(Originally published in the KALX Spring/Summer 2001 Program Guide)
True story: I had one of the most difficult drives of my life this last Saturday. It was after a party in Sebastopol where I had arrived early and, not having eaten much all day, started poking around in the kitchen for something to eat. Happening upon a tupperware container of delicious-looking cookies, I ate one and found it tasty. Underneath the chocolaty goodness I caught a hint of another taste, one that is still technically illegal. This caused me a twinge of concern, but then I thought, how could anything this delectable be dangerous? So I had another.
Later, when I jovially inquired of my host whether I should be leery of any of the snacks, he fixed me with a stare like Chong gave Cheech that one time. “The cookies,” he said. “Don’t eat more than one.”
About two hours later, for reasons too complex to go into here, it became necessary for me to leave this party.1 I suppose I could have rented a hotel room or imposed on my friends in Santa Rosa for the night, but at the time my beleaguered brain was telling me that only being at home would do. So I was faced with a difficult prospect. I was in possession of enough of my faculties to safely operate a motor vehicle, but navigating the unfamiliar territory was another matter. It should have been a simple matter of retracing the steps that had brought me there, but in my condition that proved difficult.
I did finally make it back to highway 101, but then I began to suffer another problem: paranoia attack. Every set of headlights in my rear view was another potential unpleasant encounter with law enforcement in the no-man’s-land between Petaluma and San Rafael. I also badly needed a rest stop, and I realized that I would need to get off the highway and set down somewhere for a few minutes, marshal my resources.
I needed a reason to stop, though; my state of mind would not permit me to contemplate just pulling over somewhere. So I thought “coffee” and took a promising-looking exit to search for a cup. The first things I saw were closed, though, and I ended up drifting farther and farther into unknown territory in search of elusive distant lights.
Then I saw it looming up ahead: the B of A. My heart surged with corporate loyalty as I thought, yes, stop and get a twenty; what more legitimate reason could a man have to stop and get out of his car for a minute?
Having done so, I considered my other pressing need. The bank parking lot, though amply landscaped, was too brightly lit for my purposes. Circling the perimeter I spotted, glittering like an oasis, three giant neon letters about two blocks away: an “A,” an “A,” and another “A.”
This can only be good, I thought. I am a member and they will see to my needs. In fact no one was home; but their grounds were sufficiently large and dim to allow me to conduct my business.
This interlude did wonders for my state of mind, and it was with cautious optimism that I turned toward the car, my only worry now that I had been wandering at random and needed to find my way back to the freeway. I looked up to try to orient myself and found that I was in a small valley out of which climbed a series of roads; way up at the top of the hill, gorgeously green and luminous, were twin signs: “101N” and “101S.”
The challenge now was to have my impaired brain work out and remember the route. As I surveyed the scene, something my friend Todd2 said once popped into my head: “Just keep making lefts.” I traced a path with my eyes. Sure enough, a series of lefts, beginning with the one out of the bank parking lot, would deliver me to the onramp.
Once back on the freeway, I turned my attention to the music situation. The rest of the way home was familiar ground; all I needed was something to help me keep my rhythm and focus on the road. The tape I had been listening to was wearing on my nerves and my other options were not going to get the job done. I was forlorn until I remembered KALX — I just might be close enough now to pick it up.
I hit the relevant preset button and there was the ghost of a signal. My heart was gladdened, but the signal started to fade and then disappeared. This was vexing; I should have been getting closer, not farther away. Thinking back, I realized that I had no clear memory of making a decision on which onramp to take. My attention might have wandered at a crucial moment. Sure enough, I soon came upon a road sign that read “101: Santa Rosa, Eureka.”3 This was 180 degrees off, but alerted by the KALX situation, I was able to easily turn around and get myself pointed south. The ghost of the signal returned, and it gradually grew stronger until I was able to make something out: an excerpt from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Nothing could have been more beneficial to my spirits at that point — this was something I used to listen to with my dad way back when, and its familiarity brought me reassuring feelings.4
From there on everything was easy. My mind got out of the way and let the car guide itself down 101, through the tricky transition to 580, and across the Richmond Bridge. The DJ was absolutely kicking ass, playing one great song after another, and the signal was getting stronger by the minute.
As I approached the Albany exit, I saw a CHP car serpentining across all four lanes up ahead, indicating that something was amiss. Close enough to home now, I opted to take surface streets the rest of the way. Once I hit Gilman Street I found that I was being inexorably drawn toward the KALX studios, as if a tractor beam had locked onto the car and was pulling me in.
Well, of course, my big brain told me; that DJ saved my life; I need to thank him. Rather than calling on a cell phone that I do not have, I will express my appreciation in person. It seemed like such a good idea at the time.
He was on the air when I got there, so I walked up quietly into the booth. When the mic break was over, he turned around to find me standing rather closer than I should have been, my eyes shining with what must have looked like madness. The poor kid was spooked; I saw his entire body leap suddenly about six inches into the air before settling back down into the chair.5
I started babbling on about how he had just saved my life; he inquired, politely and quite justifiably, about what the hell I was doing there. I explained as best I could and then excused myself to the newsroom to have a fit of hysterical laughter.
Once I pulled myself together, I was ready to make the rest of the trip home. I apologized again to the DJ, who was gracious and even agreed to play a request to speed me on my way (Robyn Hitchcock, “Sleeping with Your Devil Mask”). I blasted it in the car as I cruised down Telegraph toward Oaktown.
And that, my friends, is why I am here today, Monday, typing these words and presenting to you this latest fabulous edition of the KALX Program Guide. Enjoy it in good health.
(1) Well, now it can be told. Truth is, the only reason I had gone to this party was because I hoped a certain young lady would be there. She didn’t show, but right when the cookies were solidifying their hold on my nervous system, a girl walked in who looked almost exactly like her but wasn’t her. This freaked me out so badly, felt so much like a disturbingly personal message from the universe, that I was compelled to flee.
(2) Todd W. Marcus, Requiescat in pace.
(3) This indicated the incorrect northernly direction rather than the desired southernly one.
(4) It turned out that this was being played because Adams had just died. Fortunately, I didn’t know that at the time.
(5) Not unlike D. Adams’ description of the workings of the Infinite Improbability Drive.