The weather is warming and the park is not enough. The crowds, the hula hoopers, that one dude playing Sasha & Digweed super loud…it’s all nice the first few times, but, after a while, you just want to say “Cool It!” to everyone. Here’s a thought: this upcoming weekend or the next or the next, jump in a car and hit the open road. Maybe head south to Big Sur, past the strawberry fields and the tallest of dunes. Or maybe north to the Oregon state line, just to turn around and come back home. Whatever your destination (preferably one with an In-N-Out on the way), the long stretches of highway are just what you need to re-center yourself and just chill. So sit back, flick on the cruise control, and let the following inspire you to see nothing but yellow lines and the vast ahead:
Joni Mitchell – “Amelia”
If you’ve read any number of my past blog posts, you might know that Joni Mitchell and I are definitely in a relationship. More than being one of her most heartbreaking songs, Joni’s “Amelia” has just the right elements for a journey. Written to (rather than for) Amelia Earhart, it is a letter from one pilot to another: “a ghost of aviation / she was swallowed by the sky / or by the sea like me / she had a dream to fly.” It is song two on Hejira, an album Joni wrote as she drove cross-country from Maine back to California. From start to finish, Hejira gives us road trip realness as our songstress encounters coyotes and Cactus Tree Motels but gets a few glimpses into her place on that never-ending stretch of highway.
On the Road - Jack Kerouac
Ahhh, what it means to be young and full of endless energy and glow. Kerouac’s magnum opus has become the go-to sacred text for the vim and vigor of nomadic life. It’s crazy to imagine American literature without it. I’ve traveled twice across the country by car in hopes of following in his footsteps, which is difficult in an era of Google Maps and Airbnb. But the night drives must be the same, the big sky unmistakable. I like to think that all who take that trans-America jaunt are toasting to all those who came before. And maybe they are all toasting us, too.
Y Tu Mamá También
Released just over a decade ago, this film is a true ode to self-discovery through road tripping, especially if you’re a young dude traveling with your hot friend and an even hotter older woman. No spoiler alerts, but what happens toward the end is both surprising and expected. All three of our main characters are in search of something. Director Alfonso Cuarón challenges the notion that those who come-of-age must be locked into a certain age group. We are always growing as people and therefore always doing our best to catch up to how old we are, learning lessons along the way. And what better way to do it than in a car in Mexico with three super hot people?
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Unlike On the Road, this Hunter S. Thompson classic druggie novel translated uncontrollably well on the screen. The semi-autobiographical story follows Raoul Duke and his lawyer as they ascend/descend upon the American Dream. While I haven’t had the privilege of reading the novel, the movie is bananas. Only if the viewer were in an altered state of consciousness could they say: Nothing really happens, everyone seems normal. It’s sure to kick start the wild side of any hankering you might have to get yourself out of any town and into crazy town.
Allman Brothers Band – “Jessica”
Listen to this country-fried jam five times and an hour has already passed. When I hear this, the sky opens up, truly. Farmlands blur by and the car moves with a sense of purpose headed for nowhere and everywhere at once. When I was young and worked as a dishwasher in an Italian restaurant, the sandwich girl told me to look this song up, that it was the “saddest and most beautiful song in the world.” I’m not so sure how much I agree with the first part but the second part has me listening to the song right, having the urge to rent a Zip Car and just zip away.
Old Joy & Wendy and Lucy
It was in seeing these two films that Kelly Reichardt became one of my favorite directors making movies today. Both restrained and ambient, both containing some form of indie rock legendry, both on the search for a freedom that might not exist. While all of these similarities make for tight films, it is the dog, Lucy that appears in both that plays such a critical character. In one, Lucy is a free spirit that simply tags along with a sense of human trouble but not bogged down by it. In the other, Lucy has gone missing and it is up to the strength of her owner to ensure Lucy’s safe return. It’s amazing what the addition of a dog can do for not only a movie and a road trip, but for life. Seriously.
Modest Mouse – “Gravity Rides Everything”
While there is not one mention of the open road or a car of any sort, you can just feel the trees passing you by in this tune. Within the first few seconds, we hear an electric guitar twist out warped notes so as to represent the weight and turmoil of the everyday, and then it all just lets go into a bright major-chord strum that makes everything just feel okay. And as each refrain ends with the lines: “It all will fall / fall right into place,” we are reminded that it will.