Had to make a long haul drive for work today in an old company van. Because he felt sorry for me, my sweet husband burned some music CD.
“Nothing that makes me think,” I said. “I have to drive for four hours starting at 5 AM. “
I started with the Isley Brothers, which was some good funk. On to Van Halen (because I might as well Jump), and through Shirley Brown.
No man should give his lady a Shirley Brown album. I was loving how good she was, and grateful that Chris had introduced me to her, but men do not come out looking good after she’s done singing.
It was a long stretch of highway. Let me tell you.
Now, the next one. “Hello. I’m Johnny Cash.” At Folsom prison in 1968.
I know two things about the next week or so. I will be listening to this music wherever I drive and I will not be wearing mascara.
You could fly around the world on a jet plane in 1968. But Johnny Cash was playing the guitar like a railroad train. A train. And everything about it made sense. It still does as I am driving the interstate.
Who made this interstate? Some high school dropout making Davis Bacon? As the white lines flick past me making a trip for a boss I don’t like to fix a machine that nobody uses and somebody broke on purpose—the story of John Henry is making me cry.
John Henry killed himself to prove a point nobody believed, but everyone hoped could be made.
Trains take you places. Maybe it was your idea. But once you are on it, it’s not a choice anymore.
Chugga chugga Chugga chugga
The highway, now, that’s freedom! On the Road! Great Gatsby
Once you are on it, though, maybe it’s not a choice. Keep up with the flow of traffic, stop and go or break your neck.
This automobile that we don’t even know how to fix anymore without calling in a specialist, that we pay and clean and park and house—we think it’s independence.
At least a train would let you ride for free if you were fast enough to catch it.
I’m not saying that we should go back to trains—as if we could! That train left the station even before Johnny Cash and the other country and blues artists made it a symbol.
In 1968 Johnny Cash was singing to the rhythm of the train tracks. The same radios were playing songs that led to protests and “damn the man!” and “Fight the power!” and teaching people to resist the establishment.
That’s not what’s on the radio now.
We are products of our times. Shall we admire the jail cell with GPS that we spend the teaspoons of our life on–maintaining and paying for? Yes we shall. Yes, I do. I do not always recognize that Automobile and that interstate and that parking space as the non-choice it is.
I don’t know what the answer is. I’m so sorry for all the John Henrys. But I do not want the guitar music of the train tracks, as my car bumps over the potholes and jagged asphalt to be lost on me, even if I don’t know what exactly to do about it. Even if I can’t make as many choices as I’d like right now.
John Stuart Mill, I have to drag you into it again,
“It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question.”
I am not asking for a revolution. I can’t do a revolution right now. But I don’t want to forget the other sides of the question.