My iPod bit the dust. At a Motel 6 in Kansas, I went to update my hallowed Road Trip playlist in order to delete “Smokin’ in the Boys Room.” The nostalgic novelty of that song, I had found, turns out to be rather paltry. Grating, even. But when, in room 116, I connected my digital drives and mashed “sync,” I received, OMG, a stop-sign, exclamation point, “Error 1429” pop-up warning that my device was “corrupt.” Well!
It’s 9:30 at night in Palm Springs, Calif., and I realize I have had the Southern California classical radio station, KPSC 88.5 FM, on the radio all day. OK, I set it for the dog, truth be told, since classical music on WDAV 89.9 FM is what they play for him at Camp Wagging Tails back home, and what I play for him at my condo while I am at work, on account of his mild (now) separation anxiety. Dulcet tones soothe the savage beast. Seems to work. And besides, who does not want to awaken from their afternoon nap to the sound of applause, hello? Especially now for him, in Dodger’s desert dog-days of summer 2009: too many hard, loud, freaky hours of SoCal freeways in an un-air-conditioned, 42-year-old Comet, with no roof to speak of? Who signed him up for this? OK, I did, against my better judgment. But all is well.
We ended our San Diego stay, a petite week, by one more festive visit to Dog Beach before heading up the coast. Sure enough, exiting the accursed I-5 to the Pacific Coast Highway, we saw signs to Doheny Park and Laguna Beach, and the Beach Boys started belting out “Surfin’ Safari.” I did not plan it, honest, my playlist did it on its own. I kept the volume a tad down for fear of being considered uncool by California standards, but beefed it back up when I saw a restored woody with a rehabbed surfer at the wheel headed back down PCH to Doheny. What are North Carolina license plates in Orange County, Calif. worth if you can’t play your tourist music as loud as you want, hmm? Anyway, I put some 20-year-old ghosts to rest in Laguna, then got caught in Pageant of the Masters traffic, thence sucked up toward L.A. before deciding to barrel east on the 10, to the welcoming hospitality of John Gilmore, M.D. ’69 & Cie in Palm Springs.
John Gilmore, M.D., Davidson ’69, and Dodger’s new best friend Antonio pose with the ripe grapes at ACE, me everso charmingly retro Palm Springs home.
We left the Grand Canyon for Vegas—300 miles at temps up to 114 at the Hoover Dam and no AC in my dam (sic) car. The prospect of enlivening music was a salve, for distraction if nothing else, the icey bandana on my neck long dessicated. I cued my iPod roadtrip playlist, and finally, finally, on the third rendition of the Eagles, “Already Gone,” it dawned on me that I had somehow mashed a button that played the same friggin’ song over and over, and I did not know which button. I was booking it down the macadam trying to beat the heat (ha!), and my Pioneer instruction manual was in the trunk. So I reverted once again to my aforementioned and simple-minded “Caliente/F.M.” vintage 1989 compilation cassette, since there was no radio I could find out in the tumbleweeds and dust devils. By the time I got off I-40 at Seligman, Ariz., for an 85-mile detour on old Route 66, I was tired of even that personal favorite playlist.
Happily, Seligman is a comfy, kitschy little 66 town with vintage 50s and 60s melodies—even some 30s and 40s Depression-era folk music—wafting from the kind-hearted ticky-tack “cafés” and auto garages-cum-souvenir stores.
Yesterday, I was 26 years old again, just for about 20 miles on U.S. 190 back to I-40. You can flat haul ass on that road, and I did, just for a little, in my 1967 Mercury Comet Caliente ragtop. I won’t tell you just how fast because my mom is reading, so I’ll say on the other end of the spectrum that I am typically staying under 70 this trip. What made me 26 again is a compilation cassette tape that I made for my 1989 voyage to L.A., up the coast to Seattle, then back across the top of the country.
Photo in my driveway courtesy of Jennifer Foster, WDAV announcer producer and dear, funny, special, outlier friend, the day of my departure, 13 days and 2,200 miles ago.
I have needed utter silence to pack my bags, boxes, books, and radiator hoses for six weeks on the road. But when the key turns in the ignition of my old ’67 Comet ragtop, my playlist is ready to crank up to the skies.
I have learned that road-trip music provides an ear to the future, as well as to the past and present. To put it another way, sound is second only to smell in my Proustian lobes, and this June and July, starting today, are my next batch of good old days. So, I aim to remember the summer of ’09 even more clearly and fondly than I remember the summer of ’89, when I crossed the same continent in the same car. (I dug the cassette soundtrack for that trip out of a closet for this trip, but we’ll get to that.)