Featured, Going Solo, Road Trips, Travel Narrative

One for the Road: Music and a Sense of Place


Scent is often said to be the strongest sensory memory-trigger.  It has something to do with the amygdala; apparently the part of your brain which controls your sense of smell and the part of your brain which controls your long term memory are located somewhere rather close together or something (hey–I said this was a nerdy travel blog; I never claimed to be a brain scientist).

But I respectfully disagree.

Perhaps I’m an auditory learner.  Perhaps my sense of smell was stunted by going to college in a farming community, where the last thing you wanted to do was take a nice long whiff of morning air.  Or perhaps I’m a product of my own generation–a generation who will always equate driving with music.

The more I travel, the more I link specific songs with specific places.  Take, for example(s):

My Music and a Sense of Place Playlist

Traveling more than two hours out of the way just to listen to James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James while driving through the Berkshires.  (Ok fine.  I’ve actually done this twice.  Once two summers ago, and once last weekend.)  There’s a song that they sing when they take to the highway, a song that they sing when they take to the sea…

Crossing the causeway from Miami Beach towards downtown , watching the sun turn the sky pink and purple–in bumper to bumper Miami traffic, still stupidly smiling from a day of sunshine–while Jimmy Buffet sings A Pirate Looks at 40.  Mother, mother ocean…

Watching a heron rise from Mobile Bay, in late October, at the beginning of my new life of travel, as Wagon Wheel plays on the radio.  (I don’t care that it is Darius Rucker.  Bob Dylan wrote it.  So there.)  Oh north-country winters keep a-gettin’ me down, lost my money playin’ poker so I gotta leave town.  But I aint’ turning back to living’ that old live no more.  

Another sunset.  Another bay.  Returning to San Francisco from Napa.  Fog.  U2.  Running to Stand Still.  Howling along, free.

Listening to a country station on Sirius, driving through Shenandoah on the Fourth of July, shameful tears in my eyes pooling deeper with every patriotic song (and they were all patriotic).  I mean come on.  I was driving through a National Park on the Fourth of July.  That may be the only time it is appropriate to truly love the song Proud to be an American.  

Pictured in the header photo.  Welcome to the Jungle.  A Camaro.  Extreme south Texas.  120 miles per hour.  Shut up. (And yes, I took a photo.  Really, what was I going to hit?)  And when you’re high, you never ever wanna come down.

Playing Ray and Willie’s Seven Spanish Angels on Spotify (never leave home without your audio-in cable) while driving across Michigan in the snow.  Then, later that week: same song, earbuds in, flying over the Chicago skyline, face pressed up against the window, breakfast screwdriver in hand (Willie would approve).

I can’t separate these songs from these moments.  I wouldn’t want to.  Because I know that some day, when I’m very old–too old to go traipsing about the country as I do–I will hear one of these songs again.  And I’ll be right back on the road where, it is my firm belief, I belong.

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