Sunrise

 


Are you sure you want to wear that shirt?

Eyebrows raised suspiciously, Mary stared askance at my brand new T-shirt: black with huge vomit green letters, it read Too Fucking Def across my chest. My import CD business was beginning to take off, and the new order from Caroline Records included several promotional T-shirts of questionable taste.


It was spring of 1992. I had absolutely no idea what the term def meant - nor do I today. If held at gunpoint and forced to guess, I would hazard it had something to do with the sonically impaired, or possibly something to do with defiant, which would dovetail with the Gangsta Rap emerging at that time. But I suspect that is not even within missile range of the truth. Of this one thing was I certain: David Crosby and Graham Nash were doing a duo acoustic tour, and would be performing this evening at the Sunrise Amphitheater. Willie and Croz had been spectacularly intimate every one of the five times I had seen them in concert - even on the occasions Steve Stills attempted to deflate the magic by punching a member of the audience. (Yes, occasions is plural.) I would go anywhere and do anything to see them, and the five hour drive to Sunrise (just north of Ft. Lauderdale) was negligible. We had reservations at a bed and breakfast just this side of the amphitheater, and looked forward to making it a long and leisurely weekend.


Eventually, over Mary’s objections to my vile fashion statement, everything we needed was stowed in the car. Eleven in the morning we went west to I-95, hung a left and headed south. Spring lasts two weeks - tops - in Florida, so you learn to appreciate it’s ephemeral nature. As we sped towards St. Augustine evanescent shimmers of green would wink sporadically out of the trees behind the swamps. We passed a long, grassy knoll crowned with a deep green fence, and suddenly I was eight years old again. All the old magic that fences possess washed over me: the mystery of a dirt track disappearing into a shadowy forest; the supernatural shiver of looking into the black, vacant eyes of a long abandoned house. The road gradually suggested a rhythm, then a melody, sounding familiar in a torpescent way that eluded me... That was it! Mike Oldfield: Tubular Bells. I slipped into an uneasy sleep where light and shadow took on vaguely Jungian symbolism, until Mary nudged me to suggest we trade places: she would nap while I drove.


Just south of Daytona I was doing about eighty when I noticed an ominous red light glowing from the dashboard of her Mazda 323. Mary was asleep, so I pulled over to the side of I-95 and popped the hood. What I don’t know about gasoline engines would fill volumes, but the motor appeared to be in place and nothing was on fire.


Having exhausted my automotive skills, I closed the hood and climbed back in the Mazda. I turned the key in the ignition and was surprised by a huge BOOM! that physically rocked the car. My breakfast almost burst out my backside, and I hastily exited the side door to investigate what I could have done to cause this explosion. I raised the hood again and figured the popped caps on the battery might have some connection.


I left the hood up and returned to inform Mary we were stranded in a useless automobile on the lengthy stretch of I-95 between New Smyrna and Cocoa Beach. We were just beginning to snipe at each other - “See? This is what we could use a cell phone for!” - when a filthy, rusted out, mid-seventies Chevy pulled out of ninety mile an hour traffic and squealed to a stop ahead of us.


A vision from the movie Deliverance emerged: three long haired, patchy-bearded, middle aged...men, they had to be men - tumbled from the auto. The mingled residue of flatulence and beer exploded like tear gas: birds screeched and flew away; squirrels blanched and squirmed for holes in which to regurgitate, Mary turned briefly the color of oatmeal.


Wassa mattah?” slurred the lead bubba, ballcap perched sideways on his head. He peered observantly at the Mazda. “Car trouble?


I glanced suspiciously at him. The middle yahoo, evidently the brains of the group, shambled over to the open hood of the car and peered myopically inside. He stared for a bit, raised his head and tried to focus. “Looks like the fuel pump,” he proclaimed unevenly.


Stupidity won out over discretion, and I responded “I think it’s a safe guess it’s the battery. In any case, we’ll need to replace it if we wanna get outa here.


Cool, man” gibbered the third character. “We’ll take ya.


I glanced over at Mary, who is the most fearless and amazing woman I have ever known: never before had I noticed the resemblance to Bambi. Diplomatically, I took her aside for a private conversation. My eyebrows elevated. “Well?” I questioned.


You go with ‘em yourself,” she responded. “I’ll stay here with the car.


And leave you here alone? Do you think that’s wise?


