It's an outrageously gorgeous August afternoon, one part spring, one part fall. I'm in my car listening to one of the coolest driving tunes, "Jeepster" by T. Rex, but I'm not moving. As Marc Bolan sings, "Just like a car you're pleasing to behold," I look to my right and to my left and there are cars everywhere, which is not pleasing to behold, but is the reality on I-95, no matter the time of day.
I drive a lot, which wouldn't be so bad if driving in Fairfield County wasn't "Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior" meets the Wild, Wild West and Nightmare on Driving Street. Running red lights and stop signs is commonplace, turn signals are rarely used, and no matter how fast you're going, there will be someone tailgating you.
Courtesy on the road, except on rare occasions, is a thing of the past; discourteous behavior in general is everywhere. The road warrior mentality is rampant; the driving mantra has become: "We don't need no stinking road rules."
I'm pretty sure I got my love of driving gene from my dad. Driving was his favorite form of relaxation. He especially loved our Sunday -- his one day off -- family drives to wherever the road took us in Westchester or Connecticut. It was a great opportunity to explore new places; he had this uncanny knack to always find a diner, drive-in or dive that served tasty comfort food. I looked forward to those trips all week -- often daydreaming about when I would be driving -- and remember them fondly.
Nothing beats driving down an open road and -- depending on my mood -- blasting the Rolling Stones, Allman Brothers, Neil Young, Pink Floyd, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Alejandro Escovedo, Television or Gov't Mule or mellowing out with Miles, Coltrane, Sonny Rollins or Frank Morgan.
Over the years, I've enjoyed driving on the opposite side of the road in Ireland, where a highway can suddenly turn into a narrow country road with a tour bus barreling towards you, on roads with nonstop hairpin turns on the Island of Ibiza, through the French countryside and the breathtakingly beautiful Pacific Coast Highway.
Stuck in the I-95 parking lot and not feeling any love of driving, I'm singing along with T. Rex, "Oh girl, I'm just a Jeepster for your love," and think back to my family's recent vacation in San Francisco, when the furthest thing from my mind was driving.
San Francisco, like the Bronx where I grew up, is a public transportation-based place. The Lexington Ave. No. 6 line was my connection to Greenwich Village -- my home away from home -- and the incredible music being played in clubs like the Cafe Au Go Go, coffee houses and the Fillmore East. The F streetcar and No. 71 bus was our connection to North Beach, Haight Ashbury and the Mission District in San Francisco. Besides being a great way to get around the city, riding the streetcars, cable cars, buses and the BART affords you the opportunity to bump into all kinds of people.
And bump into people we did. Let me share two favorites moments.
Speaking with the young couple who had just come from the very cool Amoeba Music Store on Haight Street -- it stocks upwards of 100,000 CDs, vinyl and audio cassettes, both new and used -- on the No. 71 bus. She was checking out the "Best of War & More" CD she had just purchased.
We got into a great conversation about the band and independent record stores. When I said I had seen War play at the Marquee Club in London, I got a "cool dude" response. Anyplace is a good place to talk music with fellow music lovers.
Then there was the gentleman with the cane and the San Francisco Giants baseball cap who got on the F street car and immediately said to a woman sitting up front, "Hey, Curly, get up." She kept staring straight ahead. I whispered to my wife that this could be the start of an incident, as the woman's boyfriend had an angry look.
"Sorry, Curly, I don't know your name, but didn't you see the sign that says reserved for seniors and handicapped people."
She finally got up. As he took her seat, he looked toward me and said, "Hey, Smiley." I let him know I was smiling at what just happened and was a Giants fan. I told him my name and suggested he give every one else on the streetcar a nickname. He smiled back, so I said I was passing the "Smiley" mantle to him, which got a hearty laugh. We talked until he got off the streetcar. A moment I won't forget, two strangers bonding over smiles and the San Francisco Giants in the City by the Bay.
Barry Halpin can be reached at email@example.com.