Baltimore to Morristown, TN.

Sitting in Baltimore-Washington Airport, with the sun behind me and CNN broadcasting the Mideast Summit.  Hopes high, I turn to the pages…maybe some change will come of this at last. It’s been a day of changes; the war’s major operations deemed “over” while the mission is not truly accomplished…the war goes on in other nations, yet we speak not of our own.

The daily battle of the poor to survive in this country, let alone others, is not spoken. How many more have to die, how many dreams trod over before we turn truly to the bettering of our nation? To not just selling the dream of public education and higher degrees, but to building, to farming, to making do with what one has til it is too worn to fix before discarding it? We live in a country of waste, of refuse, things which have value refused to be reused, plastic-wrapped everything in the name of sanitary measures, while bedbugs fill the homes of 70% of New Yorkers and we are told there is no solution. DDT now, I say half-jokingly, but then I think back to my Rachel Carson…there’s only one solution for bedbugs, and it would work…but will the birds die? Will their shells weaken? The oil burdens the bottom of the sea, and I am told the shrimp have found the kind side of the oxygen-robbed waters inland in Louisiana, but what have we done? What will we do? For our own, for our children, for our future. For the preservation of hope.

We are a country of hope, of second chances. In every other nation your life is spelled out for you before you are born. Even in the most depressed factory-run and now closed town, the most backwater gay-hating enclave, the most psychotic trailer park in the path of a tornado, the prison cell, or the beaten abuse in the luxury highrise, you can leave. You can escape. You can take stock of yourself and your options and be reinvented, reborn. At least in theory. This country is broad, open, and there’s a reason that philanthropists and murderers, robbers and saints, precious daughters and sons all, have emerged and made themselves who they are here.

The British defeated their class society, or so we’ve been told. Here, we have the workers, the merchants, the thinkers, the doers, the drones. Here everyone can stand out, though, above the rest, or choose to stand proud and silent and admire the work of their hands. My friend R___ in England was given a test in school at age 17, and because of his result, was told his dreams, the progression he wanted to make, would not be fulfilled and was forced to choose another path. I was almost thrown out of school at age 17 for being a fuckwit, a dropout, a stoner, loner loser. But my mother would have none of it, and while the school tried its best to throw me into a vocational program with no hope of higher education, to have me off their hands, her fight prevailed and I stayed in high school. Somewhere along the line I figured out I loved to learn. And learn I eventually did. But how lucky am I, was I, to have that, that support, people who believed in me behind me. And so many days I go through not realizing that, and so many days I do.

How many others like me are there, but who don’t have what I was lucky enough to have on my side to help me realize my own worth? Children without supportive parents, children with hope and dream inside them who aren’t told, “You can do anything you want…” Who wind up drunk, or dead, or fathers and mothers too soon, with few prospects ahead of them, few ways out, and repeat all of their past mistakes. Or are poisoned by cheap food, bad water and the sad reality of being a cog in hard-life labor.

When this country can take stock of our own children, and give them the support they need—when we can teach parents that their children have worth, no matter how dull or sharp they may be—when we can tell children that the work of their hands is more valuable than any golden reward on celebrity tv, when the man holding the scythe at the end of a two-lane road is given the same respect as a banker holding his briefcase—perhaps then we should meddle in the affairs of others. If we do not better ourselves, our children’s future—if we don’t give them clean food, water, clothing, the hope of anything but a service-based society, love support—what right have we to police the world? If the next generation can stand up and say, “We’re learning,” won’t that give more to the world than any peace summit?

Sigh.

Later…

Back in Tennessee with Worley. He picked me up in Nashville on Weds night…I’d changed my flight to come in late, he’d got caught up on the interstate, that old story. So it worked out fine. The best part about the second flight from Baltimore, besides the killer leather seats on Southwest, was the mom and daughter who wound up sitting next to me. It was her first flight, so I gave her the window seat, which tickled her…her name was Natalie, and her little sheep doll she carried was named Baby. Natalie is 11 years old, and was so excited, asking me questions about how the plane flew, how far up we were…I might have changed my mind about wanting only boy children when the time comes. She was so adorable. Had a marvelous conversation with her mom, Nadine, and got into Tennessee mentally refreshed.

