing. Over the years, I’m sure I’ve starred as the subject of many a story told by travellers telling their friends about the time they saw some skinny, brown dude doing push ups, wind sprints and tree branch pull-ups in the middle of the night at a rest stop or in some parking lot somewhere. That’s ok, because if all goes well, I and whatever band(s) I’m travelling with in the future, will provide scads of “WTF” tall tales for multitudes of future voyagers for years to come.

Don't: Push Yourself!

Everyone who’s ever driven on any tour, myself included, has probably been guilty of this one, but don’t push yourself. It’s a common thing to want to appear to be super-human or not be the one who rocks the boat on any tour, but there are more obnoxious and less safe ways to get on everyone’s bad side than rolling the van into a ditch. For the love of Lars Ulrich's drum skills, please, please, oh, please, when you feel your eyes getting heavy, are blinking yourself into a micro-sleep or are hallucinating about hobgoblins levitating above potholes, pull the fuck over and either take a break or switch drivers. There are too many factors and risks precluding anyone from trying to be a fucking hero. This leads to the next do, or don’t depending on how you look at it. Do switch drivers, or don’t be afraid to ask to switch drivers or for help from the passenger seat. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’re all tough-as-nails rebellious metalheads who aren’t supposed to show any sign of weakness, but if a tired driver’s “weakness” comes in the form of an action that’s going to keep the van from bouncing off a guard rail or crashing into the back of a big rig, then I’d rather (s)he demonstrate that weakness and know that any making fun of them after the fact is all good-natured ball-busting. Also, for other potential drivers who are off-shift, don’t treat someone else being behind the wheel as time to spend watching movies, reading or doing anything that doesn’t involve your head buried in a pillow. Have some knowledge and courtesy for the fact that you could be called upon to take the wheel at a moments’ notice. I’ve had it happen that, after five or six hours into an nine or ten hour drive, and after being awake most of the previous day, I was feeling the sandman knocking on my brain with a vengeance. I pulled over and mentioned to the one other person who would have been able (and sober!) enough to relieve me and finish off the drive. He started kvetching about being too tired to do any driving. Why? Because he stayed awake in the back texting/Facetime-ing with his girlfriend and instead of bothering to get any sleep.

Finally, and I’m not condoning or recommending this, but I know folk who will pop speed in order to do long-ass overnight drives in order to make afternoon load-in times. A lot of time, the circumstances are a bit unique – as in a cross-Canada tour where the drives can get pretty gnarly and/or ridiculously boring (I’m looking at you, the wasteland of ennui between Montreal and Toronto) and (s)he ended up being the only driver, but they’re still alive to tell the tale. I’ve never done it to reliably report to you of the impact, good or bad. So, do. Or don’t. Use your discretion, but you didn’t hear any of that last paragraph from me.

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No matter what you end up doing, for the sake of you, your band mates/crew, friends, family and everyone else out there and on the highways and byways: stay safe out there, motherfuckers.

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