The Worst Story Ever Told, In 4 Chapters
It was Chicago, back in August of 2004. A gentle breeze drifted down the river as 120 tourists boarded a boat for the Chicago Architecture Foundation's acclaimed tour. The non-profit tour is a mainstay of Chicago sightseeing, and people had come from miles around to enjoy a day out on the river, perhaps followed by a gentle stroll and a glass of wine on the bank in the last glorious days of summer. The passengers happily snapped photos as the volunteer guide pointed out sights of interest. As the tour approached the Kinzie Street Bridge, one of 25 Chicago bridges built with an open metal grating for easy drainage, the guide broke out a well-practiced joke: "Don't look up with your mouth open when we go under the bridge," she said, "or you might get a real taste of Chicago!" It was a funny joke. Everyone laughed.
Oh how they laughed.
Horror rolled into town that day, in the form of the Dave Matthews Band tour bus. Even as the boat cruised along, the bus was thundering through the streets towards the Kinzie Street Bridge. Perhaps observant onlookers noticed that it seemed curiously heavy, as if burdened by some terrible weight. But nobody had any reason to be suspicious. Nobody could have known what was coming! In fact, the driver behind the bus, a pregnant woman with her husband and young son in the backseat, was mostly thinking about what a pleasant day it was. She even wound down the windows to enjoy the breeze as they pulled onto the bridge. This would rapidly emerge as one of the worst mistakes of her life. Because that bus was carrying something much worse than the Dave Matthews Band.
Halfway across the river, the driver pulled a lever, emptying the bus's septic tank through the bridge's metal grating. Over 800 pounds of "brownish-yellow" human waste sprayed out of the bus and plummeted toward the river -- at the exact moment the tour boat was sailing by. The stunned tourists took the full hit. Those at the front had no idea what hit them, while those at the back could do nothing but watch in stunned horror as the boat carried them inexorably towards the literal shitstorm. It was like sailing through Niagara Falls after all-you-can-eat chili night in Buffalo. It was like walking down the road the day horses discovered both flying and tacos. It was like floating beneath the ass of God.
Pandemonium erupted. The sheer volume of sewage was so great that it eventually clogged the grating entirely, meaning the car behind the bus hydroplaned through a sudden shitswamp. The pregnant driver and her family screamed in terror as she fought to bring the car under control, while the spinning tires splattered raw sewage everywhere. The car emerged looking less like an SUV and more like a Snickers after a week in the microwave. Naturally, the combination of raw sewage stench and morning sickness meant the driver was projectile vomiting the whole time. Fortunately, she was able to direct most of this out of the open window. Unfortunately, the pleasant breeze blasted the vomit straight back into the car, spattering the family with a second type of horrendous bodily waste.
At this point, it seems very important to mention that the driver in question was lead violinist for the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, on her way to perform at a swanky function. So the family who found themselves sitting in stunned silence, covered in puke, shit, and probably a little bit of terror-urine, were all dressed in something approaching black tie. They had a roll of paper towels with them, but let's be honest: we all know that wasn't enough. The only way to feel clean after something like that is to stand sobbing in a decontamination shower while army guys in radiation suits scrub you with brooms. Frankly, it's a miracle they didn't end up burning the car and starting new lives under false names in a different state.
Down on the boat, things were somehow even worse. Families shrieked and clutched their loved ones as the brown deluge swamped the observation deck. "It's just water!" screamed the desperate tour guide, as much for herself as anyone. But it wasn't just water. It wasn't just water at all. And they all knew it. Tourists who had been chatting happily moments before clawed over each other to get to the boat's bathrooms, although efforts to rinse off in the tiny little sinks were doomed from the beginning. Others were seen leaning over the side to retch, as if the state of the boat itself could somehow get worse.
Fortunately for posterity, the entire incident was witnessed by Chicago Tribune reporter Brett McNeill, who was enjoying the boat tour when the antacid rain hit. According to McNeill, there was an initial moment of stunned silence before an old lady broke to spell by announcing "Oh God. I had my mouth open." People were observed squeezing handfuls of "gritty gunk from their sticky wet hair," while the tour guide wandered about in a daze, feebly asking "should we turn back?" as if anyone was going to wipe a clump of used toilet paper off their bifocals and say "no, let's keep hearing about architecture."