Jon arrived right as I landed. Got into the van and he handed me a plan. We headed out to the Five Spot by way of his pal Joel’s house…went in for a spell as those two had some business to attend to, then I got a call from Edwardville Ellen’s friend Rob, who is a Nashville songwriter. Now, I’d posted that I was plakying at a jam at the Five Spot. Now, I thought that meanth Worley had a cooked up a conglomeration of fellow travelers and we were going to let it all hang out. It actually was a bluegrass jam.

Most jams of this kind I’ve been to focus on one group or collection of musicians at a very definite skill level, and those who are not in that level who might be playing are students, or friends. This was seriously amazing…a completely open bluegrass jam, welcoming to those unfamiliar…with about 65 people milling about, and several circles defined in chairs, and others by the the bar, twanging like crazy.

Worley at first had suggested we take our electric instruments and hijack it, befor ewe arrived. We nixed that..upon arriving, Rob suggested we move to a different venue. Worley went out back with his pals, and I started pickin in the corner.

I jammed along with a group from a distance, then went out back and promptly went into a jam of “John Hardy’s Blues” with Squirrel, a local banjist, Jon, Rob and some others. Then Rob and I jammed a bit alone, then others came back in. Worley then beckoned me to a newly formed circle of musicians further out in the parking lot. It was then that I realized that bluegrass really has its own set of relatively simple rules…everyone plays in A mostly, sometimes D, C and G…watching the others’ hands I was humbled…mostly stayed back and picked along. There was this girl named Mariko who played a 1947 Miartin D-28, so fluidly and well…kept apologizing for her shoddy technique and then blew triple time out of the water, Doc Watson style.  I was amazed, jammed for a good long time.

At the end of it all we’d had a new collection of friends, and a new perspective in Nashville. This wasn’t just country kids, or studio hotshots, or commercially-seeking songwriters…this was real live music, dangerous, giving, relieving. All walks. What a fun night…

3 hours later, it was well past closing, and we left with some new friends in tow, and hit the Hermitage diner (can’t remember the name). Eggs and bacon were $3.00, our waitress had some good sass, and we sat there and shot the shit til near 5, then parked the van and passed out in our pal’s driveway.

On the road back to Knoxville, we hit a Baptist BBQ joint, with a beautiful Bible in the foyer…Jon found a verse from the book of Jeremiah. Reading the beautiful, probably 100-year-old leatherbound pages, I realized it had prosodic marks over the letters of my name, leaving a most interesting pronunciation in Hebraized English, which would be: JEHR-a MEE-yah. Or with a Hebrew bent, YEAR-a-MEE-yah.  Which is closer to the Latin and Romance translations of my name, especially French…With the little “a” after the first syllable barely pronounced, just a flip lil grace note.

Now, most modern Hebrew translations of “Jeremiah” give you “YEER-MEE-YAH-OO”. That is not what my parents named me…in Hebrew, my name is “YEAR-MEE-YAH.”  And when I explain this to Hebrew-speaking people, who generally at first will call me “YEER MEE YAH OO,” they  insist I am wrong. But that is my name, my parents named me that specifically, because, where the hell does that “OO” come from? It’s not that it’s not valid in certain cases…certainly many people go by that. But my parents didn’t dig it, so I don’t spell it the same way, and in fact there is a Rabbi in the Talmud who has my name.

All this being said, I was flipping out that I found a correlation between the Romance pronunciation and the Hebrew/Greek from this old standard Bible, and was explaining it to Jon, when a man at the counter turned around and said, “My son’s name is Jeremiah!” And we talked for a few minutes about the name, and its quandaries…then found out his name was simply the letter “H.”  Crazy.

