Highway Companion

2 May

If you go there, tell me all about it ...

My older daughter and I decided to take a road trip this spring break. I had the perfect place in mind: Memphis, the town where rock-and-roll began.  But just as I started looking up the driving directions between Sun Records and Graceland, she gently informed me she didn’t want to go to Memphis. 

Disappointed, I asked, “Well then, where do you want to go?”

“Charleston. In South Carolina.”

“Why in the world do you want to go to Charleston?”

“I just do.”

 Instead of visiting the birthplace of the King, we were off to the birthplace of Darius Rucker.

Here's Hootie, the Carolina cutie

After consulting Mapquest, I estimated that the drive would be 15 hours each way. That was 30 hours in the car in addition to the four days we planned to visit the Palmetto State. So, before I consulted the travel guides and asked for friends’ advice about places to see, I began working on the most important part of our trek: the soundtrack.

I began with high hopes about putting together clever playlists: a set for each state on our route (CSNY’s “Ohio” followed by John Denver’s tribute to West Virginia, “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and so on) or a tribute to the musicians born in places along the way (for Virginia, I could do Patsy Cline, Ella Fitzgerald … and GWAR!).

“Mom, you’re spending more time worrying about the music than how to get there.”

“Are you really surprised?’

During a long drive, music makes the difference between a grim haul and a great memory. I know from experience. When I was twelve, my Girl Scout troop took a trip around the country, traveling from Virginia down to Florida, across through New Orleans, Texas and the southwestern states to Los Angeles. After a trip to Disneyland, we headed up to Montana and Wyoming, cutting across to Chicago, moving on to upstate New York and going south back home. We visited twenty-six states in twenty-eight days, motoring from site to site in a 44-passenger tour bus then sleeping outside in tents we pitched ourselves.

The bus had a cassette player and only three tapes:


We played these every day for an entire month, sometimes more than once a day, and they never got old. I could take any of them off the shelf and listen to them again today. And props to Billy, the troop leader’s 16-year old son, for putting that Queen album on the bus. Thanks to him, I may be the only American who can hear “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions” without first thinking of a sporting event.

Faced with the pressure of creating an equally indelible soundtrack for my trip with my daughter … I punted. My ambitions narrowed to simply being able to find an iPod charger that I could plug into my car. I knew that if I labored over playlists, she’d listen for a couple of songs, roll her eyes, then plug in her earbuds to hear her own tunes. If I did the choosing, it would be no different from when we drive to the store.

Once we pulled onto Woodward to drive the first of 1,900 miles, I handed her my iPod and told her that she’d be the DJ for the trip: just pick something with a beat. Her lead off choice made me proud: the entire White Stripes catalogue, scoring the Michigan leg with Jack White.

But I had to play one song of my choosing first:

May the road you take always lead you to fond memories – and fantastic music.

See you on the flip side.


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