Not only is this on my top 100 list but it is also in the top ten of my all-time favorite songs.
I thought of this and other Neil Young songs over the weekend. I visited my best friend in Chicago. I decided to drive rather than a quick flight. I guess I wanted the flexibility of driving but I was also in the mood for a long drive. Granted I did not feel the same way on Sunday when I had to make the drive very tired and slightly hungover after a late night. I went through my top 100 playlist and some Neil Young CD’s.
I have not been on I-80 and I-88 since I moved from Eugene to New Jersey. Nine years ago. It is a stretch of highway that is very familiar to me. We made annual trips to Omaha to visit our close family friends. My sister went to the University of Iowa so I visited her on a somewhat regular basis during her four years in Iowa City. I drove I-80 as far west as Des Moines when I lived in Kansas and Missouri. It was comforting to drive it again with its familiar sights. There are stretches that have changed, especially in Des Moines and around Iowa City.
I thought about my dad a lot during the two days of driving. We used to play the alphabet game on long drives. You know – the game where you have to find words on signs as you move through the alphabet. We were both competitive so it added a little bit of tension on who would find the words with the rare letters like X. I think that is when the game would start to die because it was a hard letter to get. I don’t remember us listening to a lot of music on the radio. I think it was usually quiet because my Mom would read. My dad usually did most of the driving but my Mom would also take over for stretches. It was usually before she would drink her martinis that she brought for the road. She usually waited for a rest area before she pulled out her jar of gin. Amy used to drive me nuts on the drives to Omaha because she insisted on reading out loud. While I enjoy Roald Dahl’s stories, I can easily recall my irritation with her reading his stories on our drives. To this day I do not like people reading out loud so audiobooks are something that I avoid.
There are some bittersweet memories of some of those drives, including some that are connected to other songs or deserve their own post like when I left Kansas or when we had to break one trip into two days because I was so sick. My earliest memory as a child took place on I-80 near Newton, Iowa. I was very young — two or three – when our car broke down and caught fire east of Newton. A truck driver took my dad and Leslie to the next exit so they could call our family friends in Omaha. Don drove to Newton as we purchased a new car, a very large blue station wagon. As I stopped in Newton on my return to Omaha, I couldn’t help but remember the gas station where we spent time waiting for Don. Newton is full of other memories, including my move to New Jersey, but also freaking out on my mom when I was so sick from mono. While I took a nap in a parking lot, I could even remember walking Elston on the road behind one of the hotels.
One of the more memorable drives was my move to Lawrence for my first year at the University of Kansas. My parents were in one car while Leslie and I were in another. Zack, one of my nephews, was also with us but he slept on the floor in the backseat for the entire ten hour drive. We were east of Des Moines when all traffic stopped because of road construction. It was a very hot and humid August day. My seasonal allergies were out of control so I could barely breathe. I was drugged up on antihistamines. Leslie’s car started overheating so we had to turn the heat on full blast as we were already roasting. It also started raining so we were getting wet with the windows rolled down for relief from the heater. At one point, we started laughing hysterically since we were both on the verge of nervous breakdowns. After we made it past Des Moines we pulled over at a gas station and bought liquor. I drank Purple Passion, the drink made from Everclear. I don’t even remember the rest of the drive because I was so buzzed and high from the allergy meds. On one of my other moves, a solo drive in a U-Haul from Kansas City to my hometown, I was frustrated with the company’s policy of limiting the truck’s speed.
Another drive was a trip I made with a friend, Mike, to Lawrence. After I left KU, I moved home for six months. I visited Lawrence several times that fall because I missed my friend, Maria. I planned one weekend trip without my parent’s knowledge that I was taking their car 700 miles. My sister, Leslie, helped me plan an elaborate lie for where I was going that weekend with their car. I had a crush on this guy, Mike, who was interested in attending KU so I asked if he wanted to go with me. On the drive to Lawrence, we almost hit a deer, a car, and probably a few more mishaps. We also stopped in Altoona, Iowa, so he could see one of his aunts. The drive back was brutal. The night before we left, I was pulled over in Lawrence and given a field sobriety test. I talked my way out of a DUI. We made the drive on two hours of sleep. I was incredibly hungover. I fell asleep behind the wheel as we hit road construction around Des Moines. Fortunately, I woke up just as I was veering into the path of a semi. The last three hours of that drive were also torture because during a call to my sister I found out that my parents were suspicious of our weekend. I was sure that I would get busted either by the mileage or the leftover smell of Mike’s cigarettes. When I got home, my parents sat me down and asked for details on my weekend. I continued with the elaborate lie that Leslie and I had worked up. Apparently, they were worried because they thought Leslie had eloped and I had gone with her. Hardly.
Another memorable drive was with Nicole after our first weekend trip together. We went to St. Louis and Kansas City for a long weekend. On I-80 we had sex as she drove 65 m.p.h. I am sure we gave some truckers a thrill that day.
But, the more powerful memories are those drives with my dad to Iowa City without my mom or sister. He would take or pick me up when I would visit Amy for a week in the summer or when I participated in a journalism camp. On one of those trips, we went to Cedar Rapids (or Waterloo) to visit an old friend of his Aunt Hattie, a beloved relative who died shortly after I was born. I think what I appreciated the most about my dad on those trips is that there wasn’t any forced conversations. We both liked looking out the windows and thinking whatever we were thinking. I can’t read in the car because of motion sickness so I’ve always been someone who prefers the driving. If I’m not driving, I just space out and look at the landscape.
There is just something I love about long drives – the landscape, including the state of Iowa, stopping in small towns, time away from other diversions, and space to think. It was also nice to think about my family in some of our happier moments, such as a weekend gathering with our Omaha friends at one of the hotels in the Amana Colonies. It was weird returning to Omaha as my home instead of as a place where I visited family friends.