At 10:30 AM it was 86 and mostly sunny when I left Collins house. I put Billy Joel’s Downeaster Alexa on repeat and it would guide me off of Long Island. When I left the house nobody was home, Sara was out and Collins was at work, so I crept into Collins’ bedroom and slipped the Citrus Skoal tobacco under his pillow, and tip-toed out. Their Tonkinese cats sensed I was up to something sinister, and I suspected they were ready to pounce.
I shouted out my favorite line and my second favorite line of Downeaster Alexa. My second favorite line is –There’s no island left for islanders like me. I knew what he meant today, more than I ever had. As I was leaving Long Island it started to sink in that I was headed home. I thought about leaving my buddy and thought about home. My eyes swelled with salty tears as I crossed bridges over Long Island Sound. Four walls, some windows, and a few doors is just a box, when you find a place in someone’s heart that is home because you can live there forever. I was definitely leaving a home.
I drove on through the Bronx on I-95 and I was sad. I was hungry for breakfast when the GPS incorrectly took me off the road, or at least what I thought was a mistake. I decided to just quickly get back on the highway because I wasn’t in the mood to eat in New York, it had taken too much out of me, I had to get to Connecticut. Trying to get back on the highway proved to be a challenge as I found myself driving parallel to I-95, and couldn’t quite get back on it. The GPS was not recognizing this and told me to –Continue on 95 for 5.9 miles. My aggravation with the device caused me to scream with furious anger –I’M NOT ON NINTEY FUCKING FIVE! The emotions I had been feeling were finally released. I calmly found a turn for entry onto 95 and made my way on. Maybe the GPS was right all along because the road I got off was not the road I got back on to.
I got off in Connecticut at the Welcome Center and by that time it was time for lunch. I got a Big Mac and a coffee. The Big Mac was disgusting so I ate three bites and pitched it. Chevy was running low on fuel, the lowest it had been the whole trip, so I filled up. Gas was more expensive than it had been for most of the trip and I nearly died at the sight of the total when I finished.
I was refusing to put on the Connecticut playlist because of the bad food, expensive gas, and traffic, so I downloaded Dire Straits – Local Hero/Wild Theme (live). The sweet melody of Mark Knopfler’s guitar picking could touch even the blackest of hearts. It has to be the right version though. Saxophones butcher this song in the versions I’ve heard with them. Here’s a good one. I would need this song later.
I let go of my hostility towards Connecticut and put on Weezer. I found songs from the Green Album hitting me in the right way, specifically Don’t Let Go, Smile, Photograph, and Simple Pages. I had also forgotten about the Weezer and Lil’ Wayne collaboration – Can’t Stop Partying, which is fun and improved my mood. I listened to it twice. Weezer is too catchy to not love them. Johnny G and I were scheduled to go see a Weezer show in 2010 but in December of 2009 the band’s tour bus was involved in a crash and our leg of the tour was cancelled.
The highway in Connecticut was broken and crowded, and after a while the land opened up and the highway widened and became smoother, so I knew I was in Rhode Island. Rhode Island was 31st state in my journey, so it felt good to be there. Talking Heads sang –Home is where I want to be. The buildup to that opening line makes it sound so good when David Byrne finally starts singing. And that’s where I was headed, home. I hadn’t shaved since before the trip began and my beard grows reddish so I was strutting like a Rhode Island Red Rooster through the Blackstone Valley National Corridor. Did you know Rhode Island Reds have been known to kill intruding foxes? They some badass chickens. I was in Rhode Island less time than Connecticut, but it had more to offer. It may be the smallest state but it didn’t seem like it today.
I would later change my opinion of Rhode Island. Driving through the back roads of Rhode Island I felt in a constant state of entrapment. The posted speed limits are unreasonably low and impossible to obey, and it seemed like there were troopers writing tickets around every turn. I couldn’t get anywhere in Rhode Island. This made me think about stress. I definitely noticed a higher stress level among people in the northeast. Outside the northeast the only thing that caused me stress was the weather. Now I was back among people that seemed ready to explode. My own anxiousness about returning home was evident in my irritability throughout Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Once I got to Massachusetts I did my best to chill out and enjoy the homestretch. When I saw a sign for 495 N and Lowell was on it – it really hit me that the road trip was almost over. As soon as I got onto 495 I took out my sunglasses. I had barely worn sunglasses the whole trip, I must have adjusted to the brightness being outside all day long, so I didn’t need them. I put them on on 495, the darker ones, because I was feeling emotional and if I had any tears of joy returning to Lowell I didn’t want anyone thinking that I had cracked.
I wished the last 40 miles was 400 because there were so many things that I still wanted to think about, so many songs I wanted to listen to, and so many Waffle Houses to visit. I had only been to two of the over 1600 locations. Coldplay sang –I want to shut the world outside, and that’s what I wanted to do for these last 40 miles. The song Titanium came on and that was the furthest thing in the world from what I was. I was a glass ball of emotions that could have shattered at any moment. I kept Titanium on for the strength it might offer me.
With 20 miles to go I hit traffic, and it was the greatest, most glorious traffic I ever got stuck in. I was never more excited to slow down in my whole life. Lowell would have to wait.
Lowell is a city that I have come to love and cherish. My mother’s genealogical research turned up a connection to Lowell. My great grandfather John Keohane came to Lowell in April of 1912 from Cobh, Ireland, two days after the Titanic made it’s final stop there. I have many homes in Lowell, so I know it is a place I can always go back to, no matter how long I’ve been away.
With seven miles to Lowell I realized I was wearing a Westford Academy Track tee shirt, so I felt like a dirty rotten scoundrel and wanted to tear the blasphemous threads from my body. Dire Straits calmed me with Local Hero/Wild Theme. I listened to it five times. Mark Knopfler’s guitar wailed with the sweet sounds of welcoming.
I pulled into downtown Lowell at 4:37 PM and the evening was rolling in. There was a disagreement as to what temperature it was between Washington Savings Bank and the Chevy’s thermometer. I had come such a long way with Chevy that my trust was absolute. It was 90 degrees. I knew I was back in Lowell when I saw an armored ice cream truck.
After Chevy was quickly unpacked it was time for us to part. What was said at our goodbye will remain between Chevy and me, I think we’ve earned that much. I took the keys to a man in a suit, I told him –You have a great car here, take care of her. He asked me where I had gone and I smiled to myself and replied –I just went out for a drive.
I was home. I was tired. The last words Chevy and I listened to together as we drove down the Lowell Connector are wise and I will never forget them:
You’ve gotta make your own kind of music
Sing your own special song
Make your own kind of music
Even if nobody else sings along
***Final thoughts and trip index for tomorrow***