American Southwest Bro-Trip, Part 2: Day 1

He who must travel happily must travel light.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Friday, March 8, 2019: 10:37 AM

We closed the doors of Vader the truck for the final time as we sat in the driveway. I turned the key and the twin-turbocharged V6 roared to life, accompanied by the usual dinging: Fasten your seatbelts. I checked the load of gear piled up in the extended cab behind me. It looked stable enough, and I had decent visibility. We buckled in, I shifted to Drive, and we turned out of the driveway and onto the open road.

We got to the intersection with the main road and I realized I forgot my cold-weather coat.

After a u-turn, a dash into the house, and a final last good-bye to Dad, we strapped in and pulled out again, and this time, we didn’t come back.

Then, as we navigated the snaking highways of downtown Fort Worth with Eddie Money’s “Gimme Some Water” playing through the stereo, Daniel realized he forgot his water bottle. How ironic.


I woke up around 6:00 AM that morning and immediately got to work packing the final things on my list: toothbrush, toothpaste, pillow (I almost always travel with my own), and the like. Daniel woke up around the same time, ate breakfast, and went to school to take that exam that his crazy professor moved forward from after spring break.

Dad, operating at Mom’s behest, bought a us all a second breakfast from Chick-fil-A to eat before we left. I must say that trip planning and packing and loading do sap one’s energy, so I was more than happy to eat on a hobbit meal plan. We devoured the chicken minis and then saddled up.

Which brings us back to the Fort Worth traffic and Daniel forgetting his water bottle. Of all the things we brought, all the gear piled high in the extended cab and all the other camping gear and food in the truck bed, he had forgotten his water bottle. I wondered what else he might have forgotten.

We would find out before too long.


Our plan for Day 1 was to drive from DFW to Santa Rosa, NM, and spend the night at the Best Western Santa Rosa Inn. The original plan was to drive all the way to Albuquerque on Day 1, but due to our delayed departure from Daniel’s unexpected exam we had to shore things up a bit. Since Daniel had been up well after midnight studying for said exam and only had about four hours of sleep, I decided I would do all the driving on this first day and let him rest.

It’s hard to rest when you’re excited about a trip, though. We talked a lot and listened to his special trip playlist. The first song as we pulled out was “Hammer to Fall” by Queen, followed by “I Can’t Drive 55” as we hit the highway and proceeded to hit 75. Following that were some deep cuts from Eddie Money, such as the aforementioned “Gimme Some Water”, which I abused so much by singing at Daniel over the trip that I don’t think he’ll ever want to listen to it again.

Our first stop was the Love’s in Wichita Falls, just two hours down the road. We took this opportunity to empty our bladders and get Daniel some water (partly so he could quench his thirst and partly so I would stop repeating the “Gimme Some Water” refrain). On the way into the city we spotted our first international license plate: Quebec.

After a quick stop, we got back on the road and pressed on to Amarillo, where we planned to eat dinner. The drive from Wichita Falls to Amarillo is not a very exciting one, unless you count State Troopers pulling out to pull over speeding motorists exciting.

Daniel switched his playlist up and I was treated to–ugh–Ween. He mixed it up by throwing in some Mike Posner, but neither did much for me. Posner has some interesting arrangements, but Ween is just kind of weird and hard to take seriously. I will give them props for touching on so many different genres: One minute they sound like Motörhead, the next they sound like Stone Temple Pilots, and then after that they’re drawing influences from Ennio Morricone.

Around Childress, Daniel fell asleep. That enabled me to put on some music I wanted to listen to, namely Rush. I drove us onward as the dystopian-themed Grace Under Pressure album played at low volume, grooving to Geddy’s Steinberger bass lines and occasionally air-drumming (with one hand on the wheel!) to Neil’s fills.

As we neared Amarillo, Daniel woke up and I told him to find a place to eat, preferably somewhere right off the highway. We’d seen signs for The Big Texan Steak Ranch along the road for many miles, and I asked if he’d like to try it out. He agreed, so we set our course for an early steak dinner.

