I know that it is not politically correct to speak ill of the dead, however I do not consider the following story to be “speaking ill.” I know that it’s common for people to remember those who have passed in a selective light. Often, after our friends have left us, friends who – like the rest of us – had their good and bad qualities, suddenly seem to only be remembered for their positive attributes. I suppose it’s human nature, but let’s be honest: we all have our faults, and we all have our damage to varying degrees, and I for one hope to be remembered for both my positive and negative attributes when I finally leave this world. I’ll be the first to recognize my weaknesses and shortcomings. It’s part of who I am. It was also part of who Ben was, and was certainly part of Ben’s magnanimous charm. Disclaimer aside, please read on.
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I think I can say in all fairness that Ben was an alcoholic. At the very beginning of every tour that we ever did, his first order of business would be to have us stop at a store to buy at minimum, a half case of beer. It didn’t matter whether it was day or night, whether we’d even hit the freeway out of Seattle yet, we’d be stopping at a 7-11 or a Safeway so he could get his road fuel, and usually before we were even out of the parking lot, he would have cracked his first beer. Which led to the next one and so forth…within 4-5 hours he would have finished all 12 bottles, which would have been fine, however usually within the first 45 minutes of the trip, Ben would beg for us to stop because he had to piss, which also meant that we’d have to stop every half an hour just so he could empty his bladder. This was – in my mind – unacceptable. We all fussed about how it was not necessary that he drink beer the entirety of the tour, and that it was not realistic to stop on average every half hour for the next 45 days on the road, particularly on those days when we had a 10 hour drive in front of us. Ben however, was not willing to make that particular compromise, and we were not willing to accommodate his desire to have us stop every damned rest stop and gas station along the freeway just so he could relieve himself. So we came up with a “solution.” Ben would be responsible when we first stopped for his half rack of beer to also grab an empty Big Gulp cup with a top, and that would become the receptacle for his frequent need to empty his bladder. My preference – being the inflexible taskmaster that I was then – was still that he just not drink in the van, but the rest of the troops searching for the path of least resistance, said “ok.” Ben would slowly fill his portable 40 ounce plastic cup doing his best as we were blasting down the freeway to get it all in the cup. A lid was essential to the whole operation. The piss cup was stored along the floor in the recessed area next to the sliding side door, and every 2 or 3 hours, when we had to stop for gas and snacks, we’d spill out of the van and Ben would take care of emptying the contents of the cup. Some of the time however, the cup would be completely full, and we’d be nowhere near a stop, so Ben would unroll the passenger window and toss the cup to the side of the road, and he’d grab a fresh cup at our next refill.
The heater in the van had stopped working during one of the colder tours that we embarked on. It was November and we were at the tail end of our trip. Our last show had just finished in Chicago, and it was bitter cold outside – somewhere in the high 20s – low 30s. The show was not one of the highlights of the tour. It was reasonably attended, but we were tired, and ready to get home. After getting paid, Ben managed to secure a full case of beer. He was elated. Ben also managed to score a quarter gram of crystal, which was essential as we were going to attempt a straight shot drive – 42 hours more or less non-stop from Chicago back to Seattle, with all of us but Ben trading driving shifts. The crystal was essential, because we needed to be chemically stimulated for this particular leg of the trip. Two needed to be awake, the driver – which was going to be me through the night – and the other – Ben – to keep the driver engaged. Everybody got bundled up wrapped from chin to toe in our sleeping bags trying so stay awake in a van with no heater boring along the dark freeway in the freezing night. It was hellish. I’m driving, and Ben is in the passenger seat, equally mummified with one of his arms out, beer in hand and a half full cup of piss on the floor next to him.
About an hour away from Chicago, Ben had managed to fill his cup. We were all still awake and barely staying warm as we careened west along the freeway as fast as our poor van was able to go. We had almost two days of driving ahead, and we would do our best to make tracks as best as the van would take us. Ben unrolled the window to toss the cup, and the biting ice-wind rushed into the cab of the van. The rest of us were all yelling for him to hurry up and toss the cup fer fuckssake. I slowed down a bit to ease the force of the air rushing in. Ben half unraveled himself from his sleeping bag and tossed the cup out the window.
The events of the next few seconds all occurred in painful slow motion.
The cup got caught in the air and did two quick 360 degree spins before the lid from the cup became unhinged and the entire contents of the Big Gulp came rushing back through the open window covering Ben from the top of his head down to his waist which was mostly sleeping bag now soaked in his own urine. I saw the splash coming in and actually swerved the van as if to avoid an animal in the road. I never knew if it made any real difference, but the leading edge of the wave missed me by literally an inch or two. I was spared, as was everyone else in the van, now all howling hysterically, completely aware of what had just occurred. Ben was sitting there in his seat, hair completely dripping onto his coat and further drenching his sleeping bag, which he had little choice but to keep on because it was so incredibly cold. It reminded me of that classic National Geographic photo of that monkey in the hot spring, his wet head half frozen and the look on his face pissed off and indignant. That was Ben. Not just covered and soaking in his own piss, but mortified and frozen as the temperature crept in to his hair and his clothes and into his damp stinky sleeping bag. The howling laughter went on for minutes. In retrospect this was perhaps the grossest story in our arsenal of tour stories, but at that particular moment, it was the definitive “told-you-so,” the ultimate cosmic payback.
The worst part though, was that we was still had another 41 hours to go.