Let’s Go on a Barbecue Adventure in Jim & Donna’s Lunar Rover: A 1980’s Chevrolet Astro Van

It’s been a crazy week this week. My neighbors decided to burn their leaves in a pile on top of the cable tv tap for the block that I live on, my mother is in the hospital for pneumonia, I’m just now preparing my tax documents, and my family is in mourning over the loss of my Uncle Dave. It’s not the normal grind I’m used to when it comes to running a business or two on the side, but I will prevail. In the meantime, I’d like to tell you a story. It’s a story I’ve unearthed during long blocks of thought and reflection and it all began returning to me when the environment was just right on a late trip back to Jonesboro from seeing my mother in the hospital in Searcy.

I guess it was in the flat bottomlands and delta between Possum Grape and just north of Newport, Arkansas that I really felt the chill of memories tingling up the back of my spine. There I was, alone in my red truck, with the windows down and the thermometer sitting at a perfect 66 degrees. I had the radio on listening to one of my very long and curated Spotify playlists called “Cool Summer Nights,” a playlist mostly comprised of 1980’s pop and rock music with some relics from the 1960’s and 1970’s thrown in for measure. It was the soundtrack of my life from birth to age 8 and was often blaring through the speakers of my first spaceship, a mid 1980’s Chevrolet Astro Van that my mom and dad drove. The fainting glow of the sun just below the horizon, the rush of damp cool wind from the delta bottoms blowing through my hair, and the beat of the end of an era marching me right along down Rock’N’Roll highway 67 was something I have been missing for a while. I began to visualize myself along with my family in a simpler time; a time before BBQ sauce was a commercial endeavor for my parents, much less Michael or me.

The period marked the upheaval surrounding the inevitable beginning of the fall of the U.S.S.R., Michael and I had a pet snapping turtle named Michael (Duke) Dukakis, The end of the Cold War was nigh, and George Bush was making play for a presidential bid. Dad had already been to Ireland to win the International BBQ Cooking contest once and was returning to do it again. The period was between 1986 and 1989, specifically 1987, with some memories peppered in from other years in the range. The backseat of the van with giant side windows, a sliding door, and no presumptions about knowing how to drive reminded me of an astronaut sitting in a capsule with star fields on all sides. I can remember reclining back in the seat and hearing the radio play thinking to myself that there was no place I’d rather be than right there with my mom and dad as mission control creeping slowly down the gravel roads looking at stars, thunderstorms, coyotes, and deer. We spent hundreds of nights on the St. Francis River Levee fishing, frog gigging, and watching the FedEx planes with landing gear engaged, flying in and out of Memphis like bright white army ants marching to and from a colony, single file and never late.

Some of those nights on the farm ended with a toolbox or cooler full of bullfrogs. I guess it was destined to be in my blood, but Dad was frog gigging when I was pushing my way into the world. I am almost positive it was out of season since my birthday is March 31st and as far back as I can consciously remember, frog season begins on tax day, April 15th, but I digress. Once my brother and I got older there were nights when Dad and his best friend Arthur Lee McDaniel would take us along for the ride. They were masters at frog hunting. We’d roll out in my mom’s van with the night’s sky as our canvas and spotlights as paint brushes. Arthur and Dad would be high-fiving each other in the front seat driving across cow pastures and fields looking for ponds, swamps, rivers, and ditches to catch frogs. Sometimes Dad would just fit as many of the slimy jumpers as he could down the bib of his overalls and hop his way back to the van. Arthur would run and catch the fast ones and put them in his cooler. We’d come home and have dozens of frogs to eat.

Many of those turn rows, gravel roads, and levees ended up back at home where Dad would have a giant smoker or cooker fired up to cook enough for 100 when he needed to cook for 10. I can remember swatting mosquitoes sitting on our screened in front porch watching Dad pull hot aluminum foil apart with his fingers, cussing up a storm, shaking his hands with burns, and basting a big pork shoulder or a dozen or more whole fryer chickens with a mop and a saucepan full of homemade Au Jus. I can still feel the refreshing breeze of the dew fallen grass breaking the monotony of the still of night. The air was fresh and cool with the occasional hint of Au Jus and a slight sting of vinegar, spices, and smoke. The radio was usually tuned to FM 100 or Rock 103 out of Memphis and there was always a Phil Collins or The Police song keeping time and marching through the night. I’d usually lie there in a folding chair or one of my bean bag chairs and keep one eye pried open just watching and listening to my Dad work. After Michael and I finally settled in for the evening it was one of the best times for us to learn the ways our Dad cooked. We’d watch with content until we either drifted off completely or were reluctantly running hand and foot back and forth to the kitchen to grab utensils, pans, ingredients, and so on.

