Driving the backroads

Life on the backroads
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Ever have to yield to a guy trying to clear a giant tumbleweed in full motion out of a parking lot by way of running it down with his pickup? Ever see him fail the first time and then feel guilty that you didn’t just let it hit your car when it was coming for you, you know, to be helpful?

Ever been in line at a drive-thru and have the man in front of you get out of his vehicle to say that he can guess where you’re from by the amount of dirt on your car?

Ever hauled a live goat home in the plush back seat of your best friend’s dad’s car before you even had a proper license?

Ever been 17 sleeping in the gooseneck of a horse trailer at a rodeo to save money on hotels?

Ever stopped to take a photo of your shortest friend in funny glasses next to the highway sign for Gnome, N.D.?

Or what about grabbing a photo with a roadside smiling stack of hay bales? Or the ones that look like jack-o’-lanterns in the fall and snowmen in the winter?

Ever rush to the aid of the people certainly dead or badly mangled in the car you just witnessed fly off the highway in the Badlands and crash directly into a tree, only to find the passengers completely unharmed and in the middle of an argument that no near-lethal car accident was going to end? Ever stand in the middle of that highway and demand that the driver let you give him a ride instead of walking the 10 miles home?

Ever swear you saw a man run across that same highway in the dark dead of night, only to have your search turn up nothing but the memories of a ghost?

Ever take your little sister to her orthodontist appointment in the big town and drive through parking lots and back alleys to avoid stoplights because you learned to drive on a gravel road and weren’t quite ready for that sort of traffic?

Did your friends ever make you drive the pickup and gooseneck trailer full of rodeo horses through a new town just to laugh at you when you stalled out because they knew you sucked at driving stick?

Ever been 8 or 9 with your best friend, weaving your bikes with playing cards pinned to the spokes through the dotted centerlines of the highway?

Ever have to put oil in the tank of your 1982 Ford LTD every morning before you drove it to school and every afternoon in the parking lot after if you had any hope of starting the thing?

Ever go in the ditch three or four times the first day you got to drive that car to school by yourself, because you missed the lesson about icy roads and rear-wheel drive?

Does anyone even know about rear-wheel drive anymore? Or three-wheelers that twice cracked his ribs, and then his collarbone and then his shoulder blade?

Ever sit in the back seat of his Thunderbird on a hot summer day with the windows rolled up and the heat blaring, driving too fast on your way to the shores of the big lake just so you could be sweaty and desperate enough to strip down and jump in its barely thawed waters when you arrived?

Ever wore the red mud to town on the front of your dress pants? Hauled a couple square bales or deer heads for the taxidermy in your SUV on the way to Thanksgiving? Drove a pickup with no back seat and napped in its shade in a hayfield? Pulled up to a job with a fully intact pheasant stuck to your grill?

Ever cruised the three blocks of Main Street over and over in a car with a name your friends gave it, pushing curfew under the big, black sky just to move because you were young and restless in a small town?

Every once in a while, do you get behind the wheel on the back roads of North Dakota and feel that way again, and so you take the long way home?

On the road: Now and then

A Cafe Somewhere in Montana...

Greetings from a hotel room 100 miles away from the ranch where I just consumed an entire take-out chimichanga dressed in my jammies while sitting on the bed watching some Learning Channel special about weird ways to die.

And then I washed it all down with six or seven pieces of Halloween candy I bought during my solo trip to Target where I was only going to buy deodorant, but somehow, because I had time to kill, wound up with Christmas dresses for my girls and my nieces, a new makeup regime, three bottles of vitamins, envelopes, a new bathroom color scheme, a 37-pound bag of candy, a witch hat, princess underwear, three packages of toddler-sized white socks and a partridge in a pear tree.

This is life on the road, people. Or at least the evening portion of the program.

I know it well. I spend plenty of time here and have since deciding to try my hand at this professional musician gig a million years ago when I was younger and drove a Chevy Lumina with a 10-disk CD changer sound system installed in my trunk and all I needed to get from a Fargo gig one night to a Chicago gig the next morning was a bag of sunflower seeds, an energy drink and my favorite albums on repeat.

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Turns out what I also needed was some change for the toll booths and probably a plan for where I was going to stay the next night, but that was back before you could book a room and find a husband on your smartphone, so yeah, I did a lot more improvising.

