2018-07-11 / Opinion

BACKROADS AND BOBTAILS

NO TRAVELING MUSIC AFTER SUNDOWN
by Bob Kornegay

By nature of their jobs, most outdoor writers must travel from time to time. I’m no exception.

Unlike some, I don’t often complain about it. I like “the road,” especially those trips that carry me down those “blue highways” about which William Least Heat Moon so eloquently wrote in his book of the same name. Interstate there and interstate back, not so much. Then, I complain.

There are things I do while on the road that have become habits, good and bad. I stop often and talk to the folks, the real people. If I don’t tell their stories, who will? I pull over and take photographs of things I find pretty or amusing, like a sign off U.S. 27 in Northwest Georgia that read, “Bubba’s Barbecue and Bait.” I drop in on fellow writers when I pass through their hometowns.

On the road I also eat poorly, abuse my innards with way too much strong coffee, and tend to keep driving far past the hour at which I should be snoozing snugly in a sleeping bag or motel bed.

When I drive the backroads into the wee hours I sing (poorly), recite poetry (Poe, Lanier, and Kipling mostly), and spend a lot of time listening to my own words, which never seem as brilliant on paper or to someone’s ear as they do inside my head.

Long ago on the road I listened to the radio. Now I seldom do. At least not while driving through big cities or after sundown. In big-town traffic, audio distractions can get you killed. After dark, given the proper mood and setting, they can depress or terrorize.

Once, about 1 a.m. on Gillionville Road near Albany, Ga., back before all the houses magically appeared, the “oldies” station that had kept me company since midnight suddenly went dead. Never one to channel surf, even at home on the sofa, I opted to wait for the music (everything from “doo-wop” to 1960s rock and roll) to return to the airwaves and my listening ears. For maybe 5 minutes of complete silence, broken only by the numbing hum of the engine, I concentrated solely on negotiating the low-lying ribbon of pavement in the moonless pitch dark. Watching for deer and other wildlife road-crossers, I let the radio, and the switch’s “on” position completely slip my mind. With perfect (or perhaps horrible) timing, just as I motored past a swamp filled with night mist and skeletal tree remains, James Brown announced that radio station “Blast From The Past” was back on the air.

“Yeeow!” screamed James. “I feel good!”

“Yeeow!” I echoed, coming within inches of steering my pickup directly into the mire and its copious population of alligators and cottonmouths.

That one, I eventually got over. Then, two years later, during a he-who-does-not-remember-the-past-is-condemned-to-repeat-it moment, the scenario replayed itself as I drove slowly along a night-darkened, ground fog-shrouded dirt road winding through Southwest Louisiana bayou country.

This time, after an even longer dead-air interval, it was Charlie Rich (the Silver Fox) who came mightily close to sending me to crawfish heaven. Granted, Charlie’s a lot more subtle than the Godfather of Soul, but given the time of day and surroundings, every bit as startling. All it took was that classic Charlie Rich scotch- and- Marlboros voice and the first word of “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.”

“Hey!” growled Charlie.

My front wheels hit the bayou in perfect harmony with the opening piano riff and “Did you happen to see the…..”

Thank heaven for good brakes and a truckload of drunken Cajuns who thought my plight was uproariously funny, but nonetheless extracted my Toyota from the mud and kindly helped me on my way.

That’s the last time music filled my darkened pickup cab. Now I occupy myself with my own singing (that’s not music, believe me) and poetry.

Ah, yes. The poetry. Lately, Poe is my poet of choice, at least until a rattle or backfire startles a flock of roosting crows right in the middle of “Once upon a midnight dreary.”

Then, quoth Bob...

Nevermore!

Return to top