I was back on Interstate 77 rolling south nicely. I probably shouldn’t have put Boz Scaggs in the Buick’s CD player. He has a voice like a muted trombone. It’s mesmerizing, distracting even. I don’t know as much about these musicians and their music as you might think. I look them up in Wikipedia so I can fill us both in. Here’s the Boz Scaggs story.
His Dad was a travelling salesman who ended up in Dallas Texas. Boz met Steve Miller there in high school. They both went to University of Wisconsin at Madison and played in bands together. Boz left school and went to Sweden where he developed a good solo career. He recorded an album that was a bust, became discouraged, and came back to the U.S. where he hooked up with Steve Miller again and became guitarist and lead singer for the Steve Miller Band’s first two successful albums in 1968. He left and went out on his own again, this time successfully. His best selling album, Silk Degrees, made it to Billboard’s #2 in 1976 and ended up a Platinum album many times over. Boz never looked back. He’s been recording ever since. Not that his life has been easy. He lost a son to drug addiction. If you detect a certain sadness in his voice it’s genuine.
Someone copied and gave me a collection of songs he recorded in 2008, Speak Low, that I’d never listened to properly. To listen to albums or CD’s properly you don’t talk. You listen closely and think about the music. Concentrate on different instruments, consider the lyrics, put everything else out of your mind. That’s why these solo road trips and music go so good together.
Speak Low would probably be considered in the smooth jazz category by people who like categories. There’s a very good stand up bass player in there, a marimba, a great tenor sax, piano and electric piano, a good drummer who uses the brushes a lot. But by far the best instrument on the CD is Boz Skagg’s then 64 year old voice. You should hear him if you haven’t yet.
I was way far into a song called “Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me” as the sun set on North Carolina. There was some but not much traffic on Route 77, I was in the left lane, the Buick had never run better, and life was good. I was in Iredell County, at least that’s what the ticket said, just past Mooresville Exit 36, making great time, going with the flow I thought. So I was quite surprised when blue lights flashed in my rear view mirror. I looked around to see what may be going on, slowed, and tucked into a spot in the right lane to get out of the squad car’s way. When I pulled over the squad car pulled in behind me. He was after me. I pulled over and put Boz on pause.
I rolled down my side window, plucked my registration and insurance from the visor, and was waiting for the policeman to appear when there was a knock on the passenger window. I rolled it down and received a warm greeting from a policeman with a fleshy face under a smoky the bear hat. I flashed on Boss Hog from the Dukes of Hazzard, but only for only a second.
“Good evening sir. Officer Jones here. Do you have any idea why I pulled you over?”
“I’m not sure but I’d guess you may be thinking I exceeded the speed limit.”
“I believe you did. Yes. Do you have any idea how fast you were going?”
“Again I’m can’t be sure about this, but I think it had to be less than 80.”
“Well you passed me handily, and I was going the speed limit, which is 70. You passed me like nothin’ and I was in a very well marked squad car. That doesn’t happen often. And to make it worse after you passed me you went on to pass two more cars ahead of me. Before passing the second car you flashed your headlights at it. Was there a reason for that?” He looked at me intently.
“I thought the driver was going too slow to be in the left lane.”
“I see. Is there a reason you can give me for being in such a hurry?”
“None that are substantial really. I was caught in a snowstorm in West Virginia yesterday and I’m trying to make up time. Plus I was listening to music and not paying attention as I should.”
“What were you listening to?”
“Singer named Boz Scaggs.”
“Never heard of him. Any relation to Ricky Skaggs?”
“I don’t believe so.”
“Can I ask where are you going with such speed?”
I knew he would ask that. “Florida.”
“Do you live in Illinois as your plates indicate?”
“Yes I do.”
“This is not the route Illinois folk normally take to Florida.”
“I know officer I just wanted to see this part of the country.”
“Can I have your insurance and registration please?”
“Yes I have it right here.” I handed it to him.
“I’m going to run this on my computer in the squad car back there. Before I do that can you tell me what I might find in the way of a driving record for… let’s see….David McClure? That still your correct address?”
“Yes, still my home address. You’ll find no speeding tickets since I retired three years ago.”
I corrected myself.
“Well you will find one from Tennessee at about this time last year but I swear there was no town and no reduced speed limit where that citation was written.”
“Let me guess. On your way to Florida then too?”
“May I ask what type of work you retired from? Not that it makes any difference understand.”
“I ran a non-profit child welfare agency. Counseling, foster care, day care.”
“Is that right? I spent some time in foster care myself. So’d my sister. Social worker?”
I’ve found admitting my profession to be something of a crapshoot. If a person knows child welfare intimately, as former foster children do, with a perspective I don’t have, it typically goes one of two ways. Either they see agency employees like those at YSB as people whose decisions ruined their lives, or as people who, by their actions, saved their lives. And oddly there is little middle ground.