It was back in the olden days when you had to use actual maps. And so my Lumina was filled with one of each from North Dakota to Texas and off I would go to make my way through the middle of America to perform, just a girl and a guitar trying to laugh off the requests to play Free Bird during lunch at a tech college.

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Or calm my nerves when I dropped my entire makeup bag under an automatic sink in the public bathroom after getting lost in Minneapolis and running late for my gig opening for a national act.

ARCHIVE: Read more of Jessie Veeder’s Coming Home columns

And then there was the time I completely chipped the front part of my tooth off on a granola bar on a highway somewhere in Missouri with no hope for a dentist appointment before they were set to put a camera up close to my imperfections at a campus television station.

Yes, in between those gigs where I could be playing to 3 people or 300, I had nothing but the radio and the miles between the familiar and the mystery of the towns that passed by my window. Traveling and touring that extensively solo before I even hit age 21 was a weird mix of vulnerable, free, lonesome, nervous, proud and utter exhaustion. Some days it was hopeful, when the audience was captive and the stories came easy and some days were more “opening the door to my room at the Red Roof Inn and finding strangers sitting on my bed.”

And all these years later, so many things have changed, like the maps and vehicles, but the road hasn’t.

It’s still hoping for an open gas station at midnight when I’m finally heading toward home and I’m starving. It’s still floorboards full of wrappers and water bottles and dealing with the quirks of a car that inevitably acts up, locking me out of the trunk for no apparent reason. It’s movies and suppers alone to kill the time. It’s changing clothes in the car or a public restroom, and putting makeup on in the visor mirror. It’s meeting new people and inevitably forgetting a microphone stand along the way. It’s calling home at night and recapping the day, only now the voices on the other line are noisier and smaller and sweeter and there’s more to miss.

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But I love it out here when I go. I love to see the Main Streets and visit your Cenex stations and your cafes and hear your stories at the end of the night before my tires hit the road again for home or send me out in search of a glamorous hotel bed chimichanga picnic.

Rear View Road

 

Sunday Column: The road


I’ve had some pretty great adventures in the name of music. This summer almost every weekend has been filled with some sort of gig that takes me away from this place for a bit.

I’ve loaded and unloaded my car and pickup dozens of times.

It’s been months since I’ve completely unpacked my bag.

Please don’t look in my closet.  I don’t even want to look in my closet.

Anyway when you live in the middle of nowhere, pretty much everywhere you need to go involves a road trip.  So it’s a good thing  I’ve had years to master hours of car time. Sunflower seeds. Coffee. An updated play list on my iPod. A mental list of the most convenient places to stop for fuel. Not a bit of hesitation about singing at the top of my lungs, even when pulling up next to you at a stoplight. Windows open when the weather’s nice and the time is right.

The road to and from this place is early mornings, peaceful and dewy, running-late afternoons and evening sunsets where I don’t really feel like it but I’m going.

Some of my most creative times have been behind the wheel of my car, alone out there somewhere on a road in the midwest.

Some of my scariest have been out there too. Blizzard and tornado watches, black ice, flooding and miles and miles of antelope and sagebrush fields with an emptying tank and not a gas station for miles.

In the last few weeks my road trips have involved the men from my hometown band. It’s nice to have a pickup full of voices and stories about the old days playing in bar bands and bowling alleys. I welcome the company in the car and beside me playing guitar.

And it’s nice to have a crew that understands the life of a musician is mostly just an absurd train of events that involves setting up on flatbed trailers as a thunderstorm rolls through town, hauling around and hooking up sound system after sound system, laughing off requests to play “Smoke on the Water, ” to turn it up, to turn it down, to play something faster, or slower or something we don’t know. It’s good to know that this group won’t mind if a gig doesn’t quite turn out the way we planned, or the night drags on into morning, or we have to haul our guitars through a foot of mud to the stage. It’s alright. Because sometimes it’s great, and the harmonies are on and the audience is swaying and singing along and you know that they know that there’s more to music than the miles we’ve put on to get here and home in one piece.




So when you get back to the ranch at 3:30 in the morning only to wake to a call that the cows are in the neighbor’s wheat field, you don’t complain, you just take a swig of coffee, pull on your snap shirt and boots and head out the door to saddle a horse and bring them home.

Because it’s the life I chose. The one I write about and sing about and bring with me when I go.

Coming Home: Freedom sometimes means settling down
By Jessie Veeder
August 4, 2013
Fargo Forum
www.inforum.com 

Music and miles, late nights and cows with terrible timing…

And it’s good.