This new Crazy Tour Stories segment was written by the blues rocker, Patrick Sweany. You can check out his story, in detail, after the break.
“The boys in the band and I were enroute from Ohio to a small festival gig in Northern Wisconsin, right on Lake Superior. I had played this gig a few times in previous years, and had some great times, met nice people, and really enjoyed seeing the north woods of Wisconsin, with a decent payday attached to it. It was remote, and previous attempts at routing gigs nearby, were not terrific. The folks in charge realized that, and sweetened the deal. This made it make financial sense to go do it as a one off, and enjoy the fall scenery. In previous years, we hd left the Akron area and driven through Chicago, Rockford, and headed north through Madison, all the way to Lake Superior to the city of Ashland. The last time I had taken that route, Chicago traffic added 2/12 hours to our travel time. It’s about a 14 hour drive, and adding those extra hours really made getting to the mid afternoon festival gig the next day a lot more stressful. This time we decided to take a route through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The difference in mileage was not much different, and with no major metropolitan traffic hassles, beautiful early October weather, and lovely bucolic scenery, it seemed like the way to go. I had driven this particular route, at the same time of year, by myself, several years earlier. It was lovely.
The boys and I made a fairly early start, hoping to make it within a couple hours of Ashland, WI, grab a motel room, then have a short run for our late afternoon set. All clear from Akron to Toledo. All clear from Toledo to Flint. Right around Bay City or Saginaw it started to snow. Hard. And it kept snowing. Hard. Barely to the halfway point our progress slows to about 30 to 40 mph, for a couple of hours. I was behind the wheel, and let me tell you a little something about me, kids. I stay behind the wheel. I have logged alot of miles. A lot of miles. I have been behind that wheel for nearly all of them. I can peel off the miles, and I am good at it. After entering hour 9 of travel, but hour 3 of white out blizzard, I had to give up the tiller. My eyes were fatigued from the white out conditions, my hands were cramped from holding the wheel so tight, and my nerves were starting to go. I had a discussion with the boys about a plan of action. We weren’t far enough to stop We were too broke to cancel. We kept moving down the road, Bob, my bass player at the time, a true artist of the wheel whom I greatly trusted, in the driver’s seat. I had to pull my sweatshirt hood over my eyes for over an hour to fight off a panic attack. I have driven through a lot of blizzards, this was the worst I had ever continued to travel through. I was spooked, but Bob was doing a fantastic job. As we approached the Mackinac Bridge, Bob started to get freaked out. The Mackinac Bridge is a metal suspension bridge which connects the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan, very high over the terrifyingly dark and choppy Straits of Mackinac, which connect Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, two of America’s five Great Lakes. When that bridge is covered in ice and snow and the wind is blowing hard enough that they shut down all but one lane to prevent people skidding to horrible icy deaths far below in the murky frozen deep, it can really start to work on your nerves. I am thinking that is what Bob was feeling as he held the steering wheel at 45 degrees against the wind, mumbling “omigodomigodomigod” to himself. I could feel the tires slipping a little if we accelerated or used the brakes. I knew that Bob could too, and he sounded agitated and upset , saying “Why would they keep this bridge open in this condition!” When you start to panic behind the wheel, you tend to oversteer. It is a natural human response. If we oversteered and went into a skid, we were doomed.
So I say to Bob, “Bob, they wouldn’t have a major suspension bridge in this climate that they couldn’t maintain safely. Relax Think about how bad this would be in winter up here. It’s only the first week of October. This is the major connecting thoroughfare to these regions. They have to keep it safe. They close the lanes at night to monitor trucking, and besides, they run steam heat through pipes under the bridge surface. Why do you think it’s metal? So the steam heat transfers to the surface of the bridge, and keeps it from freezing up.” Bob is suddenly much more at ease, driving great, we are out of the blizzard in a few miles, and we press on for a few more hours, stopping at a motel about 200 miles from the gig. We made it on time to the gig the next day, and a good time was had by all.
Over beers afterwards, I let Bob and the drummer know how much I appreciated their hard work and exemplary behavior in a of time great stress. I also let them know that I was completely lying about any sort of knowledge of de-icing or heating apparatus for the Mackinac Bridge. It was all a fabrication to keep everyone calm and insure we would make it safely across. Bob was not pleased at all. Not one bit. He barely spoke to me the next day, but we made the gig, and we got paid.” -Patrick Sweany
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