Joining the bandwagon for the Happiness Experiment … or why I love a blown speaker

I know. I know … Let’s get a couple of things out of the way …

  1. Yes, I’ve been on a vacation of sorts. For about four months. Things and people happen. It’s been chaos in all it’s beauty, terror and splendor.
  2. I needed a burger break. Honestly, I found that I was forcing myself to go to places, not out of pure enjoyment any longer, but because I was feeding the beast (not me, mind you!).
  3. I’ve been in a funk … a funk-a-delic-Roger-Clinton-(not George)-February-don’t-let-the-door-smack-your-ass-on-the-way-out. When I wasn’t arguing with my inner voices late at night, I was just trying to get a title loan on sleep to pay off the next day’s exhaustion.

Then, I tripped over a couple of my Facebook friends … who were just as happy to see last month skedaddle — Amy Bickers and Erin Street. They’d decided to turn over a March leaf … and write about things that make them happy for the next month.

I’ve been mulling over it for a couple of days now. They (the tyrants) tell you to not write about how you come to write about something.* But I’m not even sure, right now, that I feel up to this … which is precisely why I probably should do it. It’s just been one of the life lessons I can’t seem to avoid:

  • Planning is fairly useless; all the best things that ever happened to me, I stumbled into.
  • Whenever I say that I won’t do something, I inevitably am eating my words soon thereafter … (let’s just leave this one at “you don’t know the half of it”).
  • Whenever I feel like I kinda don’t want to do something, that’s usually a tell-tale sign that there’s a damn good reason FOR me to do it.

*In this case, the tyrant was my Special Ed teacher in middle school … the one who told me that I wasn’t allowed to write 10 pages of journal entry about trying to decide what to write for 10 pages of journal entry. But she LOVED the entry about how the Smurfs were destroying our moral society … go figure.

So, I will take a tentative step into March happiness … as tentative as grabbing yourself by the neck and tossing yourself into a den that is by definition part lion and part lamb … And if you’ve made it this far, prepare to get happy!

About a year ago, my daughter and I were riding down the back roads of McCalla (yes, they are all back roads, but give me some poetic license, here). I had just invested a few months earlier in her first car …

Now, if you are part of the parental universe that believes that you should go out and buy a newish car for your child … safety, security … well, I’m not from there. I’m from the one that believes in reality. And reality for me was totaling my tricked-out 1977 powder blue Ford Granada before I’d driven it a year and half. It was my brother totaling his coolio Mustang when he was a senior.

Giving new cars to teens is like … giving toddlers permanent magic markers … or more pay to state legislators …

But I digress .. we were traveling down the back ways of Jefferson County doing something that always makes me happier. We had the windows rolled down and the stereo up at ear bleeding levels. I remember this day, not only because Emma was driving and I had control of the iPod. But we did what every teen with a 1993 GMC Jimmy or similar ride does (or should do): we totally blew the left front speaker, dude. It crackles and hisses, now … It’s a reminder.

I can’t completely explain why it’s so much fun to do that, either. But even today, sometimes, I come home on a Friday afternoon. I’ll lower the windows in my totally rad VW Wagon and crank up the Foo Fighters or whatever strikes the mood. I know, deep in the soul, that this must make me among the still cool. Children look up to me. Women adore me. Men wish they could only be cool enough to be as cool as me AND drive a wagon.

For one thing, that goofiness, that boyishness takes me back to the days of my Ford Granada … and then my Buick Regal … and my Ford Thunderbird. I remember carrying around a small, black case, filled with cassette tapes. The “Grenade” had long since had its original AM/FM stereo replaced with a fine piece of hi-fi equipment from K-Mart in Albertville. I want to say it was a Krako system, but it could have as easily been Audiovox.

My family wasn’t rich. But I believed them when they said they’d fix up the Grenade and make it cool. A luggage rack, wire hubs and a new stereo later … and it was still a rolling chick-repellant. But it was mine, complete with … count ’em … eight speakers. Soon, I was blasting mix tapes from the cassette player, KISS, Prince and Run DMC. A few months later, I blew two of the eight speakers (they were crappy anyway).

It wasn’t hard to roll the windows down and blast away, because it didn’t have air in it (or at least, if it did, it never worked). I remember specifically, when I was 16 that me and Jon (my brother) drove to Tuscaloosa from Douglas (the farthest I’d ever driven alone at the time). I still remember going through downtown Birmingham, windows open, music blasting, and realizing that I could go anywhere that the tank of gas and my parent’s Shell card would take me.

And as I’ve gone through life, lived … loved … become responsible … become irresponsible … It’s struck me more than once that this simple act has always been about a lot more than sharing my personal taste. It’s about attitude (yes, it can be annoying, but it’s hardly ever annoying to the person doing the blasting) — cool, confident. It’s about the fresh air of recognizing that I’m free. And it’s about remembering what it’s like to be young and free … and older and free.

As I went through a divorce a few years ago, I remember going to see my parents, alone. There were lots of songs I couldn’t listen to any more. There were too many memories tied to them, too many raw spots on my emotions. I couldn’t listen to the Beatles. Or U2 … but Stevie Ray Vaughn came on … “Couldn’t Stand the Weather.”

I put the windows down and I just rode, playing the song over and over. It wasn’t because the words spoke to me; it’s because it was a cool song. And it made me feel cool. Maybe it reminded me of being 20 again? But I think it was more that it reminded me that I wasn’t 20. Instead, I was staring 40 in the face, but still feeling the freedom and exhilaration that a car can bring. It was a happy moment, a carefree oasis.

Not every moment in the last two years has been a windows down one for me. Probably isn’t for most of us. But it’s a simple pleasure, a musical cupcake on the road of life. So, now you know, I have precious little problem looking at my son, Ben, in the back seat and saying … “Hey, wanna hear Whipping Post again?” as I turn up the volume and let the wind blow into the back where his and Betsy’s car seats are.

Rock on!

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