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Beforty | Drive

November 2017

It’s November, and the days are shorter again now that daylight savings time has ended. I’m in my car, driving the serpentine route between my office and my home. Outside, just beyond the passenger window and below, the Mohawk River snakes its way through the valley. Whereas a month ago the water reflected glimmers of orange and gold, now it is but a glistening, black stream flowing like ink off a page. With my window down, the cold air rushes in and swirls about the cabin, and I think to myself, even in this dark... Even with this chill... I love this drive.

I’m a month into my thirty-ninth year. The weight of approaching forty that I felt on my birthday last month seems to have lifted, even if only slightly. Still, it's like I can’t seem to escape the constant reminders of time gone by. This month, one of my favorite bands from my teenage years released a 25th anniversary edition of the first CD I ever purchased for myself. The band is REM, and the record was Automatic for the People.

I've had this 25th anniversary re-issue edition of Automatic on steady repeat every time I've gotten in the car or jammed an earbud in my ear while heading out for a run lately. Each time, the first track on the record, Drive, plays like an opening theme song from my teenage years. The signature, solitary guitar chords break the silence moments after pressing play. Then, a series of simple lyrics - words that are more spoken than sung - begin to fill the void:

Smack, crack, bushwhacked...
Tie another one to the rack, baby.

I remember the political landscape of the early nineties; an always-on dimension of our adult lives that I was just beginning to understand as an adolescent. Those simple words of Drive in the opening line, inextricably linked to my earliest awareness of the rising gun violence, the War on Drugs and the Bush-Clinton election of 1992. A key message of the song itself was to get out and vote. Rock the Vote, actually, like the ads said to do on MTV.  I couldn't yet, because I was only fourteen, but I wanted so badly to make a difference somehow. I thought, then, just by listening to music like this, I was somehow doing just that. The song plays on:

Hey, kids, rock and roll...
Nobody tells you where to go, baby.

"Nobody tells you where to go, baby" is unquestionably my favorite line on the whole record. It still resonates. Listening to Drive, now, twenty-five years on, is like having one foot each in two time zones. When you’re a teenager, you think you can take on the world (at least, I did). For some of us, that drive never tapers away. College, early career, marriage, kids... And now I'm almost forty. Awkward like a dad, at times, but still a fighter. Driven by passion, a bit of rebellion, and the ceaseless resolve to do the right thing... Always, no matter the consequences. Refusing to be bushwhacked and, if I'm honest, forgetting I was supposed to grow up. Forgetting, sometimes, that I'm in a different place now. But isn't that the key to staying young? Charting a moral course early on in life and sticking to it? Because I feel like I need it now, in this crazy world of 2017, more than ever. After all, nobody tells you where to go, baby.

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