BY BETH ALLEN
BETH’S SIDE O’ THE DRUNKEN REVELRY
Being a truckin’ virgin, but having been behind the wheel of my ’81 Dodge Ram van for going on four years, I decided it was high time to get off my ass and hit one of the California van events I had seen listed on the internet. I found a local event coming up: Hoedown #17 “Jamaican Jam”. June 18-20, 1999 at Bolado Park, Hollister, CA. Sponsored by Misty Mountain Vans, Campbell, CA. Knowing full well the glory days of 70s Vannin’ events was long over, I had no idea what to expect. I mean who in the hell went to these things anymore and what kinda rigs were they sporting? A dude with the handle ‘Beer Bob’ of Misty Mountain Van Club was helping organize this weekend bash, which I figured was a good sign. I wasn’t sure how a punk rocker in a crazy purple flamin’ van and a bunch of SF misfits would be taken, but what the hell, we could at least spend a camping night getting loaded, and check out the scene.
I called up Leon and it was a go. We left Saturday morning with two other van lovin’ friends, Dulcinea and Kim.
As we drove up to Bolado Park, we could see that there were a bunch of vans scattered with tents and trailors, but not as many as I had hoped. We cruised into the event area and were met by Beer Bob who charged us our $15 bucks for the night and gave us an event magnet, raffle ticket, and ‘un-official program’ of what was scheduled to go down. Some sort of drinking game was in full swing (I noticed in the un-offical program later that it was called the ‘Rum Pour’ ) where a woman was bending over a sort of barrier, trying to aim and pour liquor into a shot glass five feet below on the ground. The game was right smack in front of where we needed to drive... so we had to detour a bit to the side and swing around the whiskey waterfall. It was about 3:30pm. Guess happy hour starts early at these things.
We drove along the grass wondering where in the hell we should park... feeling a bit like the new kids and all, we weren’t really sure what to do. There were over 30 vans clumped in little groups with van club banners swingin’ in the breeze. We slowly drove to the end of the line... (hoping to find somewhere free of kids to park our asses) and there she was — an old white Dodge with the side door swung up and open revealing a red velour mirrored interior. Dulcinea immediately noticed that it also sported a fucking rad chainlink steering wheel. Right on. We cruised on in, invading a group of five vans and one motor home. Jumping out we grabbed the cooler and some snacks, crashed at a picnic table and proceeded to get lubed up a bit before embarking on meeting our neighbors. They’ed started drinking hours before us and weren’t as shy as we were — they all eventually stumbled over to say hi and welcome us under their wings. We couldn’t have picked a better spot. Camel, a 58-year-old vanner and the owner of of the cool as shit white van with chain steering wheel (named ‘Old Girl’), came right over, and was hooting and hollering up a storm. “I am soooo excited to actually see a young chick that has a fucking van!!!” Ends up she used to do a van column (“Van Scan“) for Truckin’ Magazine for six years up until ’86 or ’87. Over the years she hadn’t met too many women who owned vans. (What’s new? Once again, it’s more of a boys club like most everything else.)
Camel turned out to be quite a party monster, I don’t think I ever saw her without a plastic glass of wine or a cold can of Keystone in hand the entire time we were at the Hoedown. She was loud as all hell, one of the last to crash out that night and one of the first outta bed in the morning. She outdid me by a long shot. God damn! Other neighbors included the Pirate Vanners (who had black leather vests with their club patches on the back, a big skull and crossbones logo): Jewels and her 16-year-old daugher Noel, and a couple, Linda and Steve. Jewels, also a chick vanner, had a Dodge too — complete with a CB, pirate flag adorned hood and crossboned license plate frame. It was kinda run down, but as Jewels told us later, she is a party vanner, not a show and shine type of vanner! She and Linda were busy cooking up Chili for the chili contest and Jewels was yelling “I am NOT a slut!! The word slut does not sound right with what I am. I am a whore... that’s right. A whore! A coke whore!!” This was gonna be an interesting night. Our little circle also included a friendly couple Robbie and Carol from Modesto and their RV (the van was left at home so they could bring their three dogs), and two older couples from the Visala Van Club. The older couples had newer 90s vans (that they had bought to use for roadtrippin’ instead of their older vans. The joy of cheap gas had become more important than being van hipsters they were to explain to us later.
We swilled a few Budwiesers and were ready to do whatever it is they do at truckins.
First off, we got a thorough show ’n’ tell of ‘The Old Girl’, Camel’s own wheels, and then she took us through the camp, personally introducing us to each group of vanners and their vans. There were only a few vans even worth mentioning: A rad ’73 Ford: ‘Old Blue’; a bit sad looking but still cool, a green machine with a faded 70s paint job of funky stripes, a killer black demonic looking monster with etch jobs on it’s back bubble windows and sunroofs and a cherry maroon Chevy with a polished hardwood floor and Chevy logo side windows. Most all of the other vans were bland or newer, nothing too exciting. I was disappointed not to see more decked out 70s and 80s classic vans, but I guess it was more of a camping family scene for this Hoedown shindig. Not a show and shine type o’ hot rod van show. Oh well. One funny thing was that most of the vans had the full-on inside-and-out coordinating color scheme going. I’ve never really thought of getting a purple shag carpet in mine, but fuck, it made my head gears spin with the idea. There were representives from different van clubs—San Diego, Washington, Oregon, Canada, and even Virginia. The banner flags were pretty cool. There was a vannin’ group called the Black Sheep (being a Minor Threat lover, I thought this was pretty cool), but the funny thing was that their flags logo was a black ram, which I guess is a sheep... but it was still a bit weird to me.