For those who don’t know, the unique thing about The Big Texan is its Texas King steak challenge. If you can eat a 72 oz. steak with sides and a salad within an hour, your meal is free. Like they say, everything’s bigger (and better) in Texas.

Neither of us were that hungry, but steak sounded good, so we whipped into the parking lot and sat down in the lodge-themed dining area underneath the mounted heads of bucks, bulls, and bears. We came in just before 4:00 PM, which meant that we could still order from the (cheaper) lunch menu. Talk about great timing! We each settled on a 9 oz. ribeye, me with a baked potato and green beans for sides, and Daniel with fried okra and, if I remember correctly, steak fries. We admired the taxidermal wonders around us and watched as a man sat at a table on a stage and attempted to devour The King Steak while waiting on our own steaks.

And what great steaks they were! Cooked medium, juicy and flavorful, chewy and succulent. My potato and beans were delicious, too. They even brought a jalapeño for each of us. I took a bite of mine and said, “This isn’t too bad!” I ate it easily.

Daniel, the guy who tries spicy peppers, took a bite of his and couldn’t handle the heat. “Do you want mine?” he asked. I thought he was wimping out on me.

He wasn’t. I took a bite and instantly regretted it. My sinuses started running, my eyes teared up, and my face flushed. I couldn’t drink enough water. It was that bad. Daniel laughed as I languished. And yes, I was too manly to ask for some milk.

After the jalapeño fiasco, we paid and hit the road again, pressing on all the way to Santa Rosa. We topped off the tank before we left Amarillo listening to “Amarillo by Morning” by George Strait (to whom I argued we should listen because, heck, we were in Texas!). I let George serenade us all the way to the New Mexican border as we drove past cattle, ranches, and wind turbines.

The landscape took a stark change as we approached the New Mexico. The ranches disappeared and suddenly there was rock and scrub brush on both sides of I-40. I noted that the wind started picking up, too. A few minutes later, we crossed into “The Land of Enchantment” and watched the sun set ahead of us.

It was the most unusual sunset I think either of us have ever seen. We indeed saw the sun for the first time all day, blazing directly in front of us and low on the horizon. Maybe it was the clouds, or the wind, or some other weather phenomenon, but the sky was colored all colors of the rainbow: purple on our left, orange and yellow in front, and even green on our right. I’d never seen a green sky before.

And the wind was intense. Daniel’s phone warned of wind gusts up to 60 miles per hour, I think. I slowed my speed a bit as I watched my gas mileage tumble on the truck’s trip computer. Driving Vader into the wind was like trying to slice cold butter with the rounded part of a spoon.

The sun fell below the horizon and left us on the dark desert highway, along with everyone else trying to reach Tucumcari, Santa Rosa, or Albuquerque at a reasonable hour. The miles went by fast even at a slower speed, and before we knew it we were in Santa Rosa, pulling into the Best Western off old Route 66.

It was our first time staying in a motel, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. The lobby was clean and inviting. I checked in and drove around to our motel room, where we unloaded only the necessities for one night. Our motel room was fantastic, too: two queen beds, two sinks, and immaculate. And if we needed anything from Vader, he was parked right outside!

We settled in, which didn’t take long, and unwound. Daniel fired up the TV and watched basketball; I grabbed one of the books I’d brought with me, Armada by Ernest Cline, and read a few chapters while munching on a bagel topped with peanut butter and honey. Good stuff.

We showered and hit the hay early, because even though we’d gained an hour when we crossed into Mountain Time at the New Mexico border, we would lose that hour the next night due to Daylight Saving’s Time. We would soon find that time was relative, as Einstein might say, not only based on which state we were in but which part of which state we were in. I found it easiest to just assume we were already on Mountain Daylight Time and deal with any time-related issues later.

“Oh, dang it.” Daniel interrupted my thoughts as I finished up my journal entry for the day. “I brought the wrong pillow!”

Par for the course.

