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  • Uncle Dave Griffin

Tail of the Weak 2.28

Updated: Jan 24, 2020

Tail of the Weak is a series of insights and musical memories from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin, singer/songwriter and founder of the Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival, from Waycross, Georgia.

“When I die, I want to die like my grandfather who died peacefully in his sleep. Not screaming like all the passengers in his car.”

– Will Rogers

The love affair between a man and his automobile has been going on for well over two centuries. To drive one is a simple rite of passage. To own one is freedom in its purest sense.

When I turned 16, I had full use of the second-hand family Ford station wagon, which I used to pick up my two early morning passengers, classmates Bruce Surrency and Kathy Haynes, en route to Ware County High School. It would be four more years until I owned my first car, a used red and white Volkswagen van.

The van was first owned by my brother, Gary, who was in the Air Force and ordered to Cornwall, England in 1972 for a couple years. I took over the monthly payments on the German beauty and set about redefining it to suit me. At the time, I was working at a local building supply store, Choo-Choo Supply, in Waycross, Georgia and full access to building materials, including an employee discount.

My coworker, Ronny Beverly, was handy with tools; so we began by removing both rear benches in the van. Next, we took off the interior wall panels and traced out patterns on the backside of several sheets of beautiful luan paneling embellished with pink and white wood grain swirls, courtesy of Choo-Choo Supply.

A sheet of 3/8-inch plywood and some heavy-duty hinges transformed the rear engine area into a fold-out bed frame, with screwed in legs made from plumbing pipe. A pink and white swath of shag carpet was glued down in the back floorboard for the legs of the bed to rest on, leaving just enough room for a backyard aluminum lawn chair.

My sweet Mama, not knowing what she was getting into, tie-dyed a slew of sheet fabric and sewed curtains up that stretched around all the windows and across the back of the front driver and passenger seats. A trip to Pic N' Save right up the road yielded a state-of-the-art Setico 8-track tape player, that fit snugly into the dashboard glove compartment, completing the upgrade. Now all that was left was to make some memories.

The first memory was not as comically tragic as Will Rogers's quote; but, nonetheless, it was comically near-tragic and left me with the nickname “Head-on Dave”. It was Nov. 24, 1972 when I headed south on two-lane U.S. 1, with a gaggle of friends spread throughout the van, to the Jacksonville Coliseum, where Elton John's Honky Château Tour landed.

We were between Waycross and Folkston when the lovely girl riding shotgun asked me about the heating system in the VW. Well, I commenced to explain the intricacies, bending down to show her the knobs and levers in the floor next to the gearshift.

Everybody riding in the back let out a blood-curdling scream in unison. My head raised up in time to see a long line of oncoming cars peeling off into the ditch as I was trucking along southbound in the northbound lane. No one was harmed, we got higher and saw Elton John sing “Rocket Man”, and somebody not named “Head-on Dave” drove us back home.

Along about the same time, there were some weekend rock festivals, held and hour away from Waycross on the Georgia coast, called Jekyll Island Be-Ins. Several bands, including Flood from St. Simons Island, would play on a flatbed trailer positioned in between the wind bent, tree-lined dunes.

L-R:  Don Berg, Jay Wetzel, Bob Herrin and Rory Knapton, 1972
L-R: Don Berg, Jay Wetzel, Bob Herrin and Rory Knapton, 1972

A few of my Doghill buddies and I loaded up one afternoon, carrying only a bagful of reefer and the clothes on our backsides. We stopped as we were leaving Waycross to pick up a quart of orange juice just in case. It was a good thing we did.

Just before reaching the Jekyll Island turn off, we rounded the curve on Highway 82 to see the beautiful Marshes of Glynn. We also couldn't miss a state patrol road block a short ways ahead, with a van being systematically torn through on the side of the road. I slowed down to a crawl and everybody else jumped behind the tie-dyed curtains and started eatin' pot and drinkin' O.J.

As we crept closer and closer to the officer in charge, I just kept shouting encouragement, “Eat it!—Eat it!—Eat it!" We were next, and as I hesitantly began to roll my window down, the patrolman just waved us right on through, at which point I began shouting, “Don't eat it! —Don't eat it!—Don't eat it!”

You know, the intricacies that lay in the mechanics of a Volkswagen heating system may be difficult to understand; but, in its simplest form, it blows hot air out through the dashboard vents—and you can dry a lot of wet, saliva-coated marijuana on a dashboard vent.

20th Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival

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