20 years ago today, that infamous low-speed chase occurred down the 91 Freeway on June 17th, 1994. Former football superstar, sports commentator, spokesman, and actor, O.J. Simpson was in a white Ford Bronco and on the run from the LAPD.
What you don't know is that across the country, his actions would change the lives of five traveling musicians.
Let's back up a few days to June 14th and where it begins in (Somewhere Ville), Mississippi. I had been playing with a touring variety band for about six months. We had just finished a series of van/trailer dates in the Southeast region and were headed North to begin another run. The first stop was a resort in Stevens Point, WI and we had enough time to leisurely cruise up there.
However, Missouri has other plans for us.
We were headed down a barren stretch of two-lane road when the van started to grind and growl... loudly. After pulling over to the side of the road, it didn't take long to see that the transmission had left this earthly plane. We were officially stranded.
We had to rely on the only bit of sophisticated tech we had... a CB radio. Only wealthy people like O.J. had a cell phone! Growing up, my Dad had been a CB enthusiast and I even had a radio handle at one point (Kid Flash... if you have to know!). Our illustrious band leader turned on the CB and made contact with nearby trucker who in turn contacted the closest wrecker service. About three hours later, we're sitting in a small beat-up garage in ChildrenOfTheCorn-Ville, Missouri. Goober (his name for the sake of the story) said he could "have 'er fixed up" in about two days. Well, what else are you going to say? He's the only guy who knows how to fix it! So we walk over to the nearest (and I'm being generous) country inn. The keyboardist and I thought about going back to the garage to sleep in the van because our room looked like it had been in a fire just hours before. We slept in the desk chairs with our feet propped on the bed so we'd almost be in a running position should the occasion arise.
We get word mid-afternoon on the 16th that the van would ready in a few hours or so. We throw our stuff in the trailer and wait... and wait some more... and then a little more until Goober emerged from under the hood.
"Weeeeell, looks like 'airs gonna be a liddle bit longer cause the (whatever engine part he said) was tored up and needed to be replaced."
You gotta be kidding me! My first thought was that the town had decided they WERE going to eat us after all. Then our now-super-broke-illustrious-band leader said that if we didn't get to the next gig on time, they wouldn't be able to afford to make the rest of the dates happen. Now there's your drama!
The next morning (June 17th), Goober gets the flux capacitor installed before lunch and we're on our way!
We have roughly 5 hours of travel time and a bit over 3 hours to play the first note at the resort!
The resort was a new client and we had worked out a great deal with them. We'd perform once a day (4 sets of 45 & 15) and we get paid for that while staying in a swank luxury cabin... and free everything else for a week. Luckily, 1994 technology did allow us to have a radar detector which served us well for the next 5 hours.
The van/trailer slides into the resort parking lot and we know we're late... I mean, we're REALLY late! It's decided that I go in to meet with resort management because our now-super-broke-illustrious-band leader is too frazzled from high-speed driving for five hours.
I walk in and see the entrance to the club that should have live music coming out of it. As soon as I open the door, I discover that the place is empty except for 5-7 people (most of them employes) who are huddled around the TV in the far corner. I walk over and say, "Hi, I'm with the band and I'm so sorry we're..."
<Did I just get shushed?!?>
"Excuse me, but I need to speak with..."
Not only did I get shushed again but this time with a back hand wave. I walk up to the TV to see a white Ford Bronco containing O.J. Simpson being pursued down 91 Freeway by the LAPD... (remember that?) As my brain was screaming the 1994 equivalent of WTF!, the club manager said, "Yeah. Just get set up as soon as you can but don't play a single note until this is over." I walked outside to a van of anxious bandmates and told them what had happened. Only half believed me but they all ran in to see it for themselves.
O.J. Simpson had saved our gig.
We got set-up, changed clothes, played a short set, and poured ourselves into the swank cabin afterwards. Never had a shower or bed felt so good then it did that night! The remainder of the week was thankfully uneventful (aside from the regular gig hi-jinx) and we finished the Northern run before safely returning to Nashville.
Everyone has had that moment when they weren't prepared for the situation they're in and wished some random cosmic event would bail them out. Maybe someone pulling the fire alarm or the electricity going out in the building you're in... something normal... but never having the attention of the entire country intensely focused on a Hall of Fame running back and a double murder.