A Worthy Trade or: Lamb of what?

you're reading this site — ahh who am I kidding, if you're alive — chances are
you've been faced with a choice, a decision so important your very well being
may hang in the balance. When you live and breathe music, concerts often present
a conundrum. Do you get school work done or do you check out Pinback? Do you
donate that kidney to your uncle or watch the Bauhaus reunion? You know what I
mean ...

On one fateful day in 2005 I was presented with not one, not two, but a string
of choices that would mold my life from that point forward. The show was to be a
who's who of metal fests: The Sounds of the Underground tour. To be honest, many
of the acts didn't catch my fancy (Chimaira, From Autumn To Ashes, Lamb Of God),
and very few of them could be considered "Underground," but the ones I did like
(Clutch, Poison The Well) were more than enough to justify a five-hour drive to
Seattle. Plus I had just found out my most-recent ex had smoked major pole in
the weeks before our break-up, which meant I needed a good time, AND I had free
tickets ... as The Simpsons' Otto would say, "natch!"

On top of that the show gave me the chance to reunite with my metal brethren,
including a cat named Joel (you might remember him from the Sasquatch 2006
concert review and the Tool CD review). But this story isn't about
scissor-kicking innocent bystanders. In fact, metal isn't really my bag anymore;
the days of 'Tera and 'Tura are long gone, but that doesn't mean I can't follow
the increasingly commercial hard stuff casually.

With my bags packed on a Tuesday morning, I struck out for Seattle listening to
Billy Joel's Innocent Man. I was feeling good and the sun was shining.
Car problems, I wrongfully assumed, were the last thing I needed to worry about.
Bad move; within an hour my heat gauge was in the red like a Voidods studio
recording. Hey, this happens, I thought. I calmly pulled over and let the engine
cool before I started the car back up and hit the road.

In five minutes my gauge was topped out again. I figured the radiator needed
some water, so I searched my trunk for a gallon of water. Surely I'd find one
somewhere ... but no. Faced with few options, I noticed a bog on the other side
of a tall fence. The fence itself wasn't too intimidating, but the barbed wire
coiled at its peak was enough to make me scrunch my nuts up in pain at the
thought of snagging my sweet-meats. But I was going to Seattle, and nothing was
going to stop me. I skillfully scaled the fence, skirting the barbed wire with
the utmost care. The long drop to the bottom shocked my ankles a bit, but I was
no worse for wear.

That's when I realized I hadn't planned out a way to carry the water back over.
All I had was a toy bucket, and there was no way I could climb the fence,
protect my balls AND keep the bucket full. So I improvised. I dug a small trench
around the bottom of the fence, pulled the grate-like columns of metal out of
the ground and set the bucket on the other side. After crawling under the fence,
I poured the water in the radiator and over the engine for good measure, and
with that I was back on the road.

Five minutes later the engine began overheating again. FUCK! MOTHER-FUCKING
hours away from home; there was no turning back. But how would I make it to
Seattle with my car overheating every five minutes? At this point I chose to
play mechanic. This undertaking doesn't usually pan out for me, but I was out of
ideas and sweating major balls.

I opened the hood, looking for a big, dumb problem that would require little
more than a big, dumb solution. A lever that read, "Turn me and engine stops
overheating." In lieu of such an easy task, I noticed that one of the pipes
waaaaay down in between the engine and the radiator was leaking. So that's the
problem, I wagered, a busted pipe! Wow, this car repair thing isn't too
complicated if you just use your instincts!

Feeling confident, I rummaged through my trunk once again, this time for a piece
of fabric long and wide enough to tie off the pipe, thus sealing the leak and
facilitating a long drive to Seatown. The only thing I could find was a bikini
bottom, one an ex had left in my trunk from a swimming trip. I was worried it
would be too small, but the girl whose figure it normally concealed happened to
have a beautiful J-Lo ass. Thus her bikini bottom was blessed with much girth.
Barely managing to snake my arms through the apparatus of the engine without
badly burning myself, I looped the bikini around, under and through, tying it as
tight as I could manage without popping my famous forehead vein. As a precaution
I added more water to the radiator and to my head, by now a mess of sweat and
grease cooked by 90 degree weather.

