Pearl Makes A List: 5 Songs for Surviving Life in the Fast Lane
He is a highwayman, my husband, and the absence of purposeful motion makes him restless. Uneasy. He likes to drive. He likes to drive fast. He used to own a car that had a number for a name to let you know how many horses it would take to match the power under its hood. All that power, waiting for the slamming of the door, the turning of the key to activate that speed on the way to somewhere, or from somewhere, or simply as an element of the extended flirtation that is only possible on an impromptu road trip in a very fast car driven by a person who knows how to drive it. The grandmother in me wants to add “safely” to the end of that sentence, but nobody who hits the road with a true highwayman is really concerned about safety. Trust me. Which brings me to this week’s list:
5 Songs for Surviving Life in the Fast Lane
1. I am not a connoisseur of fast cars or fast driving. I am not the kind of woman who can squeal with delight in a convertible going 20 miles over the limit and picking up speed. At such a moment, my hair would be more likely to stand on terrified end then to blow in a lovely tousled swirl around my head while I laughed with a sound like tinkling bells. But there was one unseasonably cold twilight way back when we were still single and wildness was its own reward when I first felt the allure of highway speed. We were headed out I-20 on our way to someplace we probably had no business going and we were moving at a pretty good clip. Not as fast as the car with a number for a name could have gone, but it felt like flying to me that night and without fully knowing I was going to do it, I clicked off my seatbelt, stood up against the seat, hands above my head, heart in my throat and laughed into the wind. He didn’t even seem surprised, probably because I wasn’t the first girl who ever stood up in a convertible he was driving and laughed with a sound like tinkling bells. This song always makes me remember that moment.
2. I never stood up in a car again but during subsequent decades, we Criss-crossed the country for business and pleasure, book tours and performance festivals. Since Zeke loved the road, he showed me how to love it too. I learned to appreciate the weather channel and understand why it doesn’t make sense to cross the desert to Barstow when it’s already 113 in Needles and its not even noon yet. I got to see mountains up close and the Great Plains at sunset. I got to see snow at 7,000 feet up in New Mexico and the Pacific Ocean literally sparkling in the sunshine like a travel poster in California. We drove across the country three times and up and down the east coast whenever we got ready. We ate hot dogs and sauerkraut on the boardwalk at Belmar and had the best Fettucini Alfredo ever at Mastori’s. We walked home from a Broadway show in a light summer rain and watched the fog roll into San Francisco and envelop our hotel like a cloud. We got picked up in a limo in Miami and briefly shared the water with a shark off the coast of South Carolina. After awhile I felt like I knew what Johnny Cash was talking about in this song, although I’ve still got a long way to go.
3. The thing is, even after you get comfortable sleeping in a different bed in a different motel every night for 2,000 miles, and you resolve never to eat another fast food hamburger once you get home, there are some days when you need a little boost from your road music to get out there and face the next 500 miles. One morning, we left New York City at 4 a.m. headed for Philadelphia. We slid in a CD of Little Richard singing a Johnny Cash tune and it woke us up better than any cup of coffee could have done. We put it on repeat and by sunrise, we were headed for the Walt Whitman Bridge, but when Zeke noticed traffic backing up, he changed our course to the Ben Franklin without thinking twice and we cruised on into the city.
4. Although I never did any of the driving on our highway trips, I did get around a good bit on my own taking trains and planes and even a Trailways bus or two. But most of the road songs I know and love are written by men and sung by men. That’s why I love this one by Stevie Nicks because she talks about how it feels to be a woman on the road, traveling solo. The questions the song raises were as familiar to me as the layout of an AMTRAK sleeper car: “What do you love to do?/Outside your world, who spends time with you?” And her lover’s gentle suggestion: “Come down here for a minute, sweet girl,” seemed the best possible solution. It still does.
5. I have so many great road memories, but one of my absolute favorites is the evening we spent having dinner at The Big Texas Steak Ranch in Amarillo. The restaurant, which boasts two white Cadillacs with longhorns affixed to the front bumpers in case you need a lift, is the home of the 72 oz. steak challenge where you get the steak and all the fixings free if you can finish the whole meal in one hour. We didn’t take the challenge, but we did appreciate the roving trio of musicians who stopped by our table to ask what we wanted to hear. “Who do you like?” said the bass player. “George Strait? John?” Johnny Cash never needs more than one name in Texas. “I like Waylon Jennings,” I said. “Good choice,” he nodded. “How about this one?” And they started singing ‘Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys.’ We sang along because of course we knew the words. And even though Ed and Patsy Bruce wrote the song, it was Waylon and Willie Nelson who made me love it and never more than that night in Amarillo when we got to sing it live at The Big Texas Steak Ranch.
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