The Timely Death of Vita, the Veggie Van. Print


The weekend commenced with a clamour of symbols and a train wreck of a show at The Salida Cafe. Now, I've played this listening room about every six months since I was 12. It's my hometown gig, and it happens to be a good one, so it's been a more consistent presence in my life than most family members, band mates, or love affairs. I twitch as I type the name, Salida Cafe, because I still can't quite quit calling it Bongo Billy's, what it was originally christened. There have been so many evenings that I've chatted comfortably with the owner, Clark, by the register while he tallies up the proceeds. But this time, well, we hadn't been able to rehearse all that much before the show. David had been down South playing stompin' blues and roots music for two weeks, and I had to teach all the new stuff to Carl minus David. It was a Thursday night and the room was about half as full as it usually is. As Clark counted up the cash, I thought about how much I was looking forward to hitting the sack.

We loaded up the van and pulled out of the parking lot, successfully waking up any early-to-beders in the neighborhood with the loud knock of Vita's diesel engine. Back in Minturn where we'd stopped for lunch there'd been a nay-sayer walking by with a cane and ZZ-Top beard, "I hope you're not going over the pass in that thing! Sounds bad, little lady." I'm not really the type of girl that likes to be called "little lady," so I told him "mind your own business!" Ok...maybe I only said that with my eyes. Two blocks away from the Salida cafe the tick-tock knock slowed to a full stop, and Vita made it damn clear she wasn't inteding on starting again. We pushed her to the side of the main strip, right smack in front of the local bar, The Victorian Tavern, or, The Vic.

I sat behind the steering wheel, staring, for about five minutes. David and Carl grew increasingly curious and uncomfortable. "Nope, sorry mate, you're not dreaming, this is your life," I said to myself. "Deep breath," and opened the van door. We proceeded to unload all the speakers, stands and instruments from the back, the strewn clothing, coats, bags, books, loose change, motor oil containers, and oddly shaped tools until I found the vice grips and the spare fuel pump.


Ok, so it's time to confess. Vita's needed a new fuel pump about every two months for, well, her whole life. The WVO has to be wicked hot to flow easily through the fuel system, 180 degrees to be exact, and it's so hot that it melts the plastic components in the pump. I could just buy a new pump that has metal components (now wouldn't that be brilliant!) but instead I've personally exchanged the stock fuel pump in every damn NAPA in the country. Twice.

So I get to work fixing it, wishing to god that Chris were there to help. David and Carl are making me laugh at least, chalk full of that's-what-she-said jokes and having a smoke. But I still feel the tolerance timer ticking down, and as I hurriedly clamor with the tools like a drunk dentist in stage clothes, a coyboy squints into the street light and recognizes the nerdy girl from English class. "Gabby?!?"

"Well, here we are, at the height of our careers," David says. For the hundredth time.

That night I soaked in the hot tub and stared up at the stars. I had a headache from breathing the diesel fumes that I couldn't kick. I couldn't sleep. Half my brain was on repeat with a new song lyric, and the other half was bleeding air out of the fuel lines sans a flashlight. Either way, it wasn't tired, and it sure hurt bad. Clark had eventually ridden by on his bicycle, circa one a.m., and convinced me to give it up and try again in the morning. (But not after we try one more thing! And not after one more drunk cowboy offered to help while teetering on his feet and crashing into the curb, smelling like whisky.) Oye, Vay.

Chris, our beloved road manager, and Mandy, good friend and jazz singer who was lending her lovely voice to the next two gigs, arrived the next morning donning more tools and energy, and within a couple hours we were hitting the road again. "Chris could change the color of the moon if he wanted to." And that's what my roommate Art has to say about that.


The gig in Montrose came and went, the post-show festivities came and went, again with little sleep and plenty of raunchy humor. Standing on our host's porch at two a.m., staring at miles of pastures and city lights, a cow-gasm interrupted David and I's philosophical conversation about truth. Yes. a cow-gasm. I have to confess I've never really thought about whether or not those truthfully exist, but as it turns out--they do.

A downright paganism cellebration of decadence and abundance is what came the next day. Paonia, Colorado, home to many of the orchards and vineyards in the state, is a flash-back-to-the-60s with its music festival called "Mountain Harvest Festival." We'd been hired to play a set for the third year in a row, so I knew exactly what kind of ridiculous joy was about to descend upon us. The set went great, Paonia graciously gave us a standing ovation, and Carl wore a red boa while banging the drums like a toe-headed heathen. He had us all sinking into each downbeat like mud, trudging solidly and somehow, spiritedly all at once. David wore his usual stoic stage face and made a series of dry quips that had the audience chuckling between songs. The string of notes that he pulled from his guitar were so colorful and buoyant that I felt every song to be new. I love that. Mandy sang spot on harmonies despite a severe hearing loss she suffered at 19. Not to mention she looked stunning in the red dress she was wearing, and performed the most expressive version of sign language lyrics that I've ever born witness to. I left the stage very very proud of my friends.

Have you ever heard traditional Indian music? I hadn't. After our set we wandered into the venue next door where a woman named Beth Quist sang in a three octave, micro-tonal range on a stage outfitted with tie-dyed, trippy tapestry while playing the piano and the guitar AT THE SAME TIME. I felt like I was in Berklee, CA, 1965. I didn't know if we'd make it home the next day or not, (Vita was still coughing like she hadn't kicked the cold yet) but I was so happy in that moment that I popped a fuse in my head.


We loaded up at 8 am and she drove pretty smooth until we hit McClure Pass. Round the top the transmission started having trouble and we pulled over to absorb the view of patchwork-quilt fall aspens on the mountainside. I climbed up on the roof to take photos and Chris looked up at me in his trucker hat, us both figuring that whatever was about to happen was gonna happen anyway. No controlling it now. We coasted down to 1-70 and then hobbled up yet another pass at about 15 miles an hour, engine smoking, hogging the breakdown lane.

We're headed now to put her to sleep.  I don't know how we made it home safely after 6 cross continental tours and a lovely little jaunt up to Alaska.  But we did, and good old Vita has run her course. Besides, we've got a new pup now, "De Jefes," Mexican slang that we were taught to mean "For the Bosses!" De Jefes is a 40 foot Silver Eagle tour bus that we're remodeling to comfortably carpool with 4 other acts. Collectively, we're becoming what we'll call, "The Music Market," a touring music festival of great musical diversity and full of social consciousness. We're keeping the WVO method of fueling and will be hitting up 6 markets in the new year: Salt Lake City, Seattle, Portland, San Fran, Albuquerque and Denver.

I'll be posting photos of the progress as we go (The first thing that needs to change is the paint job--right now you feel like singing the national anthem when you go for a spin.) We bought the bus stripped and have many an hour to put in before it's the dream ride we imagine it to be. But YOU thought I'd give up after Vita's tranny gave out, didn't you? Hell no!