Driving down I was reminded of something I wrote about seven years ago that I thought I'd share here. As you know I like taking song lyrics and incorporating them into things, and this essay I actually wrote driving back from Portland, Oregon one night after the song that is incorporated in it came on. I had to stop several times to write down my thoughts as I was driving back so I wouldn't forget them. The end result is this essay, which I still find very relevant today.
Night Drive (2002)
(Italicized text are lyrics from Garnet Rogers song “Night Drive”)
Ten PM. Portland, Oregon. A long day of business, and it’s time to head back North to Seattle. A summer night – warm and moonless and I’m tired, but I’m also looking forward to the drive. I’ve always loved driving at night. There is something about the solitude, the darkness, and the movement that clears my mind and allows me to think, ponder, and to escape for a brief moment, the rest of the world. I spend a lot of time driving, but not enough of it alone and at night, so this is a rare treat. I’m glad I have this Ford Expedition – high above everyone else, smooth, quiet, comfortable, and perhaps most important – a 6 CD changer sound system.
Hurtling westward through the prairie night, under the spell of motion, your eyes were keen and bright in the dashboard lights, dreaming of the western ocean. Dusty towns left far behind, mountains drawing ever nearer.
Night Drives let me remember things that are important to me too – people, places, events I’ve buried in my mind come flooding back. The music, darkness and motion, awaken forgotten dreams that intertwine with memories and reflections.
Driving at night, away from the city, is easy – effortless. The big truck is almost on auto-pilot. Light traffic, wide lanes, cruise control, and leather bucket seats leave me virtually nothing to concentrate on except the music and the thoughts in my head. The air blows cool and fresh from the vents with a faint smell of damp leaves and pine. This must be the hundredth and something time I’ve driven North and South between Portland and Seattle.
I know this road, it’s every curve. Where the hills commence their climbing.
I’m headed North – one really can’t go to much further West out here, at least without a passport. I’m a Westerner born and bred, and these open spaces and long distances don’t bother me. In fact I get claustrophobic if I’m out of sight of a mountain. Garnet and Stan however, are from the East. I seem to have spent a great deal of my life driving North and South -- South from Salt Lake City on Highway 89 to Phoenix, North on Highway 91 to Idaho, North and South on I-5 between Seattle and Portland or Seattle and Vancouver. The words “East and West” bring up an image in one’s mind that implies movement and progress. History is “East to West”. Railroads run East and West – even when they run North and South. Ocean liners go East and West. East and West mean going somewhere. “North and South” don’t conjure up those same images. North and South are up and down – virtually stationary.
We rested here if my memory serves – the Northern Lights were shining. We lit a smoke, shared some wine. We watched the sky in wonder.
The cell phone rings and breaks my thoughts. It’s Tony. “Where are you? It’s late”. “Still a hundred miles out. Go to bed. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.” “Drive carefully – I love you.” “I love you too. Don’t worry, go to sleep. I’ll see you when I get home.” I turn the phone off. He worries too much. Looking West I see the road, dim under the stars, trailing off into the distance to a town I haven’t been to, and ending on the shore of that Western Ocean Garnet and Stan dreamed of. Looking East I see the ghost trucks going North and South on I-5. I realize I must join them – to return to places familiar, people I know.
Starting the truck turns on the radio rather than Garnet’s CD. I used to love going out into the country at night and picking up distant radio stations. KNBR in San Francisco, KFI in Los Angeles, KOA in Denver, KTWO in Casper, Wyoming, and XEROK, the Mexican powerhouse blasting in from across the Rio Grande in Juarez. I used to dream of working the night shift on some powerhouse station, but now they all run syndicated talk shows, and you can’t tell one from the other. I pick up KSL in my hometown of Salt Lake. It too has only voices chattering into the night about George Bush’s drug problem and Bill Clinton’s moral ones. What ever happened to music? Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, John Denver, Gordon Lightfoot, Peter Paul and Mary, Alro Guthrie, Frank Sinatra – all gone from the night airwaves. I remember now why I don’t listen to the radio much anymore. I punch the CD button and Garnet is back. I crank the volume as I duck back under the Interstate. The sign says “Seattle North” with an arrow pointing off the sign. I turn left and up the ramp.
I wish I could play guitar like Garnet and Stan. Yeah, I know my way around the strings a little, but not like this. The reverb from Garnet’s twelve-string electric echoes to the pattern of the highway reflectors in my side view. It’s why I like this song so much. It’s cadence in the darkness, the beat of the reflectors and the echo of the guitar combine and once again my mind is blank, the truck on auto pilot, the road eerie in its vacancy and darkness -- rare for this major road for the West coast.
Though this drive is a solitary one, I remember other long ago Night Drives that weren’t. Salt Lake across the corner of Wyoming and into the North slope of the Uinta Mountains hauling a truck of sleeping boy scouts, but with one kindred sprit awake with me to enjoy the solitude of the Wyoming night. Salt Lake to Phoenix on US 89 with my closest friend re-enacting lines from the movie Auntie Mame somewhere between Kanab and Flagstaff when the old Ford truck’s AM radio was unable to pick up anything. Moab to Salt Lake with a cassette deck full of “road” songs and singing along – on a night much like tonight where we could concentrate on our thoughts, our dreams, the music and the nothing. But we’ve gotten older, we’ve moved on, we’ve lost track, and we’ve even died. We’ve taken different roads, gone to different places. We’ve realized dreams, or lost sight of them. The guitar drives the song, and I drive the road. Mile 99. Mossyrock, Maytown – only 75 more to go.
So tonight I’ll wish upon these stars, as they rise up to guide me, that I’ll see you here, just as you are, now as then beside me, They’ve lost sight of you as your legend’s grown. But this road and I, we remember.