Back in the day, there used to be a goofy song we sang on road trips as college kids, went like this:
Well, I don't care if it rains or freezes,
Long as I have my plastic Jesus,
Riding on the dashboard of my car,
Through all trials and tribulations,
We will travel every nation,
With my plastic Jesus I'll go far.
Times have changed some but replace the plastic Jesus with plastic discs with stories embedded in them and you have Audio Books. These days, if I have more than four hours of road time looming, I head to my library for an audio fix. I load my car’s CD player with disc 1 of an audio book and I’m ready for anything the road fates throw my way.
My first fix happened innocently enough a few years ago. My neighbor tossed an audio book, titled “Little Green Men,” written by Christopher Buckley into the front seat as I was about to make several round trips to Westport, MA. “It’s a little quirky, give it some time and I think you’ll love it,” he said.
I was a little dubious. My usual company in the car is NPR or a music CD. Before pulling out of my garage, I sift through a pile of CDs piled behind the driver’s seat, pick two or three that match my mood, and head for the open road.
I can tell what my emotional state is by looking at my choices. Is it going to be a reflective hour or two in which I just let my mind loose to ruminate – the soundtrack being the muffled sound of air over-cresting the Mercedes’s hood at 70 mph, or a rowdy romp with honky-tonk, zydeco, rock ‘n roll, or classic Tony or Frank. No matter what the choice, it is restorative. Now, if I’m going to be on the road for a long ride, Audio Books rule.
“Little Green Men” appeared to be an outlandish, a not so subtle science fiction sending up Washington politics. Before long, it turned into a really funny satire that laid into beltway politics, the media, the Space Program, UFO maniacs and the Establishment. By the end of the story, I was hooked on audio books.
These days, I don’t even think about beginning a long road trip before making a short one to the library. Those CDs can take between 8 and 10 hours to complete. It would take about a month of trips to the market, health club, music clubs and diners to finish a story. I need to settle in for a few hours at a clip.
With a book in the CD bay, my outlook on travel has been altered. Traffic jams? No problem. I get to listen to a few more chapters. Siri sends me down the wrong road? Same. When I really get into a story, I get an urge to visit my friends in Pennsylvania.
Downsides? Getting back home with an hour or two left when the story is really popping is exasperating. I make up errands lists and take the long way to the destination. I actually slow down and stop when a traffic light turns yellow (a tactic unknown to Boston drivers). I sit in my garage an extra few minutes waiting for a chapter to complete. A mysterious code of conduct overrides any thought of bringing the CD inside. The car and the CDs are peanut butter and jam, natural partners in pleasure. Listening on board is a fabulous use of time. There are no distractions, no refrigerator to raid, no emails to send, no laundry to put in the dryer. Just pay outward attention to the road and let my inner mind loose as the scenery whizzes by.
A good reader can make a good story great. His voice (and the books I’ve listened to are 95% read by men) is usually an eerie match for the book’s main character. He can subtly vary his tone/accent/pitch to portray other characters. I begin to get a physical concept of the characters by the way the reader casts them. When I read a series by a particular author, I look forward to hearing that familiar voice again.
Crime mystery/adventure stories are my current faves. I’ve led an alternate life as LA defense attorney Mickey Haller or LAPD detective Hieronymus Bosch in Michael Connelly’s series; as Alex Cross, Washington, D.C. psychiatrist, detective, sometimes FBI special agent in the James Patterson series; and Jack Reacher in Lee Childs series Reacher series. Dick Hill is the perfect gravelly voiced reader for this series. He embodies the essence of Reacher’s center of gravity.
Revealed book by book, all these guys have back-stories - and flaws - fragile family connections, romantic interests past and present, and opinions about life, the way is and the way it ought to be. They are men I’d like to know, hell, they're men I’d like to BE.
A two-hour trip still takes two hours but the time seems to pass faster, in another dimension, fiction-enabled warp speed. But fair warning... once you find an audio book that tickles your fancy, you may not want to head for the open road without one sitting on the dashboard of your car.