It was back to business as usual: Cousin Teddy was back in Boston playing all the cool clubs and I was in Vermont playing renewable energy festivals, barbeques and sports bars with punching bags. “Listen to this,” I said, turning up the CD player in my car so the guys could hear what was coming up on the disk. “Tell me what you think about the bridge section when they go into a jazz thing.” Dirk looked attentive from underneath the guitar rack that was covering his mid-section up to his chin in the tightly packed car. “Okay here it’s coming … here!” I let the music blare for a few phrases and then cranked it back down. “That is so cheesy, right?”
“No, that’s great, it totally works,” said Dirk. The car bounced through a pothole as we entered Pattburg and slowed to village speed, passing The River Tavern on the left, a reputed hangout for bikers and roofers, and an old gas station sporting the sign “Yoga and Pilates” on the right . Our discussion continued.
“Yeah, it’s cool” Bran agreed. “Did you teach this Bruce Hornsby dude to drink too? “
A rumor had been leaked – that as a teenager I‘d led a naïve, young banjoist down the path to alcohol consumption - of interest only because of the fellow's subsequent rise to fame. We passed a row of stiff colonial style houses along the town common that looked frozen in time and devoid of inhabitants but glowing in the slanted rays of a late afternoon sun.
“You know, I’m pissed at him and you’re bringing up a sore subject”, I said, looking straight ahead at the road twisting slowly upwards toward the distant ski area. “You were still in diapers at the time. It’s all hearsay”.
“ She took him to hear Pat Metheny in a bar in Central Square and got him snookered!” Bran continued, vaguely addressing Dirk, laughing a belly laugh that was almost too big for the car.
I pushed the accelerator pedal to the floor as our car chugged along out of the river valley, emerging into a confluence of traffic lanes, condos and convenience stores. “Listen, let’s work on our set list while we still have a minute; I think we should cut one of the murder ballads and maybe put your new one – that sensitive love song – up at the top of the set ” I said emphasizing the word sensitive. “And could you please not plug in today? I want to be able to hear myself if that’s okay with you”. I glanced over at Bran who still had a massive smirk on his face, hoping to distract him by insulting him.
“ That is one beautiful mountain.” Dirk’s voice rose gently from the back seat and into the air like a feather, stopping our chatter. Directly ahead of us a massive expanse of emerald green seemed to rise out of nowhere, its trails and lifts disappearing into a thick mist about halfway up. I could feel the snap of free ions raising the hair on my arms and at the back of my neck. We were in the presence of something magnificent, something inspiring, on our way to a sports bar.
“Is this it? “ I said, squinting towards a non-descript box of a building that appeared to be our destination.
We pulled into an oval of blacktop and parked in the only space, next to the dumpster. The first thing we needed to do was prop open the back door to keep from getting locked out as we loaded in, that much I remembered from last time.
The back of the joint was a pit of darkness; thick curtains drawn across windows made a womb-like atmosphere from which I could just barely make out a few customers at the bar, motionless under a fleet of busy televisions. The bartender eventually noticed us and nodded us in without moving her hands from the tap and beer glass she was filling, her flashing smile, tattooed arms and stiffly sprayed hair a welcome oasis. We continued ant-like, lugging gear and instruments onto the carpeted riser, our bodies stepping in and out of the flickering images of “The Fishing Channel” being projected onstage. I was relieved when Dirk put his chair next to the soundboard, which meant I wouldn’t have to run it. After a quick sound check, we made our way to the bar.
“Maureen, do you have sliders tonight? ” Bran said, referring to hamburgers famous for their bite-size proportions. Gesturing my way, he continued. “She can’t eat any because she’s a veg-e-tar-i-an.”
“If I get hungry I can always graze” I said, dipping my hand into a bowl of Chex mix, “ I saw a little patch of lawn out front”.
Maureen sized us up for a moment with the kind frazzled smile of a mother, shaking her head as she took our order to the kitchen. We stood not far from a wall of flickering arcade games, waiting for drinks. Seemingly divided along gender lines, the guys gazed upwards at celebrity jocks cavorting with girls in swim suits. I looked for anything that was not a television, my eyes finally coming to rest on a coin operated punching bag. This proved unrewarding as huge, misshapen balls descended from above to be assaulted by drunken patrons. Unable to not feel awkward I instinctively headed for the bathroom to check my hair.
The boys took their burgers down fast and a small group of fans emerged from the murky depths to request songs, following us at our set break out to the deck for a smoke. Well past midnight, we were once again in the car, driving slowly back home along the mountain river, with an eye out for moose crossing the road. Both boys were still awake enough to reopen the discussion of potential band names. Dirk's current favorite was : “Town-wide Tool Shed”, with the runner up: “Massive Barrel”. I leaned the car into a graceful bend of empty highway, their words floating by like a flock of birds, the shimmering moonlit waters a holy winking, my running lights, my unexpected night, my glider.
“How about “The Uncalled For”?” Bran said.
They prattled on, a comforting drone, and in the soft glow of the dashboard lights my heart continued its swooping, speeding faster and faster alongside the twisting whitewater until my hands became one with the wheel, with the dancing glacial love picking its way over the smooth stones, with the clear running deep and true like a song I had never not sung.