Now traveling on the road isn’t all just about the music and gigs, although a large portion of it is, I so regularly comment about the sights and things I view from my driver-side window, sometimes it’s a bit more than the quotidian events that come into our tours that I feel I must share. Let’s start with the horn of my van.

Now let me preface this that I am just relating and telling a story. I know there’s a lot of ‘how-to’ and ‘you know you should try…’ suggestions that the following story can pull out of some of my empathetic and ‘just want to help out’ fans and I get it. But I’m not looking for these and I just want to entertain and inform you. So here goes,

A couple of years back I was not paying attention to where I was casually idle-driving in a supermarket parking lot and when my eyes were averted for a short duration of time, I plowed into a light in the parking lot. You know the kind that’s over 25’ tall and mounted on a large concrete cylindrical base. I must’ve been going between 5 and 10 mph and it really buckled in the front bumper almost a foot right in the middle. The accident did not affect the radiator nor did it affect the front end and my air bag did not engage. Thank goodness, that would’ve been a wake-up. Since I wasn’t in the best of mental capacity, during one of ‘those’ times, I could not call the police to report it and the damage to the light was more than negligible so I looked around and no one seemed to notice so I surreptitiously slinked out of there. I had lost that battle. Also, fortunately the concrete base wasn’t too high as to smash into the radiator so the damage was largely cosmetic. So I ingloriously and with great humility drove the short distance home. A feeling akin to walking around with a big shiner on my face, with all the people around you and their imaginations running wild about what might’ve happened. Yes a bit shameful it was. Really.

The next day I took the van up to the closest body shop and told them just to put a new front bumper on. I didn’t even replace one of the front valences or panels that run along the front because it’s just a thin strip and the pushed in part does not interfere with the van’s functions. Bumper replaced and the van looks fine, but I notice my horn is sounding a bit ‘constricted’ and I assumed it was obviously altered by the accident. It still kind of worked but on a drastically reduced volume level, kind of kills the purpose of the horn, I know, and I left it as is if only for humorous reasons and besides it still worked at red lights to alert drivers in front of me when the lights would turn green. So as far as I was concerned the horn still was fulfilling its purpose. It didn’t take long for the horn to stop working altogether. When your horn stops working on your car it seems like for some weird karmic unexplained reasons, you start to happenstance into situations, with repeated frequency, where a horn would be most helpful. Cars veering into your lane on the highway, people texting in front while waiting at a red light ect. It just starts up and there’s nothing you can do about it, and the kicker is, events such as these don’t seem to hold your attention very long and the next one comes just after you’ve forgotten the last event and you’ve then once again settled into a state of complacency about not having a horn and the impetus and conviction to replace the horn has passed. This cycle went on for about 2 years and finally after the said events piled up one after another in that recess of my mind where they are stored, until finally the events started to occupy more and more space in your everyday thinking. Besides my horn was also an extension of my emotional outbursts. Whether it was for an enthusiastic approval of a comment or agreed upon action, or just me playing along with the music on the radio. I liked this added outlet and it was quite some time before I stopped pressing the middle of the steering wheel to display my outburst. These feelings combined with the hazardous and annoying events were starting to win the day and I had made up my mind that I was to replace the horns. Right.

hornSo while on our downtime in Laughlin, NV, I was determined to replace the horn. I had gone to an auto parts store the same day I replaced that starter in Omaha, NE and purchased a single horn to mount on there but I would wait till I got home because I would have access to my tools there, but the normal activities of the day took over and the horn faded once again out of my priorities and we left heading west without even so much as an attempt to mount it. Now in Laughlin it was to the parking lot I ventured and I got to work. After mounting the horn I went to test it and no-go. It was not responding. Frustrated, I just figured I had gotten the wrong kind at the parts store because the original was a double horn set-up; one high and one low frequency. The plastic parts of the horns had been smashed in the original accident with the light post and all that remained were just two flat looking discs. No wonder the sound was diminished. So I thought I’d just go to the Ford dealership on the other side of the Colorado River and buy a new horn and put it on. Besides, how much could it cost? The auto parts store was a $19 job so even with a dealership I’d be safe in assuming a 300% increase was in order. $60 bucks, I can deal with it if it’s an official Ford part. Right? Well I was partly right about the markup, it was about $67 for the horn, but don’t forget, there’s two of them so that’s going to be about $150 with tax and all. Me and the person helping look the part up , we kind of both shook our heads because this information was both new to us; the high price that is, so I thanked him for his assistance and left. Since the Laughlin/Bullhead City isn’t that big I had then figured to look through a salvage yard once we got to Salt Lake cuz’ after all , the bigger the city, the better chance of finding a horn and for a much more reasonable price. I would have to wait another week or so.

