It was the first of two stops before the long drive home to Pennsylvania. The next one would be to top off the tanks just after sunrise. We always tried getting home before the sun came up, creatures of the night that we were. Sometimes it just wasn't possible. This was going to be one of those nights, despite how many speed laws were broken. It really sucked driving east with the sun directly in your eyes, silently but very brightly proclaiming its BRAND NEW DAY – until it moved far enough upward off the road to be shaded by the visor. I always considered that a personal robbery of some kind. Or was it paying for the privilege of doing the job you wanted to be doing? Either way, it meant driving through the night till that flaming, bright yellow ball crept up over the horizon while the rest of the world slept, curtains drawn, inducing the night-like umbra needed for blissful daytime slumber. And that world included the last audience we played for, all snug in their beds while visions of their favorite rock stars played on in their heads...
It was an unwritten rule that the drummer drove home because he never drank. Alcohol, that is. He did lose his license thirteen times for speeding, though. Details, details. He was still the best qualified, considering.
This night was late in the Winter of 1992, almost Spring, and in that part of the country anything could happen, meteorologically-speaking, whether the calendar said “Spring” or not. Our location was a convenience store just outside of Buffalo, New York. The time was a little after three in the morning. It had begun to snow just as we left the club, with large flakes falling and causing the ground and the highway we were on to go white very quickly.
This was the glamorous part of being a rock musician that the public never saw: the band members pumping gas and meandering around inside a convenience store like the undead, in the wee hours. These places were a roadside oasis in the dark and usually located in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes we would run into other meandering rock musicians milling about a place, only an hour so removed from their gig and desperately seeking a bathroom. Those convergences were not unlike two tribes meeting on the road to somewhere, their unique names emblazoned on a T-shirt or jacket. The mutual recognition and acceptance was instantaneous. There was no problem communicating. We all spoke the same language. We wanderers had a lot in common. We performed in the same venues, shared the same markings, hair styles and, like ancient minstrels, we had stories to tell. Storytelling, mostly humorous or amazingly unbelievable but true anecdotes, would erupt spontaneously once your band's name was mentioned.
“Oh! That's you?” they would say. “Cool! We were just playing [fill in the regionally appropriate venue name here] and I just gotta tell you what happened...there was this chick...”
There was always “a chick”.
Everyone knew of everyone else because our bands' names were written on the dressing room walls. The stories and jokes inscribed there were our sort of private social media of the time, and often became interactive by each band contributing their own scribblings and art to a particular ongoing thread. That response would be answered (or commented on) the next time the originator rolled through town, usually on a 6-8 week rotation. We all knew each other by those specific iconic petroglyphs (as in, created by rock musicians), although we most likely had never met. And, unless we shared the bill at a venue, we certainly hadn't seen each other perform because we all worked the same night shift.
This was not one of those nights with buzzing store aisles awash with loud anecdotal chatter full of band tribal lore of sexual conquest, crowd capacity and stage antics. This oasis was devoid of any post performance social entertainment, a quiet place with an empty parking lot. It was an eerie contrast to the sonic ghosts of the preceding night's repertoire that continued to ring in our ears.
The stores' sometimes fraternal circus-like atmosphere always provided just the right mix of junk food and laughs at just the right hour. Some of the worst (but perfectly satisfying) food known to man would be consumed, then washed down with a beer or three from the bar in the back of the limo. Then the lucky ones would nod off to sleep, putting their fate in the hands of the drummer who would continue straight through to the next stop unless “piss call!” was shouted from the backseat. The guy who kept the tempo on stage, pegged the speedometer at a continuous pace on the road, pushing the envelope of our mechanical steed's limits, all the way back home.
Ordinarily, I would ride shotgun, keeping him awake for the duration of the trip. Not tonight. I was planning on some sleep in the back left seat. When I did ride up front as navigator/co-pilot, we solved all the world's problems, over and over and over again (it's amazing how they kept coming back), from the front seats of every limo we ever owned. And we dared the sun to rise before we pulled in our driveways! Occasionally, but not too often, I would fall asleep and would be awakened by a high-pitched whine that lasted only a half second, and the sensation that we were buffeting turbulence in an airplane. The reality of which was passing over a bridge, which would normally take three seconds and cause a low hum, the car bumping up then down over its ends. That sound and sensation are much enhanced at over ninety miles per hour. Another day, another night, another ride home from another gig.
I opened the door and crawled out from back-on-the-left. I had legitimately called it just as we all exited the club. Everyone had to be outside before you could claim your seat, which was a quick (literal) shout out. Example of which, follows...
“You can't call it till everyone is out of the building.”
“Who's not here?”
The seconds would slowly tick off until the backdoor swung open and the absentee musician would step through its opening, enabling the legitimacy of your riding preference.