We headed back to my baby “Torch” and our circle of vannin’ neighbors. An adult talent show was happening in a few hours and Leon and I had signed up—he had brought his acoustic guitar and I had my ukulele. The plan was that to fully indulge in the Hoedown experience we had to intergrate as much as possible. We started to slam beers to get ready for our moments of public humilation in front of over 100 strangers. The chili contest was announced and we walked over to watch. I played ukulele behind my new buddies the Pirate Vanners (who adorned me with an extra club vest) as they displayed their chili and plastic pineapple rum drinks. The Hoedowns Jamaican theme had sprouted a hodge podge of tie dyes and hawaiian wear. A couple dudes even had those dread-wigs-with-rastaman-red/yellow/green-hippie-hats on. Yah mon, feelin’ irie. I was feeling buzzed as hell and from the scene going on around us, it seemed that everyone else was too.
The talent show took place on this HUGE fucking stage that coulda held a small arena rock band. So much for my idea of an intimate campfire gang bang! Everyone pulled out their lawn chairs facin’ the monstrosity and the show got rollin’ with Beer Bob lip synching to “Two Tickets to Paradise.” He was a bit off and didn’t sing into the mic half the time. Little did we know that the entire talent show (Leon and my act aside) was to be an overkill of lip synch acts... one after the other. “We are Family,” Prince’s “1999,” all bad choices... not one a rocker in my book. Leon and my attempts at ‘talent’ sorta stuck out, to say the least. I don’t think the vanners knew what to think of us. Beer Bob introduced both Leon and I with “and now we have a unique... uh, interesting act...” with a slight hesitation in his voice. Maybe he was afraid of the unknown. I ripped through a Pineapple Princess (my ukulele band) drinking song, “Me and the Boys” (all about hangin’ out with my favorite ‘boys’ Johnny Walker, Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, Pete, Mickey, Bud, Meyers, and Captain Morgan). I figured the drunks would like it and they seemed too. I was kinda nervous and fucked the chords up, but what the hell. Afterwards I blew a fumbly barcardi fireball... don’t know what compelled me to add the fire breathing finale, it was sorta stupid ’cause I had to set the uke down and everything before I could do it, but I just had the urge. Luckily I didn’t burn my lips off or anything. A couple more Milli Vanilli acts later “Uncle Leon” was up (“And now we have another unique, interesting act...”) and sang this amazing song he wrote about drivin’ down the blacktop.... it was totally great and he looked like such a redneck with his mustache, wifebeater, jeans, and baseball cap—it was all too much. He was shamelessy flaunting himself as fresh male meat in front of all these older, drunken vannin’ ladies who were to end up fawning over him until the wee hours of the morning (actually, flirtations with Leon had already begun at the chili contest tasting). More lip snycs later (complete with a booty flash from a skirt liftin’, pantiless contestant), the contest ended. We stumbled back to “Torch” and hung out draining our Bud filled cooler and hangin’ round the campfire with the Visalia vanners who were probably in their 60’s, as they told us stories and reminiced old times like “Remember when we were in SF and did shrooms and took Bart??” Shit like that. It was fucking cool, rapping with old timers that seemed more like us than people our parents age. Just when I thought things were quieting down for the night, Jewels came over to drag us to the “SLUT BAR.” A vanning tradition, this guy has a bar that he calls the “SLUT BAR,” that he brings to vanning events. There was hard alcohol and ‘tooters’ (basically, cosmopolations in test tubes) for a buck a shot. Four tooters later I was up on stage pawing through a stack of crappy CDs trying to find something rockin’ to push towards the dj but the pickins were slim. Needless to say, after some drunken stumbling with a bunch of other drunks attempting to ‘dance’ on the grass to Shangrai La’s “Leader of the Pack” and Village People tunes, I was sorta ready to pass out. Dulce and I weaved back to our camp even though it was only 11pm. Yeah, I wimped out. But like Dulce and I agreed, we both lose steam when there’s a lack of rockin’ music. Plus we both had hellacious colds and where sniveling and coughing up a storm. I slammed a mouthful of Nyquil and climbed in Torch for some shuteye.
