So I was on the highway, on my way to a sales job near Allentown with my stomach in a knot because I knew the job would suck. It was Throwback Thursday on the college radio station and the DJ was playing songs that, way back in the day, were mainstays on the big commercial stations. The Steve Miller Band’s “Living In the USA” came on. I hear you, Steve, we’re living in a plastic land, somebody give me a cheeseburger, how are your royalties doing?
And then Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild,” an anthem of the road if there ever was one. The guitar churns like glass in a garbage disposal. The keyboard clings like wet cement. The overall effect is dark and dirty, like exhaust fumes from a sixteen-wheeler, but energizing, like good meth.
I cranked up the volume and pushed the rented Ford to 90 mph and remembered “Born To Be Wild” playing long ago when I climbed a high fence to get to my impounded car – I’d parked in a loading zone — and then tried to drive the car through the car lot’s locked gate in order to avoid paying the parking ticket. Bad idea.
The verses triggered more ancient memories, one after another, and a brief feeling of nostalgic transcendence.
Get your motor running/Head out on the highway/Looking for adventure/In whatever comes our way…
But the Ford’s gas gauge had a glitch. It said I had enough fuel for forty more miles but then, within a mile, the figure dropped to four miles. I was thirty miles from my destination, so I pulled off the highway to search for a service station before I ran out of gas.
Too late. The car chugged to a halt soon after “Born To Be Wild” faded out. I found myself stuck in a semi-rural scene with old houses and vast backyards. It was 6 pm, still plenty of light. I knocked on the doors of several houses and looked around for man-eating dogs.
A bearded man opened the fifth door I knocked on. I paid him ten bucks to drive me to the nearest service station. I filled a gas can, but when we got back I couldn’t pour the gas into the tank because the car had a built-in anti-syphon valve. It took me a half-hour to force-feed the gas tank.
I felt exhausted and marooned, and battered by the big existential questions. Who am I? How did I get here? Where can I get a macchiato in the middle of nowhere, or even a decent cup of coffee?
I got back on the road, smelling of gasoline, with the radio off. “Born To Be Wild” played in my head, mocking me, reminding me that most of my adventures these days are misadventures. They pull me out of the elaborate routines I’ve established to make enough money to support my writing habit. They pull me out of my safety zone and wake me. Who needs that?