Between July and October, I made four trips by car between Eugene and the Bay Area to promote my poetry collection, Night Court. At approximately 566 miles, this eight-to-nine hour drive was just at my tolerance level. After sitting in the car for what amounted to one working day, my back ached, my neck was stiff, I was hungry and tired – similar to a normal day spent in an office, if the office was the front seat of a Honda Fit.
Three things kept me from falling into driving-fatigue-induced despair: the radio, Mt. Shasta, and the random oddities of road trips.
Heading south from Eugene on I5, radio reception is decent until Roseburg. After I pass Roseburg, I start hitting the radio search button every few minutes, toggling between any NPR/public broadcasting stations I can find. As I near Ashland, I pick up KSRG from Southern Oregon University until well over the California border. About half the time I find a Jefferson Public Radio* affiliate just as KSRG fades out, but sometimes I face miles of Christian stations, adult top 40, Spanish-language radio, or the millionth time listening to the CDs I remembered to bring: Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Echo and the Bunnymen, or the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I now know every word of “Tangled Up In Blue” by heart.
At this point, about four hours into the drive, I really need to see Mt. Shasta. I scour the horizon, my eyes dry and gritty. Every time I see it – huge, sprawling, its sides streaked with snow even in September – I experience a tumult of emotions: happiness at having something interesting to look at in an otherwise monotonous landscape, relief that my drive is half over, and the peculiar sort of awe that Mt. Shasta exerts over its viewers.
I usually spot it just south of Hornbrook. It disappears until Yreka, and then, due to the curves in the road, seems to move between the east and west sides of I5. On my September trip, I pulled off the road at Dunsmuir to take this photo:
The mountain appears and disappears until Pollard Flat, when it’s no longer visible to southbound drivers. As I approach Redding, I tune in KFPR, the public radio station from Chico, which usually stays strong until I near Sacramento. After that, I toggle between KPFA in Berkeley and KQED in San Francisco.
In my experience, road trips are long stretches of excruciating boredom punctuated with the weird. On my September 22 return trip to Eugene, I was between Medford and Grants Pass, poking the radio button as usual. The only thing I could find was “Cherry Pie,” a raunchy hair metal hit from 1990. At the end of the song, the DJ, a young woman, said, “I’d like to say hi to Erica, who requested that song last week. Sorry it took me so long to play it for you.” I nearly choked, but kept listening to the station until it faded out twenty minutes later. Then I found a classical music station, listened to some Mozart, and thought it would be nice to hear The Firebird by Stravinsky. Just then, the DJ’s velvety singsong announced, “Our next composition is ‘The Infernal Dance’ from Stravinsky’s Firebird” – which just happens to be my favorite part.
On the September trip I brought my camera with me, mounted on a tripod and propped up with pillows in the passenger’s seat. I took video of I5, of Mt. Shasta, of crossing the Bay Bridge and the Richmond Bridge, of readings, hotel rooms, animals, and many other things. Somewhere between Norton and Winters, right after the 505 split, a young woman on a motorcycle pulled ahead of me, slowed down, and turned her head towards my car, waving. It took me a second to realize that she was waving at the camera, which she could see through the windshield. Too bad it was turned off right then.
The Boor Tour video is coming together. I hope to have a sample ready to share next week.