Three hours later I was jolted from some snuggly dream I was immersed in, by Jewels and Linda the Pirate Vanners, and Camel, who were opening Torch’s doors and screaming at me that I was a pussy and needed to get up and party some more. I groaned and buried myself further in my cozy bag, hoping they would just go away. Which they did, but only for a few minutes till they came back to do it again. After that I decided to try and lock the doors to be safe... I sneakily crept outta my sleeping bag and hiding behind the seats, edged towards the doors and snuck my arm through the crack and punched the lock. There was a tiny moment of silence and the someone yelling “Oh we heard that! Locking your doors, huh?” What the fuck? These freaks were all at least 20 feet away, I couldn’t believe they’ed heard me lock the doors. Shit. Of course now that I was awake I had to take a piss. I laid and waited for all my new buddies to fucking go to bed so I could sneak out and run the 100 yards to the bathrooms. I was afraid to emerge and get sucked into the drunk babble and harrassment for trying to sleep. I waited... and waited... and waited... sorta dozed off. Finally at 5am I had a clean break and raced to the john. Felt much better. When I got up at 9:30am everybody fucking else was already milling around and one of the Pirate Vanners yelled at me when I popped out of Torch that it was ‘unacceptable’ that I was still snoozin’.
Coffee-less and hazy, we sat around and waited for the upcoming events, some game called the “Prez Toss” which Jewels was trying to talk us into entering as a Pirate Vanner, an Awards ceremony, and the raffle. Leon was videotaping and asking the old vanners to give us younger generation vanners advice. Jewels entertained us as we prompted her to reiterate a point she’d made the previous night, that “All VW van owners are perverts or serial killers.” Gotta love it. She elaborated with a story about a VW van that had come to a run she and the Pirate Vanners organized. The uninvited van parked outside the circle of other parked vans and the owner later molested a young kid from one of the black vanner clubs. Jewels told us how things got UGLY after that: knife weilding, fights, slashes. Sheeeeet!!!
One of the old timers from the Visalia van club was telling us about the good old days and kept saying, “You’re just 20 years too late!” Damn. All the talk the night before about van convoys to van runs of literally 1,000’s of fucking vans... had got me all hot and bothered. This run down rink a dink crappy music party just wasn’t cutting it for me. But I had no time to dwell, the “President’s Toss” was being called and the lawn chairs were all headed towards the monster stage once again.
The ‘“Toss” ended up being a cowpie flinging contest by the President of each van club. I was utterly amazed at the lackluster way everyone wandered up to toss their cowpies. Mere words cannot describe the low energy of the ritual. Hell, the teasing, taunting, jeering, cheering crowd of lawn chair dwellers had more ooompf, and were no doubt the best part of this ritual. I think we heard every possible shit joke you can imagine. “You sling so much shit, you should have no problem with this one!” “What a buncha crap!” ‘“Don’t lick your fingers.” All followed by a wave of murmured chuckles. It had a definate surreality, I gotta say. And it was only gonna get better. I integrated by lamely tossing some pies for the Pirate Vanners. Camel’s husband Darrell ended up winning. Next up were the “Awards” for the Horseshoe contest, Chili cook off, and of course, the Talent Show. Beer Bob right off expressed that it was a shoe-in for the “uh... the unique, interesting new talent acts”—that would be me and Leon—but that we weren’t gonna win 1st, 2nd or 3rd place, instead we recieved these sort of honorable mentions —“Special Thanks.” Leon and I went up to accept our spray painted boards with ‘“Special Thanks” plaques. Pretty cool. But I thought ‘“Special Thanks” was kind of a weird way to uh... word things. Let’s hear it for integration! After all the talent show award stuff ended it was raffle time!!! Leon had purchased about five bucks of tickets and we were all chilling out, just waiting to see what would happen. The grand prize was the 50/50— where the winner gets half the money from the sale of the raffle tickets (which was $102 buckaroos, a $51 prize). During the raffle we were entertained by more teasing, taunting, jeering, and cheering from the lawnchair crowd. I kicked myself later for not having the tape recorder rolling. This woman sitting near us had a big poodle type of dog on a leash and he was sraping his butt along the ground, doing a weird shuffle. I said, “What’s that dog doing?” and the woman loudly cackled at us in a drawl “‘He’s scratchin’ his ass”! The raffle was commencing and when Jewels loudly whined “How come I never win anything?” Someone barked “Shut up bitch!” It was a fest full of white trash quotes, I couldn’t believe what was coming out of some people’s mouths.
After the raffle, everyone wandered back to their vans. We went and packed up, said our good-byes to our vannin’ neighbors and new friends and took off. As we drove away we ended up in a mini-convoy of three vans.
Now I’m having daydreams of a rocknroll van club... a rock ’n’ roll vanner’s weekend. The thought of 40 punk rock deceked out vans and that huge arena rock stage all to ourselves... ahhh, the possiblitlites.
PICTURED ABOVE: (Top to Bottom) 1-Beth and Leon hang out with some new vanner friends. 2-Camel let's Beth sit shotgun in the Old Girl. 3-Chevy with a polished hardwood floor and Chevy logo side windows. 4-We knock em back at the Slut Bar. 4-Beth, Kim and Dulcinea throwiní em back at the Slut Bar. 5-Jewels in her colors, and Beth in a borrowed Pirate Vanners Van Club vest for the cowpie toss.