Thoughts on death, and the perfect burrito (from MRR #314)

photo by Erin Yankee

I was daydreaming about the perfect burrito when the tire blew.

It was at the precise moment I had decided that cilantro was indeed crucial to the ultimate harmony of flavor perfection that the van roared and shuddered violently beneath us.

We later concluded that the loose gravel on the road contributed heavily to why Heather lost control and we tumbled off the road down the embankment. I remember her clear and absurd calm when she said, “here we go!” as the van spun around and tipped over the edge.

That moment of terror and hysteria is a strange kind of memory. It was so loud, the rumbling crunching of the van, I know it was, but my memory of it is somehow one of still and quiet terror, frozen in the moment just before the tumbling began.

We had been deep in a cranky silence before the accident. Five and a half weeks into tour we had settled into a dysfunctional truce, fundamentally still friends, but sick of everything about each other. I don’t remember if we had been fighting really, but I remember the tension in the van. No one was speaking in the long dark stretch of Texas on the way to El Paso. We had all retreated into our respective heads for some much-needed alone time that we could not really have for a few more days.

Eating enough is a perpetual struggle for me on tour, since vegan eats are few and far between on the road I make do with every variety of fried potato. I am always thinking about our next meal, and if it will prominently feature the color green. Sometimes on tour I dream about grilled tempeh and big green salads with California avocados (those Florida imposters are fucking garbage, btw). Once I woke myself up ordering a sandwich out loud. So it’s no surprise that I was thinking about food at that crucial moment.

As the van was falling off the road, I had time to be terrified, to brace my arms in front of my face, call paul’s name and laugh as I thought, “I can’t believe my last real thoughts are going to be about food.”

I was the only one with out a seat belt on so I tumbled a bit more than the rest. When we landed on our side I was scrunched upside down and buried in the loose contents of the van: corn nuts, dirt, socks, sunscreen, a piece of the high-hat stand among other things. Sliding down the embankment with our windows open also threw tons of dirt and shredded truck tires in with us too. When we stopped sliding the dirt cloud in the car made it so I couldn’t tell which way was up, or where anyone was.

There was another moment of absolute still, of anxious terrifying stillness, before we began to call out for each other. Dan’s muffled, “herrre” was spoken into the side of my knee and I found I was sitting upside down on top of him.

We crawled out the passenger side window into the warm clear summer night. We stretched out our limbs patted ourselfs down looking for injuries. Everyone was okay. Dirty and shaken, but fine. My only injuries were a knock on the head and some rug burns on my elbows from tumbling against the car interior.

The couple in the car behind us that had called the ambulence and climbed down to see if we were alright found us hugging and verging on tears.

I touched Paul’s face and told him I loved him as the fluids from the engine seeped out the top of the car and down the hill toward us in a shining black mass.

Some of the most important people in my life were in that van with me, and knowing they were okay, that we could have very easily not been so lucky, that I could have lost any of them was a totally sobering and unrelatably scary thought.

I was shaking for at least an hour.

We caught a ride with the highway patrolman to a small motel in the closest town, and the tow truck driver promised to pick us up to survey the damage early the next morning. After settling our dirty scraped up selves in the motel, we formed a much needed beer expedition.

The gas station mini-mart refused to sell to us because while we were waiting in like with out twelve pack it had passed the legal time to purchase. We explained that we had been in line in time, that we’d flipped our car off the road, but to no avail, the heartless harpy, queen of that particular mini-mart would not budge. So we walked back to our motel. All in need of winding down, all a little trembly and high from our brush with death still.

We took long hot showers, ate candy, and sat near each other on the lumpy beds while watching bad television. We worried about how we would get home if the van was wrecked. The room buzzed with a different kind of tension now: a mix of shock, adrenaline, and a deep satisfaction in being alive.

We made some phone calls to friends to relate our scary tale, and uncertain future. The sweetest response of all was from Will, who immediately offered to come pick us, and all our gear, up if the van was indeed totaled. “Just let me know, and I’ll come get you.”

And though it turned out in the end we were able to drive home after duct taping the side mirrors back on, refilling the engine fluids, and replacing the tires and rims, it was nice to know that we had real friends, people who loved us, and that we loved each other still despite the long and tense time on the road. We drove the crumpled van home, and after it safely conveyed us there it was junked. The shop determining it would cost more than the thing was worth to fix everything we had broken, and that sooner than later it would give up altogether.

It’s so easy to get caught up in petty daily life annoyances and bullshit, It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. But I’d much rather my last thoughts be about friends and love and family, and not how annoyed and hungry I am.

Sometimes when I’m eating a burrito I get this strange overwhelming feeling that there isn’t much time left -- that I should take a step back and enjoy life, and value those around me, because I could go at any moment.