On the nights when we weren’t at home during the summer, we were usually on a river bank somewhere in the mid-south preparing our speeches for the BBQ judges, sharpening our knives, playing flag football with the other teams’ kids, and helping Mom and Dad prepare for judgment day at a regional Memphis in May circuit BBQ contest. While other kids were camping with their parents, uncles, brothers, and cousins, Michael and I were camping at Tom Lee Park in Memphis listening to tall tales of bullshit and trickery from all over the world. When we weren’t in Memphis, we were hanging out in Little Rock, Nashville, and every small town in between. Everywhere a new place, but every person new or old was a familiar face. No matter the venue, we went there via a Chevy Astro van. No matter the mission ahead, the van was our portal to whole new worlds complete with a starry night sky and alien lifeforms all too different from Cherry Valley, AR. As a child of the 1980’s the older I get the more I long for another night under the stars with my family making fun of old drunkards, sometimes punching them in the face, and sugaring up to my older cousins’ new wives or girlfriends.

Before you go, I want to leave you with a recipe for frog legs that will have you hopping onto our online store and buying a few things to get your 80’s montage on while you grill some shrimp and drink Bloody Mary’s with your friends.

6 Tips On Driving A Clown Car Through a Labyrinth of Success

1. Get A Clown Car

Back in late 2015 our business was operating using a measly clown tricycle. It was red, had the fringe streamers hanging from the handlebars, and painted with a crazy red spiral on hub-capped rims. It was the epitome of textbook tricycles. We even had a bear that rode on the back pedals while Michael wore his bright red honking nose cruising aimlessly from one ring to another begging for circus peanuts. It was a tired and sad grind that we were hopelessly stuck with for the foreseeable future. If only we had some good advice or a drive to do more… It was another long year in the showbiz and through tireless promotions, canvassing, and local shows and as our promoter I had grown weary of watching Michael and the Bear twirling around in circles for peanuts. Something had to give way. It was then, in that very moment that the three of us, very talented tricyclists, realized what we needed to do. It was a bold move and it would forever forge us in the fires of fraternal fortitude, but it had to be done. With great humility and sacrifice the bear and Michael and I as clowns approached The Great Boy, Runner of Errands, Manager of Leads, and Artist Now Formerly Known as Shareholder of whom wisdom and knowledge has no limits, with a question regarding what to do next in regards to expanding the Greatest Show in Northeast Arkansas into other realms of the land. He spoke and said unto us,
“I can just see it now. Y’all ridin’ up there to REDACTED DISTRIBUTOR’s place all piled in a clown car, making deals, and clowning like y’all do so well. Give me a f$%^ing break!”
It was in that moment that we knew we must immediately get a clown car, so we got three; well two that run and one in a garage, as well as a new clown to add to the show. Unfortunately for The Errand Boy, this act of pure wisdom drew all of his power from him and he had to be put out to pasture to wait for another group of clowns to bring him along for the ride. In this single act of selflessness the Errand Boy became the Artist Formerly Known as Shareholder left to reflect on his choices and grow bitter while claiming that,
“Q-Sauce Taste Like Ass.”
only to walk away with a dented 1980’s refrigerator. In the mean time we, the bear and two clowns, needed to move on and begin driving the clown car forward to the next act. Along the way, we claimed a sailor named Lynn, our newest clown, to our troupe and have been navigating a labyrinth of success. I’d like to share some of the obstacles we’ve faced and how you can drive your clown car to success as a business, or at least avoid obvious pitfalls and barricades along the way.

2. Beware! Clown Cars Run On Fuel

Believe it or not, your clown car runs on the same gasoline, diesel, or electricity as other similar automobiles with exception to maybe the Batmobile and the Delorean from Back to the Future, but more often than not (about 99.99975%), your clown car will physically run on liquid fossil fuels or electricity. In this case, you must constantly fuel up the car to make deliveries and no fuel burns faster than your own. Unfortunately when you’re operating a business and bootstrapping it from the ground up, there are sacrifices to be made for the betterment of the company and your clown car is no different.

