June . . . my favorite month. The month of my birth, of summer vacation, and of glorious road trips. As a child, I did not have the luxury of going on road trips. We did go to the beach about once a year, the kind of beach where your parents drive the car right up to the edge of the water, tightly wedged in a row next to all the other cars. You sit there on the hard-packed sand on a tiny beach towel, inhaling exhaust fumes mixed with suntan oil, and you say to yourself, “Ahhh, nature” (while getting sand kicked in your face). You love every minute of it and can't wait to go again next year. But that wasn’t really a road trip. I’d say it was more of a one-hour congested traffic commute across the U.S.-Canada border, sitting in the back seat of an old Ford, arguing with my brother and getting carsick. But now that I’m older, have a job with summers off, and am allowed to sit in the front seat, road trips in June have become as natural as falling off a log. (Actually, I’ve never fallen off a log, but I may try it this summer.)
My first real road trip as an adult was in 1971, when I gave up a lucrative career as an angst-filled college student to pursue other interests (hitchhiking among them). I had good intentions of taking the train across Canada. A ticket from Toronto to Vancouver cost only $90, and you could get on and off as many times as you wanted to along the way. I did buy the ticket and boarded the train in Toronto. But then my intentions got even better. I hit it off with two young women I’d met on the train and, before you could say, “How far is it to Winnipeg, eh?” we’d actually reached Winnipeg. We took five seconds to think it over and decided to get out and hitchhike the rest of the way to Vancouver.
To this day, it was one of the best (and quickest) decisions I’ve ever made. We met some pretty amazing people on our journey from Manitoba to British Columbia, including one very hospitable guy in Calgary who let us stay in his apartment for the day while he was at work and cooked us a complete roast beef dinner when he returned. He was probably so relieved that we hadn't taken off with all of his belongings that he temporarily lost his mind.
In those days, it seemed safe to hitchhike in Canada, especially with one or two traveling companions and a youthful sense of invincibility. The Canadian government actually encouraged people to do their civic duty and pick up hitchhikers! In fact, if I can trust my memory of 1971 (and that’s pretty iffy), they had erected billboards along the highways that said, “Pick up a hitchhiker.” However, I do NOT recommend hitchhiking for any time after 1971. For one thing, people who pick up hitchhikers nowadays probably don’t have good intentions. Or, even if they do have good intentions, they probably only play Top 40s radio, which will make you want to hurl yourself out of the car onto the pavement at a very high speed.
Another road trip I’ll never forget was when I drove a car with Prince all the way from Rochester, New York to Tucson, Arizona. And before you think I’m talking about the artist formerly known as Prince, or Prince, the artist before he became known as the artist formerly known as Prince, or Will Smith (Fresh Prince of Bel Air) or maybe even Prince Albert in a can, let me set you straight. Prince was my dog, and, together we made it more than 2,000 miles without a hitch (or hitchhiker). The music I most clearly remember playing on that trip was a CD by Tom Petty. It was a pretty good choice. Tom’s driving beat and twangy voice kept me awake and alert, even while going through Oklahoma.
If air travel counts as a road trip, my travel adventure to Hawaii last month ranks right up there among the best road trips ever. I didn’t even consider hitchhiking there. (No billboards in the ocean.) Chuck and I were thrilled to attend his daughter Emily’s wedding on a tiny beach in Maui (without any cars or people, other than our small party of twelve). We played an original song (“This Thing”) on our travel guitars after the ceremony, all of us standing together in the sand, with the powerful surf filling in as our drummer. So now we can say that Pacific Buffalo had a Pacific beach gig, which received a standing ovation.
Before the trip, I had made a playlist to listen to on the plane, and it included the soundtrack from the movie, “The Descendants” (set in Hawaii) to put me in the island mood. Other tracks were by:
Adele, Al Stewart, Alison Krauss, The Beatles, Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, Booker T. and the MG's, Bruce Hornsby, Calexico, Chuck Phillips, Corinne Bailey Rae, The Decemberists, Django Reinhardt, Doc Watson, Don and Victoria Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Jane Monheit, Jen Hajj, Judy Collins, Martin Denny, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson, The Roches, Sergio Mendes, Sheryl Crow, The Shins, Simon and Garfunkel, Snowapple, The Soggy Bottom Boys, Stan Getz, Sting, The Sundays, Tim Buckley, Tim Hardin, and Wilco.
Although that seems like a lot, I found myself gravitating toward the songs that were new to my list, and skipping the ones I'd heard over and over again. Do you ever get tired of your music collection? One of my goals this summer (besides going on more road trips) is to radically update my music collection by listening to music of many different genres -- classical, jazz, indie, vocal, alternative, funk, hip hop, Latin, world. That in itself will be a trip.
If you have any favorite music that you listen to while traveling, working, showering, or whatever it is you do to music, please chime in. Meanwhile, stay safe this summer, and remember: Life’s a Beach.