the road to Ithaca
There’s a stretch of road between the middle of Pennsylvania and Ithaca, NY that seems oddly out of place. Hundreds and hundreds of miles where the road climbs and dips and on either side is a forest so dense that from above I bet there isn’t an inch of ground visible. If you were landing via parachute you’d end up snagged in a tree no matter how adept you were with the controls.
That’s the road I was hitchhiking on… so you can imagine my relief when a passing big rig acknowledged my extended thumb and pulled over to give me a ride.
If our nation’s transportation system is a living, breathing organism I was climbing up into its anus.
The cab smelled equally of a full-blown man cave and a cave where all the large local carnivores went to take a dump.
The driver, Roger, extended his hand, I shook it and we were off.
I mentioned earlier the climbing and dipping road and I had no idea how the aforementioned was to play a part in my ride. You see, while you couldn’t really call the hills that we were driving through mountains they weren’t exactly hills either. There was no way these hills were just rolling. They were thrusting and jetting to the best of their ability. As such, they were playing havoc with the radio reception.
We couldn’t finish a song before things would get so staticy that we were forced to change the station. I could tell this was beginning to wear on ol’ Roger. Just as things were getting to a boiling point there was a brief respite.
The commercial we were listening to was voiced by what sounded like a man who had moments earlier inhaled a balloon full of helium.
This delighted Roger.
“What the fuck?” he began. “They chose this guy to do the ad? This munchkin oompa loompa-sounding purple-skinned guy who lives in a tree and makes cookies?!” Forgive me if there were supposed to be a few commas in that last sentence but if you heard the way he said it you’d agree that none were needed. Also forgive me if this little rant seemed a little hostile to little people but you can’t always pick the trucker that offers you a ride.
Roger laughed the rest of the way through the commercial, no doubt wishing he knew a few more names for fictional little people.
When the ad was over he was smiling and I breathed a sigh of relief. I had thought that I was one interrupted-song away from being murdered.
A bell peeled.
Not any bell. Oh no. A hell’s bell.
Roger threw the truck into the passing lane and put the pedal to the floor as AC/DC blared out of the speakers. All was right with the world. If joy was a noise…
‘Cause if good’s on the left,
Then I’m stickin’ to the right
(a little crackle)
And then a lot of crackle.
Soon Angus and the boys were being drowned out by static and then, as if disproving a loving god, another radio station was joining in. A country and western song about heartache and alcohol if I’m not mistaken.
I slowly looked over to see how Roger was taking it.
“There should be a law!” he thundered “Making it illegal to start Hell’s Bells unless everyone in your listenership can hear the entire song without interruption!”
It appeared my grisly demise was back on.
“I agree” I offered up meekly, wondering if there was paper and pen available for me to jot down a few last goodbyes to family and friends. There wasn’t.
Roger continued. “Make it punishable by lethal injection to have that song play and be interrupted by static! Drag out the staff of the station and shoot them like the dogs they are.”
“How exactly would that work?”
That was me talking. I don’t know why. My mouth said the words but I have no idea where the question came from.
My mouth, fresh from its recent triumph, continued the line of inquiry. “How could a radio station guarantee that everyone listening would hear the song in its entirety without driving out of range?”
It seemed a perfectly legitimate question to ask anyone but Roger at that exact moment.
“It’s simple math!” he replied and I thought for a moment that he’d leave it at that.
“The station would have to slowly boost the signal strength. They’d have to assume that the car would start at the very edge of their signal, traveling at least seventy miles an hour, and then continue to increase the transmission power output for the five minutes and twelve seconds required for the entire song to be received by the car in question, i.e. about six miles further than its current broadcast boundary.”
While my brain sat in awe of this quick thinking on the part of Roger my mouth decided to spoil everything.
“If you assume” began its rebuttal “that a radio station’s advertising dollars are based on the number of people those ads reach and the number of people reached is based on the strength of its signal, it stands to reason that any decision-maker at that station is going to always have the transmitter set to its strongest setting. To think otherwise is foolish. And that’s not even taking into account that the Federal Broadcasting Commission sets strict guidelines about how strong a signal can be in order to stop stations sharing the same bandwidth from bleeding into each other’s broadcasts.”
My head hit the windshield hard. I had not anticipated the force of which Roger applied his foot to the brakes. I literally lifted out of my seat and went headlong into the unforgiving glass.
“Get out” he said flatly.
I got out.
Angry at my mouth.
There’s a stretch of road between the middle of Pennsylvania and Ithaca, NY that seems oddly out of place. Hundreds and hundreds of miles where the road climbs and dips and on either side is a forest so thick that it looks like an endless green carpet laid over the land like a blanket.
I got to know that road well as it was almost two hours until the next truck picked me up. My feet refused to speak to my mouth the entire time.