The Last Ride

More than 32 years after my very first ride in the Pontiac, our last drive together is now in the books. With the LeMans currently listed for sale, I’ll be shifting my focus toward future road trips and launch the search for the vehicle that will be making those journeys. (Of course, there are still plenty of old Pontiac photos and video clips in storage that will pop up occasionally as I unearth them…maybe even a story or two that has yet to be told.)

Music would play a big role in this final cruise, as it always does when I’m in the LeMans, so I thought of the tracks I had to hear one last time from this particular seat. I have previously written about the artists and genres that enhance—and are enhanced by—driving on prairie roads under a big sky. That applies closer to home as well. In fact, on most of my sunrise and sunset excursions along the farm roads in my home county, this vehicle is essentially a rolling jukebox, and the day’s drive is really just an excuse to enjoy some of my favorite songs in the best possible setting. I’ve listened to far more music while riding in the Pontiac than I have in my everyday vehicle or inside my home.

Rolling across scenic North Dakota

(If the video above does not display, follow this link to YouTube.)

Once I had gathered about 30 or so of my favorite driving songs, I hit the road late in the afternoon. Good driving weather on this day, with high thin clouds in the west, a crescent moon to the south, and clear skies in the east. In the end, I rode for more than three hours and logged over 100 miles on this grand finale.

The Cowboy Junkies have released plenty of music over the years that pairs so well with a drive on lonely country roads. I played their version of the Allen Reynolds song, “Dreaming My Dreams With You,” which features a chorus that seemed especially appropriate for the occasion…

Someday I’ll get over you
I’ll live to see it all through
But I’ll always miss
Dreaming my dreams with you

Once the sun went down, it was time for a track that is steeped in reverb, and has always been, for me, the ultimate prairie night-driving song: “Once Upon a Time in the West,” the opening track from the second album by Dire Straits. This one sounds great when played loud enough to fill sky around you. And once is never enough; when I do ride at night, I usually play it three or more times.

What to choose as the very last song I would ever hear in the Pontiac? I had to think about that for a moment, but the answer came to me faster than expected and with no room for uncertainty: “Lenny,” the beautiful instrumental track that Stevie Ray Vaughan wrote for his wife, Lenora, and which closes out his 1983 debut album, Texas Flood. Few tunes scream “coda” as perfectly as this track does, but there’s another reason—one that dates back 32 years—why this choice worked so well for my last moments in the LeMans.

When we started out on that first cross-country journey in 1990, it had only been a couple of weeks since Stevie’s tragic death. Even before that event, I had planned to stop for a few days in Austin, Texas to visit my friends there. The city was certainly humming when I arrived that September, and we took in a lot of live music downtown. Before I left, my friend suggested that I dub his SRV CDs so I could enjoy them on my long drive ahead. With a fresh pack of blank TDK 90-minute cassette tapes, I did just that, as well as copying some of his other albums by Texas guitarists that were new to me. Continuing westward and leaving my friends and Austin behind, I enjoyed my very first miles of driving a car through a wide open landscape. And it was there, rolling along US Highway 190 in the vast emptiness of western Texas, with Texas Flood playing on the stereo, that I first felt the incredible power of those four key ingredients working together—a convertible, a big sky, a lonely road, and great music.

US 190 in Texas

Over the years, I have listened to these wonderful tunes inside my home, as well as in sedans and other mundane vehicles. Trying to compare those musical moments to my experiences in the LeMans is definitely an “apples & oranges” scenario. Having an unobstructed view of the surrounding sky as you roll down the road makes all the difference in the world when hearing these songs. Without a doubt, the hardest thing about letting go of the Pontiac, the hardest thing about living without a convertible, is the realization that listening to some of my favorite pieces of music will never be as fulfilling.

Thanks for the ride.


3 thoughts on “The Last Ride

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