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Back In Olympia Again

It never really warmed up or cleared off enough to go for a ride today.  The lesson learned is that this time of the year when the weather is good take advantage of it because even when they think it will get better, it just might not, and the opportunity slips away.   Although I couldn't ride, the day wasn't a total waste -- I managed to get the yard and decks all swept and raked up so they don't look like the aftermath of Katrina.  However, as the day ended I decided I'd head back to Olympia rather than get up and go down early on Monday.  This is my 20th Legislative session, so I know the road to Olympia as well as the back of my hand.  In fact, I often get down here and don't remember driving down, it just sort of zones out after so many times.

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.

How bright the stars, how dark the night.  How long have I been sleeping?  Sleep overtook me on my westward flight, held me in it’s keeping.  I had a dream; it seemed so real, it’s passing left me shaking.  I saw you here behind the wheel, on this very road I’m taking.

Across the Willamette River bridge, North on Interstate 5 and over the Columbia River into Washington.  Traffic thins out rapidly as does the Portland metro area.  It’s dark, the blackness on either side of the freeway spotted with the single bluish lights of farm buildings in the distance.  Time to crank up the music.  I punch the CD changer to Garnet Rogers “Night Drive”.  Garnet is the late Stan Rogers brother and Stan is the 20th Century’s Canadian equivalent to Woody Guthrie in the States.  They are both of the “obscure folkie” genre that only a few appreciate and that seems to be all I listen to.  Night Drive is how Garnet remembers his late brother.  Stan died in a plane crash – Garnet tours alone now -- in a Volvo station wagon. 

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.
11:30 PM.  I need to pee so I pull off at the exit to Onalaska and Napavine.  No towns, just an exit  off the Interstate with a two-lane highway going East and West.  The sign at the foot of the off-ramp points West to Onalaska, East to Napavine.  It’s dark, I look East and see a small cluster of bluish mercury vapor lights, and West into the darkness.  I head West, under the North-South freeway and into the dark.  A quarter mile down the road, along the rusty railroad tracks lined with surplus boxcars from long dead railroads I pull over.  It’s quiet—I can see the trucks on the Interstate, but I can’t hear them.  It’s like they are ghost trucks, their dim clearance lights floating silently through the darkness.  It gets even more quiet and still after I turn the engine and lights off.  I get out to stretch my legs and take care of business.  Its cool, the air feels good.  A few stars are out, and the northern lights shine green behind the foothills of Mt. St. Helens.  I lean back and enjoy the silence and solitude.  I wonder.  I reflect.  I remember.

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.
Years have slipped beneath my wheels, dwindling in my rear view mirror.  Scares me how the years have flown, like the leaves drift in September,  As time has passed your life has seemed less real.  But these night drives, bring you nearer.

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.
1:00 AM I pull off for coffee and pie in Scotts Lake, the last town before Olympia.  EAT demands the neon sign at the all-night diner so I do.  Apple Pie and coffee.  I rest my eyes.  The waitress asks “long drive?”  “Yep – and 60 more miles to go”.  “North to Seattle?”  “Yes” She frowns and shakes her head as if to wonder about my sanity and my Night Drive.  “Drive safe”.  “I will.” I’m tired, and even this Night Drive is beginning to wear on my eyes and my brain.  I used to be able to drive all night with a six pack of warm Coke to keep me awake.  No more, and these new bifocals aren’t the best for night driving – the lights reflect funny.  No stars rise up to guide me – just the distant glow of the lights of the Seattle metro area, which starts a wee bit south of Olympia, and stretches North past Everett. Five million people,  and four million cars.  The lights of Seattle, the 6 lanes of freeway, and even the traffic at 2 AM conspire against me.  The luxury of “auto pilot” is gone, as is the darkness and the solitude and the ability to think.  The clutter of the lights, the cacophony of signs and the other cars on the road give me nothing to do but watch the minutes slip by and the miles roll up as my home and bed beckon.    All that is left is the music – and the road.  Garnet’s twelve-string echoes its last chord and the CD is over.  Mile 164 – West Seattle.  A little after 2 AM and I’m home.  South to North.  Back where I started this morning.  To where I’ll start again tomorrow morning, and the morning after that, and the morning after that. To the West across the darkness of Puget Sound are the Olympic Mountains.  I see the last ferry of the night waiting to head West – to a road that leads to that Western Ocean.  I can’t.  Tomorrow I must go Vancouver BC.  It’s North.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
pandabuff
Feb. 2nd, 2009 06:36 am (UTC)
Highway 20 Ride
Funny thing is that I was listening to Highway 20 Ride as I was reading your post and so I smiled when I got to the end and realized that you were listening to the same song when you were working on this post.

I remember this when you wrote this originally and it is a nice reminder at your gift you have with your creative narrative.

143 - T
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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