And, if you were wondering why there aren’t any pictures from this part of the trip, that’s because we switched out memory cards in my camera and the one from the first part of the trip has gone AWOL. I hope it’s somewhere in the truck, but I’ve yet to find it. For all I know it may have been found by housekeeping in the motel room. If so, I hope they enjoy pictures of US-287 and whatever else is on it!

On Indelible Imprints: Music

A few days ago, I heard a song I hadn’t listened to in a long time play on the radio. It was one of those songs, one that I associated with a time and a place, when and where I first heard it.

A few days later, I thought of a book I hadn’t read in a few years. And yes, it was one of those books that my mind linked to a when and a where.

Needless to say, there are two things in life that have greatly affected me: books and music. I’m currently reading through Neil Peart’s Traveling Music, in which he gives a (musical) autobiography and explains some of the songs and artists that made him into the musician he came to be, and the points in his life when he heard certain tunes. In the spirit of this book, for mental exercise (and fun), I tried to recall as many songs and books tied to a memory as I could. For brevity, I decided to break this into two posts, starting with music. And now, for your entertainment, here is what I came up with:

  1. “In the Mood” by Glenn Miller — Probably the first song I “remembered,” and my favorite growing up. I remember dancing with Mom and Dad to this song in the living room of our old house.
  2. “Twenty-Five or Six to Four” by Chicago — In the car with Dad and Daniel in a Kroger parking lot, probably four or five years old. I thought the electric guitar solo was played by a trumpet at first, but Dad corrected me. (Thanks, Dad! Otherwise I might have taken up the trumpet!)
  3. “New Sensation” by INXS — On a VHS tape of missiles blowing stuff up at China Lake, California. No, really. Somehow or another, Dad acquired a VHS tape of footage from missile flight tests set to rock music. There are many other great songs on that tape (“Rock and Roll” by Led Zeppelin, “Just What the Doctor Ordered” by Ted Nugent, “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood), but “New Sensation” stuck with me more than the others.
  4. “Down to the Waterline” by Dire Straits — In the car with Dad and Daniel, driving to karate lessons. The three of us took lessons together for several years, and listened to the same cassette tape every time there and back. That tape also included songs by Jeff Healey, Charlie Daniels, and Foreigner.
  5. “Message in a Bottle” by The Police — In the car with Dad on the University of North Texas campus (Denton, TX) at a BEST Robotics event. This song impressed me with how well the music fit the lyrics, the theme of the song.
  6. Boston by Boston — I listened to this whole album several times during a family vacation to Durango, Colorado, before I started eighth grade. I’ll probably never be able to separate Durango from “More Than a Feeling” or “Rock and Roll Band”.
  7. “Tom Sawyer” by Rush — In the car with Dad while driving to guitar lessons. This song changed everything for me. (And if you didn’t figure it out already, being in the car with Dad is a recurring theme in my musical formation.)
  8. “Roundabout” by Yes — In the car on the way to San Antonio for my great uncle’s military funeral at Fort Sam National Cemetery. This was probably the first time I heard a bass guitar and thought, “That’s cool!”
  9. “Things Can Only Get Better” by Howard Jones — Driving Dad’s Subaru back home from Dallas after looking at a car I wanted to buy, but wasn’t a good option. Every car we’d looked at within my budget needed repairs or had been smoked in, and I was feeling a little down. This song lifted me back up, and still does.
  10. “Alive” by Pearl Jam — Jamming (no pun intended) in the guitar studio with Brian, my instructor. It was one of the first times I seriously played bass, and one of the last times we saw each other. Brian passed away just months later, far too young. I always think of him when I hear this song, knowing he’s still alive with Christ.

Those are just ten, and there are many more. Next week’s indelible imprints: books!

Happy Birthday, Neil Peart!

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Bonus post! Today, the world’s best drummer and lyricist turns sixty-six. His name is Neil Ellwood Peart, OC (that’s Order of Canada for us non-Canadians).

You can go on Wikipedia or elsewhere on the Internet to read about his life, but I wanted to take a minute to write about how he has inspired me. Some of this is rehash from my post On Rush from earlier this year, so bear with me.

The first thing about the band Rush that captured me was the music; the second thing that captured me were the lyrics. As a fifteen-year-old, I had been exposed to a fair amount of classic rock, thanks to my dad, and of course that meant that I was exposed to the songs about sex and drugs. I liked the music I heard, but realized very quickly that not all of the lyrics meshed with my Christian beliefs.

Enter Rush, where all of a sudden lyrics were about mythology, philosophy, and culture. Everything about the lyrics seemed backwards compared to all the other music of its time: “Limelight” was about an introvert dealing with fame, “Subdivisions” was about growing up in the ‘burbs, and “The Analog Kid” was about a young man coming of age and facing a big life decision. Not exactly the kind of stuff that gets radio airplay (though the first two songs do!), nor kind the stuff that gets most people going, but the kind of stuff that gets some people thinking.

I soon learned, much to my surprise, that the drummer of the band was responsible for writing the lyrics! That could explain a lot! And yet, Neil Peart (pronounced “peert”) is potentially the least drummer-like drummer there is. When reading about his personal life, I learned that not only does he drum for a rock band and write lyrics, he writes books, rides motorcycles, drives fast cars, has introverted tendencies, and generally knows a lot about a lot. He’s probably the smartest drummer out there, and as I’ve said before, gives the Dos Equis guy a run for his money as the Most Interesting Man in the World.

I’m not a drummer, but I have a high amount of respect for Neil and look up to him as a musician. Why? He put it all out on stage. While touring with Rush, he played with an intensity for two or three hours, and at sixty-two years old! At the time, he’d been doing it for over forty years, almost non-stop. (He’s now enjoying a well-deserved retirement.) Some will disparage him for being too precise and calculated in his craft (and he might even disparage himself for that!), but I respect it. It shows dedication. He puts it all out because people paid to see him put it all out, and he holds himself to a higher work ethic than most.

He also knows what he wants in life. Since the late-80s, while touring with Rush, he traveled from concert to concert via bicycle or motorcycle, taking out-of-the-way routes across North America with his riding partners so he could escape the tour-bus lifestyle. He’s written about these and more riding adventures in many books, which are worth the read whether you love Rush, travel, philosophy, or all three.

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That brings us to philosophy. Neil has an interesting outlook on the world. He’s misanthropic yet sympathetic, epicurean yet modest, public yet private. He’s very much a realist, yet also somewhat of an idealist. He lives in the moment and tries to squeeze the most he can out of every single day, whether that’s motorcycling through the Midwest, playing to a sold-out show in Chicago, or spending time with his wife and daughter. After losing his first wife and daughter within ten months of each other, he realizes that life, and where we find ourselves in life, is fleeting. As he wrote in “Tom Sawyer,” “He knows changes aren’t permanent / But change is.”

That brings us back around to his lyrics, and I promise I’ll stop gushing. If anyone has inspired me consistently since high school, it’s been Neil via his lyrics. I can relate to the “modern-day warrior… whose mind is not for rent” in “Tom Sawyer” and the boy with the “fawn-eyed girl with sun-browned legs [dancing] on the edge of his dreams” in “The Analog Kid”.

This brings me to a common theme of much of Rush’s music: dreams. That’s why I connect with Neil’s lyrics so much; they are about people pursuing their dreams, or looking for how they can make their lives better somehow. As he says in “Mission,” “A spirit with a vision is a dream with a mission.” In “Middletown Dreams,” “Dreams transport desires / Drive you when you’re down / Dreams transport the ones who need to get out of town.” And, on the flip-side of life in “Losing It,” one of the few songs that makes me tear up, “Some were born to move the world / To live their fantasies / But most of us just dream about / The things we’d like to be.”

Neil’s lyrics have given me hope at some really low points in my life. Many times they keep me pressing on, pressing toward my own dreams. That’s not something I can say about too many other songs or bands. I know others feel the same way.

So, Neil, thank you so much for inspiring thousands of us to keep our chins up, hopeful for the future. Thanks for being sort of a kindred spirit to me. I hope you have a very happy birthday, and may God bless you.

For the rest of us, let’s feast on the masterpiece that is “Subdivisions,” live from Dallas during the Clockwork Angels tour in 2013, complete with plenty of shots of Neil’s work on the drums and, of course, his lyrics that hit home. Headphones are required.

On Rush

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One weekday evening during my freshman year of high school, Dad was driving me to my guitar lesson in his ’99 Subaru Outback (undoubtedly one of the best vehicles I’ve ever ridden in, especially for its age). As usual, we tuned in to the local classic rock station, Lone Star 92.5 KZPS, to mutually enjoy the regular diet of music from the greats: Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the like.

A song came on the radio that I thought I had heard before but had never listened to closely. From the opening lyrics, I realized it was “Tom Sawyer” by this band called Rush.

I had heard songs by Rush before, but never thought any more or less of them than I might have thought of any other band that had its four or five hit singles from the “good ol’ days” rotated on the air. This time, though, was different.

As we drove on in the dark and the song played on, my ears started picking up things that intrigued my teenage brain: the overdriven-yet-clean guitar tone, the snarly bass that stood out in the mix, the complex drum fills, the “retro” synth sound, and the piercing-yet-palatable vocals. I fixated on a time change in the middle part of the song, realizing that tapping my foot in 4/4 time no longer locked me in with the rhythm that seemed to be dropping an eighth-note somewhere. I was enthralled with “Tom Sawyer” from beginning to end, and when we arrived at lessons, I told Brian, my guitar instructor, “I want to learn to play this song!”

So began my fascination with, appreciation for, and maybe (slight) obsession with this unique Canadian rock trio. I don’t consider myself a geek by any means, but the one thing I will “geek out” on is Rush.

I’m in good company, too. Watch the documentary Time Stand Still and you’ll see Rush super-fans who attend multiple concerts on every tour, some of whom have seen them over one-hundred times(!) over the past forty-plus years.

Rush is a band that can be a bit polarizing. This is reflected in their fans, who are easy to stereotype: white males who are (now) in their 50s and 60s, many of whom are or were considered “nerdy” or “uncool.” There’s also a joke that the only concert where men choose to use the women’s restroom because of a line out the door is at a Rush concert. Historically, music critics lived up to their job title when “reviewing” Rush (what do those snobs know, anyway?), and Rush’s music got less airplay than many other bands’ material because, especially early on, it wasn’t very “radio friendly” (someone should have told those disc jockeys that they could’ve taken a twenty-minute break during “2112”!).

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The Starman: not the band’s logo, per se, but surely a symbol that unites Rush fans and intrigues future fans. He represents the man against the masses, according to Neil. He also kinda reminds me of me when I get out of bed in the morning. And no, that’s not a pentagram. Artwork by Hugh Syme for the 2112 album (1976).

There’s no doubt that Rush is an acquired taste. While most bands wrote songs about sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll, Rush all but left that stage lyrically by 1976, just two years into their career, and began addressing such diverse subjects as philosophy, politics, mythology, science, science fiction, and relationships beyond carnality. Musically, their individual abilities on their respective instruments are outstanding and their ability to fuse their parts together into a greater whole is unparalleled. They pulled out any and all stops they wanted, evolving from a Led Zeppelin-influenced, straightforward rock band into an accessible progressive rock ensemble that sometimes bordered on heavy metal, with drum- and bass-driven rhythm flanked by permeating, ethereal guitar chords and solos, and complementary synth lines to boot. Their sound and style (both music and fashion) changed with the 80s to a much more synth-heavy sound and MTV-friendly song lengths, and then again with the 90s when they moved back towards good ol’ rock (and away from Miami Vice-style outfits). They wrote in atypical meters and weren’t afraid of time changes, but made it work and, not only that, made it sound good.

Perhaps that’s why they appealed so much to me back then, as a fifteen-year-old wannabe rock guitarist who also happened to like science fiction and was good at math. To paraphrase a lyric of theirs, I deviated from the norm, as they did.

