Two Lane Highway – Pure Prairie League
…I guess this time I’m really gone
but it don’t seem right I been up all night…
After I finished my A-levels at Lewes Priory my best friend Simon Korner and I had a year off before our University chapter began. We didn’t have money to flit about for a whole year, so I went to work in Laughton Lodge, a local asylum/psychiatric hospital until I’d saved the money for our trip to the USA. It took about eight months and in May 1976 we flew to New York with our back-packs, list of mainly East-coast addresses and a few dollars per day. We would hitch-hike to the West Coast. Or something. The first three cities – New York, Baltimore and Washington D.C. – seem in retrospect an oasis of calm middle-class comforts to acclimatise us to the drama ahead. Everyone kept saying “wait til you head out West…” although one guy decided to offer up “Life is a shit sandwich – you eat it or you starve.” Even at eighteen years old I thought that was a trifle extreme.
A bright spring morning and we are dropped off south of D.C. by Julie Furth’s brother. Arlington Virginia. Officially ‘The South’. It takes us all day to get as far as Charlottesville on route 60, just outside Shenandoah National Park and those rather wonderful Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Dusk was falling. We had a tent but no plans to erect it at the side of the road. We hit on a new plan – one person hide while the other thumbed it. After 20 minutes of this a small car pulls over – packed to the gills with stuff, no room for one person, let alone two. But Randy, the driver, rearranges his shit into further squashy piles, bungs a bag in the trunk and we squidge into a) the back seat and b) the front seat. “So where you guys going?” he asks. “West” said Simon, “- that direction.” “Well, I’m going to Chicago” offers Randy. Basically, WOW. That’s through Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana to Illinois. That is a major ride. An 800-mile lift. What’s the catch ?
I’m pretty sure Randy didn’t take that route above on the map but I can’t swear to it. Within minutes of getting in he asked Simon to roll a joint, which he of course did. This may have been, in retrospect, the reason to have a hitchhiker in the passenger seat – to keep Randy supplied with Jays. Anyway. We all smoked it and he told us that he had just deserted from Norfolk Navy Base on the coast of Virginia, and was driving home to Chicago. Furthermore, he was tripping. He’d taken an LSD tab as he’d left the Base. By now it was dark, we were in deepest West Virginia which is a little bit hillbilly (no offence) and our options were limited to say the least. I think we rolled another joint. Then he put on this tape by Pure Prairie League : “Two Lane Highway”. We’d never heard it before but it became imprinted on my soul forever after that night. I think we heard it eight times in a row. Classic american country-rock with pedal steel guitars and harmony vocals – the kind of stuff we were listening to at school in the mid-70s, but we’d never even heard of them. Ace LP. Luckily. Did we take it in turns to sleep in the tiny squashed back seat? Did we eat breakfast in Kentucky? I believe so. Randy may well have taken the southern route through Kentucky because track 2 on the LP is called Kentucky Moonshine. It’s sweeter than the sweetest wine don’t you know. Did we arrive in Chicago Youth Hostel, somewhere on the south side at around 5pm the following day? I reckon so. We never saw Randy again – in those days strangers tended to pass like ships in the night. I hope things worked out for him.