Monday, January 07, 2008

US-1 & The Modern Lovers

When you are a contractor you follow the money and take the gigs where they are (within reason). Since moving back to Boston I have taken two gigs at agencies north of the city. Since I live just west and a bit south of Boston I've had some decent commutes. The ability to write off the gas makes them profitable, and I've had the opportunity to traverse many of the north/south highways and by ways of The Commonwealth on my way to and from work.

Recently, after a meeting in Boston, I shot over the Tobin Bridge and headed up US-1 North to get to my current gig. Each time I drive this road I feel compelled to blog about it, but have not until now. This road is a throwback to the earliest days of the American interstate highway system. Two lanes in either direction, lined with motels, retail stores and restaurants, and occasional traffic lights it recalls an era when people took their time going somewhere and made a day of the motor-car outing. Today, the road can be a real nightmare of traffic and it is hard to imagine taking it from Boston to Florida, as people once did, when, prior to the opening of I-95, US-1 was the highway for North-South travel on the Eastern Seaboard. As is fitting for a road that is no longer a major route, US-1 has drifted into that netherworld of faded glory that befalls so much Americana.

To say that the road is ugly is an understatement, but it also does not do the route justice. In fact, US-1 is so ugly that it is beautiful. Steak Lovers' Beacon It runs through some scrappy little towns and cities like Everet, Chelsea and Saugus and probably boasts more cell phone stores, Dunkin Donuts and auto body shops per mile than any road in the country. These establishments occupy shoddy mid-60s strip malls and old cinder block buildings along both sides of the highway. There are some classic signs along this road. One of the greatest is the giant cactus, (with fiberglass cows grazing beneath it) of Hill Top Steak House. Another iconographic sign of US 1, complete with rounded, space age design, made from painted tin and recently refurbished in the least sympathetic way possible belongs to the Ferns Motel

There is also some excellent highway architecture along this road:

No doubt The Ship Restaurant in Saugus (now a mall I've read) once served seafood baked beneath a mountain of buttered bread crumbs and garnished with parsley.

Baked Stuffed Schrod Special $9.95
The Leaning Tower of Pizza

When the moon hits your eye

The mini golf T. Rex.

All of this brings me, finally, to a quintessential Boston-band, Modern Lovers, and their most famous song, Roadrunner:

Roadrunner, roadrunner
Going faster miles an hour
Gonna drive past the Stop 'n' Shop
With the radio on
I'm in love with Massachusetts
And the neon when it's cold outside
And the highway when it's late at night
Got the radio on
I'm like the roadrunner

Originally recorded in 1972, and released in 1976, this song still gets (deservedly so, in my opinion) air play in Boston.Modern Lovers Frist LP, 1976Written by a local kid, Jonathan Richman, from Natick, MA. It un-apologetically describes what it was like to grow up in suburban Boston where, once of legal driving age, each weekend was an extended, auto-based peregrination through your hometown and neighboring communities looking for something to do.

So, on this cold, winter day, after a meeting, driving my car up US-1, soaking in its sights Roadrunner came on the radio and transformed the drive into a classic Massachusetts moment. It was not one of those "I'm depressed, and every song on the radio speaks to that angst" moments. Instead, it was a perfect confluence of one of the most local of local songs (far more local than overplayed, tired Dirty Water, which was written by The Standells of California)about a place that you know, by a person who knows that place too, while you are in that place.
I got the modern sounds of modern Massachusetts
I've got the world, got the turnpike, got the
I've got the, got the power of the AM
Got the, late at night, (?), rock & roll late at night
The factories and the auto signs got the power of modern sounds

Right, bye bye!

No comments: