Road rules

Traveling America by car can be a wonderful adventure, especially if you have time to spare, friends to visit between Points A and B, cash to burn, and—most importantly—a partner in crime. I look forward to someday seeing our great nation in such an idyllic fashion. Unfortunately, I've driven between Seattle and New York three times and always had to haul my fat ass from coast to coast in a week or less—usually alone.

Greetings from Bismarck, ND, at the close of my fourth day of solitude behind the wheel. Before succumbing to either the hideous quilted Comfort Inn bedspread beckoning me to sleep or the siren's call of my complimentary drink coupon, I'd like to share a few insights about what to listen to when engaged in an odyssey such as mine. Should you be called upon to bust your hump crossing the US of A lickety-split, hopefully these pointers will minimize fatigue and road rage.

1. Pack tunes that you can sing along with. I once spent six days in a rental truck with a friend who could only relieve me at the wheel if she knew the words to the music playing; she didn't actually have a driver's license, and singing calmed her nerves. I'd packed everything from Mozart to M�y Cre, but all she'd permit when it was her turn was Madonna's The Immaculate Collection or Bananarama's Greatest Hits. Astonishingly, time flew by.

This is even more fun solo, as there's nobody to mock your horrible pitch, lyrical gaffes, or inexplicable compulsion to hear Rick Astley's "Together Forever" repeatedly.

2. Minimize unwelcome surprises by picking music you're thoroughly familiar with. Last June, I was navigating rush hour on Chicago's Dan Ryan Express while half-listening to a friend's new techno mix. Suddenly, in the midst of some especially fast-moving traffic, a Scottish voice boomed "We are the soldiers of the underground!" and I shot through the windshield. If you plan on bringing the otherwise charming self-titled debut from local hip-hop outfit the Evil Tambourines (Sub Pop), remember to skip the track "Library Nation." The random primal screams from guest vocalist Al Larsen (of Some Velvet Sidewalk infamy) will surely send you sailing into the path of an oncoming semi.

3. Avoid the temptation to listen to talk radio, even when that's all the scan button turns up on the dial. You don't want to know what the locals think of the likes of you.

4. Books on tape aren't as queer as they seem. I recommend Henry Rollins' Get In the Van: On the Road with Black Flag (2.13.61/Time Warner AudioBooks). You'll stop feeling sorry for yourself PDQ as Rollins recounts a half-decade spent touring nonstop, being bested by equipment, vans, and the elements, attacked by skinheads, burned and beaten by fans, ripped off by promoters, and mocked by B-list British punk acts. Two hours and 40 minutes later, your fear of the police will have multiplied tenfold.

5. Listening to drum and bass only brings misery. Think closely. It's the soundtrack for every other car commercial. Life does not imitate art. You will not be magically whisked to a winding country road in France simply because you popped in the latest from DJ Krust. On the open road, sunlight will never dapple your vehicle. Play all the Roni Size you want; the sun will still beat down through the windshield like some snot-nosed delinquent with a magnifying glass trained on a bug. Your car will sense your frustration and disappointment, and retaliate by breaking down in a desolate quarter of Wyoming.

6. Remain cognizant of which acts make you push the pedal to the metal, unless you're hankering for a speeding ticket (lord knows some people will do anything to chat up a man in uniform). Burning rubber to early X or Underworld is an excellent idea on the open roads of the prairie states, but inadvisable as the speed limits decrease back East, especially on the Ohio and Pennsylvania Turnpikes.

7. In the event that you get pulled over, turn off the stereo immediately. You cannot charm Smoky by popping in Hank Williams before rolling down the window—this tactic will result in an increased fine when your disdain for or ignorance of Tim McGraw and Martina McBride quickly comes to light. Music only soothes the savage breast beneath a badge in gay porn, where boys in blue too buff to be believable leer through the driver's side window as a house track thumps from the speakers and snarl knowingly, "Fancy that, Leadfoot—I collect dance music, too. Follow me back to my place and you can check out my 12-inches."

 
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