November 5, 2017
"North America is all about, 'Me, me, me.' Here it's all about, 'Us, us, us.'"
- Ken Ross
"I once ate a whole entire chicken while I was driving."
- Sarah Smith
How many Canadians does it take to fuel up a European Volkswagen cargo van?
All of them, evidently.
A day after The Great Battery Crisis, we found ourselves rolling out of beautiful little Gramsbergen on fumes, searching for diesel. Our twin guides, Google Maps and the Tomtom GPS (pronounced “tumtum” in a staccato burst, syllables equally weighted), led us to a gas station in … Holland. Groovy. Sarah pulled up and, one by one, we joined her in The Quest to Find the Fuel Tanken. Picture the four of us circling the van like a forensics team, poking, pulling, twisting every knob and panel.
Where is it? Under the battery?
Fortunately, yours truly has a rudimental understanding of small illustrations in European Volkswagen cargo van ownership manuals. We found the diesel tank hidden behind a panel on the driver’s side of the van. Groovy. Then we began to realize there were no employees and not even really a store or centre where we could pay for the diesel we hoped to pump. Was the place even open? And if not, where the Holland would we get diesel?
Turns out it was an automated gas station. You pre-pay with a credit card, then pump your fuel. Groovy. Too bad the machine wouldn’t accept our Canadian credit cards. We would have happily paid cash if there was anyone to give the cash to.
That’s when we freaked out a poor local lady who wanted nothing to do with a scheme to use her card to buy fuel in exchange for cash from a touring Canadian rock band. She may have looked a bit frail, but boy could she rip through five gears in a hurry. Sorry, ma’am. Just stranded minstrels trying to solve a problem. Fortunately the next guy who came along understood what we were asking and willingly obliged. Thank you, sir. You’re now a Sarah Smith tour legend.
And on we went.
Ironically, we found a proper gas station not far down the road, with fuel and snacks and wi-fi and the most incredible brie and walnut sandwiches on crusty bread. Where are you, Anthony Bourdain? We don’t know, but Ken’s sure he saw David Gilmour pay for gas and exit the station, which is pretty good.
We drove about an hour and a half from Gramsbergen to the equally pretty but bigger Bergen, Netherlands. Like the other towns we’ve been in, Bergen is home to those narrow, winding European streets. Lovely to walk down, but sometimes a real challenge to navigate in the van. One wrong turn found us stuck basically in a parking lot and unable to back out. God bless Sarah. With Deni providing hand signals behind her, she executed about a 30-point turn and got us out of there.
Can I take a minute to sing Sarah’s praises again? She doesn’t blink, man. I write kind of lightly about our experiences, but don’t take that to mean some of them aren’t extremely stressful. Sarah’s intrepid. She takes it as it comes and she trusts herself. She’s a strong woman like Sietske of Friesland, which is high, high praise if you ask me.
We were due to play the Taverne Bergen – a really cool restaurant/bar with a wide stage in a narrow room. I think we all felt a great vibe in the place as we were loading in. Funny: I was saying to Deni during the diesel boondoggle that Sarah was due a good experience or two. The Taverne provided it.
Our billet in Bergen is a lovely little house/B&B owned by Nadra and Paul – a former Dutch navy man with an enduring affection for American sports cars. It’s another very nice place to stay. Soft beds, warm shower. Groovy.
The show? So much fun. The Taverne was packed out and people really loved it. They stood right up front and danced and cheered and wanted encores. The staff treated us like gold too. It’s such a nice feeling to be in that kind of atmosphere. It makes dead batteries and fuel hunts so worth it. We’re here for the experience and the stories and the memories, but in the end it’s still about the music and the shows. Last night was a fun one for sure.
And another late night, which can very quickly become habit if you’re not careful. I once interviewed Gavin Gardiner of the terrific Canadian band The Wooden Sky. He talked about how hard it can be on the road, because each show is an event for everyone who turns up. They want to turn it into a party and they want to spend time with the band, which is great. The problem is it’s one night for the fans, but a month or two or six for the band. It’s easy to see how a person can fall into what Gavin called the "tour black hole".
We’re fine, though. People have been lovely to us and we’re building pretty strong bonds as we go. There are bigger shows on the horizon, along with more experiences, more laughter, more memories.