I hit the road again with gusto. The car overheated AGAIN after five more
minutes. By this time I was at the end of my wits and a few minutes away from
heat exhaustion. Such was my distress that I overcame my cheapness and set out
to take the car to a mechanic. I exited off the highway, driving through a
hick-dump of a town before reaching its lone mechanic. He was out, the
hairstylist next door told me. She didn't offer to let me wait in her
air-conditioned shack so I sat in the shade waiting for the mechanic to finish
his meatball sanny and get his shit in gear.

When he arrived, full stomach and beard fluffed, I hoped to god he'd have time
to fix my rig. I explained my situation. Yes, he said, he'd fix my car if he
could. I popped the hood, lifted it and watched for his reaction. He stared into
the engine with a look of disgust and confusion. Despite his budding shock of
beard he did not sweat. "What the hell'd ya do here?" he croaked, pointing to
the bikini bottom tied around the pipe like a necktie.

"Well, I thought the pipe was the problem, so I found an old bikini and tied it
around," I said.

"Shit, that'll teach the bitch to leave her fucking clothes around!" he grunted.

Jesus, I thought, this guy is hilarious, but can he jimmy-rig my wheels? I felt
he could. He poked around for a few minutes and came to a conclusion: It was a
valve, and it would cost me $30. Of course, he said, it might also be the engine
block, which you DON'T want. He'd fix the valve, but he couldn't guarantee it
would alleviate my problem. What the shit; I slipped him a twenty- and
ten-dollar bill and told him to do his best.

And with that I was on the road AGAIN. I was sure this time that things were
going to be okay. You can imagine my horror when the goddamn heat gauge shot to
the sky AGAIN after ten minutes. I freaked out, cursing and clawing at random
crap and punching my steering wheel, on the verge of bitter man-tears. I pulled
into the next town, my car smoking, and checked with a few more mechanics. They
all seemed to know something the mechanic a town back didn't. They spewed more
gibberish about engine blocks and radiators that I didn't understand, but their
main point was tough to avoid: My car was fucked.

I dejectedly checked into a nearby hotel for $50. Hey, you can't win 'em all, I
figured. I took a short shower and cosied up to the bed. I love hotels. I
planned out the rest of the evening in my head. Dinner at a nice place, maybe a
few beers, maybe even some small-town tail. I turned on the TV, flipping to the
History Channel, dozing on and off while a program on the Holocaust flitted in
and out of my consciousness. Then I suddenly woke up with a start, eyeing the
program closely. I'm not sure how it was possible, but the program seemed to
heighten my depression by ten times, leaving an urgent lump writhing in my
belly. What the fuck!, I thought, here I am sitting here like a bitch while my
friends take in a metal extravaganza. I couldn't sit on my hands any longer;
quitting was never in my nature. It just didn't feel right.

So even after shelling out $80 and several gallons of sweat, I decided to
abandon the hotel room I'D JUST PAID FOR and try to make it to Seattle. Against
my better instincts, I found myself getting in the car, starting it, and heading
for the highway. It was against all logic, yet it seemed perfectly logical all
the same. I was simply going to do it. It wasn't that I wanted to go, I just had
to. There was no arguing with myself. I plotted out a strategy to make it to
Seattle: I would keep two large antifreeze containers full of water with me,
stopping at gas stations to pour them over the engine and refill them. Every
five minutes. For 100-odd miles. It wasn't a particularly heady strategy, but it
was the best I had. Plus, I took other measures.

For instance, when the car was cooled off I revved it as high as it would go,
then threw it into neutral going downhill, often turning the ignition off. The
other drivers on the road looked confused, but I was on a metal mission and
their nervous glances weren't going to deter me. I milked the engine like a
cow's teet, slamming on the gas and hoping for a hill every few minutes. Saved
in part by the hilly terrain surrounding Seattle, I made it 80 miles, only
stopping nine times to hose off the engine. I felt like a madman, no longer
capable of thinking clearly, but I was making good time. In a way, I considered
myself a genius. Who else could pull this off but someone as stubborn and
fucking awesome as the gumshoe?

