After seeing all the excitement around the lunatic transcontinental driving record on Monday, I was reminded of a much slower (yet still a red-eyed marathon in its own way), much more low-tech circumnavigation of the United States I did with a friend back in 1995. Instead of a BMW, we had his beater '88 Toyota pickup. More to the point, I was reminded of the mix tape- yes, tape, well into the CD Era- that became the soundtrack for our journey. So, inspired by the Loverman's Ten Best Driving Albums Of All Time (and your insightful additions to his picks), here's the Legend of the Orange Tape.
Remember these things? My friend (and future brother-in-law) Jim and I lived in San Francisco at the time, and a CD player in one's vehicle becomes a crucial part of the [rock-through-window + prybar on dash = exchange CD player for 20 minutes worth of crack high at UN Plaza] equation.
So if you want tunes in your SF car, you want a crappy, not-worth-stealing junkyard cassette deck, in this case a mid-80s Subaru separate-radio-and-cassette combo, with a high-tech plywood mounting system. So, in April of '95, each of us found ourselves with a few weeks between jobs and friends all over the country we hadn't visited for a long time. So we figured we'd just drive to see them and see the country- mostly from secondary highways- in between visits.
Here's the obligatory "Standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona" photograph... I wonder how many of these have been shot over the years? But getting ahead of my story here... our destination cities were Minneapolis, Chicago, Indianapolis, New York City, Chapel Hill, and Atlanta, and if we decided to crash out between cities we'd just set up tents and build a fire at a campground. It worked great- we had a complete set of cooking gear, so there was never any need to eat fast food, and even the stretch where we drove nonstop all the way across the widest part of Texas was low-stress (although driving across Oklahoma the day after the OKC Federal Building bombing, at a time when the suspects were being announced as "two white men in a pickup truck," was a nail-biter, and before that we had an unfortunate incident with the South Dakota Highway Patrol that involved a lengthy search by lawmen convinced California plates = guns and drugs in the vehicle- they were so sure we were packing 100 pounds of Black Tar and a 20mm antiaircraft cannon that they put us in the Crown Vic's back seat immediately. Imagine their disappointment when we turned out to be clean!).
Here's the truck as it looks today: 250,000 miles and has never required a serious repair. It's still on the original clutch. Say what you will about Toyota's contribution to the Boredom Era of forgettable automotive design, but their 80s pickups may be the most reliable vehicles ever manufactured.
Right. So, the tape. Prior to the trip, I made about ten 90-minute mix tapes, each with the same label design and color-coded according to its intended purpose. For example, the Red Tape was to be played when we were getting tired 18 hours into a stretch of driving; it started with Faith No More's "Surprise! You're Dead," then went to Oingo Boingo's "Cry of the Vatos" and Fear's "Let's Have A War." The Blue Tape was, of course, entirely scratchy 1930s country blues with Death Row, hookworms, and sharecropper's shacks as the subject matter. The Gray Tape was all Tom Waits. And so on. Each tape had artwork featuring my '65 Impala driving into a nuclear sunset, done in my early Photoshop days and printed on a dot-matrix printer (a what?).
The Orange Tape, however, ended up being what we listened to most of the time, and we started writing the date we entered each new state on the back side of its label. It was intended to be sort of the all-purpose tape, not too nerve-wracking yet also non-soporific, with a semi-road-trippy theme (hence "Radar Love" and "Back In The USA," "On The Road Again" etc.). At each stop, we'd play the Orange Tape for our friends and they'd demand a copy. Since then, the Legend of the Orange Tape has spread in our social circles; I still get requests to burn CDs with these songs. They're not the greatest songs ever recorded (although I do think that the Sister Double Happiness song might belong on that list), I've outgrown some of them since I made the tape, and they don't exactly paint us as super-hip connoisseurs of edgy music. But they work great for serious long-distance driving.
Duane Eddy- 40 Miles of Bad Road
Bo Diddley- Aztec
Sly & Robbie- Assault On Station 5
Massive Attack- Five Man Army
Wall of Voodoo- Ring of Fire
Ween- Can't Put My Finger On It
David Byrne & Brian Eno- Regiment
MC 500 Foot Jesus- Falling Elevators
Golden Earring- Radar Love
Dr. John- I Been Hoodoo'd
Yesca (Cheech & Chong)- Completely Lost Due To Incompetence
The Residents- Birds In The Trees
Jimmy Smith- Fungii Mama
Vince Guaraldi- Linus & Lucy
Third World- Love Is Out To Get You
Beastie Boys- High Plains Drifter
Mountain- Mississippi Queen
Sister Double Happiness- Wheels A Spinnin'
Dag- Sweet Little Lass
Burning Sensations- Pablo Picasso
Canned Heat- On The Road Again
Chuck Berry- Back In The USA
Bo Diddley- Who Do You Love (version from "La Bamba" soundtrack)
Neil Young- Home On The Range