Safer than going with those wackos,” was her heated response. I shrugged: I know a lost cause when I see one, and arguing with Mary is the ultimate lost cause. If she wanted to stay with the car, I got to travel with three drunk good ol’ boys and hope I got back with my mind, wallet and cheeks intact. Nagging flashbacks from the film Deliverance kept intruding into my consciousness, and together we walked back to the three wise men.


OK,” I said. “I appreciate your generous offer to help me find a battery. My wife has decided to stay here with the car.


The third bubba stared in disbelief. Perhaps he had wet himself.


I sure wouldn’t let my wife stay alone on this stretch of road,” he turned to Mary. “You wanna hold my gun?


Fecal Material! I thought, not so quietly to myself. These wackos have guns? This looked like a much better idea this morning. I carefully appraised the three: probably late fifties to sixties, way drunk and none too bright. If worst came to worst - I felt certain I could take ‘em all. So, we climbed into the car: me and the first guy out of the car - who’s name was Pete, it turned out - in the back seat; and the other two, Willard and Donnie, the one with the ballcap, in the front. Beer cans were waist deep throughout the back, and my lack of olfactory sense (and partial disregard for personal hygiene) served me well in this instance. I gazed out the rear window at Mary, waving forlornly, until she dwindled from sight.


It took twenty minutes of driving eighty miles an hour to get to the first exit, which we passed without perceptibly slowing. My barometer of unease escalated steadily as we passed the second exit, fifteen minutes later. Looking around, I began to reassess my prospects of taking out the three without including myself among the casualties. I guessed I’d have to deal with Pete in the back before I tackled Willard and Donnie in the front; I could smash the beer can into Pete’s nose for starters. I was looking for a six pack holder to use for a garrote when we swerved onto an exit ramp and made a sloppy left hand turn, beer cans shifting alarmingly to the right. Ahead, in garish red letters, loomed the first outpost of civilization: K Mart. You couldn’t say with any degree of honesty my fears subsided: they imperceptibly slowed in their climb to the top of my esophagus. Maybe this would work out after all.


We walked inside, a small posse, and headed for the automotive section. I became acutely aware of my fashion statement, grasping the inappropriateness of going into a rural commerce area with the words Too Fucking Def emblazoned on my chest just a bit too late. Searching relentlessly among the automotive assistance machines disguised as video games, I finally found a battery for Mary’s 323 and carried it to the desk. Willard straggled behind.


The crater-faced teenager behind the counter was enthusiasm incarnate. “Thirty eight seventy six. Ya got the old battery?


No,” I replied. “This was a kinda impromptu affair...


Oh.” Flat: without inflection. “Forty three seventy six.


Willard suddenly spoke up. “How ‘bout thirty five, and we’ll bring you the battery?


I glared at him, momentarily annoyed at the interference, but quickly composed myself. “Hey, man, it’s OK. I appreciate it, but it’s really not necessary. I got this.


Willard glanced back with the hurt puppy expression I sometimes see on Mel (my committee dog: there are a lot of roots in his family tree.) Then my money was on the counter, and the four of us tromped back to the Chevy. We moved a few spent beer cans to make room and took off further down the exit road, away from the interstate.


My apprehension returned with reinforcements. With a palpable attempt at nonchalance, I enquired “Where are we going? Isn’t the interstate back that way?” I pointed behind us, and dropped my hand when I saw it shaking.


Willard, at the wheel, answered “I’m just gonna stop and check in with my wife - tell her I took a detour.


That sounded encouraging, but my radar was definitely plugged in. Some five miles down the road we pulled up in front of a nondescript, single story house: faded whitewash, green shutters and an overgrown yard were the chief identifying features. I had somehow expected some cars without wheels, balanced on cinder blocks. Their absence caused my anxiousness to recede. Barely.


A stout woman wearing jeans and a tee shirt, hair pulled back in a pony tail, appeared on the porch. She waved to Willard, who emerged from the car to confer briefly with her. “You guys want anything?” Beer? Coke? Water?” she called.


Nervously, I shook my head. “Thanks, anyway. I appreciate it.” Shortly after, she waved bye to us as we left in a cloud of dust, and headed FURTHER away from 95.



Inside my head a lunatic carnival raged out of control: red lights flashed; sirens screamed; flags with skull and cross-bone insignia waved frantically. The disembodied computer voice from the film Alien intoned You have.....five...minutes...to reach....safe...distance. Glancing back at me, Willard drawled “This is just a shortcut to 95 that cuts a big loop outa the road. We’ll be back at your car in twenty minutes: relax.  


