Saturday, August 25, 2007


      No matter what I’m doing or where my mind’s at from day to day, my thoughts usually float back to the Parkway.  In my hometown, the Center Point Parkway connects most of the town,  the end of Apple Valley being one end, the main freeway being the other.

      Friday nights meant somehow getting in touch with my best friend at the time, Tim Crutchfield.  We were about three years apart and lived four houses down from each other.  These differences didn’t seem like much at the time, but now I can see why I could’ve potentially been seen as a hell of a nuisance to him.  I could see pool parties he’d have with older friends from my backyard and I’d find myself steaming with anger that I wasn’t invited.  All it usually took was a phone call to his mom, Charlene, an older woman always immaculately dressed in an off-the-shoulder sweater and white patio pants.  I would start out by acting like I didn’t know Tim was in his pool with somebody else, then I’d go limp and act like it was no big deal, resulting in Charlene suggesting that I put on a suit and come over (though ultimately my self-loathing would get the best od me and I’d chicken out, not wanting to be “that kid” who invites himself to everything).

      At this point in my life I wasn’t old enough to drive, so Tim was my ticket to the incredibly useless world of “cruising.” Sure, I can say it was useless now, but back then it was everything.

      Tim had a huge, dark blue warship of a car that had the most souped-up sound system I’d ever heard.  And he cranked the most wretched music of the day out of those speakers at full volume.  If it wasn’t Styx, it was Triumph.  If it wasn’t REO Speedwagon, it was Rush.  The sheer power that bled from that car stereo was so mesmerizing that it didn’t really matter what cockrock was in the tape player.  Yes, this was that strange part of history where CDs were still in their infancy and high quality tape decks and expensive Memorex tapes were the order of the day.

      Tim’s expertise was the mix tape.  His home stereo system was about as state-of-the-art as the one in his car.  So, he’d culled the greatest songs from his 500-plus LP collection to perfect the most amazing mix tape assortment imaginable.

      I have to say this right off.  Regardless of how much I might make fun of the man’s tastes, they were as varied as you could imagine and my musical like and dislikes from that point on were highly influenced by the mix tapes I heard in those days.

      So, my mind is occasionally floating down the Parkway, thinking about that car as it sped down the road, blaring its high decibel, early 80’s pap.

      As many times as we did this (I want to say it was every Friday night, though I’m sure it might’ve only been twice a month), there are only two distinct cruising nights that stick in my head.

      The first coincided with the street date of Dire Straits “Brother In Arms” came out.  After purchasing it, Tim’s first instinct was to take the one song that was already getting a little airplay, “Money For Nothing” and repeat that fucker over and over on one solitary mix tape.  A constant reminder every seven minutes and four of how awesome that song was at the time.  And one night of cruising was devoted to that.  I have to admit, no matter how many times I heard it that night, I never once tired of it, especially since this was the album version and not the truncated single cut edit.  I guess any song at the right volume with the right hook is going to have a long way to go to get repetitive.  The “Money For Nothing” night was the cruising apex.

      My only other memory happens many years later, where the cruising has grown stale.  Tim was almost out of high school and had moved onto friends his own age and such.  I was a sophomore, just discovering the wonders of punk and what was known as “college radio” (soon to be “alternative music”) at the time.  Who knows who suggested it, this was the last cruise and I think we both knew we were doing it for old time’s sake.  And even though I couldn’t remember the last time we’d done it, somehow I didn’t fully think that this would be the final time. 

      Now, precedence stated that Tim and only Tim was the DJ on this ship.  This was the unwritten rule.  His car, his stereo, his tunes.  I can’t even remember what tape it was, but I kept it in my pocket, afraid to be ballsy enough to suggest replacing the Springsteen cassette that held court at that particular moment.  But as the ending strains of the “Nebraska” album died out and Tim reached into the tan, double-decker cassette case that had always sat between driver and passenger, I made a beeline for the tape in my pocket.  I’m pretty sure it was the Dead Kennedys’ “Bedtime for Democracy” and for argument’s sake, let’s pretend that it was.  My into to punk was pretty late in the game, though that albums release (1985) matches up to my age at the time, so if it wasn’t that I can’t even be sure what it could have been.  I slide the tape in and the first song, a balls-to-the-wall cover of Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job and Shove It” exploded out of the speakers in that brash, up-tempo way that the DK’s were known for.  My head bobbed and my teeth clenched and I was loving hearing this shit on such a powerful system instead of in my headphones.  But my mood changed when I saw Tim’s face.  It’s like someone had punched him in the balls.  The pain in his eyes, the furrowed brown, the hunched shoulders.  Thinking back, I don’t know if it was the choice of music and how far it was from his own tastes or the fact that I’d broken the unwritten rule by commendeering the stereo.  I recall him quickly ejecting the tape from the player after the song had grinded to a halt (Tim didn’t believe in ejecting a tape until after a song had stopped or faded out, regardless of how abhorred he thought the song might have been).  And that was the end of it.  A conversation might have ensued.  “What were you thinking?”on his end, “How can you not like Dead Kennedys?” on mine.  I don’t know.  I just remember feeling a strange mixture of anger and sadness.  I’m sure the French have a word for it, but I haven’t found it yet.  On one hand, I was angry because I couldn’t listen to what I wanted to listen to.  I’d done my time.  Genesis?  Laura Brannigan?  I was due.  But I was sad because now there was a rift in our friendship.  Whether it was my bold tape move or that high school mentality, this rift was getting Grand Canyon-sized.  And we both knew it.

      So, at the end of the night, Tim pulled up to my driveway and I got out.  We said our “see ya’s” and I watched him back up four houses down to his house.  No tears, no pomp, no circumstance.  Just an ending like any ending, one that happens when you least expect it.

      Even though we lived four houses down from each other, I saw less and less of him from that point on.  Different paths, I figured.  Or was it that I’d broken that unwritten rule?  I’ll never know. 

      That was the last time I’d ever cruise the Parkway. 



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