People sometimes comment on the fact that I'm "still chasing my dream". I think that the underlying message is "what the hell are you doing... grow up, you moron", or something to that effect. Fact is, what I do has nothing whatsoever to do with chasing a dream. Dream chasing sounds like a total exercise in futility. If it's something you enjoy, then great. But be careful lest you actually catch one. They're not at all what they appear to be.
All I'm doing is living a life, and doing my best to enjoy the journey. I'm in no big hurry to get wherever it is I'm going. Ultimately, we're all going to the same place anyway.
I have a sneaking suspicion that at some point we wake up, and maybe have a vague recollection of what just happened. But it will all be as if a dream. And if I were to have spent the entire dream chasing a dream, I think I'd be disappointed in myself. That would be kind of like a dog chasing its tail until it dropped dead.
There's something fundamentally American about throwing caution to the wind and just going. We're an entire nation of people who get a proverbial wild hair up their ass on a regular basis, and act accordingly. It explains much of our otherwise inexplicable history.
Sometimes when I'm driving I only stop for fuel. I don't even eat. I get in a zone. I set goals as to how far I'll go. And then when I get there, I don't feel like stopping. So I set another goal.
Did I mention the speedometer in the van doesn't work? It tops out at 85 mph. So I really don't worry about speeding. I'm definitely the turtle as opposed to the hare.
It was still raining as I went through Fort Worth. Interstate 35 mercifully splits into two routes, allowing you to bypass most of the Dallas traffic. Nonetheless, traffic picked up considerably. I pushed on.
Texas, as I mentioned, is a big state. You always know you're in Texas when you're there, because you will constantly be reminded. Texas is very proud of itself. That's not a bad thing. But there's always a sense of accomplishment when you cross the border. As if it tried to swallow you up, but you escaped.
Oklahoma is a whole different deal. There's none of the Texas swagger about the place. Oklahomans are kinda self-deprecating. But don't let that fool you. They tend to be smart. And funny. And talented to boot. There's just not much braggadocio involved. They're kind of a put up or shut up bunch of folks. In a very congenial kind of way. Think Will Rogers.
My mother was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. My maternal grandfather (who died just a few months after I was born) moved the family to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Which was a straight shot out Route 66. I really don't know much about him, except he was soft spoken, somewhat fond of drink, and had something to do with the oil business. Which makes him more or less like everyone I ever met in Oklahoma. My maternal grandmother originally came from Kansas. I have no idea how they met.
Once you cross the Red River (which serves as the border between Texas and Oklahoma and lives up to its name) you're immediately into farm land, as opposed to the ranch land of Texas. They look somewhat similar, except farms are smaller. And there are more of them. They're closer together. Basically farmers can see their neighbors. Ranchers can't. At least that's my working definition. Most of Oklahoma is crisscrossed with roads. And lots of farms with little towns every ten or fifteen miles.
There were patches of snow on the ground as I pulled off the interstate into Ardmore. The rain had stopped, but it had gotten noticeably colder. I was bundled up... a couple of shirts, a leather jacket, a scarf, a hat. I went into a burger joint.
The first thing I noticed was the distinct nasal twang in the voice of the rather rotund girl who took my order. Accents in America shift from state to state, and within states as well. It's especially noticeable in the small towns and rural areas. For instance, in much of Louisiana the r's at the ends of words are ahhh's. Then in East Texas, they begin to be r's again. They get pretty strong in Central Texas, and by the time you get to Oklahoma, they are full on Arrrrrrr's. And the word "well" becomes "way-ell."
The girl behind the counter said, "kin aye hay-elp yew?" Now, as soon as I open my mouth and reply, she'll know I'm not from there. Of course, she knew that already.
By the time you get to Kansas, these strong inflections go away, and in Nebraska, not even a ghost of them remains. I have a theory that it's too cold to twang as you get further north. Nobody wants to freeze their tongue. It's just not worth it.
I speak with what could be described as a slight Southwestern drawl, which to me, of course, is just correct American vernacular.
I ordered a burger, and waited for my number to be called. As I sat down, one of the employees, a young male with longish hair and skin issues, went storming out the door and down the street. The girls behind the counter were all a-twitter about it, and understandably so. I had just witnessed one of Ardmore's youth snapping.
The girls were chattering in Oklahoma twang speak about how he wasn't that good an employee anyway, and a way overweight middle aged female customer was kind of tsk tsking as well. They must have all known the guy. He was probably their cousin or brother or something. And I was thinking... yeah, dude. Just keep going. Get the hell out of here. Get on the highway. Don't look back. This will all be here, basically unchanged, if and when you ever change your mind. Places like Ardmore, Oklahoma are okay to grow up in. And come back to. But no young soul deserves to be caged up for long working in a burger joint there. Get thee to a highway and ramble.
I finished eating and walked back out to the van. I looked under it, but it was still hard to tell how much transmission fluid was currently leaking, and how much of it was just residue and glop thrown up from the wet roads.
