The Day I Pumped Gas with Eddie Van Halen

Van Halen Rising book

I have an entire shelf of books here in my office — stuff I’ve bought or been given over the years but haven’t had time to read. My “someday” shelf. This Van Halen book is on it. Gonna force myself to read it soon.

But first, a story.

During my senior year at Pepperdine, I had a car on campus for the first time. This was 1989-90. My dad gave me his old Toyota Corolla, rusty edges and all, and let me drive it across the country before school started. I was 21 years old, going to school in Malibu, and had a car to go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted? It was pretty freaking great.

Even though the car was old and small and kinda beat up, I bought a sweet cassette car stereo — remember cassettes??!! 🙂 — and some kinda nice speakers. Because that’s what you do when you’re a 21-yr-old kid who loves music and loves listening to music loudly in his car. (I’m 52 now and that hasn’t changed one bit.)

I left campus one afternoon — don’t remember where I was going or why — and had the stereo cranked up as loud as possible. It’s Malibu, so it’s like 80 degrees and the perfect weather for blaring your favorite tunes with the windows down as you cruise down Pacific Coast Highway. On this particular day, I was listening to Van Halen’s OU812 album. I loved Van Halen back then (still do). They were my 2nd-fave band throughout the 80s. And unlike a lot of VH fans, I wasn’t snobby about the Dave vs Sammy eras. Loved ’em both.

So I head off campus that day, singing VH at the top of my lungs, windows down, and I realize I need to get some gas. There was (is?) a station pretty much right off-campus at the first main intersection you reach as you go into Malibu. I think it was a 76/Unocal station. I pull up to one of the self-serve islands, leave the windows open and stereo on, turn the car off, get out, and start pumping gas.

This really nice car pulls into the station — don’t recall what it was, only that it was one of those situations where you’re staring at the car without trying to look like you’re staring, y’know? The car stops at an island diagonal and across from me, maybe 40-50 feet away or so. As I’m pumping gas, it’s parked at about 2 o’clock to where I’m standing/facing. I have a clear view of it.

All of a sudden, EDDIE FREAKING VAN HALEN GETS OUT OF THE DRIVER’S SIDE and starts to pump his own gas. I kid you not. Eddie Van Halen is pumping his own gas across from me at a 76 station in Malibu. Then VALERIE FREAKING BERTINELLI gets out of the passenger side. (Aside: I had a huge crush on her in the 80s, no surprise there.) She heads in to the convenience store and I’m just standing out there pumping gas with Eddie Van Halen. I mean, there were probably other cars and people there, too, but it was just me and Eddie for all I cared.

Since I was there first, and probably because I had a much smaller car that needed less gas, I finished filling up before he did. So I get back in my car and I’m just kinda staring at him through the rearview mirror. Not in a creepy way, of course, but more in a right-over-there-is-the-greatest-rock-guitar-god-of-all-time way.

I notice that Valerie is walking back to the car and figure they’re gonna leave soon, and it would really be awkward if I’m still there when they leave, so I put the key in the ignition and start my car.

If you’ve ever started your car after not turning off the stereo when you got out, you know what happened next.

“Finish What Ya Started” comes FREAKING BLARING OUT of my little Toyota Corolla. About a nano-second later, it hits me: I’m blaring a Van Halen song loud enough for it to be heard a mile away, and EDDIE FREAKING VAN HALEN IS STANDING RIGHT OVER THERE. I immediately look in my rearview mirror, just in time to see Eddie whip his head around, look at my car, and give me one of those wicked little smiles he was known for.

One of the coolest moments of my life.

I know there’s Jimi, Eric, Jimmy, Carlos, Pete and many others. But for my generation, Eddie will always be the GOAT.

RIP.

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