When I was 14 years old, a freshman in high school, my father, as was his wont, decided to take me and my little brother on a vacation to New Orleans. We had never been there before (Timothy and I.) I don't know if my dad had been there before, I can't recall. It was a road trip, and that was great...got to see a lot of the country that way. We went in his 1978 Chevy Monte Carlo, which had a bitchin V8 engine, but enclosed in a small hood. In other words, it did not look like a fast car, but it was quite powerful. And my dad always drove fast. I liked that about him.
As the older brother, I got to rode shotgun. But, being kind and gracious, I did switch off from time to time on the trip with my brother, Timothy. My dad, Bob, planning with excellent forethought, had a large plastic (insert name brand here) cooler full of iced-down sodas for Timothy and I and beer for him. Of course, that was back in the day, when drinking and driving was not such a mortal sin and capital offense. Dad was a bourbon salesman in those days anyway, and had a fairly high alcohol tolerance. Not that he was a drunk, he could just hold his booze quite proficiently. He was required, in the course of his job, to call on liquor stores and bars of all types, and schmooze with the owners and, of course, let them sample the product. And, to show them it wasn't hemlock, he of course, had a couple belts himself.
The scenery was greenery passing through Kentucky and Tennesee. As my future ex-mother-in-law would say, "verde con avaricio!" I should have taken that phrase, and her intonation, as a dire warning, but I was clueless, and naive and in love, so I chalked it up to some weird Madrilenyo saying...Flashin' past the windows were mainly cows, horses and beautiful pastures. But in those days, I was more interested in what was on the radio....incidently, my father, Bob, was (on the weekends, and at night) a rock and roll singer in a band. So, he kept up with all music, just like me, a teenager. He was a cool dad. That was wonderful, as most kids' dads were complete squares or red-necks where we grew up, in Okolona, Kentucky. Okolona, like Amsterdam, was actually below sea-level. In other words, it was a frikkin' recently-drained former swamp! In the outskirts of the incredible metropolis of Louisville, Kentucky. As I recall, as we were passing through Nashville we were groovin to "Takin' It To The Streets," by the
Doobie Brothers. Bob was a big fan of the
Doobie Bros, and eventually would take Timmy and I to see them in our first "real" rock concert later that same year, but lest I digress.....I, as per my duties as first officer (when riding shotgun, we were first officer, like Spock on Star Trek!), had to multitask. Of course, these were in the days when only rich people owned 8-track Quad stereos in their rods, so fm radio was king. "No static at all, man!" I took very seriously the job of tuning out country music and finding the local rock and roll stations. Other duties included opening and passing my dad a beer, so he could chill, while driving. Then, in an extraordinary gesture of trust, Bob would take a catnap, and order me to drive while sitting in the middle seat of the car (actually where the arm-rest could fold up or be lowered). I would drive with my left hand, although I am right handed. This I did for as long as I could stand, usually 15-27 minutes, then I would wake the captain and politely ask him to resume at the con.
He'd splash his face with the icy water from the cooler and resume, singing all the way down the highway. I was a shy boy and played percussion on my legs and hard surfaces of the car interior. Since Bob was a powerful and professional singer, I felt my crummy voice would only disrupt the music. My brother would sing occasionally from the back seat, and also add hoots, claps and vocally-imitated guitar solos. Bob always amazed me, as he knew the words to EVERY song, even ones that had just come out! He told Timothy and I how his band, the Monarchs, had cut several records at RCA and Mercury studios in Nashville, as we passed fifty-seven signs advertising the Grand Ole Opry. Daddy was a friend of Glen Campbell, as the band had toured with the Beach Boys in the early sixties, and it was one of those periods where Brian was having an episode of spiritual emergence. So, Glen was filling in as the lead singer on that tour. At that very moment, daddy was doing his best John Fogerhty as he wailed thru "Travellin' Band." "Won't you take me down to Memphis on a midnight ride--I wanna move! Playin' in a travellin' band--yeah! We were flyin' cross the land, tryin' to get a hand, playing in a travellin' band!" And we were.
It was a happy time. School had just let out, and the song "School's Out" by Alice Cooper came on the radio several times in the stretch of I-65 from Louisville to Alabama. Even Timothy and I would howl in every word to that song, overcoming shyness pretty-much involuntarily, because that song set our souls on fire! Alabama looked depressing, even at 110 miles per hour, as my dad would sometimes gun it to. The houses looked little more than shacks, like something out of the Grapes of Wrath, which I had just read for the first time that semester. What a great book! A frikkin' masterpiece! I didn't even know that there was a movie already made of it, with Henry Fonda as Tom Joad! But, hey, I am tripping forward in time, so I'll get back to the
story...Timothy had gone to a yard sale and bought a wind-up Kodak Brownie (God, I am old now...) movie camera, and we had brought at least two cans of film for it. Timmy was always into photography, even as a little kid. He took a few shots at the landscape, but bein' as this was the first movie camera he and I ever used, they turned out very blurry and would nearly make you vomit from "movie-induced-motion-sickness." But again, I get ahead of myself. I felt bad and ashamed of our country when I saw that the people living in the shack-like houses in Alabama were all black. The black people I grew up with in Louisville had a house exactly like ours. So I was wondering, "what the hell?" Even at the advanced age of 14, I really did not understand how it was for colored people in "the South." Louisville was, in our minds, NOT part of the "South." It was really more like "the Mid-west." But, the "South" truly began about 10 minutes by car to the South of Louisville. When you hit Bullitt county you were in the South.
Returning to Alabama, we were tired (my brother and I) and began to ask dad if we were going to stop and spend the night at a motel, but he was hell-bent on driving straight through, all the way to New Orleans. So, I did my duty left-hand driving when he would tell me to. And, I must admit, I liked it, until my arm started getting stiff and sore...
We were going to stay at his girl-friend's house in Fat City, which I thought was a pretty funny name for a town. We had met Susan a few times before, and she was very pretty and nice. I could see why dad dug her. I got a rise in my Levi's a few times when she was staying at my dad's apartment in Louisville, before she moved down to New Orleans.
The radio blasting the entire trip-my father never, EVER, had silence in the car, and seldom at his apartment. I bless him for that..for he instilled in me a love of music and eventually an incredible knowledge of music, such that I would become an audiophile and a shower-singer. My dad, Bob, is now deceased. R.I.P.