Godspeed You Jane Of The Highway

December 5, 2009

There’s a phenomenon that Paloma and I (well, mostly me) have observed on our treks to my hometown the past couple Thanksgiving – the highways of Kentucky are lawless.

It’s not like Mad Max with mohawked, shoulder pad-wearing thugs, roving the countryside in search of petrol and such.

It’s not like The Road, either, which I happened to read over the holiday. Admittedly an oddly grim choice for such a festive time, but I’ve been picking up copies at every airport bookstore I’ve been in over the past two years. Paloma finally bought a copy and, with the movie coming out, I checked it out.

(it is a grim tale, but understatedly poignant – it kind of snuck up on me – and it has stayed with me)

Tangents and half-baked book reports aside, one of the states between here and there is Kentucky and, as soon as you enter the state, the drivers have more enthusiasm for speed. Until you exit the state, it is as though most everyone becomes Tom Wopat behind the wheel, attempting to throw off pursuit on the backroads of Hazzard County.

On the trip home, the transition to the state where the grass isn’t really blue was even more jarring. For nearly an hour before we reached Kentucky, I drove behind someone who reminded me that not everyone on the highway is a vehicular maniac hell-bent on contributing to my untimely demise.

This woman drove safely, but she drove to her potential with a steady hand that made me weep. She was in a zone, doing about seventy-five – a speed fast enough to allow one to make time but not so fast that you can’t catch a few minutes of sleep or stare straight ahead unblinking ’til the images on the horizon begin to form shapes of things like dancing lemurs.

She only strayed into the left lane with purpose.

She remained there long enough to pass the more timid and tentative, signaled, and eased rightward again.

May the diety of your choice pelt me with Jell-O and cottage cheese (two food items whose textures I find disturbing) if I exaggerate – this woman signaled without fail.

“This is a delight!” I declared to Paloma.

“What?”

“Driving behind Jane.”

For some reason she struck me as a Jane. She was from Wisconsin and I wondered if maybe she was a professor at a small college there and perhaps an amateur beekeeper.

“Jane?”

I explained to Paloma what a pleasant experience it was to not have to think about driving while driving. I expend a lot of mental energy on the road, feeling compelled to (mostly) concentrate on driving.

This drive was simple.

Jane signaled. I signaled.

Jane passed. I passed.

I was free to not think.

(or, imagine giant lemurs on the horizon, crashing through power lines and wreaking havoc upon the citizens like some late-night horror flick from the ’70s)

It lasted for a good sixty miles. Then, we hit the Kentucky border.

The mayhem demanded I pay attention again.

But, I salute Jane.

As Sam Elliott’s narrator was comforted by knowing The Dude was somewhere out there, “takin’ it easy,” at the end of The Big Lebowski, I’m comforted knowing Jane is out there, making someone’s drive a bit less stressful.

Gordon Lightfoot – Carefree Highway
from Sundown

I’ve expressed my curiousity with Mr. Lightfoot before.

Gordon loves the open road, apparently as much as I love bacon. If Gordon and I were on a road trip, you can be damned sure that we’d be eating bacon along the way (and likely arguing over what radio station to listen to).

Oh yeah, apparently there is a stretch of interstate in central Arizona which is actually referred to as the Carefree Highway.

The Blessing – Highway 5
from Prince Of Deep Water

I don’t believe I ever heard The Blessing on radio or saw them on MTV in the late ’80s when they released two albums. If I hadn’t received a copy of their debut as a promo, I very well would have no knowledge of them at all.

But I did receive a copy of Prince Of Deep Water and it is an undiscovered gem, soulful adult rock highlighted by the vocals of William Topley who is reminiscent of Fine Young Cannibal lead singer Roland Gift.

Robert Plant – Tie Dye On The Highway
from Manic Nirvana

Personaly, I think that Robert Plant has carved out a fine, post-Zeppelin solo career. When Manic Nirvana was released in 1990, Plant was coming off of the success of Now And Zen two years earlier.

Although Tie Dye On The Highway sounds a bit dated – there is a distinctive slick sheen common to the period – it has a fantastic groove and got a lot of airplay at the time.

AC/DC – Highway To Hell
from Highway To Hell

I remember reading an interview with AC/DC guitarist Angus Young sometime in the late ’80s upon their release of a new album. The interviewer asked him to address critics that accused the band of releasing the same album twelve times.

Angus corrected him, informing him that it was, actually, thirteen times.

Well played, sir.

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