My mother had a two-tone Maxima, light and dark blue. It replaced the five cylinder Audi which was a great car when it ran right, which was rarely. Only buy Japanese cars. Unless you’re rich, or leasing, or both. And it was in this car I found myself driving on Route 7 from Middlebury to Rutland on one of those days when it’s not sure whether it wants to rain or snow. When the temperature is hovering around thirty two degrees and God can’t decide whether to add to the snowpack or deplete it. And on the radio I heard “My Hometown.”
It used to be a boonie ritual. Driving with one hand on the steering wheel and the other on the radio knob, trying to pull in a station. You’d get the farm report, some country music, the real, twangy stuff, not the faux rock and roll of today, and if you were lucky something you wanted to hear on a Top Forty station.
This was back when our relationship was teetering. A year and a half after we got married. And when things are going south you know it because of the silence. Suddenly there’s nothing to say. And if you venture a few words you get no response, except maybe a guttural “um” or “mm.” And the song keeps playing on the radio and you keep listening and your whole life plays out in your brain as you stare at the highway.
“I was eight years old and running with a dime in my hand
Into the bus stop to pick up a paper for my old man
I’d sit on his lap in that big old Buick and steer as we drove through town
He’d tousle my hair and say son take a good look around this is your hometown
This is your hometown
This is your hometown
This is your hometown”
My father loved his hometown. He took pride in the location of our domicile, just a block from the main drag, where we could get a quart of milk or a loaf of bread whenever we wanted. The upwardly mobile moved to Skytop Drive, but things were good down on Black Rock Turnpike, where we had Richelsoph’s Bakery. Where they sliced the rye after you bought it and it was still warm and if your mother didn’t restrict your grabbing you could eat half of the loaf before you got home.
But my dad never put me on his lap to drive. He was a safety bug. Nothing untoward was ever done. But the cancer got him anyway. He died five years after the purchase of that Maxima. I told my mother to give it to my little sister when he passed. They trucked it to Minnesota where it never died, but was replaced when my brother-in-law’s career floated upwards in the boom of the last decade.
“In ’65 tension was running high at my high school
There was a lot of fights between the black and white
There was nothing you could do
Two cars at a light on a Saturday night in the back seat there was a gun
Words were passed in a shotgun blast
Troubled times had come to my hometown
Big Al struck it rich and bought a barn in Newtown. He died in a hotel in New York, his Parkinson’s felled him while he was waiting for the elevator. But back in the seventies, we used to drive over and play tennis, badly, during the boom, when it caught the national mood. This was after the sixties, when every year someone got assassinated and everybody was fighting for his rights, when the youth took the country from the old men, when we were all in it together. Before greed and income inequality created a gap so wide in my hometown the poor don’t interact with the rich unless they’re bused in to clean.
“Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores
Seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more
They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back to your hometown
They never made much in my hometown, but I know too many people who lost their job and their house and are struggling. As we get older every day. We assumed our kids would do better than us. We no longer believe that.
“Last night me and Kate we laid in bed
Talking about getting out
Packing up our bags maybe heading south
I’m thirty five we got a boy of our own now
Last night I sat him up behind the wheel and said son take a good look around
This is your hometown”
I got out. I saw Los Angeles on television, I listened to the Beach Boys & Jan and Dean sing about a happy, carefree life and when I graduated from college I moved. And it is better. But now I’m approaching sixty and I’ve got no kids and instead of worrying about finding a station on the radio I’m overwhelmed with input. I’ve got AM, FM, XM, iPod, iPhone, Internet…and we’re all closer together, just an e-mail or a text away, but we’ve all retreated into our niches, we’ve lost our cohesiveness. We’re no longer all in it together, we’re doing our own thing. And when you take a break and look up and realize no one’s around you wonder…are we better off?
“My Hometown”: http://spoti.fi/Jhc5p4
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