Which is much easier said than done. My central nervous system was standing at attention, bouncing up and down on the figurative toes of it’s figurative feet: positively vibrating, which has nothing to do with good vibrations. Minutes crawled by with ankle weights, a real life primer on general relativity. After what seemed like years of traveling down two-lane roads we saw the raised embankment of the interstate ahead. Turning right and going north, in fifteen minutes - in the real world - we were at Mary’s car. I let what seemed to be several gallons of air release from my chest.


Mary jumped out of her locked car and ran to me. We somehow avoided appreciable damage, hugging with a car battery between us. She looked up at me. “How did it go?


I grinned, looked up at the sky from beneath lowered brows. “Tellya later. Not nearly as bad as I thought


With Willard’s assistance I removed the useless battery from the engine and replaced it with the shiny new one we had procured from the Mart of the K. Impatiently, I jumped into the drivers seat. After a deep breath and what amounted to a silent prayer, I turned the key in the ignition. The Mazda purred into smooth, rotary power. Mary and I locked eyes.


A few feet away, Willard, Donny and Pete stood in a loose huddle, obviously feeling out of the loop.  As one, Mary and I exited the car and went to them. “Hey, guys,” I began, “Thank you, so much. I mean, you hear stories of people on the New York throughway who shoot themselves because nobody will stop to help them. We were barely off the side of the road when you showed up! Lemme give you some money for gas, OK?”


Pete looked hurt. “Nah, man, just pass it on next time you have a chance.” 


My eyebrows elevated. “Really? Are you sure?


He grinned at me. “Yeah, man. You gotta help other people.


I grinned back. “Yes you do! Thanks again - we’ll remember this.” We turned back to the car. Suddenly, Mary pivoted back:


Drive carefully, OK? And - thanks once more!


Willard gave us the thumbs up, and they turned back to the Chevy. Three hands emerged from the windows, waving bye. Mary and I looked at each other as I started the car, and we broke into uncontrollable laughter. “Jesus,”  I hooted. “I thought I was being kidnapped into the swamps by the guys from Deliverance.”


Oh my god,” howled Mary. “I was thinking the exact same thing! I locked myself in the car and hid under the dash.


And they were incredible! They took me to K Mart, tried to haggle over the battery price, stopped by their house, brought me back, wouldn’t take money for gas - who woulda guessed? People kill me, sometimes.

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Our bed and breakfast was clean and homey, in a way I associate with my grandparents. Dimly :not my grandparents: my memory. In short order we settled in and showered, grabbed some dinner at a surfer bar, and pulled up in front of the Sunrise Amphitheater just before seven. This was a good sized, round arena that reminded me of the Georgia Tech Coliseum - what was called The Big Tit, when I was growing up. You can imagine what it looks like if you think of a woman with a great rack, but lying down. We had good seats - not spectacular - about thirty rows back, just right of center.


The lights lowered, the crowd roared, and out walked a bear-like Crosby - and Nash, characteristically barefoot. As we drove I idly wondered with which song they would begin, and my first guess had been Military Madness.(Early nineties.) Which proved to be dead on the money: they roared into the third verse in double time, and as they finished the crowd exploded in applause, hoots, whistles and


inarticulate rebel yells. Crosby ambled to the edge of the stage, squinted into the lights, and beamed at the sea of humanity going insane at his feet. He held out his hands, palms toward himself, and made small come-hither motions.


You people might as well sit down and get comfortable,” he giggled, “‘Cause we’re gonna be up here for fuckin’ hours, man!” As I’m sure he expected, this had much the same effect as throwing gasoline on a burning man. When the applause diminished to mild roar, he teased “This is an old Byrds song,” and started the unmistakeable intro to Mr. Tambourine Man. The crowd in front went shit crazy. Croz stopped dead one bar in, pointed out at the audience, and threw back his head and howled. “You really thought we were gonna do it!


Graham looked reproachfully at him from the other mic. “That’s not very nice,” he admonished in an aggrieved tone. “We do have a sort of consolation prize, though: one of David’s lesser known songs from the Byrds, called Everybody’s Been Burned.”


The sinuous, spacious, slightly dissonant chord structure began, and David began to sing, with Graham adding his ethereal high harmony. If you’ve never heard it, the middle eight is: I know the door / that shuts just before / you get to the dream. And then it ends: I know all too well /  how to run, how to hide, how to hide behind a bitter wall of blue /  but you die inside / if you choose to hide / so instead - I guess - I’ll love you.


After prolonged applause, relative silence settled over the amphitheater. Graham Nash stepped to the microphone and said very quietly:


Pass it on.