I will admit, I am a bit biased toward the cities of Northern America. It does not keep me from visiting the South, and I have found simply endearing places down there, but the whole flavor of the cities is different from back home. Major cities are full of residential zones, wide streets of neighborhoods instead of the tight clusters of combined-use areas one might see in Boston or New York. Public transit and walking are both rarely useful options due to the sheer sprawl. But more than anything, for me, there is a lack of the quirky. Cities seem to be more utilitarian, and people are more traditional. This isn’t inherently bad, but it’s different from my own preferences and surroundings. I need something a bit out of the ordinary, and sometimes my travels below the Mason-Dixon, while being wonderful for providing me with a much needed jolt out of my routine, can lack that spark that I love about the cities I call home.
So it was when I woke up in a charming hostel in Memphis, and got ready to meet a friend at the nearby farmers’ market. After a long day of waiting for the rare bus to take me through what felt more like suburbs the day before, I was looking forward to finally getting into downtown that night and at least seeing the iconic Beale St. As I walked out and turned the corner toward the market, I noticed an old car with a rocking horse bolted to its roof. “The Pony Express,” it read. It was one of those tiny little moments you can’t seek out. Where would you even start? A thousand unique shops or old buildings or natural wonders hunted down can’t equal the moment you stumble over something totally unexpected that can’t just be replicated on another trip. I took photos. Imagine my joy when I realized I was getting my ride back uptown in the same vehicle. Yes, it was joy, don’t question me.
It was in this mobile performance art where the crunchy groove of this song first assaulted me, and I still would argue that it was made to be heard at full volume through older speakers. The glitchy intro, vocals stuttering into life under a stomping single chord, filled the metal husk of the car, becoming a part of its lifeblood. Suddenly the same empty roads felt like they were made for that sort of cruising, because good people and good music paint any city, town, or neighborhood in its best colors. It’s a reaffirmation of a philosophy that has served me well even in my most cynical moments, and even a song you’ve never heard can be that catalyst.
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