Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Riding In A Car

The view from Walden's Ridge wasn't as spectacular as it can be when the afternon sun is shining brightly, but the lights from the city of Dunlap penetrated the gloom of the rain showers. I raced to the floor of the Sequatchie Valley and then began the ascent of the Cumberland Mountains with a little trepidation. The rain was mere mist here, but it had been raining steadily all day and I hoped there would be no rock slides. The radio was playing Pachelbel's "Canon In D Major" and it was a perfect match for the scenery. Water was rushing over the side of the mountains as white mist clouds floated skyward. I briefly wished it could be summer time, because if it was I would pull the car over and stand beneath one of the myriad waterfalls formed from the rain. This fleeting thought changed over to a meditative rhapsody in tune with the classical music and the scenery that slowly went by. I thought about how peaceful it can be just riding in a car and this led to thinking about other scenes of other days spent inside automobiles.

Sequences of ephemeral moments of transient transits rushed through my mind like an automotive flip book. There were the days when I was a small child riding in the ancient machinery of my uncle's Buick Roadmaster or his Ford Truck with the dashboard consoles out of my reach unless I stood instead of sat on the floorboard. Don't even think about wearing a seatbelt. Trees and telephone poles would march outside the windshield and the little imaginary man I would make with my fingers would leap over or cut them down while a fat orange sun collapsed into twilight. The road was invariably Manson Pike because we were either living there or my uncle and granny were living somewhere that had to be reached by way of it.

I'd ride with my father and mother in souped up Ford Gran Torino's with my mother screaming at my father to slow down. Which is but one of the reasons why she and I got in a taxi that took us to the bus station where we'd catch a Greyhound to Ripley, Mississippi without my father. Months later I'd repeat the trip back to Murfreesboro beside my father where I'd later watch as a U-Haul truck was loaded with our belongings. The ride back to Ripley was huge for a 4 year old kid. Getting to sit up high above the other traffic I was finally big enough to really see what was going on outside on a trip. Too bad I didn't have a clue as to why all of the events had transpired between my parents.

There were GTO's, Barracuda's, and '57 Chevy's in Mississippi. My uncle's on my mother's side of the family were hell raisers and beer drinkers of the sort that mythologies should be written. The scenery would wash to a blur when I rode with them. They loved to scare their nephew and liked to see me sliding across the seat when they'd take sharp curves. For all of my mother's protests about driving fast; she wasn't above putting the gas pedal to the floor.

After we moved back to Middle Tennessee we lived off Almaville Pike and the route home was Manson Pike to Burnt Knob Road and then Almaville. There was a hill in front of a Methodist Church on Manson Pike and if you hit it with enough speed it would make you feel as if the car was leaving the road and going airborne. She'd never hesitate to gun the car as I urged her to go as fast as possible.

My father had been read the riot act too many times by then and he now drove slowly. He'd traded in a Gran Torino for a blue and white Ford Ranger pickup with a camper top. I liked to ride in the back under the camper even during the sweltering summer heat peering out the back with my tongue hanging out like a coon dog. When riding in the cab I would put my arm out the window just like my father. My right arm would be darker than my left, but would match my father's left arm.

I also liked to stick my head out of windows. During my roller skating days of 7th and 8th grade I would wash my hair right before leaving the house and hang my head out of the car to dry in the wind for that feathered hair disco look that the young girls liked so much. I wouldn't recommend this method today.

The memories start to accumulate like a traffic jam on the freeway. An orange Vega on the way to breaking down in Ripley, riding in a Nissan Pulsar on the way to a rock concert at 90 mph, sitting on the hump in the back seat of a Pontiac Trans Am (rock concert again), riding shotgun in DD Blank's parent's Sunbird, keeping Clyde from falling asleep on the way to Florida in the middle of the night, and starting a fire in a Volkswagen Beetle (that's what happens when you tear out the back seat and set a wooden plank over the battery housing).

There's the day I was driving a Buick Electra I got from my parents to a party out in the county with a couple of girls that Bruno and I had picked up at a Monkees reunion concert and the back seat was full of TV Tempo magazines. It was a local free tv listing mag and I had so many because that particular issue had a coupon for money off at the Readmore Bookstore. It was for 3 or 4 dollars off and they hadn't specified books only so I was using the coupons to get free magazines. The girls were riding in the backseat and they started to tear the papers up and then throwing them out the window. We were in a convoy of cars heading to the party and there were TV Tempo's blowing all over the road behind us. The first car would get hit by them and the next few cars would whip them into the air after they hit the pavement.

There are numerous other events, but I've mused enough on this today. I hope all of your rides are as enjoyable as the ones I've listed. And if you're a driver with passengers; remember that you're participating in what amounts to a sacred trust.

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