A Season of Stuff: that El Camino license plate

In 2015 during the entire spring season I did a project called “A Season of Songs”.  That project involved me hitting shuffle on my ipod daily, listening to a song and then writing about that song.  This year I thought i’d do another daily writing project and settled on the idea of doing “A Season of Stuff”.  The basic idea is that I have a bunch of stuff in my house – a lifetime of things collected; each day i’ll pick something from the collection and write a bit about it.  How did it come into my life? What is its significance?  There is the danger of this project becoming overly self-indulgent, but I hope you’ll come along anyway to discover the history of some of this stuff.

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Today we start with that El Camino license plate that has been part of the background of this blog since I started it several years ago.  This history of this license plate dates back to 1998.

That year I would start my first band since moving to Pittsburgh in 1996 when Eric the Red moved back to Pittsburgh.  That band was called Sparrow.  In 1998, Eric and his partner Bethany would move into the apartment I was living in in Squirrel Hill.  Those days we would have band practice at Eric’s parents’ house in Coraopolis, picking up our bassist Sam in McKees Rocks.  It wasn’t the easiest way to have a band, but it worked out ok.  It allowed me to get my feet wet in the local scene – playing and promoting some of my first shows here.

Somewhere along the line we decided we wanted to try to tour that late summer/early fall.  Nothing really came together but somehow we were able to put together a show at VGKids, a vegan grocery/record store/venue that existed in Pontiac, MI (north of Detroit). Maybe we arranged a 2nd show but I don’t remember it.  But being the young, stubborn, jackass punks we were, we packed up my Saturn full of equipment (how?) and drove to Michigan to play one show.

Luckily Eric had a couple friends, Demian and Sara, who were living outside Detroit at that time, so we had a couple people coming out to see us and a place to stay.  There was a small crowd and the venue was crazy (I did mention it was a grocery store/record store/venue, right?) and we played with some batshit German noise band that night.  All around a pretty surreal night.

Anyway, next day Sara and Demian ended up taking us to some type of flea market place.  That’s where I saw the El Camino license plate.  It’s worth noting that both Eric and I (and probably Sam too) grew up in what can best be called Redneck-adjacent families – guns, cars, racing, etc, but scrubbed up and respectable enough to rise above the redneck label.  Both of us grew up in big Nascar families – this being before Nascar got somewhat respectable and cool.  And we both grew up in Chevy loving families (“Eats Fords, Shits Dodges”).  At this point in our lives I think we were also reveling in this part of our natures a good bit – only somewhat ironically.  So when I saw that El Camino license plate, I knew I had to have it for our household.

Just for the record, this is what that license plate looks like new (look at those colors!):
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Anyhow we brought that license plate home and I think I technically gifted it to Eric at that time.  It sat on the mantel above the TV.  At some point later that year after Sparrow had fallen apart as a band and Eric and I were looking to create something new, that license plate became the genesis for probably our stupidest collaboration of our friendship (now going on 23 years and we’ve done some stupid stuff).  I believe it went something like this – Me: “How about we call ourselves The El Camino Club of Southwestern Pennsylvania?  And our sets will actually be ‘meetings’ where we call everyone to order and take minutes?  And the songs will just be improv noise.  We can talk about politics but through the absurdity of Americana, like the absurdity of the El Camino.”  And so it began.

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The El Camino Club destroying a “The Heartbeat of America” license plate in the name of noise

In 1999 we would take this show on the road (doing slightly better than Sparrow, getting three shows – Lancaster, PA; Atlanta, GA; and Little Rock, AR – though probably a worse shows:mileage ratio) and we would put the El Camino license plate on the front of my new Saturn wagon (The Prophet of Rage) where it would remain until November 2014 when I would finally buy a new car.  Funny enough, I ended up gifting the Saturn (now without much resale value after almost 15 years) to Sam, Sparrow’s former bass player.  The circle of life.  I initially intended to return the license plate back to Eric after all these years, but I felt a bit attached to it, so now it sits on the mantel in the front room of Torley Manor.

Despite several attempts at more serious bands over the years, somehow it is the dumb songs from the El Camino Club that the Pittsburgh punks find most memorable.  Perhaps we are destined to have songs like “Is it 4:21 yet?” and “King Vitamin” be our destiny.  But I guess that’s the point – we created something that people remember and I think usually with something resembling fondness, so I’ll take it.

Meeting adjourned.

 

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