Van Wars Down Under
General Douglas MacArthur (and Vizzini, in The Princess Bride) once famously said, “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.” I, not so famously, learned in Australia a few years ago, to never get involved in a van war with descendants from a prison colony…
In December 2004, Champion toured Australia for the first time. I can’t begin to emphasize how amazing this experience was. We toured with Miles Away from Perth, and Against from Brisbane. All three bands had a van each and a fourth van hauled around all the gear and merch. Greg, the singer of Against, drove the gear van.
This story begins at an undisclosed gas station off the freeway in the middle of a long drive. Someone—I honestly don’t remember who, or from what band—bought some spoiled yogurt and after one bite, realized that this bad yogurt needed to get launched out the window… at one of the other three vans in the caravan. The yogurt was hurled and a four-van all-out war had begun. Any and every food within reach was a potential weapon.
Thus began an epic van battle that lasted beyond the end of this two-week tour and spanning two continents.
Enter the city of Canberra. Jim and I wandered out of the club and down the street. We found a huge plastic bag filled with bread and roles. So naturally, we covered Miles Away’s van in bread. It was a stupid prank, but stupid pranks are sometimes the best form of tour entertainment.
After the show, a giant bread fight broke out. Every kid at that venue was running around trying to pelt each other with bread wads; everyone but Greg, who was dutifully loading our gear into the van. I felt bad that he was loading our gear, so I called a timeout in the bread war and went to help him load. Greg turned to me with a sinister grin and said, “Ay mate… throw this one…” handing me a wad of bread that was too heavy to be just bread. “Nah, I better not,” I replied, weighing this bread-covered rock in my hand, “I just called this truce to come help you load up!”
At that point, I was beaned in the back of the head with a bread-projectile… all bets were off. I turned and asked evenly, “Who threw that?” A somewhat intoxicated show-goer raised his hand slowly, with a sheepish smile on his face. The truce was broken; it was not only my right, but my responsibility to lob this bread-padded stone, right into his jaw. He frowned, hilariously, and raised his hand to massage his sore jaw.
A few days later, someone in Champion found a dead bird and put it in the glove box of the Miles Away van. They found it the next day and gave it back to us at a stop light. The windows were down and one of the MA dudes ran up and tossed it into my lap.
There were other things that happened in that van war, including a roll of toilet paper tied to Miles Away’s van, which made for a pretty amusing few minutes as the roll unraveled to form a good 50 foot tail that survived a few good miles… But the culmination was Melbourne. We played an awesome day-fest with the legendary Mindsnare and a bunch of other bands; maybe 10 in total. It was a warm one; 100+ degrees F.
We arrived at the venue early and Jim was bored, so he dropped a deuce into a glove he found, then smeared it all over the windshield of Greg’s van. The smell was something out of a horror film. The van was parked half a block from the venue, but on this hot mid-summer day, you could smell it from the front of the club. And the flies… apparently, every fly in the city of Melbourne had heard about this windshield turd and they all showed up to party.
Brandon and Jim followed Greg around for a while, waiting for him to head to the van. When he did, he discovered Jim’s present on the windshield. Greg looked at the windshield, looked back at Jim—who was grinning from ear to ear—looked back to the windshield and scooped up a handful of Jim’s feces with his bare hands, then walked over to our van and crammed the handful under our door handle. Jim’s smile faded quickly.
That wasn’t the end of the story though. The score was not settled in Greg’s mind. He bought a raw fish from the street market around the corner and put the cellophane wrapped dead animal in the pocket of his cargo shorts, waiting for the appropriate moment of revenge. We were all terrified by the possibilities.
The fish, which was not well-wrapped, sat in Greg’s pocket all day… On a 100-plus degree day… in a venue that was hotter inside than it was outside… as Greg moshed for nearly every band on that 10-or-so band bill… and played a set with his own band… through all that, the fish sat in that pocket, it’s rancid-smelling oils seeping through the cellophane and permeating into the fabrics of those cargo short pockets.
Back to the fish in a minute. At some point during the show, Greg decided that it would be a fun idea to draw a curly mustache on his own face with a Marks-a-lot pen (you can make out this mustache in the picture below – white “Drug Free” shirt). He later told me that his tour stubble made it impossible to fully clean the drawn-on mustache from his face… so apparently this grown human man had a Marks-a-Lot mustache on his face for a week or so after the tour…
The Melbourne day-fest was the last show of the tour and that night, we all went out for a celebratory Italian dinner. Greg apparently wasn’t within reach of a napkin, so he used his white t-shirt to clean the red tomato sauce from his filthy face… So, this dirty animal had a drawn-on mustache, tomato stains all over his white shirt, human feces remnants behind his fingernails… all the while, smelling like he spent the night in a fish hatchery.
We took pictures after dinner—as all bands do at the end of a tour—and returned to our hostel. Greg was staying with a friend that night, instead of joining us in the hostel. But because we didn’t want to leave our gear in the unsecure vans in downtown Melbourne, we had to load all our possessions into our hostel for the night.
Before bouncing to his friend’s house Greg helped us load the gear up the elevator into the room. He still had the fish in his pocket some 12 hours after buying it. While loading gear, I jumped on an elevator going up, right after he came down. The elevator smelled so much like rotten tuna, that I was certain he had hidden the fish in that elevator. Nope, that was just the leftovers of his essence from spending 20 seconds on the elevator previously…. And it was unbearable.
We thought for sure, that he was going to stash the fish in our room. But after he left, there were no traces of a smell. We were safe for now… A few minutes later someone opened the front door to our room and before taking a step into the hostel hallway, noticed that Greg left a surprise on the floor in front of the door. Nope, not the fish. This Brisbanian monster apparently squatted and dropped a turd right in the hallway… no glove needed. Classy!
The next day, Greg took us to the airport and we left that beautiful country behind. Thankfully, nothing came of the fish in Greg’s pocket… or so we thought…. But remember, I said this war lasted beyond the tour and across two continents.
We were flying home for a few weeks before starting a tour in Boston and had extra merch that was printed in Australia and needed to redistribute some luggage to get under the two-bag-per-person requirements. Chris Wrenn, from Bridge 9, lived in Boston and was kind enough to take Brandon’s cymbals, which we would pick up at the start of the next tour.
Chris was on a different flight than the rest of us and when he transferred at LAX, he had to pick up his bags and take them through customs before setting them to be put on the connecting flight. He later told us that when he set the bags down he smelled something a bit… fishy…. “No… he didn’t…” thought Chris. He unsnapped the cymbal case and popped it open. Out flopped Greg’s fish onto the floor. The putrid smelling carcass instantly stank up the entire airport. As Chris told, instantly, hundreds of airport travelers started to gasp and cough and curse, “What the $#&@ is that smell?!”
Chris kicked the fish behind some other bags and scooted off to his connecting flight, leaving the LAX janitorial staff to deal with the hazmat situation.
Well played Australia…
12.10.13 edit – Against has a new record! Stream it free here: http://againsthc.bandcamp.com/
7.13.15 edit – Bread fight story updated to remove the names of the innocent.