Page Two: The Road Goes on Forever
Moving forward, or stuck in the mud
"The pounding of the drums,
the pride and disgrace"
– "Eve of Destruction," P.F. Sloan, 1965
I'm trying to lie just quiet after way too much travel, just so happy to have my weary bones back in our own bed in Austin. The house is too cold because Sandy doesn't want to turn up the heat because we are going out in a few minutes. The tinnitus plays a low-level electronic dance beat in my head, sometimes making my life seem even more like an unfolding documentary (as it has for decades). All I want to do is sleep because I sleep so well, the inviting enveloping darkness carrying me into crazy dreams far away from the day-to-day.
Too much travel accompanied by the constant noise of onscreen talking heads casually blaring as we walk through airports and hotel lobbies, an unending drone of concern and commentary that dries out on the outside line under the hot afternoon sun, the sister drone of "I'm right, they're wrong, I am right they are wrong."
I can't focus. I stumble forward. Mostly I want to stay in bed. Though that too passes.
Once the road went on forever, if we were not driving we were hitchhiking. If not traveling by car then by bus and train. Not just racing toward the unknown in hot pursuit of the future but desperately fleeing the known. Not that we had committed crimes or acts of outrage, but fleeing mundanity was at least the first step to adventure. Or so we hoped.
I've always been the worst kind of consumer, the con artist's dream – want to rent the first apartment I see, buy the first car I test drive. Over several states I've left a long string of wrecked vehicles in my wake, none dying from car crashes but just washed up by abuse.
There was the 1949 Ford Panel Truck that my friend Fred drove from Boston to Bartonsville, Vermont, where to steer around a curb involved starting about a quarter-mile out. Not surprisingly, a trooper pulled him over for weaving all over the road. He was apparently so sober but so outraged at his "asshole" roommate leaving him to drive his stuff up to Vermont that the trooper let him go.
There was the 1952 Chevy Deluxe that Everett Larson and I first drove down in from Vermont in November 1974, the interstate highway system still under construction in many places. A few years later we moved to Austin in a van frolicking and spewing smoke behind it from the Northeast to Austin as though ripping through a Furry Freak Brothers cartoon map. Once, we got in a car and went often – often actually even moved. We lived in cars. Beaten up, hopeless.
One week I'm talking with Jonathan Demme about Mabel Normand on the balcony restaurant at a hotel in Lisbon, but still feeling the rolling low sweeping up the back steps, the dread history that is my history pursuing me. Licking at my feet. Tasting my sweat. Walking through explosive color-stained autumn in Vermont, driving west on Sunset Strip in L.A., remembering a long lost walk in the snow in Utah, and the White Sands in New Mexico where only Nick wasn't lost.
Now, getting in a car just to go seems unlikely fun in so many ways. With purpose we already travel too much.
I find myself a lot lying on the bed, listening to the incessant buzzing in my ear. A never-ending buzz that just adds to the noise around us. The jumble of noise becomes impenetrable, grief and outrage streaked with pathetic partisan politics that, rather than just unrestrained grief and outrage at a way-too-casual act of inhumanity, tries to make silly points. Yes on gun control, no on gun control, yes on refugees, no on refugees. While obviously there must be far bigger issues at stake with brutal outlaw immorality pretending to be legitimated by a thin veneer of ideology.
And I can't even pretend that what happened in Colorado is germane to the debate on abortion rather than festered by the demagoguery of those playing for votes by casting any complex moral subject into stark black and ridiculous white. Arguing for a greater morality as a camouflage for vote-seeking.
When we used to drive, not just away but toward (and that not specific), the radio was always on. And we all were listening to the same general radio stations. So popular music was a broadly shared cultural conceit. I guess not anymore. So the buzz even lacks that underlying unity. Which I'm pretty sure is what we pushed for the culture to do back as film graduate students at the UT RTF Department in the late Seventies. That isn't to argue we were right or wrong, or even to bring us back to the beginning, but really to suggest that even without cars the road goes on forever.
P.F. Sloan, R.I.P. Nov. 15, 2015