So we rolled towards Knoxville, then stopped at a Citgo station with an attached gun shop…and liquor mart. And I bought a quart of Heaven Hill 90 proof (black label…which you generally don’t see in the Northeast) for the lowball price of $11(they had a 4-ouncer for $3.10…I love the South).  We rolled steadily on and soon hit Exit 300, where Jon’s bitchin’ seventies-era Apache RV had broken down right before I’d arrived in August. Parked right by a short, flinty hill and across the parking lot from the pump bearing 100 octane racing leaded gasoline, Beulah stood proudly.

She’s based off a ’77 two-ton dualie Chevy truck chassis, with a Holley 4-barrel atop a 350 4-bolt-main, which has been bored out .030 over. It’s got a 4.11 rear, and plenty of torque. It weighs 12,000 pounds but can get off the line faster than most modern cars. The reason she got stuck is that the original 3-speed heavy-duty truck tranny had finally quit. Back in the 70s there were still no overdrive trannys for trucks that big, at least from Chevy. So at 55 miles per hour, Jon was running close to 5000 rpm, and the poor gearbands had to have been seriously stressed. So going over the mountain towards Knoxville, which kills plenty of cars to this day, Jon’s tranny ate it (we saw several on the side of the road at the same rise which burned Jon’s tranny out),

The cab is a ‘77 Chevy Van, with shag carpet on the floor…and ceiling, woodgrain appliqué on the gauges, light-blue vinyl old-school captain’s chairs with red and orange plaid insert, and a friendly metal grille (the 77’s were I believe the last year for the single round headlights).  It has been in the family for many years, and they tankfully Ziebarted (rustproofed) her when new, so the only rust is very minimal, in a couple of non-essential surfaces.

The damn thing’s set up like an old cabin cruiser inside, with a propane tank and four-burner stove and oven, a sink, working bathroom (grey water only, please), the granny’s attic cab-over sleeper bunk, and a pullout couch. There’s a little table to the side with another captain’s chair, and Jon set the whole thing up with a triple battery system to run a fridge, a window air conditioner, and various other electronic sundries. It’s bigger than some NYC studio apartments.

Jon got her a while back and set to some other mechanical improvements. The best thing about Chevys is that the basic design is simple, were built tough and made to last (especially if kept away from rust at the sub-frame level), and hasn’t changed in close to 65 years, so you can A: fix up old trucks and they will last forever, B: utilize improved mechanical bits while still holding on to the good components of the old, in this case the vastly superior and mighty 350 four-bolt.  So Jon’s upped the brakes, electronics, and chassis/suspension to modern specs, removed the old engine-driven air conditioning unit, and made sure she’s well-tended to and running perfect. The trans was the last bit that could break—and it did. So he’s going to either throw in a modern TH700 short-tail modern overdrive automatic, or a killer RockCrusher 5-speed manual. He’s leaning toward this option, and while it will take a little more work, there’s a knockout panels already built into the Chevy from the factory just for this type of conversion. Drag and drop.

We were able to get her up to about 30 mph in first gear, so took some backroads to the storage space that Jon had found, for only $25 a month, to store the ol’ gal while he figured out the logistics and funds to get it going. We hung out for a spell in the parking lot, cleared out some things he needed, and found a mason jar with a few sips of moonshine. Bonus.

The rest of the way, we mostly took on the old Gospel Highway, route 70, which runs from Nashville into the Smokies. I could see the ghosts of A.P. Carter, outlaws, families of singing children, all of these, in front of me…the sun went down as we headed into Knoxville proper, and reposed on the back patio of one of Jon’s locals, the Downtown Brewery and Pub, drinking excellent local porter and stout. We worked out our set lists for the shows tonight, Saturday and Sunday, ate some pizza, and I began nodding out like mad from my lack of sleep. We met up with our friend Joy before heading out to Morristown, our final destination, and I passed out on her couch for a good half-hour before Jon woke me by grabbing my pinky toe, saying, “Shark’s got ya,” and me erupting awake in shudders and laughter. Jon got us home and made up a bed for this poor man, and I slept til noon….we’re heading out to Asheville as son as the rain passes, and Jon has promised to take me wading in the river on the way.

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