I GOT DROPPED OFF in front of a diesel mall at the mouth of the interstate. Drag into the diner, escaping the summer heat of rural Illinois. I'd been walking for two or three days from Chicago, and the humidity was giving me that desperate gasp in the pit of my sternum. So yeah, into the place, find a seat near the restroom, order a cup of joe. Eight hours of this, more or less. I'd periodically break the spell by going out to sit near the onramp and busk for a ride to Nebraska. But nothing ever came of it, and I'd trudge back inside and get my refill and slide back into the booth. The more I thought about it, the bleaker things began to feel. Dusk was settling in, and I was stuck at a filling station in some no-name limbo for trucker ghosts and former Wal-Mart employees. I got up to call my old buddy in Lincoln, hoping to regroup and refuel, only to find I had the wrong number. I sit back down and stare into the bottomless abyss of cold Folgers. Then it starts in: Bob Seger comes over the diner's radio musing, "Here I am, on the road again."
It's just one of those things that comes with growing up in the Midwest. Somehow Seger always resonated in the flat all-night burns along the paved capillaries weaving the heartland. I've heard some folks call him the "Poor Man's Springsteen," which isn't far off base, but still completely wrong. They're both headed in the same direction, in the same threads, in the same pickup. But if the Boss was your outlaw biological father who rode off into the sunset, sending back romantic rumors to chew on and swoon over, then Bob was your legal stepdad who did the dirty work of raising you in a not-so-beautiful world that he related to in his own way. He had some wild days back in the '60s, fronting his psychedelic rock band called the Bob Seger System. But now he's resigned to pretty much tell it like it is.
So I'm sitting in the booth with my head in my hands, and "Turn the Page" keeps pummeling away. Then "Like a Rock" starts in. Just one of those things, right? But "Night Moves" opens up, and sure enough "You'll Accomp'ny Me" is right behind it... all the intense soul-searchers, all in a row. Finally, the whole scenario of fate and circumstance wears me down and I start bawling, openly. Fuck, what else can you do? Broke, lonely, stranded at a truck stop in the middle of the night, with no shame anymore. And at long last "Against the Wind" rears its blessed head, and I think of the road outside. In one direction it leads back to Ohio, where I was born, and in the other to Oregon, where I migrated as a young man. The waitress comes over to me as I ponder this and asks, "Are you all right, hon?"
"Yeah" I say, standing up, "yeah," and walk out the door, lying down in the moist summer grass at the crossroads.