Seymour Rants: Archer Driving
An entertaining tale from Mark Seymour about John Archer and driving in Northern America.
Author: Mark Seymour.
Date: Put online 4 April 2004.
Original URL: http://www.markseymour.com.au/rants/rants.htm
The Rockies loomed above us. A fog was rising as we headed east along the Trans-Canada Highway.
‘It’s going to snow’, said Archer.
“How do you know that?”
I asked for the sake of the conversation. There wasn’t a lot of it happening at that particular moment and I was always on for a chat when there was beer around.
To be honest, I wasn’t really that interested in HOW he knew. Archer just knew. It was that simple. Still, sometimes by asking him how he knew something, you could really go somewhere mysterious and bizarre; like the inner workings of an F111 turbine, or the magnetic coils of a bass guitar pick up. You NEVER KNEW when some amazing fact would be revealed.
There was something deeply intriguing in those unexpected glimpses into the dark universe of Archer’s mind.
By way of example, let’s consider the pick up in his bass guitar. It wasn’t really a ‘pick-up’ in the regular rock n’ roll sense of the word. It was in fact a metal detector that he’d once invented, in his former life, to test the strength of ferro-concrete pylons on the Derwent river bridge.
To know John Archer was to be intimately acquainted with machinery.
I sipped my beer. Malsons. There was a crate directly at my feet beneath the dashboard. The A/C was pumping hot air. I sat back and listened. I was beer monitor that night. A sacred trust. Various band-members would call upon me to pass the odd bevvie back over the seat into the outreaching hand, fingers waving in the gloom beside my face.
Archer’s capacity to endure behind the wheel had by that time become band myth. His driving ability was beyond reproach. The lives of the entire band were often in his hands.
We were all lounging around in our seats indulging in the usual inane banter. The atmosphere was pretty casual and Archer was only too happy to drive. He was the most altruistic person I’d ever met. Why anyone would actively choose to shoulder the burden of transporting the rest of us across the Rockies while we all got steadily pissed was beyond me.
It was madness.
Sure, I knew he was only a little bit obsessed about driving, but that meant he was only a little bit mad, which I found deeply comforting. It proved we had something in common. I pondered this idea for a while, as I sank into my warm comfortable seat and watched him squinting through the windscreen, occasionally wiping the glass with the back of his sleeve.
Somehow, the decision had been made to overnight from Vancouver to Calgary. The band had been called upon to sacrifice a night in a motel for the greater goal of conquering Canada as cheaply as possible. It was our third attempt and by this time we had succumbed to a kind collective hypnosis. Despite the sleep loss, the hangovers, and the mind-numbing distances covered in a transit van that stunk of ALCOHOLIC BLOKE, we fervently believed we were in THE MOST GLAMOROUS INDUSTRY ON EARTH. The floor was littered with empty take-away boxes and beer bottles that rolled around under the seats.
Back home they waited for us to ‘crack the American market.’
It was small price to pay for the success we’d already had back home, enough success to have gotten us there that night, to be not ‘resting on our laurels’ and dutifully squeezing into a ford transit outside the club, luggage on laps and elsewhere, the less travelled whingeing about managerial decisions not conducive to band comfort.
Gradually the beer took its toll and the squeaky wheels grew quiet. I remained vaguely awake, riding shotgun with Archer.
A thin veneer of ice began to congeal on the windscreen as we forged our way into the mountains. It was to be an epic drive. Not for the dozy.. Isettled in.We rounded a bend and a sweeping valley came into view at the bottom of a long precipitous descent. I perked up.
“What are you doing?”
I waited for some kind of response.
I leaned forward and grasped the dashboard with both hands. The van was picking up speed down a long graceful bend that came rushing up at us through the fog. At that moment, Archer must have been driving blind. And then the fog vanished. There before us was a long straight bridge with high concrete walls on either side. The road narrowed into one lane. We levelled off.Archer accelerated.
“Fuck John. Slow down.”
“Black ice,” he said, robotically.
ROBOCOP…..I thought, in my tiny mind.
Archer held the wheel loosely with his left hand, cracked his neck with his right and then started taking his leather jacket off. I couldn’t digest this. It was too bizarre. There had to be a point when, in order to avoid taking both hands off the wheel simultaneously, Archer would have to lower the jacket over his face leaving him sightless, utterly blind to the onrushing road, unless of course, he gripped the wheel with his knees. He proceeded to do this. THEN, he took both hands of the wheel and lifted the leather jacket up and over his head.
Why, AT THAT PARTICULAR MOMENT, did Archer decide to do this? Looking back on my life, as I sometimes do, that question resonates profoundly down the years. But I have made a vow never to find out why. I am too afraid to ring him up and ask! It is quite simply, too disturbing.
By now my brain was functioning with unusual clarity.
We hit the bridge. The road narrowed to a single lane. At that precise moment his head was completely obscured by the jacket. He was steering with his knees. But hey, A MAN’S GOTTA DO WHAT A MAN’S GOTTA DO. I leaned slightly to the left and noted the speedo. The van was travelling at 140 kilometres an hour.
“Lovely,” I thought.When his head was free he placed his hands back on the wheel and let go with his knees.
“Let me explain the logistics of our immediate situation”, he said. “Currently we have no traction. Our present speed has transformed the van into a projectile. The steering wheel must remain dead straight. This is the safest way to travel on black ice. Theoretically we are no longer in touch with the ground.”
Instantly it dawned on me that Archer’s mind wasn’t there, with me, in the Rockies. It was in fact, deeply embedded inside a theoretical problem that had something to do with Newtonian Physics.
“As long as the bridge stays straight we’ll be fine.”
“Oh.” I said.
An elk appeared in the headlights.
A Canadian elk. Two tonnes of mammal. Dead centre of the road. Concrete walls on either side. The elk was sniffing at something in the road. A mangled box of Kentucky Fried. I can still see the face of Colonel Sanders smiling at me. Archer accelerated. The V8 screamed.
“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?”
Not panicking though. He started jabbing the horn in short sharp systematic bursts. The elk didn’t move. More horn. He flashed the high beam. The elk looked up gracefully, zen like, without blinking. It’s huge brown eyes glistened in the headlights. I felt time slow to a dull lurching motion as we careened to our deaths. Archer hit the horn in one continuous burst with his left hand while he flashed with his right.
A hundred metres away the elk began to move….or sort of ambled to the right. A gap emerged.
“Go you bastard!” I yelled at the elk, and then at Archer.
“Aim for the gap.”
“Can’t. Can’t turn the wheel.”
The elk continued, stopped and then began to turn back.
“OH MY GOD!”
We sailed past, horn blaring. The elk took out the side mirror. It’s huge snout delicately brushed the glass next to my face leaving a broad trail of elk snot.
Archer took his foot off the accelerator. We coasted to the other side.
This from someone in the back. I turned to look. The entire band were leaning forward in their seats, mouths hanging open, five ashen faces glowing
in the dashboard light. Nobody spoke.
The wind whistled through a gap in one of the windows. Someone asked,
“Is there any beer left?”