A quick glance at the lineup is enlightening as to the band’s vibe of rugged individualism and independence. On guitar is Alex Lifeson, born Alexandar Zivojinovich (“son of life” is a transliteration of his Serbian surname), a son of immigrants from what was then Yugoslavia. On bass and vocals is Geddy Lee, born Gary Lee Weinrib, a son of Jewish immigrants who both survived the Holocaust. (“Geddy” is how his mother pronounced “Gary” with her thick accent, and it stuck.) On drums and also serving as the primary lyricist is Neil Peart (pronounced “peert”), and the fact that he both hits the skins and writes the lyrics says it all. (He could give Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World” a run for his money.) From what I’ve gathered as a fan, they were all the “uncool” kids growing up but found shared likes in music, interests in books, and a sense of humor, the latter permeating and pervading everything they touch, from album liner notes and tour booklets to on-screen skits and on-stage antics.

In short, the three were not the typical “cool dudes” who moved to New York or Los Angeles to start a rock group (though being from the Toronto area may have helped). Nor were they the typical band that put out a few good albums, then later went through personnel changes* or dissolved due to rubbing egos or “artistic differences” (yet gets back together years later for a “reunion tour” or five, minus a couple key members!). For forty years, save a four-year hiatus following Neil’s back-to-back losses of his daughter and wife, they wrote, recorded, and toured. They worked hard, they sold albums, and they sold out concert halls. Perhaps most importantly, they did it all their way, regardless of what the record company execs thought. It worked.

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Left to right: Geddy (“Dirk”), Neil (“Pratt” or “The Professor”), and Alex (“Lerxst”) circa 1979 recording Permanent Waves (released on Jan 1, 1980—the first 80s album!). Photograph by Fin Costello taken at Le Studio in Morin Heights, QC.

Rush taught me that rock music could be intelligent yet still fun. They taught me that rock lyrics didn’t have to be about sex and drugs, two things I as an adolescent Christian intended to avoid yet heard advocated in the music I liked. They also assured me, an insecure high school student trying to figure out who he was, that it was okay to “deviate from the norm.”

Perhaps most of all, they inspired me. As a guitarist, I tried to learn as many of Alex’s riffs and parts as I could, but never could achieve the touchstone tone and technique of “Limelight”. Recently, I “came out” as a bassist and started learning Geddy’s parts. I bought a Fender Jazz Bass in part because of the sound he gets out of his. (Mine’s not the Geddy Lee signature model, for those of you who know the difference.) I could, and still can, relate to many of the characters and situations that Neil illustrates in his lyrics, like the boys mentioned in “The Analog Kid” and “Middletown Dreams”. It was all of this and more, tightly-knit and packaged up, that left an indelible mark on me. I still get a thrill when I listen to “Tom Sawyer” (click the link to listen, and tell me you don’t wish to be in that cozy, warm studio), the song that started it all for me.

I could go on, but I realize not everyone shares my fandom. This was not intended to be a comprehensive history or description of a band; this was merely my attempt to do justice to the greatest band in the universe (though I know this doesn’t cut it). Alex, Geddy, and Neil are probably done, which means that Rush is also probably done, but what a great run they had.

Guys, if y’all happen to read this, from the bottom of my heart, thanks so much for the music!

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I hear their passionate music
Read the words
That touch my heart
I gaze at their feverish pictures
The secrets that set them apart

When I feel the powerful visions
Their fire has made alive
I wish I had that instinct —
I wish I had that drive

Spirits fly on dangerous missions
Imaginations on fire
Focused high on soaring ambitions
Consumed in a single desire

In the grip
Of a nameless possession —
A slave to the drive of obsession —
A spirit with a vision
Is a dream with a mission…

— “Mission”, Hold Your Fire (1987)

*John Rutsey played drums on Rush’s eponymous debut album in 1974, but left the band shortly after its release. Jeff Jones played bass with Rush in the very early days, and went on to have a career with the band Red Rider.