Despite Officer Jones assuring me my occupation made no difference, I figured my getting a ticket depended on which way he felt about the help his family received. It took him a while to return. I assumed he was writing me a ticket. As he walked back to the window I thought I should have told him I was a plumber.
“Mr. McClure I’m going to give you a warning ticket.” He paused.
“Thank you very much.”
“The warning is this: slow down during your time on our North Carolina roads. Although I did not clock your speed I venture to say it was well over eighty.”
“Thank you again Officer Jones.”
“You see Mr. McClure when we, and when I say we I’m talking about all us law enforcement officials down here, when we see cars with Illinois plates passing squad cars and flashing their lights aggressively at North Carolinians driving carefully and minding their own business we think to ourselves ‘angry Yankee.’ And we do not hesitate to pull those drivers over and ticket them. So it is unusual that I am not writing you a ticket. Do not, I repeat do not, count on the next member of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol considering you merely a distracted uh,…music lover. To the contrary, another term like music lover, similar beginning and ending, same number of syllables, more often springs to mind when we encounter drivers behaving as you did.”
“I understand completely. Thank you again.”
“Please slow down Mr. McClure.”
“And Mr. McClure I know firsthand how difficult your work was and I appreciate those who do it. My family was helped greatly by people such as yourself, especially my mother. In fact we were able to get our family back together because of the risk a social worker was willing to take on her behalf.”
“I’m glad of that. Thank you again.”
“Enjoy the rest of your trip Mr. McClure.”
I pulled back onto the expressway carefully, set the Buick’s cruise control on 72, and kept in the right lane. I am now batting .500, one for two, in road trip speeding tickets in two years. If it was baseball I’d be an MVP. Not quite as accomplished when it comes to driving. I have to not get carried away and slow down. That’s my goal.
I drove through the rest of North Carolina, moving slowly through the darkness, the Buick just another barge floating down a river of headlights and taillights. I concluded it was best to leave the state. The closer to Florida the more opportunity I had to slow down, get off the interstate, enjoy the country, and relax knowing I’d meet my wife on time.
I couldn’t stop thinking about Officer Jones. It’s rare that anyone divulges such personal information during a short encounter. On first seeing him I thought of a stereotypical southerner, and he called me an “angry Yankee.” Yet we connected in another way. Such a big country we have, so much geography and tradition to make us think differently of one another, and yet if we look closely we see quickly how much we have in common as Americans. Why do we forget that so easily?
I made my way around Charlotte, crossed into South Carolina, and started looking for a cheap motel. I like to get away from big towns. I almost went too far. Northern South Carolina, just past Charlotte, gets pretty sparse. I was looking for billboards guiding me to the ultra cheap lodging. It was late and I would take off early. All I needed was a bed and running water.
I’ve yet to stop at a Scottish Inn, which advertises $29.99 rooms. Hard to believe that price, but I should just for curiosity’s sake. I saw none in that area anyway. Near Richburg there were a couple of motels. I chose a modest and unassuming option, the Best Western for $49.95 with “air conditioning and color TV.” I would hope so. I mean it is 2016. I chose the Best Western, though it looked older, over the nearby Super 8 because there were more cars at the Best Western. Maybe they knew something I didn’t.
At the desk the young man running things gave me a plastic key card, telling me it was a new one, not a recycled version, and should work well.
I drove to the back of the motel and parked by the door with my room number on it. The door opened onto a narrow room with a single queen bed. Stretching from the single door in front to the bathroom in the back was brown print carpeting flecked with yellow and red. The room was cold and dim. A single heating/cooling unit was under the only window to the left of the door. When I turned the unit on it blew the drapes away from the window. Heavy gold panels of rubber backed fiberglass cloth billowed and rolled side to side after filling with hot air from a noisy blower. I realized I needed a drink.
I walked the distance of the motel back to the front desk with the little ice bucket and plastic liner in search of ice. The boy at the desk informed me I’d walked past it on the way there.
“Right here sir.”
He swept his arm toward two tiny tables and a counter in the cramped room. On the counter was a coffee set up, a juice machine, and two see through hoppers of cereal. One contained nondescript brown flakes and the other held what looked to be fruit loops. They seemed faded, the colors having lost their brilliance somehow. Maybe I could splurge on a restaurant breakfast in the morning.
I walked back to my room, got ice on the way, and poured two big fingers of Bushmills over rocks in a plastic glass from the bathroom. It had been quite a day. As I sipped whiskey I looked at my laptop and decided against writing. I thought about the kindle in my backpack and my nearly finished John Irving novel, but thought better of that as well. I got under the covers, turned out the puny light, and finished my drink. One more night and two days and my solo trip would end. I went to sleep to the constant hum of the noisy heater, dreaming of the ocean.
Richland, South Carolina
Elevation 280 feet
Latitude 34.51 N
Longitude 80.98 W