I was running the other day—disobeying myself since I’m taking a short hiatus from running, but I promised myself “just a quick mile.” Of course it’s never quick or a mile. Somewhere around mile five a song kicked in. Not even sure how it made my playlist, because it’s certainly not a running song. But every time I hear it, it takes me back to another world.
I remember the first time I heard it—heard, not just listened. I really heard the words.
I was in the North End of Hartford near the “Wayless Convenience Store.” I loved that name. I wasn’t sure if the prices were lower, the layout was bad, whether they had an unfriendly staff, or perhaps it was inconvenient to get shot shortcutting through that particular neighborhood–dangerous at the time–rather than investing the time to go all the way around.
It was the kind of neighborhood I frequented often working on the road—complete with noodle shops, Jamaican food, gang members with Rottweilers, gunshots popping off in the distance. I’d give an upward nod to the Blue Guys and Red Guys on their respective corners; half were in wheelchairs because they succumbed to violence–Hartford was tough at the time. They probably didn’t have the money to go to Good Guy Shooting School. Only good guys shoot straight—I know this from watching Walker, Texas Ranger. Bad guys can’t hit the side of a barn with a 50 caliber at point-blank range. That’s why I was never particularly terrified at shots in the distance. I just imagined they were firecrackers.
I would walk the block or two rather than drive my branded corporate Ford into the neighborhoods. No one responded well to branded corporate Fords, though a young-looking white girl with a clipboard seemed too out-of-place to shoot. A curiosity. Everyone always asked me if I was a social worker. Or a cop.
I’d say, “No. Insurance. I need Mr. So-and-So to make sure he’s okay. And bring him a check.” That was invariably the start of a fine relationship. If I tried to speak in the language at hand–even better. I met a lot of good people that way. No one really wants to live in a tough neighborhood–the neighborhood where the bus routes keep you in and keep the Other Half politely away so they don’t have to see how people must live to survive–they can eat dinner peacefully in front of the news and speculate about the need for welfare reform. The neighborhood with the school with the leaky roof that no one cares to fix where teachers don’t really want to teach if they can possibly get a job at the Other School. The project doors that never close right–it’s 120 degrees in the summer and 150 in the winter, because the heat cranks high as you put it, even with the windows cracked and the doors half-open. They’d like to be somewhere else, too. They’re pretending the gunshots are fireworks just the same as me.
But that was the setting when I heard that song. It came on WHCN out of Hartford, one of our last indie radio stations at the time, which we loved because we’d blow out of our new corporate careers on a Friday and go to Hawaiian Shirt Friday, my friend and I. I had a crush on the DJ. He liked my friend. That’s generally the way things worked through most of my teens and twenties. It’s all water under the bridge now. We had fun.
The song came on. I listened. And when I hear it now, it still stays a while.
The beauty of that song, the simplicity. The words. They remind me every time that the only thing that matters is love, simplicity, honesty, truth. That a lot of our problems are of our own manufacture. Relationship problems, business problems, problems with life–Skynyrd says it well, “Troubles will come–they will pass.”
Funny–these reminders come in every shape, size, and form. A butterfly. A friend’s book. A conversation. A Pad Thai dinner. A single word email. And sometimes, when you least expect it, even a Southern Rock band.