The decision was ultimately made by the boat's crew, who assessed the situation and immediately gunned the engines back to dock at such speed that smaller boats were observed fighting not to capsize in the wake. There are laws about boat speed on the river for exactly that reason, but nobody was going to enforce them in this situation. It would be like citing the Hindenburg for illegally parking in that field. We're actually lucky they didn't try to ramp the boat straight out of the water and through the nearest car wash. The speed certainly didn't bother the passengers, most of whom were apparently now belowdecks, trying to suck clean air out of the air conditioning vents.
Once safely back at the dock, the hysterical passengers were offered a refund and cab fare, plus a promise to pay any dry-cleaning bills, which presumably bankrupted the foundation's insurance company. Meanwhile, the crew simply scrubbed down the boat and then left for the next tour as if nothing had happened. Seriously, we assumed sailing a tour boat down a gentle river would be a pretty cushy job, but apparently it attracted such a grizzled band of seadogs that an entire boat awash with human misery, and more importantly poop, wasn't even worth a half hour delay in schedule. Although no matter how thoroughly they power washed, we can't help but think that the passengers on the next tour must have known something was up. There would always be a little glimmer in the guide's eye, or an unexplained piece of corn rolling about beneath the seats. Maybe they couldn't piece it all together, but it would have been clear something terrible had happened there.
The coverup began straight away. The bus had been caught on several security cameras as it crossed the bridge and suspicion quickly turned to the Dave Matthews Band, who were in town that week and seemed like the kind of beefy alt-jam rockers who could produce that sheer volume of sewage. Certainly no other 2004 band could have done it, since Modest Mouse produce tiny, rabbit-sized poops, while Radiohead have only ever used the bathroom once, on an ironic dare, and otherwise excrete pure nitrogen into the air. The only plausible other candidates were Green Day, and they would have proudly admitted the whole thing and claimed it was some kind of commentary about George Bush.
But the DMB denied everything. In fact, the band even offered to provide DNA samples to prove they couldn't have produced the notorious Kinzie Street shitstorm. The cops politely turned them down, presumably because none of the passengers frantically rinsing human shit off their faces had thought to scrape a bit into a little beaker for the boys down at the lab. Meanwhile, a DMB tour bus pulled into a local police station and the driver demanded that the cops take a look at the septic tank to prove he couldn't have been the one to take a dump on the bridge. Although we can't rule out the entire band horking down trash bags of enchiladas and staying up all night in an epic marathon of shitting to produce a full septic tank and clear their names.
But Chicago is a proud city of burly men and Polish food, and the local police department was able to call on some of the finest dump detectives in the country. They refused to rule out the DMB as suspects, pointing out that the band had no less than five luxury tour buses, any one of which could have produced the offending effluence. Five buses might sound like a lot, but do bear in mind that each one had to haul several hundred pounds of human shit, plus probably a few pounds of metaphorical shit in the form of Dave Matthews Band CDs. The cops quickly zeroed in on the bus belonging to violinist Boyd Tinsley, with commander Michael Chasen informing the press that "Certainly, this is the bus that discharged that fluid." We'd like to remind you that the driver of the unfortunate SUV from earlier was also a violinist, making this yet another tragic case of violinist-on-violinist shit flinging.
The driver, Stefan Wohl, initially denied everything, while some witnesses claimed to have seen a mysterious second black bus driving over the bridge. Could the whole thing be a JFK-style conspiracy, with a second sprayer disappearing behind a grassy knoll? Was the mysterious second bus a CIA black bus, pressed into service when all the black helicopters were in the shop? We can't tell you what to believe, although the security cameras clearly show only Wohl's bus on the bridge when it suddenly turned into the worst brown muddy hellscape since the Somme.
In any case, the deep state clearly got to Wohl, since he later changed his mind and pled guilty to all charges. He was sentenced to community service and a fine, since the court found that nobody had experienced long-term side effects from being blasted in the face with semi-digested tour food. The Dave Matthews Band eventually apologized and made a $50,000 donation to Friends of the Chicago River in the hope that this would help "begin the healing process." To be clear, that's the healing process from hosing down some elderly architecture fans with your own shit. Trust us, it's a hell of a process
At the time, the dumping was such a scandal that mayor Richard Daley had to hold a press conference condemning it, although he added that he still liked the Dave Matthews Band, thereby appeasing his key twin constituencies of soft-rock fans and corrupt long-distance drivers. But nowadays, the incident is long forgotten. Still, we like to think that at every Dave Matthews concert there's a moment where some hollow-eyed man stands up waving a badly stained sweater and screaming "I know what you did! I know what you did!!!"
We all know what you did.
Top image: Adam McCullough/Shutterstock