Years ago, I got in a white AMC Rebel, with a dark-haired boy with deep brown eyes, who was half Irish and half Canadian Eskimo blood. I believe that made for an interesting trip.
We headed north and west, to get out of Texas. It can take a couple of days to cross this state, but somehow we made it to Carlsbad, New Mexico by nightfall.
I was just a kid. I had never slept in a car, which was full of all our stuff anyway. We were hot, tired and hungry, so the ground looked like the easier bet. Let me tell you, in all my years, which were many and long, I have never spent a more wretched evening than I did that night in the desert.
The City of Austin was in full-blown mid-summer crazy Austin madness. Somehow the word had gotten out how blessed wonderful the place was, and throngs of people, they said 10,000 a month, were moving into the area. Everyone knows when the summer reaches its zenith in July, it is beyond hot. The sun feels like a blanket laid over hot asphalt and cement, with lots of car fumes thrown in.
I had just left a job as a secretary to several music promoters. I think I could talk a real good line of bs, plus I didn’t ask for a lot of money, so they gave me the job. All I did was sit behind a desk and answer the phone. The few small items they asked me to type were done in mere seconds. I just sat there all day and listened to these two completely different types of young men, banter back and forth, name-dropping and getting all worked up over things. I was just out of UT music school. I was considered one of the better musicians from home, but in Austin I was nothing but camel fodder. I think the Dr.’s and tenured profs of music listened to me with horror and dismay, but saw the obvious understanding and flow of my music, so they let me in, after divesting me of all my previous college credits garnered at the home-town junior college. After two long years of hard work, I was back to square one at UT.
I worked hard at it, trying to make the grade. Some things were easy and some things were way over my head. I made a lot of things right, and faked a lot of things wrong. I enjoyed the hustle and bustle of campus life, but I was always glad to finally get home, relax my poor tired feet, and survey the ruin that was my backpack, filled with spirals, books that were far too big to carry around, and wadded up wrappers from the Macobeanie Food Stand where I could eat cheaply once a day.
I was on my own here. Clueless and running on fumes. The head of the department was also the Conductor/Maestro of the Symphony Orchestra for the City. And also my private teacher for my secondary instrument, French Horn. I would go into his office, listen carefully to his direction, then I would try to play. Up until that point, I’d always been the leader of the band, so to speak. I’d won regional and state awards, our high school band had won all the major competitions every year. But when I would sit down with this man, he would start yelling at me, pounding his fist on his knee, grabbing the music and frenetically pointing to different places… and pretty soon all the harsh words and energy just blended into a sort of cacophony of his deep voice, my strangled voice, pages being turned furiously, and tension. Yes, it was tension theatre every week, twice a week. For 90 long minutes.
I didn’t like men to yell and I still don’t. My throat closed up like anaphylactic shock. My high school band director used to say I played that horn like it was a Mack Truck! But for the Maestro, I was a snivelling weasel at best.
The final straw happened one day when I decided I better try to talk to one of my music professors, behind closed doors, before I lost my mind completely. I was taking 15 semester hours, which included Music Theory, Art History, Womens Weights and Conditioning, Applied Piano, French Horn, Sight-Singing and the always intimidating Jazz Improv. And of course tack on the required ensemble, band or symphony with five short minutes between classes that covered the entire length of the campus, and I was a freakin lunatic most of the time. Whenever I was free from class, I was supposed to report to the City Newspaper office, to the Classifieds Dept. where I typed ads, thousands of them a night, it seemed, until the wee hours of the morning.
By the time I got home, I was well past wrecked. My home life with a roommate named Mary Kate, and the unending trail of boyfriends in and out the door, was more than enough on anyone’s plate. I didn’t even have a piano at home to practice on, having sold my Fender Rhodes electric to pay my rent months ago.
Anyway, I was sitting on a bench outside the office of this harried professor, whom had never even looked at me, much less considered me, when this girl with a brightly colored dress on, and long flowing curls down her back, sat down beside me. She just started talking.
She said, “you know, I’ve been waiting for this opportunity to be in the Music School here all my life. It feels like all I have ever done is practice on my beloved grand piano and take lessons in preparation for this day. Did you know? My mother even knew this was my destiny, even when she was pregnant with me.”
Wow. I was just sitting there, my lower jaw resting on my chest, looking at her. She was one of the pampered elite. Groomed and prepared to enter into the pressurized panicky world of performance art. I always thought music was supposed to be enjoyed, supposed to be pleasant. But this world was quick to show me not. It was all about promise, commitment, ability and money. That’s it. I didn’t have the last.
I left from that very appointment and went straight to the registrar’s office and withdrew from school, three weeks into my second semester. She counted out a couple of twenties for me, as refund of my remaining tuition and that was it. It was all over.
So after leaving the newspaper for a day job, and finding out the music promoters were a bunch of drug-addled money hungry filthy-mouthed ego maniacs, I left that place too. David and I took out a map of the southern United States. We looked around and I put my finger on Phoenix, and that became our destination.
Just on the edge of the desert, a place I had never visited, never seen and knew very little about, our loaded down souped up muscle car looked more like a dirty band of gypsies lived in it. We loaded up the next morning, sore, uncomfortable, unclean and disillusioned already. At least I sure was.
Getting back on the road felt good though. You might know the feeling. Nothing in the past is relevant anymore. Everything you see and everyone you meet is new. New places, new faces. The desert has many faces. Which I would soon learn, the hard way.