Caption: Jeff drives the clowncar with a trophy in it just to feel special. It makes the shows much better when the trophies are there.

When you first start out, your clown car needs to fit the job it is handling. For instance, our clown cars are both early to mid nineties Ford trucks. One is an F-150 and the other is a Bronco. The F-150 is our main hauler and we use it to set up and tear down our demonstrations, haul tables and chairs, haul palettes of ingredients, and haul our clown in training to and from clown workshops. The Bronco is used for short distance deliveries and local hand to hand deliveries making appearances all over Northeast Arkansas. It is useful in the rain because the cargo space is contained and has a roof.

Doing all of these trips in the clown car(s) will burn an immense amount of fuel. If you remember, I stated that your own fuel burns faster than someone else's. While this is true, it is also more efficient because it is your sacrifice and you don't have to reimburse another clown or live in the pocket of another circus. This means that not only is the gasoline yours, but the profits of the business are yours as well. We prefer to use our own fuel to operate our clown car(s) because that means we keep a larger portion of revenue without worrying about paying anyone back.

3. Be Careful! Drive Slow When You Need To.

When we were on our tricycle, we were driving it as fast and hard as we possibly could to get from show to show. It was taking a toll on us and the trike. We even tried to pull a giant steel barbecue smoker with it and just barely got that smoker to its destination before we had to return the circus peanuts that we borrowed to pay the guys that built the smoker. We learned that going to fast and picking up too much weight along the way was bad for the clown trike mobile and we decided to take things down a notch for the new clown cars.

The thing is that no matter what happens, if you intend to grow your circus into a full three ring event, you're going to need a reliable clown car. That means you need to take it easy and cautiously and move in a single forward progression as you take the hills, curves, and bumps along the way. Driving the clowncar too fast will cause the giant 3D bobblehead on top to bounce off, or even worse, you're going to crash it. The road from here to showbiz is full of curves and hills, but there are staightaways too.

4. Be Swift! Take Straightaways At Full Speed.

If your tank is full and the highway is clear, move as fast as you can to build your business with the resources you have. The importance here is on the RESOURCES YOU HAVE. If you don't have the resources you need to set up your circus tent and stunt track, then review what you do have and make the best of it. It's difficult to run a race without tires, fuel, energy, and some tune-ups along the way, but when you have that stuff accounted for and the getting is good, then go get it. For a short while, throw caution to the wind and let the wind blow through your curly clown hair. It feels good to run a business that gets ahead once in a while. When the opportunity is there, take it.

5. Be Vigilant! Don't Take Jokes from Other Clowns.

Sometimes when you're on the straight and narrow path to the next show you'll run across some other clown that would rather see your clown-car crash and burn than be successful. When this happens, don't drink the Kool-aid. Just smile, honk your big red nose, flip em the bird, and keep rolling. People will often tell you that other people detract from your work or ideas because you have something the don't. Sometimes this is true, but sometimes people are just assholes. It doesn't pay you either way to find out. What does pay is the incentive to work and strive to put your best foot forward. Allowing an amateur clown to get under your skin shows vulnerability and weakness. Taking time to slow down and address these detractors wastes fuel and destroys your ability to recover from the mud slinging.

6. Always Set Waypoints.

Not knowing where you want to go in life is a sure fire way to not know where you're going. When you're in your clowncar, its no different. Before you depart for your next circus act, research a place and set goals for your next event. Learn as much about the new event or location as you can before heading that direction. Upon arrival, assess the situation and see if the event or place is as it seemed. If its not, don't commit any new resources to it. Unfortunately for us, we didn't know where we wanted to be with our adventure in building BBQ smokers for other clowns and we kept committing resources to a project that ended up producing a third of what was expected AND almost didn't pay back the loan taken out to build with. This is probably reason numero uno of why you should plan and debrief all the people in your clowncar before you make hasty decisions. Fortunately we've since been in better communication with all the people in our clowncar and have had fewer collisions and accidents along the way.

For a taste of what our clown car can deliver to you, have a look around in our shop. Be sure to use the word CLOWNCAR for a discount during checkout.