Standing in line at the slowest Starbucks ever (in her defense it was her first day as manager & she was alone – we had time to chat). The line was long, and being me, I started talking to folks. There was a couple driving to Pittsburgh for their honeymoon. Not one of those places I think about romantically – but they’d met there four years earlier. Two truckers told me about their circuitous path to deliver a roomful of furniture – I think the journey went from Atlanta to Philly by way of Detroit. They were on the last leg and the older guy needed to have his beverage “remedied”. His order at the previous Starbucks on the turnpike had been faulty and he hoped our overwhelmed barista would fix it. All he needed, as he repeatedly told her, was seven shots of caramel, three espresso shots topped with heavy cream – not stirred so he got the sugar jolt as he got to the bottom. Wow, homemade Red Bull! He & his buddy asked if I was from around there, since I don’t quite sound like a Pennsylvanian. To the amusement of the rest of the folks in line, he, his buddy and I got into a discussion of how the south and north differed in their approach to winter weather, concluding down south we had the sensible plan of shutting down the entire region if more than seventy-five snowflakes or sleet balls fell or were even predicted.
Flash forward to driving on the same road on a spring night, heavy with unfallen rain. The clouds looked as if you could reach up and pull them around you. The wanna-be painter in me longed to mix colors and textures revealing the wonder available to me, alone on a darkening highway gasping at the night.
I love driving. I love going from here to there and often cars are the most efficient way to travel, given Star Trek-like transporters don’t yet exist. Highways, big and small, weave through the countryside connecting here and there like veins pulsing life through a body. If driving intimately connects you with the landscape, flying paints its patterns, green and blue and golden shaped by glimpses through cotton ball clouds.
I think I would love flying more if I did it in a little plane, the times I’ve done that were astonishingly awesome. If commercial flights were less like claustrophobic biscuit tubes — I think I would like them too. I’ve discovered seeing the door and sitting on the aisle can work wonders — as does a fantastic playlist paired with a small cocktail.
Of course, the romantic way to travel is by train — not really a ‘thing’ in America of the 21st century. Watching old movies with the sleeping cars, and the lounge and the happenstance that cause two travelers to fall in love…. yet like those black & white movies; it’s all about the nostalgia. The trains in France are by no means relics. It’s the most amazing, jaw-dropping juxtaposition to be whizzing through the countryside at 100+ mph (or km/h more precisely) and look out the window at a 16th century windmill that could have been sport for Quixote.
There’s old axiom that it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. I always interpreted it metaphorically — trying to remember to smell roses and do little mind “photos” of the daughters as childhood flashes past. Yet, perhaps it’s just a simple declarative fact. In the “a.m.s”, as my blinky eyes focus on the road ahead, waking with coffee and the sun — I need to take time to see the pinky salmon of its fingers striping the pale blueness of the morning.
Whether auto, plane, train or Amish buggy, it’s never about just getting from here to there. Passionate vagabond and incomparable sensualist Anaïs Nin noted, “We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls”. One’s destination can encompass so much more than map coordinates pegged on a GPS. How will you get there? What will you find along the way?
- Downtown Train (Tom Waits) Tom Waits has one of those voices that you are sure he’s going to pass out before he finishes the next line — this is his song, though the Rod Stewart cover is better known
- Gotta Get on This Train (Georgie Fame) — their was this tiny little movie called “Swing,” a bit of a vanity project for Nick Mead and Lisa Stansfield. The soundtrack is amazing — the performers are a “who’s who” of great swing, jazz, and rock musicians. This track just makes me smile
- Last Train to Clarksville (the Monkees) — fun little fact about the Monkees, they didn’t play on all their songs, which most people know, and one of the session musicians was often Glen Campbell which is utterly cool. They also meant this to be a Vietnam protest song — perhaps not as overt as some.
- Big Jet Plane (Angus & Julia Stone) — such a neat little song, recorded by the Australian brother and sister duo — It was a chart topping song, and its mellowness has lent it to about a million TV soundtracks.
- Midnight Train to Georgia (Gladys Knight & the Pips) – a classic song for Ms. Knight which tells the story of a love that takes them from LA to a simpler place and time — I always worry though if they will be upset when they try to recreate their life the next morning in GA
- Leavin’ on a Jet Plane (John Denver) — “babe I hate to go”, is nowhere near as catchy — Peter, Paul & Mary’s cover became the definitive version, though I like the simplicity of John Denver’s original
- Chattanooga Choo Choo (Glenn Miller) — The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga has the lyrics winding along the sidewalk and it was lovely to dance along it with the girls…. We always liked the part where it was “nothing could be finer that to have your ham an’ eggs in Carolina” – if you’re ever jaded on the incomparable Miller sounds, check out the cover by jazz violinist Regina Carter, it will do the proverbial sock knocking!
