At the risk of sounding ungrateful, the car that I inherited from my father is a piece of crap.The summer after he died, I drove from Brooklyn to Rochester, NY and back many times. I was preparing my parents’ house for sale and trying to maintain some semblance of life back in New York.
The car is a 1998 Toyota Tercel. It was made in Canada. You can tell because the speedometer is in kilometers per hour instead of miles. My parents bought it used from an old woman who rarely used it so the mileage was low but that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve needed to repair the brakes three times, the shocks, the tires, the AC, and the gas line that started leaking from the bottom.
At the same time, a car is a car. If I need to run an errand, it’s there. And I haven’t taken a bus or a train to another city in a while.
But the radio is unacceptable.
On the trips to Rochester, I just couldn’t get any music. I kept forgetting go buy something to hook an iPod up to the sound system, if you can call it that. I tried having my laptop next to me to play songs but it was never loud enough. The radio never got any signals. Most of the time, when I hit scan, it would just search and search, around and around the numbers, never landing on anything. So, I would keep my finger tips on the scan button and click up by 0.2 at a time just trying to find something to come in. Anything. Scratchy classical music for 10 minutes? I’ll take it. Is that scratchy Sugar Ray? Or is it Smashmouth? Either way, I’ll listen to that shit.
If it did find a station, there were two outcomes First, it might land on a station while I was driving through the middle of nowhere. I would then have crystal clear right wing talk radio, country, or Christian rock pumping through my speakers. Christian rock is so easily identifiable but how generically rock-like it sounds plus the addition of “Him”, “glory”, and “His glory” featured in the lyrics.
Second, I would get a decent rock station to come in while on my way through Northern Jersey, Scranton, Binghamton, or Syracuse. And whenever it did, I found that each city happened to be playing the same damn song that day. Really? “Back in the Saddle” by Aerosmith was on at 11:00 in Binghamton and now it’s on at 1:27 in Syracuse. Really? “Life’s Been Good” by Joe Walsh again? I’m disappointed, Cortland. Are all classic rock stations really just one station sent to different cities?
I made this trip a dozen times, I think. Each time preparing myself for roughly six hours of my thoughts interrupted by some scratchy Mariah Carey and then the tail end of “Hotel California” followed by “Free Bird” (the truncated version – home of the rock, my ass, if you were really “The Home of the Rock” you’d play the extended solo).
On one particular trip, I was in the home stretch. I had just left the Syracuse airwaves and I was on the Thruway, heading home to Rochester. My fingers were on the scan button. I was close but still an hour away. I just wanted a song, just one song.
And then it came on the radio, like a tall glass of water waiting for me on the other side of the desert, sound as clear as if it were through the headphones of a walkman. “Closer to Fine” by The Indigo Girls. It was the best listening experience of my entire life. I hadn’t heard that song, probably, since about 1996. And I had the kind of appreciation that I only have when I’ve had too many beers and it’s clearly time for me to go home. “Dude, dude, dude, how good is this song? Dude, no, like, listen. Those guitars. Those guitars are like seriously good, like simple yet masterful. DUDE! Do you hear that harmonizing? Whatever happened to these women? Seriously. How are they not in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame? ‘Twice as cloudy as I’d been the night before and I went in seeking clarity’ Dude, that is some poignant irony. That’s like life. That’s like, dude, seriously, that’s like poetry…”
I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a song that much since. I know that it was the circumstances but I still love that song. If you haven’t in a while, take a listen. (I’m also including “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman because I damn well feel like it. Yeah, that song makes me tear up, why doesn’t it make you tear up, you heartless bastard?)