I'm almost home after three weeks on the road--and I have one last entry to write. . .about my wonderful dinners in Chicago and St Louis. But for today, I thought I would share a little of my life on the road--not the motels, gas stations, or dubious road food. . .but my life in the car.
Brunhilde (my bronze BMW X1 loaded to the gills and saddled with a friend's heavily laden Thule roof box) has been my trusty companion of the road on this trip. We've become like an old married couple. I absolutely love her, am grateful for her every day, and tell her so all the time, but she is also over-bearing. . .quite literally. She prefaces every navigation decision with the polite but irritating phrase, "Prepare to bear left. Prepare to bear right." All this on a straightaway, when there is no bearing to be done. And then, I am told to "bear left" or "bear right" at least six times during any freeway interchange. I've taken to arguing with her, and I know she finds me increasingly irritable as the days wear on into nights. We flat out fight sometimes--when her warnings come to late and I miss a turn, when her suggestion for the nearest gas station routes me across rivers with no bridges, or when her low tire warnings ding all day long despite not having any low anything. . .except perhaps patience. It's a marriage made in heaven, really. I adore her, wouldn't want to live without her. . .and she can't argue back when I get testy.
I'm not sure that Brunhilde (in our family all names were alliterative--all pet names began with P for Price. . .thus Brunhilde is my Bronze Bmw) likes my taste in music. Left to her own devices, she might choose Wagner. . . or even ABBA, for all I know. But I know she loathes my singing, because as any cross-country driving American knows, a solo road trip is really just an excuse to blast music at earsplitting volume and sing (badly, in my case) at the top of your lungs.
There's been a lot of that on this trip--and on the many many road trips I have taken over the past 30 years. (I wonder exactly how many miles I have logged behind the wheel here and abroad!) These past three decades I have amassed some favorite road trip songs. I made sure to load them all on my iPod before I left. And since they have brought me so much pleasure (and screechingly bad singing over the years), I thought I'd share them.
Here they are and the trips with which I associate them. (I couldn't figure out how to put these in as audio clips, so some of these are videos (with ads--sorry!), which isn't, of course, how I experienced these songs myself. . .So, if you want the true road trip experience, put on the video, shut your eyes, and imagine America rolling by--and then start singing at the top of your lungs!
First Road Trip Song: California 1979
I couldn't wait to learn how to drive--but I didn't get my drivers license when I was 16 because I was sent to Germany instead--and there the legal driving age was 18. Before I left the country, I spent a lot of time driving with my friends--saying long teenage goodbyes. This song embodies that time in my life. . .but my guess is that there are a lot of people who count this (or any one of the other great Jackson Browne road trip ballads like "The Late Show") as one of their all-time road trip classics.
January 1985: Dallas to New Mexico
No music list of mine would be complete without at least one Joni Mitchell song. I have many favorites, but this one really resonated at a time when I decided to run away from everything I had known in my life until then--leaving grad school for an unknown future. Driving across the back roads through the vast expanse of Texas, I truly could feel myself a little speck on "that marble bowling ball", taking refuge in the road.
1989 - 1993: California Road Trips
When I moved back to Los Angeles to be near my dying father, I was told he had a year to live. I loved my dad, but didn't want to be back in California. . .especially since California was also home to Coral, my "wicked stepmother"--as she liked to call herself--who did her best to keep me away from him. I often took to the road, exploring all the backroads of California as a way to keep myself sane. This song reminds me of that time--the longing to leave and the sweet freedom it brought.
September 1994: Europe to New Mexico
I drove back from a stint of living in Paris to New Mexico across the US (via the QE2). It was quite the epic journey--coming home at last after the death of my father. While in Boston, I bought the newest Nanci Griffith album at a record store (remember those?) in Cambridge. I listened to two songs obsessively on that album all the way across country--and they both remain on my top ten.
Driving through the Desert: 1994 - 2005
I actually have no idea when this song actually came out, but it is the song that I always play when I'm driving through the desert between Santa Fe and Los Angeles. . .something I have done more often than I can count. It is a song that captured all my Wanderlust, confusion, desire to leave and remaining connection to celebrity of that time in my life. . .and the poignant beauty of driving through the desert under that blanket of stars.
2005: New Mexico to California
On this spring road trip, something was ending. . .and I could feel it as my past rolling up the road behind me as I drove. This song by David Gray captured that hope for a new beginning, and all of the fear, cynicism, and doubt that I hoped I was leaving behind. I guess I love road trips so much because they seem to be the manifestation of these journeys I seem to be always taking inside. This song is about the road trips we take every day in our souls. And besides, "sometimes you just gotta sing".
Cyn: 1951 - 2010
My best friend died four years ago. I miss her every day. She and I could not have had more different taste in music, but her love of music was totally infectious. During the last decade of her life, I would fly into LA and then she and I would load up her Mini with her golf clubs, our luggage, and four Dachshunds and drive up the coast to her beach house. She played this song for me about five times on one road trip. At first I was appalled. I had no idea who Ashlee Simpson was (and still don't really), but I was pretty sure I didn't want to be listening to her. But, by about the fourth time through the song, I was singing and car dancing along with Cyn at the top of my lungs. And so, whenever I miss Cyn, I get in the car, crank up this song, and sing "Girls for Life!" and remember all the ways in which she was about L.O.V.E.
I drove to the Vincentennial in St Louis in 2011--and spent much of the rest of the year driving to other events around the country. I also drove to Colorado for my design work at least once a month. As the year progressed, I realized that I was being changed by everything I was doing. . .and that it was time to step into a new life--no matter how difficult and terrifying that choice seemed. This road trip and everything else I am doing right now began in 2011, the year of the Vincentennial. I used to blast this song in my car that year--and although it reminds us that we "cannot find our freedom in someone else's story"--I had to make my peace with my parents' story in order to begin to find the freedom in my own.
Road Trip Blog 2014:
I love me some Jennifer Nettles! It is impossible for me not to smile and sing along with that amazing voice of hers. This is a song off her new album, and it has been this road trip's theme song. It captures the legacy of joy that I've been living these past three weeks and my growing understanding of how my father managed to find the truth that exists unchanged beyond all the enticements of our celebrity-fueled world. When I sing along to this one, I am reminded that all we all really can hook into Love and live it. Like my dad, we just have to say Yes!