Every one had to have an equal chance, you see.
“SHOTGUN!” four voices would shout simultaneously, trying to secure the one seat up front. Somehow we worked it out without pummeling each other. Despite our second album's title, No Rules, we had these simple rules whose structure had unintentionally evolved out of necessity. They governed daily and imbued a sense of familial organization to what would otherwise be chaos. Rules, that without respect for each other, would be useless and have no effect. Anarchy would be the order of the day – and night! Boys will be boys.
I grabbed the nozzle from the gas pump. With one hand squeezing the handle, I leaned back against the car watching the snow come down. I followed the large flakes to the ground knowing they were creating a miserable surface for driving – in this state, at least.
It's coming from the west. We're heading east. With any luck we will be able to drive out of the storm, staying ahead of it. Not many people on the roads this time of night. That's a good thing, I thought.
The gallons, dollars and cents continued to click off, seemingly without end into the hungry belly of our transportation monster. I looked over my shoulder to see the other guys walking around inside the store, milling about aimlessly, looking for just the right consumables that had not been provided on the deli tray in our dressing room barely an hour before. Finally, the pump clicked off. I replaced the nozzle, leaned over and shut the flap on the limo. An irregularity in the continuous thin white layer of snow caught my eye.
What the hell is that?
On the concrete island that held the gas pumps was a snow covered lump. Something was lying on the flat surface and was covered in about a half inch of undisturbed snow. I reached down, picked up the object and shook the flakes off of it. It was a billfold stuffed with papers, receipts and envelopes haphazardly sticking out of its sides. As the other band members returned to the car, I headed into the store, closed billfold in hand, to pay the clerk and get some eats. Just inside the door, I looked around and saw that it is empty, no other customers in the store. My find was apparently not a newly lost item. I paid for the gas, and inquired as to whether anyone had come looking for the thing.
“Nope. But you can leave it with me for safe-keeping,” said the grinning dubious-looking third shift minimum wage guy.
“That's okay. I'll take care of getting it back to its owner,” I said and headed out into the back of the limo. I got situated in the back left seat and I pulled my briefcase onto my lap and opened it.
“Here. Check this out while I make the entries into my expense log,” I said tossing the bulky object into the singer's lap, next to me. I penciled in the gas amount and pulled the petty cash advance slips for the past week from the money bag. I grabbed my calculator and started getting everyone's pay in order for disbursement to the band members in the car.
“Ahhh!” screamed the singer.
“What?” I said, startled from his outburst.
“Where did you get this?!” he asked with a terrified look on his face.
“In the snow. By the gas pump. It was buried. Why? Is it full of cash?” I said laughing.
“You picked this up? You did? Nobody gave it to you?” he said with a strange look on his face and still holding the handful of papers.
“Yes, I picked it up! What's the big deal? What's the matter with you??”
“Ahhh! You stay away from me! I don't want you sitting next to me! Here!” He handed me a folded slip of paper. “This is really weird!”
I opened it immediately and read it. My mind reeled. It took me a few seconds to grasp the odd reality of the moment. It was as if it were a carefully crafted practical joke. But that was impossible. I stared at the paper waiting for the letters to somehow change or morph into something else.
I must be reading it wrong. It can't say that!
I looked again, only vaguely hearing some unintelligible vocalizations in the background from the singer and the rest of the guys in the car as I continued my impromptu analysis of the paper's printed contents. It had proved to be a strangely entertaining evening after all. The piece of paper in my hand would prove to have a long-lasting quality to it. And, because of the randomness of the event, may not be fully understood for exactly what it was – a random event. In other words, this is how shit gets started. I could have just as easily not picked up that snow-covered lump, resulting in someone else doing just that. But that would have been against my nature.
I don't remember the exact thought I had before I passed the slip to the other inquiring band members in the front seat of the limo – only that I would keep it, or copy it, because no one would ever believe this story without physical proof of its existence.
What I had held in my hand was a handwritten receipt dated March 13, 1992 from an insurance company in Buffalo. There was no recipient's name written on the check-sized document but printed across the top was the name, “Jeffrey Willoughby Insurance.”
Author's note: This is a true story. There was no cash or checks in the billfold. And there was no detailed information to lead me to return it to its rightful owner. I contacted the insurance company and they had no leads as to the owner either. I did, however, speak with someone there and they found the story to be rather amusing, but freaky.
“Synchronicity” © 2015 by J.A. Willoughby - All Rights Reserved
DO NOT COPY – IT IS ILLEGAL AND I WILL PROSECUTE VIOLATORS
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“Synchronicity” is from the second collection of short stories from the This Side of Center anthology released June, 2016 under the title, This Side of Center-Encore.
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