I’ve played concerts all over the USA and there’s one constant that most touring musicians already know: People don’t know how to drive. Seattle drivers are maniacs, Boston drivers are assholes, Nashville drivers are NASCAR wanna-be’s, and Ohio drivers are most likely taking a power nap behind the wheel. Everywhere else, the drivers are an alarming cocktail of the above.
After putting thousands of miles of pavement behind me, I’ve developed what I call Ebel’s Laws as a strategy for surviving the road. Thus far I’ve been able to get The Birdmobile and all of my gear to the venue safely, no matter what time zone I’m in.
- Choose your lanes wisely on the interstate. I’ve got different approaches for this depending on traffic volume and road size, but there are a few points to remember:
- Stay out of the left lane when possible. Leave the Hammer lane for the douchebags that are going 80 in a 55. LET THEM FIND THE SPEED TRAPS FOR YOU.
- Stay out of the right lane when possible. If you’ve got 3 or more lanes, avoid the Granny lane; that’s where EVERYONE will be merging and exiting, not to mention the disabled vehicles, deer, and other obstacles. I try to stay as far left as I can without getting into the fast lane.
- Thick traffic? Get as far left as you can and become a blocker. I learned this while heading up I-5 from Oregon back into Washington many years ago. If you’re in it for the long haul and the interstate’s packed (and the left lane’s not closed for construction), stay in the lane that ain’t exiting. You’ll see impatient people jumping into holes made in the right lane, trying to zoom ahead. Those people are idiots. Every time this has happened to me, I’ve watched them try to get ahead, find out that the left lane is moving faster anyway, and try and get back in again. Your job is to not let them back in front of you if possible. When the traffic’s packed, the only way to get ahead is to let the idiots work their way to the back of the line.
- Use the outside edge of the curves. If you remember the movie “Speed”, Keanu said it best: Make the turn wider. Sharp curves + heavy van = potential catastrophe. Or at the very least it means having to kill your cruise control because you don’t understand physics.
- Get a CB. No, seriously, just do it, and tune into Channel 19. Before there was GPS and before there were radar detectors, there were truckers. Apps like Waze may tell you where a construction site is, but the truckers will call out which lanes are dropping before you even see cones. Not to mention they’ll call out the exact mile marker, position, and jurisdiction of every cop they see- rolling or speed-trapping. CB’s are dirt cheap and don’t require a license, but you may need to learn some new vocabulary.
- Fill your tires. This one’s not so much about driving strategy as it is basic preparation. Your gas mileage doesn’t depend on your fatass bassist losing weight NEARLY as much as having the correct air pressure in your tires. The US Dept. of Energy claims that keeping your tires properly inflated can increase your efficiency by 3%, or about 10¢ per gallon! If your tires are flat, you may as well be filling the tank with Premium.
- Get blind-spot mirrors. If your tour vehicle doesn’t already have them, buy a pair for $5 on Amazon. You may be pulling a trailer or your cargo hold may be piled to the ceiling with drum cases. Even when my van’s empty, though, the blind-spot mirrors have kept me from nearly killing a LOT of motorcyclists and Honda Civics that love to hang out in the worst possible spot.
- Use cruise control. It’s not just saving your foot, it’s saving gas. These days, every 2 gallons is a CD sale pumped through the exhaust pipe.
- Stay within 5-7 MPH of the speed limit. I’m not going to tell you to stay at 55, no matter how good the gas savings, but I will say that speeding is just plain stupid for two key reasons:
- No matter how late you are, getting pulled over will make you later and eat up your profits for the rest of the tour. Yes, I use Waze and have a radar detector, but they don’t catch everything.
- Every piece of gear in your vehicle is a missile ready to launch. Whether you’re standing on the brakes or actually colliding with something, try to imagine what a 40-pound keyboard hitting the back of your head at 80 MPH will feel like. The faster you go, the more kinetic energy all that stuff has stored. Using cargo straps? Excellent… Now do the math on what kind of force that amp will put on that strap with a sudden impact. Are you SURE it’s rated high enough?
I’ll probably add to this article now and again, but these are things that have kept me sane and shiny-side-up for over a decade now.