Northbound to Poughkeepsie

I’m not the best driver in the world. I generally enjoy driving long distances, but I do have a Walter Mitty-esque inner life, which is not a desirable quality in a motorist. This is why I’m both excited and a little nervous to make my longest drive yet, the 600+ mile journey from Raleigh to Poughkeepsie. Last month I blogged a trip to Atlanta for one of my classes and I found it interesting enough that I’ve decided to do it again with this trip. After all, it is my first drive up North since I moved here three years ago, so I may as well immortalize it.

December 15th

10:32 AM

Away I go, ready with six Spotify playlists and an audiobook. Four of the playlists are from SPIN’s Best Albums of the Year and I haven’t heard them in their entirety yet; they include Home by Rudimental, Shaking the Habitual by The Knife, Tomorrow’s Harvest by Boards of Canada and Yeezus by Kanye West. The other ones are Brothers by The Black Keys and a list of random songs compiled by Beck. The audiobook is The Black Count by Tom Reiss. That should tide me over the 24 total hours that I’ll be driving. I’ll write short reviews later.

2:04 PM

My first stop of the day is somewhere in Virginia. I like driving through southern Virginia because the landscape there is crowded with beautiful trees that are tall and narrow and grow almost perfectly straight. I remember reading in Disney Adventures magazine when I was little that it was these trees that inspired one of the lead animators for the movie Pocahontas to add contrasting vertical piping in Pocahontas’s hair. I may not be able to remember left from right, but I remember useless facts I learned 20 years ago.

I’m also amused by Virginia’s North/South culture fusion. Here’s how you know you’re moving toward Yankee territory:

  1. Signs start telling you what to do. On the way to Georgia, the billboards tell you to go to church and not litter. In Virginia, don’t litter, buckle your seat belt, don’t smoke (which is funny coming from the home of Philip Morris) and always dial #77 for the state police. There are also signs to remind you that the speed limit is enforced by aircraft. I don’t know if that means a drone strike or what, but it’s enough to keep me under the speed limit for the most part.
  2. The states’ welcome signs take a different turn. South Carolina’s sign says “Smiling Faces, Beautiful Places”. Virginia’s says “Open for Business“.
  3. Car dealerships’ glittering outdoor displays no longer wish you a merry Christmas. They say “Season’s Greetings” and “Happy Holidays”.
  4. Wawa makes its first appearance.

On the other hand, here’s how you know you’re still in the South:

  1. You see a dude in camo overalls at McDonald’s.

5:15 PM

First snow sighting! I’m in farm country and the landscape is lovely, but I’d enjoy it more if there was daylight and I wasn’t lost. In addition, I have three squares left on my fuel gauge, which means unless one of these barns magically turns into a gas station soon, I’ll be trekking on foot through these snow-dusted pastures with only the light from passing cars to guide me. Truth be told, I’d rather have car trouble at night in an urban area than a rural one. Still, this is nothing compared to the time I was trying to find a gas station and ended up on a muddy pathway called Cape Fear Road. (It wasn’t in Cape Fear either.) I’m glad I got out of there before sunset.

6:00 PM

Hooray! I see a Sheetz station (or as I like to pronounce it, “Sheeeetz”). That means I won’t have to knock on a potentially homicidal farmer’s door after all.

7:06 PM

Checked into the hotel. I’m only three hours behind schedule and I only got lost twice. So far so good.

December 16th

8:40 AM

Getting ready to go back on the road. I’m down to my Beck playlist and my audiobook. Of all of yesterday’s music, Rudimental’s Home and The Black Keys’ Brothers were the best. To be fair, I didn’t actually finish the other albums. My only prior experience with The Knife was the song “We Share Our Mother’s Health” that came out about ten years ago, and while I still like that song, I got about two songs into Shaking the Habitual until all the clanging instrumentals gave me a headache. Boards of Canada’s Tomorrow’s Harvest doesn’t seem to have any vocals on it, which is fine, but at the time I needed a voice to focus on or I would have fallen asleep at the wheel.

Then there’s Yeezus. I only got about four songs in. All I can really say is that Yeezus is musically interesting but I can’t get past the lyrics. Kanye’s public persona has caught up with him. By this I mean that it’s clear that he’s not playing a character while he raps; he is exactly the same entitled jerk on the album that he is in real life. I can’t take him seriously when he talks about getting profiled by store owners who assume all black men want furs and gold chains and in the same breath brags about equally tacky displays of wealth. I don’t have the patience to listen to him complain about having to move his family to another country to avoid the media when he does everything in his power to make sure he’s in its spotlight at all times.

That’s why, after “New Slaves”,  I switched over to Brothers. It was a nice change. I feel like an idiot for not listening to The Black Keys sooner but Raleigh just got a new rock/alternative radio station and I’d never heard “Little Black Submarines” until recently. Unfortunately, the album the song is on, El Camino, is not on Spotify in its entirety, so I listened to the previous album, Brothers. It turns out I already knew a few of the songs, like “Howlin’ for You”, through TV commercials and movie trailers. The album sounds influenced by all the best classic rock bands, including The Rolling Stones, The Doors and The Velvet Underground. If you haven’t heard it during the three years it’s been out, listen to it now.

Lastly, Rudimental’s Home was the biggest surprise of the day. I had already listened to its Wale remix of “Feel the Love” many, many times, but I hadn’t heard the album in its entirety yet. I hadn’t even heard any other songs from Rudimental before. It turns out even though “Feel the Love” is a good song, the rest of the album gets even better. (A couple of songs, “Spoon” and “Hell Could Freeze” sound like ambiance music from H&M to me, but maybe that’s your thing.)

Home had been listed on SPIN’s Best Dance Albums of the year, but it’s really more of a pop/soul album thanks to soaring vocals from Becky Hill, Alex Clare, Ella Eyre and others. If you liked Avicii and Aloe Blacc’s “Wake Me Up”, then you really should listen to Home because it takes the same type of techno/soul-ish combo and raises it to celestial levels.

10:07 AM

Back on the road. My goals this time: take pictures and spend no more than one hour being lost.

1:43 PM

I’ve taken only one picture so far. Taking road photos is harder than it may seem. I don’t like having to pull over, I don’t know what would make a good picture until I’ve already driven past it and I don’t like having to wait for Instagram to load, which is why I’ll add my Landscape with Horses composition later.

Landscape with Horses
And here it is.

I must add that I didn’t mean to imply earlier that farmers are the sadistic killers portrayed in horror movies. In fact, my grandfather was a farmer and as a child I spent a fair amount of time in the orchards, particularly in apple season. (I know that sounds like the “some of my best friends are ___” defense, but it’s true.) The real reason I’d hate to be stranded at night in a rural area is because there are fewer lights and fewer buildings, which means I could lose my way much more easily, and I wouldn’t have a lot of options for getting help. That’s all.

5:27 PM

And so ends the most boring live blog in history. I don’t get it. I usually fly home for Christmas, only to run into all kinds of trouble, but when I drive it’s uneventful. Even the hotel was nice. That’s good news for me, of course; it’s just bad news for the blog. Maybe I’ll find something to write about on the way back. In a way, I hope I don’t.

Rest stop in Pennsylvania
Rest stop in Pennsylvania. This is more snow than Raleigh gets in an entire winter.

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