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The Summer of Dwight Yoakum and Janis Joplin

 I don't know about you, but pinning down the year something happened when I was a kid can be tricky for me sometimes. Take for instance the summer I went to California with my dad. In my memory I was about 13 years old. But one of the things I remember about that trip was that we picked up a copy of Dwight Yoakum's Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. Etc. and Janis Joplin's Greatest Hits at the beginning of the trip. That Dwight album came out in August of 1986, which would have been too late in that year for the trip to have taken place as I would have about to go back to school. But even if it was the summer of 1987, I would have been 11. My dad was a truck driver, and I spent many summers riding the roads of America with him. This particular trip stands out, even if the timing is a bit fuzzy.

Dad and I did not have very similar taste in music at that time. He liked country music, the cornier the better, and I was into hard rock and heavy metal. So when we agreed on music it was a big deal. When we were leaving out on that trip to California we were in line at the truck stop and I was looking through the tapes. I found the Janis Joplin tape first. I had heard Piece Of My Heart on the radio earlier that summer, and decided to give it a shot. I had picked up the Dwight Yoakum and looked at it and was about to put it back. My dad glanced over and said he had heard that that was a really good album. The tapes were on sale cheap, so I decided to give it a chance as well. So I purchased the two tapes and off we went. 

Now we didn't only listen to those tapes the whole week and a half, but the bulk of the time one or the other of them was playing. We spent many a mile listening to either Janis screeching out Move Over or Get It While You Can, or Dwight's nasal twang on Honky Tonk Man and It Won't Hurt. We would take the occasional break to listen to some local radio, but it wouldn't be long before one or the other tape was back in the deck. 

That trip I got to spend some time unloading seafood into a big restaurant in Kansas City. I loaded potatoes in a field on the California Mexico border. I saw L.A. but we mostly skirted it. We went to Folsom Prison, site of the famous Johnny Cash recordings, but they x-rayed the truck and spotted me in the sleeper. They made dad drop me off at a gas station down the road. So there I was, somewhere between the age of 11 and 13, alone at a gas station over 1,000 miles away from home. That would have been scary, except that something much scarier had already happened.

We were driving through the desert. I guess my dad had miscalculated how much gas he had. But out in the middle of the desert in the middle of the afternoon, we ran out of gas. There was no traffic. There were no signs of humanity in sight. We didn't know how long we would be stuck there.We didn't know how far we were from the next town. We decided to wait until night so it cooled down and then try to walk to the next town. Luckily it was only about an hour before another truck came along. He gave us a ride to a truck stop down the road, where dad was able to get enough diesel to get the truck started and get us to the truck stop in the truck. After being stranded in the desert, a few hours at a gas station on the other side of the country didn't seem like that big a deal. I just drank a soda and read magazines until dad came back to get me.

I have a lot of great memories from being on the road with dad, from that trip and from others. I saw my first naked woman in realm life when a car pulled up alongside us. It was a convertible and there was a girl in the back seat, stark naked and putting on a show for us. I was offered freebies by hookers in New Mexico and Florida, but my dad did not let me accept. I bought my first Heavy Metal magazine at a convenience store on the Canada border, and my vinyl copy of Deep Purple's Machine Head at a flea market in Minnesota. But of all my memories, the ones that make me the happiest are me and dad singing along to Dwight and Janis at 3 in the morning barreling down some highway in the middle of nowhere.


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