I’m an anomaly in America.
When I drive anywhere nowadays, the radio is off.
It came to a point, while I was driving an hour or more from Hampton Roads to Richmond, and then back 8 hours later, for an hour to three hours, that I wasn’t enjoying it.
It was the same music, over and over, The same voices. The same inflections. The same insipid commercials. The same bumpers.
The worst was morning drive time. The same man/woman DJ team, mostly trying to amuse in a Campbell’s soup, tasteless but inoffensive way — which, in itself, is offensive to intelligent people.
Then the woman quit, and her replacement was perhaps even more insipid — no, stupid — in her suburbanite, SUV-driving way. Everything was about babies. Kids and sports.
I finally realized . . .
I’d had enough.
Every now and then I’d tune into Mancow in the Morning out of Chicago. A liitle outrageous, a little funny. But somewhere he turned a corner. He stopped being funny and tried to be political.
Cut the bitch off.
John Boy and Billy, syndicated out of Carolina or Georgia or somewhere backwards. Redneck humor a decade after Hee Haw had died and been buried.
“Hey, big feller, lemme hold a dollar.”
So I cut the bitch off.
Not just one channel.
The whole radio.
That was 2006.
Since then, driving, whenever I drive, no matter how far, it’s pure thought.
I used to think it would be boring, not to have any input. To drive for so long. No TV. No music. No voices.
Hey, let’s talk about pre-schoolers, and how about the drool. Ha Ha!
But their input is without thought. It’s dull. Mundane. It’s at such a level of intrinsic mundanity that it’s offensive to anyone who can think for themselves.
I’ve learned I can supply my own input — and it’s far more interesting and far more productive than listening to the pablum that is broadcast to the masses.
Roll the window down. Breeze feels good on my arm. Train tracks outside my neighborhood. The bell gonna start? Lights flash? No. Move.
Bump across the tracks. Monolith on the right — marks etched into it to note the water level if it floods.
Nice. I’d be underwater.
295 to 95. An asphalt semi-circle of assholes in Dodge Rams trying to cut their way in front of you instead of slowing down.
95 is usually unobstructed. But spring break, Memorial Day, July 4, National Hangnail Day, Pizza Month, it’s bumper to bumper bullshit.
18-wheelers, their sides either completely blank or the most-colorful things I’ve ever seen on a highway beside truck-stop hookers, roll like skyscrapers between hybrids, convertibles, suvs, and sludge-covered 4-wheelers from Quebec.
Past the hill with green and yellow John Deere machinery, the gun-glorifying Disneyland of Death comes up on the left. Hook the fish in its mouth, win a prize, and learn how it feels to kill a living thing.
Nice T-shirts, though.
Troopers parked on the median. In the right emergency lanes, SUVs parked catty-corned behind other cars, blue lights flashing in the back windows. Damn! Stealth supertroopers!
You can’t trust anybody when you’re pushing 75.
Sip of coffee. Think about the novel. Never good stuff — just what I’ve done wrong, the parts I have to fix. Decide to delete a line. Hope I remember when I get home.
King’s Dominion comes up on the right. The red flashing sign is always missing some letters, a gap on each side. Kong’s Domininion. Giant ape runs the roller coaster. Kin’s Dominion. Inbred relatives teach you what family love is all about under the Eiffel Tower. Season Passes available.
I could get off there and drive east a few miles to Dawn. To the right at that intersection is one of my favorite clients. Gloria’s Cafe is a down-home, old school home-cookin’ restaurant, run by two of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Tom and Gloria are trying to do their best, not only to make their way with a restaurant, but to conscientously serve good food at a good price and make their customers happy. My lunches there have been great…but I can’t stop for breakfast. Hell, I’m late as it is.
SUVs with New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey plates. A smattering from Maryland. It reminds me of a tow truck driver I met 30 years ago on I-64, who said he refused to stop for anyone below the Mason-Dixon line.
Then, there it is. Billboard. PORTERHOUSE STEAK $12.99
It used to be the Iron Skillet, a chain of truck stop restaurants stretching from there to her and beyond. No idea what happened, but suddenly Iron Skillet became Ruther Glen Travel Plaza restaurant. Same meals, same prices, same mgmt. There are big white blanks on the signs now, covering the old name. And that’s where I get off, exit 104, Ruther Glen.
Confusion with the signs. Turn left, get in the left hand lane. Turn right, well, that’s different. To turn right and go straight up 207 or to turn right into the truck stop on the right, hell, just go right. But if you want to hit the Ruther Glen Travel Plaza, which is also to the right, you have to stay in the middle lane and turn right, the turn left at the light, because that’s on the other side of the tracks.
Good luck, mofos.
Once again: blind drivers trying to get in front of each other, merely to make sure they get the hottest Egg McMuffin from the stainless steel slide.
Sun slanting through the windows. Grass being cut. I smell the freshness. Radio is off. Sound is noise. Light, scents, movement, thought — that’s existence.
Coffee from the tumbler. Decide to add a new sidebar to the novel. Something about a Mayan artifact that may or may not have someone or something ancient inside it. Find a picture later.
Slight curves, low hills. Green. Pick ups jumping in front of you, even though there are no other cars behind you. Fuckers just don’t want to wait.
Sherriff’s cruiser angled on the median. 207 connects 95 and 301, and it’s pretty busy for Maryland people who use 301 because it’s less crowded than the interstate. And they speed on 207 trying to get home. The deputies know this. Its where I got snagged when I first started working at the paper, and I didn’t know the game. Now it’s no more than 60 for me on the way in to work.
The old Caroline Conutry Club on the right. It was turned into a restauarant a few years ago, the Feedlot, I shit you not. Probably had troughs in the back room for the high-rolling guests. The place went through some proprietors, now it’s closed again. Probably best. I went in there to work on some ads with the most recent manager, and couldn’t find a place to lay down my books because the white tablecloths on the tables were covered in mouse turds.
Needless to say, I never stopped in for a bite.
Pasture coming up on the left, speckled with cows. Some are standing in a shallow pond. The big white house is where a Richmond lawyer lives, if I remember correctly. He shot and killed his older neighbor over a dispute about a cow jumping the fence. A high-priced lawyer out of DC got him off. He’s persona non grata with the rest of the county, now.
Take a left at the bypass. Finish the coffee. Past the Food Lion and the McDonald’s where the bushes along the drive-thru are infested with flying things. Then it’s the main drag in Bowling Green. Main Street.
I park in the dirt and gravel lot between the Dollar General and the Pitts and Manns building. My office is in the first floor of the red brick P&M place. I tuck my iPhone in my left pocket, my wallet in my back, gather up my lunch bag and sales books, and sigh.
I don’t have to cut the radio off. Didn’t druive in with Elliott in the Morning or John Boy or Mancow or Freida and Fred or any damn body.
I had my own thoughts to talk with, to dream with, to keep me busy.
Then reality hits. My brain shuts down.
Time for work.