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Archive for June 12th, 2010

On music, memories and the open road

This trip, whatever else it’s about, is also about nostalgia, and I got a big dose of it on the drive to Houston – most of it induced by the long-distance driver’s best friend, the radio.

Music, like old friends revisited and roads previously traveled, can be a powerful memory trigger.

Music and roads, in fact, have a lot in common.

The road itself has a rhythm – the steady thwack-thwack percussion of cracks in the highway, the different humming tones produced by different road surfaces, the rat-a-tat drum roll when you accidentally veer across those lane divider bumps, which always causes Ace to, ever so briefly, wake up.

Then, on the Interstate at least, there is the familiar chorus: Exit ahead … Food, Gas, Lodging … Shoney’s, Cracker Barrel, Taco Bell.

When it comes to roads, some are pop roads, also known as Interstate highways, where you’re not likely to see anything you haven’t seen before. There are classical roads, like Route 66; and blues roads, which are dark and swampy with moss hanging from the trees. There are jazz roads, which meander, make abrupt turns and have unpredictable curves and riffs. There are alternate, or alternative highways, which often lead to something interesting; and of course there are country roads, which may or may not take you home … to the place … you belong.

On Friday, with the radio blasting, I traveled a swampy stretch of I-10 – a combination blues/pop road — from Baton Rouge to Lafayette, crossing a piece of the Atchafalaya Swamp, whose name itself is almost musical. During the drive I had four flashbacks, three of them music-induced.

Blame the first on the Red Hot Chili Peppers – the musical group that, like the vegetable, tends to come back and haunt me.

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Wonderfully mysterious? That’s my dog

In my current nomadic phase, as in my previously still life, Ace — my “Big Ass Dog” — draws a variety of responses from humans. There are those who experience love at first sight, those who cross to the other side of the street to avoid him, and, most of all, those who want to solve the ongoing mystery … What Kind of Dog is That?

It’s a question we answered years ago, and have been answering daily since.

Putting the curiosity factor aside, Ace provokes some pretty visceral reactions — my past two motel stops being a good example of that.

At the Motel 6 in Biloxi, the staff couldn’t get enough of him. Everytime we passed through the office, Ace stood and put his front paws on the counter, got petted and praised and generally adored. They bestowed him with a nickname, the notorious B.A.D. (for Big Ass Dog) and begged us to come back and visit again.

At a Motel 6 on the outskirts of New Orleans — from which we departed yesterday — the staff, while friendly and accepting, didn’t want him anywhere near them.

“That things a horse,” a desk clerk said, asking me to hang around while she called a fellow employee to come see him. “She’s a real dog lover,” she said.

When that employee came around the corner, she shrieked and then ran behind the counter. As it turned out, she was afraid of dogs, and we’d been roped into a practical joke.

Sometimes I wonder what Ace makes of it all — if he wonders why some humans have an irrepressible desire to meet and pet him while others can’t get away fast enough? He can sense, I think, which are which. Rarely will he approach a human who isn’t urging him to, unless that human has, say, an open bag of Fritos. Those he bonds with, meanwhile, will get leaned on and, likely, have their foot sat on, as if to say, “I like you. Stay a while.”

Ace seems to be getting used to motel rooms. He stayed at the Motel 6 while I went to St. Bernard Parish for interviews, then took advantage of time without dog to stop for something other than fast food — a Chinese buffet around the corner from the motel. I’d avoided it the first day because its name was R P Buffet, and I thought maybe an “I” between the “R” and “P” had fallen out during a hurricane, and who wants to eat at the RIP Buffet?

It had a dazzling array of food, though, and I loaded my plate repeatedly before leaving with my fortune cookie. I decided Ace, being room-bound, deserved both the cookie and the fortune.

As it turned out, it was a fitting one.

(To go back to Day One of “Dog’s Country” and read all the entries, click here.)