Death Wobbling Across The Country
Updated: Nov 15, 2021
this was taken somewhere in Illinois, it was the fifth of what would soon become 18 wobbles in one day.
Over the past three weeks I have been mercilessly trying to come to some semblance of understanding in regards to what it means to be on a national tour in 2021. I can’t ignore the cloud of selfishness that surrounds the idea of caravanning around the country, occupying small rooms, and lavishing in the shared droplets between myself and those restless enough to risk potential sickness. I also can’t ignore the sense of self effacement that my sensitive ego corners me in. Playing in small rooms where some nights hardly anyone shows up. There is a duality in this situation. I feel better for the wrong reasons when the room is packed, and I feel worse for the wrong reasons when the crowd is sparse. Would it have been morally just to stay home? Or is the time actually right to be playing live shows in a band? One answer reprimands my actions, the other justifies them.
These questions are almost irrelevant because I am currently on tour, and in the 18 months between this one and the last, I have forgotten how unforgivingly time consuming this is. Enough so that I don’t have the time to worry about the larger existential questions that arise from doing this thought exercise. I’m more interested in the myriad of smaller, yet much more pressing questions that present themselves to you on an adventure like this. The first one being, how do you fix the “Death Wobble”? If you are not familiar with the term I won’t be surprised, most mechanics in North America don’t seem to be either. The term applies to a faulty suspension problem? Transmission problem? In a passenger van that causes the whole fucking thing to shake, violently. It is absolutely horrifying, like occupying a cross country, van based, moving epicenter of a Ritcher breaking earth quake. The first time it happened was about five miles from my home in Los Angeles, the only reason why we didn’t pull over immediately and burn the van to the ground is
because we had experienced it a couple times before. Even though the shaking itself is terrifying, the effects appeared to be relatively harmless, and the time in between shakes is usually thousands of miles. So we figured we got our first wobble out of the way early, a sign of good luck, which you could categorize as the first stage of grief: denial. Within the next four days on our way from Los Angeles to D.C, we shook 25 times. We shook coming over the Rockies, we shook through the wheat plains of Kansas, we shook through the fog laden hills of Pennsylvania, and shook into our nation's Capital. The more it happened, the deeper we sunk into grief. The second stage of grief, anger set in after the 800 mile marker, upon noticing the bleeding knuckles of our tour manager from gripping the steering wheel hard enough to strangle a small deer just to keep us from wobbling off an overpass, screaming obscenities that even my notoriously fetid vocabulary was dumbfounded by.
Like dogs fleeing before an earthquake, we felt when it was going to happen before it did, and coined the sensation “PFW” (Potential For Wobble). PFW starts to spike when traffic builds or the van slows to a stop, you feel a slight tremble under the floor, and a spike of adrenaline, then it happens. The catch-22 of this is you can’t break through the wobble and you can’t speed through it because that only makes it worse. You just have to let it fucking happen until it decides to stop. Bringing us to the third stage, bargaining. By the time we had reached Columbus I had to talk our tour manager through a “PMB” (potential mental breakdown) upon seeing break lights down the road, the pair of us pathetically pandering to some kind of higher power in the hopes of staving off another wobble to no avail. We shook all the way through Columbus. Dylan, who resided in the back seat, had surpassed us in the grieving process and lay riddled with depression and apathy, opting to sleep through as much of it as possible, and thus negate creating new, shaky memories.
Throughout all of this absolute terror, we took our horribly broken tour van to half a dozen mechanics all over this godforsaken country; not one of them had anything remotely close to an idea of what we were talking about, let alone a suggestion. One mechanic in Maryland actually thought I was pranking him upon seeing a video I had taken of the van mid-wobble. By the time we had gotten to the D.C. area it was more than clear that a full blown U.S. tour in this van was unsustainable, to say the absolute least. We had to take surface streets for the last
three hours of our drive because the van was shaking every 30 seconds and the fear of being run off the road by a semi truck was not only palpable, but a legitimate concern. Therein lies the first problem that demanded my attention more so then the moral ramifications of playing shows because there would be no shows and potentially no band alive to play them if we continued in this van from fucking Hell.
Acceptance was found a few hours before the first show of the tour. We managed to find an extremely expensive rental van which has remained wobble free for a few thousand miles, although the trauma of the first van induced a deep sensation of post traumatic stress that flares up every time the new van rolls over a goddamn bump in the road. It doesn’t help that the East Coast of America seems to have completely neglected highway upkeep for the better part of a century.