Saturday, May 24, 2008

Riot, Then Quiet: To and From and To The New Deal

Moans and caterwauls ululate in the undergrowth, and while cars and trucks zip up and down the Pennsylvania Turnpike nearby, a single pedestrian stops to listen. The young man lowers his sneakers into the grass behind a rest-stop convenience shop and examines the noise. He lopes further, the green sod underfoot checkered with fenestrate dirt patches, and locates the culprit: a small cat, beleaguered and gaunt, is rummaging for food. The pedestrian cedes the cat a Sunny Doodle, and the recipient unfurls a whimper and retreats to deeper reeds.

This small, eminently quiet moment happens at 3 am, a similarly small, eminently quiet time. Vehicles are passing only intermittently as the night wears on, and the convenience store clerk, wielding a broom, is the only other sign of human activity. To be fair, it is late at night, and this is a forsaken stretch in northern Pennsylvania, and the cat is situated in an abandoned thatch, so the hush is concomitant with the context.

The pedestrian, pleased with his generosity, wants to get back on the road. “Two more hours till New York,” he says to his two companions, who exit the store with a candy-and-caffeine haul. Suddenly, the pedestrian is pedestrian no more, as he torques the key in his SUV’s ignition. The car is rife with the evidence of travel—wrappers, empty Snapple bottles, old receipts, and an iPod hooked directly into the car stereo. The GPS flashes a northbound route as the driver exhumes a long-ago road trip.

“I was down in Asbury Park, south Jersey, for a Jimmy Eat World concert,” he says, lips perched above a coffee cup. “I came back up through Staten Island and got two tickets on the way home. I was about 17 or 18, and it totally ruined my life. I was in car insurance hell for years.” Now 23, his spell in hell is long over. But he still hates Staten Island, and so, “we’re not going that way. It’s probably longer the other way, but I can’t go back.”

The purpose of this trip is relatively straightforward. These three friends live in New York, and The New Deal, a band that pseudo-broke up and rarely performs, played in Philadelphia tonight. Two hours down, two-and-a-half hours there, two hours back. About seven hours in all, rest stops included. They’re on the way back home now, content with the The New Deal-inflicted abuse (“That pretty much rocked my face,” one of them remarked earlier, which seems to echo the general sentiment), but the damage is considerable—show-going is a taxing business, what with the drive, the sweat, the jostling, the dancing, and, of course, the face-rocking. The return trip is, for lack of a better word, sloppy. The three road warriors, all about the same age, rehash their favorite moments from the night, venture into guy-territory tangents (girls, boobs, LeBron James), then trail off into silence. There’s only so much to say at this hour on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and with The New Deal slated to perform in New York the next night—“which is huge,” the driver says—they’re probably contemplating how it might be possible to get home at five in the morning and still manage to present their faces, for rocking, a few hours later.

The driver figures it out first. “I’m going to sleep ‘til about 4 in the afternoon tomorrow,” he announces, “have myself a late breakfast, get ready for the concert.” He mulls over abandoning his traditional front-row spot for something farther back. “I stand front row. I AM front row,” the driver barks, lowering the stereo's volume. “But maybe I’m too distracted by watching the band to really listen to the music.” He may have a point—The New Deal, like a high-octane combustion engine, burns brightly. Watching the dance/trance/electronica trio from a front-row perch and listening to them from the bar are two different animals.

“You should meditate beforehand, get yourself really centered and focused on the show,” the front passenger responds to the driver. “That would take the concert back up a notch.”

The highway is dark, and the few drivers we pass are using their brights, as are we. The iPod is gently streaming another New Deal concert, from a festival in 2005. The car steadies at five miles per hour above the speed limit, an excruciating pace except for the serenity it engenders. It is already past 4:00, a full hour after the driver fed a stray cat behind a rest stop, but neither driver nor passengers evince any sign of being in a rush. Philadelphia was a victory for them, a cool thing to do. They are soaking in the win, knowing that tomorrow night—later tonight, really—brings another contest.

Stay Sleepy, Pennsylvania Turnpike
DJ Dance

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