Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Gasoline Mon

In late summer of 1994, a couple months after I'd moved to Lancaster, I had been traveling the 50 miles back to Camp Hill PA for band rehearsal 2-4 nights per week.

The band had been slowly heading toward an uncomfortable implosion, and after one Friday night's rehearsal that was particularly sour I left our rented practice garage and decided to hit a couple of my old favorite hometown bars. I ended up staying at The "G" until closing time.

About 2:45am I'm cruising home southbound on a particularly dark and desolate stretch of highway — Rt 283, 4 lanes divided by a broad grass median—about halfway back to Lancaster when I spy a thin woman with nearly waist length hair jogging along the shoulder in the same direction I was headed.

I was feeling magnanimous, so I hit the brakes hard and pulled over as quickly as I could. I had seen a Jeep Cherokee about 2 miles back with the hood up. I figured it was hers, and I'd see if I could convince her I wasn't some dangerous pervert, that I'd help her out.

About 30 seconds later, a face appears at the window of the passenger door. I was shocked enough that I think I actually gasped a bit. It wasn't a woman. It was a black guy with super long dreads. I reached over and rolled the window down a bit, and the first thing out of this guy's mouth was "Are you a musician, mon?" Thick Jamaican accent. Curious that he'd ask that. I had a goofy short haircut, and with all my gear stashed out of sight at the very back of my soccer-mom-style Dodge Caravan, I looked more like an accountant.

I said yeah, just got done with band practice. Was that your Jeep back there with the hood up?

Ya mon. We jes get done playin' in Harrisburg an' I run out of gas.

Hop in, I'll get you to a gas station.

Next exit was another few miles down the highway. Didn't know the area at all, and we were in farmland. Wandered right at the end of the exit ramp and lucked onto an all-night convenience store with gas pumps about another mile from the highway.

Jah Bahnnie, the guy's name was. Played in a reggae band called First Trumpet. I'd seen the name of the band in the local free music rag. He seemed like the real deal, not just some guy putting on a fake accent and making up a story. He bought a gallon jug of spring water, poured it out, filled it with gasoline. Grabbed a big wax-coated fountain cup and paid the guy. We headed back to his Jeep.

The Jeep was between exits, so we had to travel 3 or 4 miles back north and past where it was pulled off on the other side, spin through an interchange loop and get back on 283 heading south. As we approached the section of highway where he was parked on the other side we saw a cop car a couple hundred yards ahead of us start his lights flashing and veer left off the highway and across the median strip toward the Jeep.

By the time we get back to the Jeep, Bahnnie's bass player, Pat, had just gotten off the cop's cell phone after calling his girlfriend to explain the story. Before we pulled up, Pat had no idea what became of Bahnnie after he took off jogging south from the disabled Jeep.

I thought to myself: Hmmm...this rural area of the county might not be too friendly toward a black man jogging down the highway in the middle of the night. Seemed it would have been smarter to send the plump, friendly white-guy-in-his-late-30s-and-a-Hawaiian-shirt out looking for help.

After introductions were made, I come to find out that Pat was blind. I can only wonder what must have been going through his head as he sat there, listening to the deafening roar of cicadas on a desolate highway in the middle of a warm summer night. And how the conversation went when the cop pulled up and tapped on the window of the Jeep.

The cop scrutinized us carefully as we formed the big paper cup into a funnel and tilted that gallon jug of gas into the Jeep's tank. The Jeep started up. The cop—satisfied that we were non-threatening and non-drunk—took off. I followed them back to the convenience store, then headed home.

The following summer I caught them playing a set on Penn Square during the 1995 LancasterFest. When they were done, I walked up to Bahnnie and Pat to say hi and give them props for the cool music. It was the first time I'd heard them play. Bahnnie grabbed Pat's elbow, and yelled over to the other guys in the band who, with their girlfriends were hastily breaking down their gear so the next band could take the stage.

"Hey it's Gasoline Mon! You guys..come meet de Gasoline Mon!!!"

They all stopped what they were doing and came over. They were all laughing, shaking my hand, slapping me on the back. "So this is the famous Gasoline Man! We're going for drinks and your bar tab is on us!!!"

Apparently, the story of my good deed preceded me. I'd made some friends for life, as well as a new nickname.

See pictures of First Trumpet playing at the cultural diversity celebration LancasterFest 2006, on North Queen Street, Lancaster PA.

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