- City of New Orleans (Arlo Guthrie/Willie Nelson) — although Steve Goodman wrote the song, its two most well known covers compete for iconic. Arlo is lovely and achy, but Willie makes me want to jump on board….
- Stolen Car (Sting) — I love when Sting becomes news for something other than tantric sex and some smidge of an ego — the 2015 release of a cover with the French singer Mylène Farmer for her album Interstellaires made news for its status as a number 1 dance song — who knew?
- Airmail Special (David Grisman, John Hartford, & Mike Seeger) — so perhaps not everything can be turned into a bluegrass/roots kind of song — but if it’s going to be, you want these guys to do it.
- Counting Airplanes (Train) – like Maroon 5, he got overexposed a lot after “hey, soul sister” and a lot of folks dismiss him as a pop, top 40 guy — I saw him do an acoustic set on a PBS show (they depend on you — pledge break) and he is really good.
- Let’s Go (the Cars) — one critic said it “married sardonic humor/new wave quirkiness with an accessible pop melody” — in other words, it has a hook. Some of their early stuff gets lost in the Ric Ocasek/Paulina Porizkova celeb-gossip birth years.
- Ridin in my Car (NRBQ) — it’s a sad song and you get happy listening to it 🙂 Like or loathe Zooey Deschanel, her cover of this with M Ward is delightful.
- Everyday is a Winding Road (Sheryl Crow) – whether it riffs off Sympathy for the Devil or not, this was one of the songs that made Sheryl Crow a household name. Paul Hesler of Crowded House was part of her inspiration, his “zest and search fir meaning in life”. His suicide nearly ten years later adds an unexpected poignancy to the lyrics.
- On the Road Again (Willie Nelson) – this iconic road song which premiered in Willie’s film debut, Honeysuckle Rose was written on the back of a barf bag.
- The Road’s my Middle Name (Bonnie Raitt) – I always thought of this as my song…“Guess the road is in my blood/’cause I’m my daddy’s kid/Just have to learn how to let me go/Just like my momma did – so my mother said my Dad and brothers could do two things and one was to drive a car. I guess she never realized that her daughter was the same way.
- Why Walk when You Can Fly (Mary Chapin Carpenter) – trivia fact: her 5th cousin is the late Harry Chapin. Not saying it’s a genetic thing, but she writes/collaborates/chooses the smartest/most painterly lyrics, like in this one à “When you spend you whole life wishing/Wanting and wondering why/It’s a long enough life to be living/Why walk when you can fly”
- Truckin’ (Grateful Dead) – metaphor or literal, life in general is a “long strange trip” – this song has become part of the cultural conversation – to the point the Library of Congress calls it a “national treasure” – all I know, is my feet get itchy to go somewhere
- Come See about Me (Tedeschi Trucks band) – one of those songs that pluck a soul chord, the Supremes version of 1964 is a classic. Lately, a friend reminded me of how much I enjoy the collaboration of Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks. NPR has a fantastic “tiny desk concert” with them – well worth the listen!
- Six Days on the Road (Mudcrutch) – so, Tom Petty had a band before the Heartbreakers and after he was fabulously wealthy & successful – he actually got the band back together. The resulting album is a laid-back, ramble through Southern rockabilly.
- One for my Baby (Robbie Williams) – A lovely melodic/lyrical Arlen & Mercer song most famously performed by Frank Sinatra. British superstar Robbie Williams’ version brings you into the bar with him – and pretty much asks you to take the keys before he leaves.
- Come Fly with Me (Frank Sinatra) – If you’re on the road, it’s a given that you have to ask Frank to join you. An invitation song, he asks you to imagine all the anywheres you could go, just drop the inhibitions
- Aeroplane (Red Hot Chili Peppers) – “I like pleasure spiked with pain/And music is my aeroplane” – so I have a sneaking love for the Chili Peppers (or at least a few of their songs). This one is kind of split – I love the transportive music and the Mazzy Starr references; yet the little kid chorus fade at the end just doesn’t work for me.
Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.–> Ray Bradbury