I called Rick, to see how his tests went. They found no clogged arteries or malfunctioning valves. Everything was pumping just fine. I guess sometimes life is just so goddamn wonderful your heart skips a beat.
I called my friend Wendell Peek. I met Wendell on the internet a few years back. I really liked his guitar playing. He gets that laid back, layered kind of J.J. Cale thing goin' on. We communicated back and forth and became friends. I sometimes stay at his house in Stroud.
Wendell and I both did a good deal of hitchhiking in our youth. And we both like the Grateful Dead, in spite of the fact that most musicians I know think they sucked. I mean, it's true. They sucked, and they sucked some more, and then they were amazing. Right about the time the psychedelics kicked in. Go figure.
Most of what eventually got me into performing was a Grateful Dead concert in Denver when I was 16. The year was 1969. It was the original Dead, when Pigpen was still alive and playing keyboards and singing.
There was an old converted church in downtown Denver called Mammoth Gardens. It was the Denver equivalent of the Fillmore in San Francisco. No chairs, no stuff to buy. Nothing but a stage. In those days, you paid maybe ten bucks to see a concert. You brought a blanket and maybe some water and whatever you wanted to enhance the experience with, and you sat on the floor. Until the spirit moved you.
Mammoth Gardens was near the Capitol Hill District, a beautiful yet funky area full of old Victorian houses. It was the primary hippy zone in Denver. Every city had one. I had met some people who lived there, and used to skip high school regularly and go hang out with them.
The Victorian house they lived in was divided into several apartments, on three different floors. Everybody knew everyone. They liked me. I was stuck in white bread suburbia at the time, where I was a fish out of water. These folks were my pond. I could come and go as I pleased, and they accepted me without reservation. No judgment, no bullshit. I could show up any time. The doors weren't ever locked. I could stay as many hours or days or nights as I wanted. That small group of people salvaged what was otherwise a very repressed period of my life, and made sure that the sixties didn't pass me by completely.
It was around that time I first saw the Grateful Dead. I have several distinct images of the concert, and then a whole lotta blur. If you ever went to a Grateful Dead concert, you understand.
The first thing I remember was some of the people in the road crew had paperback books in their jeans pockets. They were unabashedly literate. That was impressive. The next thing I remember was that when the band walked out on stage, they looked just like the road crew. You honestly couldn't tell the difference. They were kind of a nondescript scruffy cowboy bar band. Not at all what I had expected. And when they started playing, they kinda sounded like the road crew. I was thinkin' wow, this could be a long night. Because... well.... they kinda sucked. And then they played another song, and that kinda sucked too. And so it went until at some point they did a cover version of Good Lovin', the Young Rascals tune. Which was about as uncool a cover song as you could possibly do in that time period. Right around then I was officially and unequivocally tripping. And then somewhere in that tune, lo and behold... the band veered off into hyperspace. They hit a wormhole or somethin'. I dunno. Nobody knows what happened when the Dead went into hyperspace. All anybody knows is when it happened, you'd best hold onto your hat. Cause they're gonna suck you right into that wormhole with 'em, Buckaroo. When they finally came back into a chorus of Good Lovin', twenty minutes or maybe twenty light years later... who's counting.... my entire molecular structure had been rearranged. And I realized in a flash that I could do this. That I should do this. That I could be a conduit like they were. I knew it as sure as I'd ever known anything.
The remainder of the concert, which went on for three hours, was a joyous lesson for me in how to do this thing. Seared into my gray matter and etched in my soul. How could you not love a band who gave you such a gift?
I called Wendell to let him know I was getting close. And to ask if it made sense to take the back roads to Stroud, and thus avoid rush hour in Oklahoma City. He said yeah, it's a much more scenic route.
So that's the way I went. Through Dickson, north to Sulphur, over to Ada, through Seminole and Prague to Stroud. Mostly two lane roads through farm land and small towns. There were patches of snow everywhere. The sky was still overcast. It was beautiful. The van loves two lane roads in the heart of America.
I wanted to get to Stroud before dark, because I didn't want to be on the roads if they got icy. Wendell left a key for me on the front porch. Most of the time he lives in Tulsa with his wife, but he also has the family home where he grew up in Stroud.
He's a character, Wendell Peek. A big man with a braid down to the middle of his back. A soft spoken political liberal who wears cowboy boots and drives a pickup truck and smokes cigars. Or "see-gars", as he calls 'em. He's knowledgable enough to be an astrophysicist. But he works construction and plays music. And makes videos. And such. He caught religion for awhile, and then subsequently lost it. He is, in a word, a trip. A gentleman, a scholar, and a brother of the road.
He told me he wouldn't be there till later. Just go on in and make myself at home.
I stopped at the market before I arrived, and bought some food to share. And a bottle of wine. And some coffee for the morning.
I pulled into the driveway. Opened the door, got out, and stepped in about six inches of gloppy mud. Right away I realized I hadn't brought proper Oklahoma footwear.