It was the mid 90s. I can’t recall the exact year but I’m sure one of the Kevin & Bean super-fans will know. (To me, the 90s were a blur). In years past, I’d already driven to both Montana and Alaska to cut down Christmas trees. This time, I’d be driving to Nova Scotia, an 11,000-mile detour-filled road trip. I’d be calling in from a payphone several times a day to keep the audience updated.
Shortly after being hired on as a morning show staffer, the morning duo decided that they wanted to create a build-up of excitement during the two weeks leading up to Acoustic Christmas.
One of the ideas that came up was to get me out of the studio and onto the road. They’d send me on a journey. A journey that would lead me to the perfect Christmas Tree. One that would be revealed, on-stage, in front of the crowd during the concert. There was one main goal: To find a tree of pure origin, unseen by human eyes, untouched by human hands.
After having driven to the Glacier National Forest with Bill, my trusty side-kick, Kevin & Bean upped the ante the following year by sending me up the ALCAN Highway to North Pole, Alaska. Let me remind you, this was in December. You’ve seen the TV show Ice Road Truckers.
After having lived to tell about my winter adventure, the boys decided Nova Scotia was in order. Bean found a little dot on the map called Christmas Island, nearly a thousand miles Northeast of Maine. It was closer to Russia than California. Within days, they’d called and befriended a local farmer. Somehow, they convinced this small-town farmer to let some crazy Los Angeles radio DJ come to his ranch to chop down a tree.
I was the whipping boy for many years. I was a total glutton for punishment and Kevin & Bean loved to dole out the pain. So, for this particular trip, they’d toss in a wild card to make the trip nearly impossible. Some of you older readers may recall Gil, the intoxicated-loudmouth-guys-who-lives-in-a-tent-guy. He was a 100% crazy drunk Mexican with two missing front teeth. (They’d been knocked out by a baseball bat-wielding pimp. I’ll tell that story some other time.) He was the real deal. In and out of jail his whole adult life. He was absolutely nuts… And he would sit in the back seat of our OJ Simpson style white Ford Bronco the whole way. Ugh.
Oh, I forgot one more thing. Kevin & Bean said no to cutting straight across the country using the U.S. Interstate system. They’d heard that the Canadian roadways were dreadful in the middle of the country so they sent me, Gill and Bill, a promotions assistant at the time, to drive up the 5 Freeway, through Bellingham, Washington with a goal of heading East once we hit Canada.
Well, that didn’t work out so good. We rolled up to the Canadian border and were stopped dead in our tracks. As we approached the border, we told Gil to sit back and let us do the talking. We’d heard they didn’t allow felons across the border.
Upon rolling up to the border crossing, the officer leaned into the driver’s window and asked if anyone had a criminal record or had been to jail. “No, Bill says confidently.” “No officer, sure haven’t,” I say. “How about you?” he asks Gil, sitting silently in the back seat. “Yeah, I got a record a mile long! Want me to tell you about it?” Gil begins to laugh hysterically, retracting his upper lip far enough to see his missing front teeth. And with that, the officer puts his hand over his sidearm and barked a command to have us pull over and surrender the keys.
Three hours and sixteen inter-police department faxes later, we were shown Gil’s rap sheet. He’d committed every crime just shy of murder.
Upon receiving our keys and ID’s back we were given very strict commands. “Gentlemen, if you attempt to bring this man into Canada, at any of our borders, you will be imprisoned. And, the length of time is rarely shorter than a month. All of our crossings have been notified to look for you. Enjoy your drive back to the U.S.”
I phoned Kevin & Bean to let them know about the sudden change of plans. We’d now be traveling across Interstate 90, straddling the Northern U.S. border.
Gil had never been out of California. He’d also never been without a drink. As we hit Montana, his withdrawals were driving him crazy. He placed the booze with truck stop coffee. We stopped at every truck stop. Every single one. It added hours to each day’s travel.
Given a very limited budget, we all roomed together. Gil snored like a grizzly. It was unbearable. We would get two beds and a cot when we could. If no cot was available, Gil slept in a sleeping bag on the floor, cause he sure as hell wasn’t sleeping with me.
Over three thousand miles later, we found ourselves in a predicament. We were in Holton, Maine, the Northern most city in the contiguous United States. “What do we do with Gil?” We certainly weren’t going to get thrown in a Canadian jail so we were left with only one option: Give Gil a hundred bucks, a hotel room and leave him there to wait for our return. Afterall, where could he go in this tiny town?
Bill and I left the next morning for Christmas Island to meet the farmer and cut down our tree. This was a trip that would be a day up and a day back.
When we returned to the motel two days later with our tree strapped to the Bronco’s roof, Gil was nowhere to be found. I immediately called Kevin & Bean. “Haha, very funny. I know you guys are prankin’ me. Where’s Gil?”
Although we thought about calling the local police, we knew it could only end in disaster. We had to just wait it out.
4:00 am rolled around. Bill and I were sound asleep. Gill comes stumbling through the motel room door nearly taking it off its hinges. “Where the f— have you been?” I yelled. “Shelly,” he replied. “Who’s Shelly, and how much have you had to drink?” She’s the chick at the pizza place that I just banged and I drank all of it.”
Two hours later I was on the air with Kevin & Bean bringing them up to speed on our misadventures. After having a chuckle over it, they reminded me that we had only four days before Acoustic Christmas.
Our route would have been the same but K&B decided, again, that a straight line was far too easy. They demanded we make our way down to Interstate 10. C’mon now!
Our beautiful tree had traveled thousands of miles strapped to the top of our truck. Unfortunately, the tree had gotten so dry that the crew at the Universal Amphitheatre considered it a fire hazard. They had to spray fire retardant all over it to allow me to drag in on stage.
All in all, the trip was good. But it would turn out to be merely one of five crazy Christmas tree adventures.