Singing with iPods in Zipcars
I rarely drive for pleasure any more. I haven’t owned a car in several years; Seattle doesn’t really demand that you own one, so I dumped my Mercedes in 2005. When I do get behind the wheel, usually thanks to the hourly car-sharing service Zipcar, it’s mostly for business: shopping, errands, picking my girlfriend up from her office on rainy days. It’s a real contrast with the way I was back when I lived in Las Vegas, and before that, Southern California — sprawling places with wide, scenic and usually heavily congested highways. Back then, I’d go for long drives to think, or to stop thinking.
Sometimes, I’d even sing.
My singing voice isn’t great, but it can hold a tune. And I love to do it. Growing up in the suburbs of Orange County, CA., it was almost an act of rebellion: My friend Matthew and I would wander around the neighborhood late at night with a boombox and we’d sing along with it at the top of our lungs. We sang The Waterboys’ “A Girl Called Johnny,” we sang U2’s “A Sort of Homecoming,” we sang Echo and the Bunnymen’s “Silver.” It was a way of coughing out our souls, I suppose — we weren’t poets (well, Matthew was) and we weren’t criminals (not convicted, in any case), so we sang along with a boombox in hopes of putting some color on that blank suburban canvas; in hopes of carving ourselves into it. Seriously, there wasn’t a hell of a lot else for two geeks to do in Mission Viejo. We didn’t play tennis.
Last week, I needed a car to pick up an eight-pound bag of prescription food for the cats. That took me all of ten minutes, leaving another fifty minutes of Zipcar time to do something. I briefly considered running more errands, but then I did something strange: I pulled out of the parking lot of Ballard Animal Hospital and onto Leary, and drove it south until it became 35th. Then I continued on through Fremont, over the Fremont Bridge, and onto Dexter. I skirted Queen Anne, sailed past Seattle Center — the Space Needle was still there; it hasn’t taken off yet — and into downtown Seattle.
While I drove, I listened to a Genius mix on the iPod — one I’d built on The Jam’s “In The City.” As you’d expect, it pulled all the earnest 1980s pop and rock out of my collection: Simple Minds’ “Waterfront,” Style Council’s “You’re The Best Thing,” Elvis Costello’s “I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down.” (It also grabbed songs by Blur and Kasabian, because why not.) Sometimes I noticed the songs and sometimes I didn’t. Mostly, I was caught up in the experience of driving for no reason at all, and for a few minutes, I felt like a kid stalking the suburbs.
I drove north on Elliot to 15th, and 15th back across the Ballard Bridge. I had fifteen minutes left on the car, but I felt satisfied by that short drive and was ready to return the Zipcar back to its spot for the next person running errands. Then, the iPod brought up Big Country’s “Fields of Fire” — and suddenly, without warning to myself or others, I began to sing. I really sang, at the top of my lungs —
Between the woman and the boy, between the child and his toy
— and at that moment, I wished harder than anything that I could be with my friend Matthew, singing full-volume for an audience of whoever. And instead of returning the car, I piloted it towards Shilshole Marina, singing all the while — The Replacements’ “Bastards of Young,” The Verve’s “Sonnet,” Blur’s “The Universal.” I sang as if I needed to do it to make the car go. I sang as if were in a pub with three pints of courage and foolishness in my belly. And it felt so very good.
Then I returned the car, and that’s it; that’s all there is to the story and all there was to my “concert.” Every song ends, no matter how great it is. But there’s always another one of your favorite songs in the rotation, waiting to stir your feelings — and now that I’ve rediscovered the joys of dueting with a car stereo, there’s no telling where my singing career will go. Maybe I’ll even book a tour through Orange County.