The day after we arrived in Salt Lake, I was looking through the phone book, yes one of those things remember?, a dying anachronism but totally suitable for this cause. Sometimes the internet just can’t be specific enough for you when you’re as lousy as I am with search terms and I’m just concentrating in a local area. I find one really close to us and since Dustin had to get something from the pharmacy he tagged along to offer assistance in my endeavor.

People that run and work at salvage yards are a whole different sub-species in themselves. I don’t use the term ‘sub’ to describe them as inferior or lacking intelligence, to the contrary, they are extremely knowledgeable in their field and quite deft with what can be salvaged off each vehicle and quick to separate the part from it. It’s impressive. Dustin and I are told to peruse around the junkyard and see if we find anything. I’ve brought along a 10mm open-ended crescent wrench cuz’ I know that’s all it takes to get a Ford horn off its mounting. The cars are stacked one on top of each other and they’re separated by coupes, trucks, vans ect. It’s like we’re in a maze but fortunately it’s not that big of a spread. There’s a big forklift running around in the paths and when we duck into a row you’ve got that constant sound from the forklift coming hither and going thither creating the Doppler Effect with its sound. The vision from the Terminator movies come to mind when those rag-tag soldiers are fighting the machines in that pseudo-industrial wasteland running for cover and taking shots at the machines when the opportunity arises. Dustin and I are going in between these narrow rows of stacked up cars and we can see the evil forklift through the gaps of twisted and stacked metal coming towards us in ominous advance but then going away because the thing didn’t see us; we live to fight on. At times I’m still such a kid at heart. We find a horn on a truck and I get to work. In 5 minutes the horn is in my hand and we go to the office to report our success and to pay. I ask if I can test it first before we pay and they mark it and tell me go ahead. We work at getting the horn on and when it’s connected up there is no response. We start checking things off the list in a diagnostically fashion; check the fuses, check the relay, hook up the horn to a power source. Even the one from the auto parts store works but the old one off the Ford truck that was resting on top of two other vehicles is not. I have to admit that it’s funny how horns make us jump even when we know the honk is coming. I was watching Dustin connect wires from the horn to the battery poles to check out if it’s working and upon the report of the horn he still jumps as if he’s been suddenly startled even when it’s Dustin who’s making the connection knowing its coming. Too funny. I take the pulled horn back in and tell them it doesn’t work. The staff at the salvage yard is undeterred and I’m assigned the crustiest but savviest person on the lot to assist me in finding one that does work. This man is of about my height but an inch or two taller, all silver hair and clean shaven with a dirty baseball style cap on and dressed in oily grease stained coveralls. With a bandana sticking out his back pocket and a man who exhibits confidence and self-assuredness I dutifully fall in line behind him and only call him by ‘Yes Sir’ every time he speaks to me. We find a horn as he’s helped by an enthusiastic subordinate there doing most of the dirty work in acquiring the part. Something tells me this Salvage Yard Master invokes this type of earnestness out of the people under him. Tough but fair. After the part is quickly obtained, on our short walk back to the office I keep using the word ‘Y’all’ and he dryly ask me ‘What in the hell is a ‘Y’all”? Then he relates that his son lives in North Carolina and he says the same thing to him when on visits to see him. He also informs me that his son is a 3-star general in the Armed forces. I’m impressed for his son but not surprised he turned out that way. His dad strikes me as a leader too. We test the horn out, (by the way even this stoic man did a little ‘startle’ jump when he tested out the horn which I observed and smiled at his humanness), everything worked so back out to the parking lot to put it on and again there’s no response after I’ve mounted it. Dustin then suggests the connector from the wire on my van going to the horn is bad and says I should use the one on the horn that I’ve gotten because we know it works. So I snip off the connector from my van with some wire cutters and strip a bit to enable me to tie the wires together and ‘voila’ it works now. Mission accomplished. Took a little bit of time and got my hands slightly dirty but you can’t argue with results. Best of all; it only cost me $25.

And now for the Pronghorns….