The city limits of Seattle proved to be another test. Now I couldn't just pull
over and cool off. I would be stuck in traffic on bridges with nowhere to go if
I crapped out. I held my breath and forged ahead. By the grace of Lemmy, I made
it to the strip holding the old Kingdome (RIP), a stone's throw from where the
concert was to be held. I realized at this point that I didn't exactly know
where the venue was. I stopped every punk-ish looking clod I could find and
asked for directions. No one knew a damn thing. I didn't realize it at the time,
but metal has become a rich guys' hobby. Regular folks can't afford the
piercings, the makeup, the concert T-shirts.

To my luck I spotted a dillard with a Lamb Of God shirt on. I clung to him as
gaily as I could, and he aqciesed. Like everyone I've ever seen in public, he
said I looked familiar; that he knew me. I brushed off his query with more talk
about the venue. Where the fuck is it? Are we going to make it in time for
Clutch? Did he know where it was?

We found it. I picked up my press pass and ambled inside. I heard an ungodly nu-metal
sack of shit braying from the stage. How terrible, I thought. Then I realized it
was Clutch. Not only that, it was a song from their shitty new album. Not only
that, it was also their last song. BALLS! I had driven all day, spent $80, and
risked fatal fatigue to watch two bands I'd barely heard. One of them I still
can't identify. The other was Lamb Of God, a band whose moniker I hated enough
that I wouldn't even listen to them.

Disheveled from a long day, I walked around in a half-daze, looking for a group
of friends that might have left already. I recognized someone from across the
room. SALVATION! This guy would surely commiserate and offer me a ride home. I
told him the story minus the gristle. He nodded, looked around as if searching
for someone, and said, "Man, that sucks dude. Well, see you later!" He walked
off as I cursed his name. Why is it that I always befriend the people who just
don't give a shit?

Frustrated and ready to REALLY lose my shit, I headed to the drinking fountain
for a quick quench. And there he was, standing against the wall like he owned
the place: Joel. We exchanged pleasantries for a spell, but he insisted we hurry
over to the main stage for the final band of the night: Lamb Of God.

Oh great, another generic metal band. I remember a time when Lamb Of God's
publicist would call me at the school newspaper at WSU and practically beg me to
do a feature on LOG. Everyone loves a LOG, she insisted. "Meh?" was usually my
response, as I expected they were just another derivative barf bag that would
disappear into a toilet-bowl swirl of hype.

They didn't. Conversely, they gained quite a following. As we stood in front of
the stage waiting for Lamb Of God to preach to the flock I wished we could just
leave and tie one on. But when they launched into action I found myself
transfixed. They were derivative as hell, just as I'd expected, but the energy
they put out took control. Always the types to take advantage of a good,
old-fashioned thrash-out, we went absolute apeshit. I had an entire day of
misshaps to work off, and my friend was a big LOG fan, and for good reason. If
you're going to listen to major-label metal, Lamb Of God (along with Mastodon
and others) should top the list. They MAULED, SLAUGHTERED, and MANGLED our ears
with piercing shards of guitar, galloping drums and Phil Anselmo-style screams.
It was nearly impossible to believe, but I was actually glad I had weathered the
veritable shit-storm to witness this. While the crowd stood with arms folded —
did I mention Seattle people blow ass? — we got it on like a couple of drunken
hicks, propelling each other into piles of sweaty bodies and jutting our heads
up and down as if shook by a paint mixer. It was glorious, a perfect example of
how even the bleakest situation can be turned around by a soul-purging concert.
I haven't listened to Lamb Of God since then — I'm sure Joel has listened enough
for the both of us — but that performance remains forever engrained in my
memory, like that Three Dog Night show in an Auto Dealer cafeteria or that
scantly attended Racebannon show in Spokane or that Robot Ate Me performance in
a Moscow flop house.

Afterward I decided to ditch my car in downtown Seattle, leaving an expensive
stereo system and the title inside. I went to Portland with the gang and went on
a three-day drunkfest, eventually taking a bus back to Pullman, where I would
continue to suffer the blues of a graduate in an undergrad town. Looking back,
it was a special turn of events that couldn't have played out any other way. It
was the sort of thing that could either drive you crazy or render life a little
sweeter. Despite having to walk to work for a good six months afterward, I'd
have to go with the latter.

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