The T stopped running at midnight. I was too tight to get a cab, so I walked the four miles to Everett – thinking. I rarely make time to think, and when I do it’s like some sort of neurological binge.
I thought about an exchange I had in the Lizard Lounge green room tonight, when I went to put my guitar back. There was an athletic guy with salt and pepper hair tuning up. Steve reminded me of countless dads still trying to “live the dream” on the rare night they could sneak out. If I’m honest, they’re usually bad musicians. Steve was not. He played well, and I was glad to follow the green room small talk with a genuine compliment. He asked where I was from – what I was doing. He’d been in the back during my set.
I told him I was hitchhiking. His brow narrowed.
Usually, it’s in banks and cocktail bars where I watch my tongue, but in music halls I’m cheered for the very mention of hitching. It’s the revolutionary spirit of musicians calling out for the days of Guthrie and Kerouac – a time when music was not only real and relevant but a force to be reckoned with – not a bygone movement, a shadow of itself, a Cracker Barrel commemorative disk. And yes, even in this raucous reception there is a hint of defeat. Because the would-be troubadours cheer not because of what is happening, but what has been. They cheer the way the grandchildren of farmers now employed in cubicles cheer at talk of the “land” – land that is sold now – gone in the “last harvest.” For nostalgia is most potent when the thing cannot be had again. It’s a good sign the cause is already lost.
All that to say that Steve’s reaction was an anomaly.
“Isn’t hitchhiking illegal?” he asked.
“Only in New Jersey and Delaware in the East,” I said.
“So what – did you avoid those places?”
“Yes. They’re small states, so I went around them. I’ve no interest in getting arrested.”
“Well, I’m from Wyoming–”
“–It’s illegal there too. I’ve no idea why. You would think with all that space and freedom it wouldn’t matter.”
“Well, I can tell you it was different in Wyoming. I guess cops looked the other way, but you had these guys that lived way out beyond everyone else – always trying to get a ride. It was F-ing annoying.” Steve’s clean cut image looked surprisingly fierce.
“Well, you played well man,” I said, changing the subject, because I am a pragmatist not a revolutionary. “Do you gig out much?”
“Trying to, since I put out an album in 2007.”
So Steve diplomatically acted like he hated those “other” hitchhikers, and I didn’t say that 2007 was forever ago. I didn’t say that his personal annoyance wasn’t grounds for something to be illegal, and I didn’t say that his love of safety meant that in seven more years he’d still be talking about that same album.