I have a few stretches of Interstate that are my favorites to drive. One of those stretches is by far the longest distance and it happens to be driving east on I-80 leaving Salt Lake City. Not only does it start in dramatic fashion by leaving the Great Basin Area the Great Salt Lake no doubt had a bit of a hand in creating, I-80 seems to go right into the mountainous ridge which dominates the western side of SLC and its surrounding cities that are bisected by I-15. As you go east you head straight for the mountains and you seem to enter along this narrow pass that goes in between these mighty sentinels of SLC. During the month of September this narrow pass through the mountains comes alive in brilliant colors of varying greens and yellows, reds, oranges and browns all signaling the coming fall season. It’s one of the most beautiful sights I know with all the colors viewed in a vertical perspective canvas. Breathtaking and I love it. But this is not September and I’m still enjoying it but what I’m really doing is waiting for my first sight of a Prong horned Antelope. Yes there are other roads you can see them on but none, from my experience, are a consistent as I-80 is year round. Usually they start to appear when you get close to Laramie but sometimes earlier. Those are the moments I wait for. The Prong horn is the fastest land animal on the North American continent/Western Hemisphere and they resemble an elk in size but you think of a deer because of their color scheme. With their robust white backside, belly and tan markings in the front and along the top of their backs, they’re easy to spot in the non-winter months from far away due to their colors. The white against the sage green or other vegetation is a dead giveaway. The males are sporting their prong horns and the females, although they do have horns but are much smaller and hardly noticeable unless they’re close to the freeway which occasionally they are. When seen up close you get a hint of their power from their hind quarters and front shoulders but how do they manage those staggering speeds on those spindly legs? They get it on but I’ve never seen one in full stride. When I see them out in the wild I makes me think back to the days of yore when this was all untamed Western land when explorers and then cowboys and even before them Indian tribes roamed the lands. I love seeing them. An animal that is specific to just this wide area in the west. Yes there is a couple of sub species in Arizona and one in Mexico but they aren’t seen with so much frequency. After I see the first one I relish every sight until there are no more. Usually it’s when you get out of their known habitat area. We bed down in Laramie and then take US287 south into Ft. Collins, CO then jut east over to I-25 down to Golden. US287 is another gorgeous road that I haven’t been on in a while and it was good to see those sights again. I so enjoy my job on many levels. Yes I don’t make a lot of money doing it, I’m away at times from the people I love, but I have to come to terms with who I am. I am a musician that loves to get out and play to different audiences and towns and cities every day. To receive nature’s sights as inspiration as food for my soul in the day, then to play with emotion and feed my soul at night with musical landscapes I try to create is in my opinion, just about the best job anyone could have.

Through all this misery and heartache I’ve been living with the past 3 months, I have to have gratitude for the things nobody can take away from me; my music and where it brings me.

  • Gerard Hill

    You are never far from the ones you love.I trucked out many a night to the Stephen Talkhouse to see you out on the tip of Long Island.In the early days the tables were full,and I was adopted by a family that would drive to see you everywhere.I am up to date on all your compact discs.Compulsive that way.I thought your best work other than the early work was the Blue Velocity period.When you came over with the Japanese band,I was at the Talkhouse then too,and I think my face actually melted because of the assault.I saw you at the Riverhead Blues Festival last.I went for you.No one else.You were magnificent.You are best suited for a three piece.I happened to notice you were playing Treme Islip on May 15th,and I am thinking about showing up with my original Chris Duarte Group shirt.I know how hard you work at what you do,and how much you enjoy it.Just to let you know,I live out east on Long Island and am retired and have fun with a facebook page called Where Music Lives Forever.Just type it in and it will come up.I am seeing Southside Johnny this Saturday,but starting Sunday,I will be promoting your music 24/7 on my page.I have a personal approach.I make no money.I do not profit off of musicians property ,nor do I work for any other agency.It’s all about the LOVE of the music.Hopefully if all goes well,I will see you at the show.Don’t lose heart.At the Riverhead Blues show,I met a woman who came up to me,because of my shirt.Is that Jo-Ann?She might remember me.If anything tell her to message me right at the facebook site Where Music Lives Forever.Let’s get some people out to see you.Maybe I can generate some tickets by sending it out.If there is anything you want on the wall,just let me know and I will post it…….”You walk around here like beauty lasts forever child……….someday when your beauty is gone,Are you gonna be all alone……..Cleo” Get happy.I’m about an hour from Treme.Lets get those people out.Oh,and the pictures of the deer were beautiful.I am not a hunter.How someone can put those animals down is beyond me.I just hadn’t purchased your last album.It was shipped today.God Bless Chris.See ya on the 15th.Gerry

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