Just shy of 285,000 miles, my 1995 Nissan Pathfinder finally gave up the ghost. Good riddance, some of you will say. Good memories, I say. If you want to disrupt a memorial service with jeers, that's certainly your prerogative. I'll just turn up the music. See, if Pathfinders could talk, then mine, well, it would sing.
As I watched the Pathfinder being towed to its final resting place in North Durham, I could hear the echoes of my son, now 8, singing along to CDs: first a pair of Disney children's faves collections and later on to relatively more adventurous fare. (My 14-month-old daughter just started baby-grooving to Justin Roberts CDs in the backseat a few weeks ago.) My thoughts then turned to two trips to Tennessee to see the gone-but-not-forgotten V-roys, who were to my mid to late '90s what the Replacements were to my mid to late '80s. There was a long drive to West Virginia for the taping of a Mountain Stage episode that featured Marshall Crenshaw, J.J. Cale, and the artist I'd interview later that evening, Steve Forbert. One fall weekend, with the Pathfinder's first transmission waving a white flag at 200,000 miles, a couple members of Americana poster boys, the Gourds, rode with me from Raleigh to Charlotte and back again so they could take part in the Spread Your Wings benefit show.
There were solo journeys back and forth to upstate N.Y. when my dad was losing a battle with cancer after beating that bastard twice before. I would always take time to select just the right CDs to make the 10-hour one-way trip bearable. Just as 1 a.m. on a road-weary night is a perfect time to fall in love with someone--your defense walls starting to crumble, leaving you more open to possibility--it's also a perfect time to fall in love with a record. So, yeah, I had a couple musical affairs on those drives. (Tres Chicas, I'll call. I promise.) And with SUVs and their drivers so often described as soulless, the Pathfinder seemed to take great delight in blasting the music of Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, James Carr, O.V. Wright, Irma Thomas and others who define soul with every note.
Then there were the two rows of bumper stickers on the Pathfinder, testaments to both time passed and taste. It's telling that more than half the bands on the bottom row are now defunct: locals Six String Drag and the Backsliders, the aforementioned V-roys ("roys"-less for the last 75,000 miles, courtesy of the elements and aging adhesive), and Denton, Texas' Slobberbone. I can replace the stickers for the local Sugar Hill and Yep Roc labels, but it was rather tough saying goodbye to the others.
The good news is that the Pathfinder now lives just 10 minutes from the house at Transport Station, home away from home for the gifted Jim Piland and the skills that got the car to 284,715. That's plenty close enough if I want to visit either my expired bumper stickers or my musical memories.