The response to my announcement that I was planning to drive to Austin, Texas, was remarkably similar to the response I got several years ago when I said I was ditching my cell phone. Half the people said, “Good for you. I wish I had the nerve to do that.” The other half said, “What!? Are you nuts!?”
To be honest, people were more horrified at the thought of me living without a cell phone than even my greatest detractors were over the 1,600-mile drive to Austin. The drive did sound a bit crazy to some, but no cell phone? That was pure insanity.
I eventually caved on the cell phone stance. At the time I decided to get rid of it, I kept saying things like, “I lived more than 50 years without a cell phone, I think I’ll be okay.” Or, “That blasted cellphone robbed me of something I used to hold dear — my solitude. I want it back.”
But I’ve changed my tune. Especially once my two kids began to relocate to various parts of the country and even more so now that I have a grandson in Texas. God bless FaceTime.
The grandson, quite obviously I suppose, is the reason for the road trip. Yes, we could have flown there, and have in the past, but something kept telling me to tackle the drive. Perhaps it was just that a guy needs an adventure every now and again, and I hadn’t had one of this magnitude in some time.
It all started when my kid brother invited us to attend his daughter’s graduation from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where he lives. Knoxville is a 10-hour drive from here. I immediately checked online and found Austin would be “only” 15 hours from there. That, to me, made it a no-brainer. Which probably affirms my “optimist” tag.
Knowing if I planned it right I could spend my daughter’s first Mother’s Day with her sealed the deal.
I’ll spare you the grizzly details (who cares that we ate enchiladas verdes in a genuine Mexican restaurant in Austin or bought homemade elderberry jam at a Choctaw Native American rest stop in Oklahoma?) but if you’d like to get a feel for the route, here it is:
The first day we drove to Roanoke, Virginia, to visit with our niece and nephew and their three little tykes — a 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old twin boys. The next morning it was just four hours to Knoxville and the graduation. I brought my brother homemade wine and Italian delicacies from Sabatelle’s Market. Can’t take that stuff on a plane. We woke up the next morning in Knoxville with a thousand miles to go. We drove some 10 hours that day and spent the night in Texarkana. Crossing the Mississippi at Memphis drove home the notion of just how wide that river is. We made it to Austin in time for lunch the next day.
I’ve been a St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan for some 45 years but had never seen the Redbirds play in St. Louis. And since we had to get home anyway, a stop in Missouri made all sorts of sense. At least to me.
Our first day out of Austin we drove past Dallas, right through Oklahoma, and well into Missouri. I watched the Cards surrounded by fellow Redbirds fans on TV that night in the bar of a hotel in Springfield. The next afternoon we were standing in the shadow of the famed Gateway Arch, a block from Busch Stadium. We slept in Ashland, Ohio, the next night and pulled into our driveway the following day.
We covered more than 3,300 miles and, thanks to Sirius Radio, more than 50 years. That’s because somewhere in Missouri at 9:09 in the morning on May 18, the new Beatles’ Channel launched. The starting time is significant because the number 9 figures into much of The Beatles’ history. One of their early songs was “One After 909” and one of the most influential “Revolution 9.” The Beatles’ first appearance at The Cavern Club in Liverpool was on Feb. 9, 1961, and their famed first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show was Feb. 9, 1964. The channel is billed as airing “All Things Beatles 24/8,” a play on The Beatles’ song “Eight Days a Week.”
Those Missouri miles rolled by effortlessly as every song, it seemed, transported Mary Kay and me into our past. “Ticket to Ride” made me think of my schoolboy chum Michael Paradis, a singer and drummer who was blessed or cursed, depending on how you perceived it, to look exactly like Paul McCartney. “This Boy” made me think of Mike’s sister, Gail. It was her favorite song. “Hello, Goodbye.” I’m in an art class at Wilkes College. Eddie Arnone is sitting next to me, singing while he paints. “Here Comes the Sun.” I’m walking my daughter down the aisle. She chose it as her wedding processional. “Let It Be.” My son and his bride are dancing at their wedding reception on the rooftop of a restaurant in Chicago. This song brought them together. “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” I am no longer sitting in the passenger seat of our Subaru Outback but walking into Frank’s Lunch on Main Street, Pittston, with my Uncle Eddie in 1964. I was a high school freshman. Uncle Eddie and I always talked about sports but for a few minutes that day I didn’t hear a word he said. “That’s The Beatles,” I kept thinking. It was the first time I heard one of their songs. Years later, as a college professor, I’d tell my students one of the greatest differences between them and me was that in high school I was listening to “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” while they at the same age were listening to “It’s Getting Hot in Here, Let’s Take Off All Our Clothes.”
Ain’t gonna hear that one on The Beatles’ Channel. Not in the middle of Missouri nor anywhere else.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.