Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My Drive Home With Hank & Elvis

Last night, in Big Bear, I pulled up next to a small food and liquor shop that could've easily been built half a century ago and left there to adapt or evolve. I placed a cherry soda and a five-hour energy deal on the counter and then rummaged through my pockets for wrinkled dollar bills.

"Camping?" asked the lady.

"Yeah," I said. "Well, was camping. On my way out now."

"Long drive?"

"Not too bad. But hopefully this combination here explodes my brain and keeps me from falling asleep at the wheel."

"Yeah, these things kick ass," she said, holding up the five-hour energy shot.

I paid and she handed me my receipt.

"Have a good drive," she said.

"Have a good night," I replied, exiting the small shop.

There was a brief pause, and then I returned.

"Hey, how do I get home anyway? The 38's that way, right?"

I was off to a bad start, sleepy and not entirely sure how I came into the quiet town because I was sleepy then too.

But, soon, I was on the road, driving in total silence, taking in the lake and the surrounding community. And then I was on an open road with mountains in every distance.

Before long, I was on the winding, descending mountain road and I put on exactly what suited the drive: Hank Williams.

Hank Williams died in the back seat of Cadillac, but he was immediately reborn as the patron saint of men and their long, thoughtful drives of dirt roads, mountain roads and back roads. Wherever there is a man with too much time to think about his follies (whether it's been drugs, dreams, women or any other vice), Hank Williams can always be there alongside. But he doesn't really act as music. The men on these drives don't really listen to Hank. Instead, the men lull a daydream tune at the wheel and Hank works his old country voodoo. Without even being there, Hank's voice and guitar are lending themselves to the restless prairie sounds of any man sleepy enough to wonder what he's doing with his life.

I sped through the mountain roads at a reckless speed, zooming on the "lost highway" that ol' Hank was maybe singing about.

Hank sang as I drove through the forest that looked like the one they took John Turturro to die in Miller's Crossing. Hank gave me chills then, as a whole lot of his songs are about returning to Heaven.

He sang a song about lost love (which is the other thing he mostly sang about) as I drove towards the glowing red hills of California. Once I zoomed by a few truckers, I broke onto the stretch of highway that was a gleaming, almost unsettling orange. And then Hank played a song about leaving town.

And it never felt like it was the 21st Century.

See, if I ever become outrageously stupid wealthy (by way of hard work or a cocaine and hooker empire, I'd like to indulge in some kind of classic car collection, it won't be because I know a lot about cars. In fact, if my car was ever to break down with a hot lady in it, I've put put more work into coming up with an excuse than actually figuring out how a car engine works. No, I want a classic car collection to time travel in the weakest way (however, it should be noted that I want to time travel more than anything else).

I'd buy a rickety pick-up truck and listen to Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. I'd buy an old jalopy and listen to Cab Calloway, Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington. I'd have an slick Cadillac with fins and I'd only listen to Elvis Presley, Perry Como and the other sputterings of new rock 'n roll. I'd try to be at every beginning and every end of the 20th Century. There'd be a car for each decade and style.

Hank finished up his set around the time I made it past the first chapel in the lowlands town, near the clean cut of the mountain road bridge.

The neon lights of open gas stations and closed grocery stores hummed and buzzed as I decided to go with Elvis as the next co-pilot.

And, I tell you, there's something spectacularly different about the way that Elvis croons his songs about lost love. His songs were playful flirting. The King knew what he was doing. How Elvis died of everything from high blood pressure to liver damage and not from a billion STDs is totally fucking beyond me. Elvis should've died in the middle of an orgy from exhaustion. Seriously. Have you listened to his songs? I feel like I'm eavesdropping on a dude making a booty call on some of them. However, they're really goddamn good.

But it was quite the clash to the dreary but understanding lonely heart of Hank Williams. The lonesome cowboy spirit of ol' Hank comes from this weird place in the hearts of men where heartache isn't sympathetic. Instead, it's empowering. It's this lone streetlamp glowing in the dead of night near a familiar porch of the heart. There's something almost nostalgic about heartache to Hank and his gang of lover loners or loner lovers. Imagine every lone wolf strumming a guitar and howling at the moon a girl's name they miss.

But, Elvis...man, that guy sang about loneliness like he was trying to relate to Hank or like his timing was all off. Hank might be dedicated to the same girl for years and started really missing the girl when she walked through the local chapel with a different man. Elvis sings about loneliness like he hasn't scored tail in a day or two.

But inspiration comes from all different strokes of luck and heart string plucks. Elvis sang about the abundance that love can provide. Hank sang more about the absence. Either way, Elvis was a much better call as a closing act, because the neon lights of the small towns I raced through didn't seem like Norman Rockwell drained his paintbrush in the nostalgia we all find in it. Norman Rockwell, and later Elvis, painted America in a way that appears endearing and real. They sang about small town America like there wasn't something to be had, not that there was someone to be had.

Finally, I made it onto a big freeway and sped home. The car dealerships and mall plazas didn't resonate any kind of feelings in me. They were just there.

I soon found myself in Claremont and thought of the time that my pals Rex and Sarvas drank and slid down the stairs of our friend Emily's dorm hall where she was a RA. And, suddenly, I felt nostalgic again as I was edging closer to home. To remember a time so precise, after forgetting it for so long, stirs you around in a rather peculiar way. You feel homesick for a time instead of a place and you think you could've done it better given a second chance, though you did it great the first time. Nostalgia just eats at you when you can't spend your weekdays doing whatever you want anymore. When you're old enough to have a real job, but not established enough to have weeks off from work. Nostalgia puts a dizzying smile that you're unsure of when you're not quite sure where you are in it all.

"Hard Headed Woman" was on when I got lost.

Elvis played "Surrender" as the amusement park fireworks went off in the distance.

"Can't Help Falling In Love" came on and I turned it off because of too many memories.

Soon, I was home with a dog waiting for me, and I felt so very precisely at home, comfortable and reassured, that I had as stupid of a grin on my face as my dog did when I finally took him for a walk so he could see what the world outside of the house had to offer him after being cooped up in the backyard.

1 comment:

athousandscreamingrabbits said...

This reminds me of my novel. A bit. Dust. Deserts. Dilapidated towns. Waywardness. Well written my friend.