Tight toy night, streets were so bright.
The world looked so thin and between my bones and skin
there stood another person who was a little surprised
to be face to face with a world so alive.
Verlaine is a poet’s name.
His words licking the backs of my eyes with perfect phrases wrapped in the inspired extensions of time, I stood in front of a dark stage. The modern architecture and clean lines of the room contrasted the raw history of the music being played there. I felt my stomach vibrate as two middle-aged men traded guitar melodies. I was late, thirty years late, but somewhere in the crunch and roil of the architecture of these songs I could feel things I’d only seen in films: dirty nightclubs, rain-streaked citystreets, the feeling that what you are making is going to last, for someone. Lyrics as poets, epic arguments as solos, riding the skinny rails of a big new world.
I was in Seattle, watching a reunion tour of Television at the Experience Music Project. My friend K and I had gotten the same night off work and driven from Portland to Seattle to see the reunion show of this famed 70s punk band that I’d only recently discovered and that he preached was one of the greatest. We were relieved they were still good. Blown away, actually, to experience such a hallowed set of songs in person. There’s something bizarre about watching an album you’ve relegated to past eras, to vinyl, to Influence, come alive before you, even in an odd, clean, and un-drunken physical space.
It was July, hot and dry in the mid-Northwest, and after something like several straight hours standing at the show and at the bar before the show, I slipped my sneakers off in the passenger side as K navigated his way south out of the monolithic parking garage. I had brought my Polaroid camera, an SX-70 Land Camera that had a perfectly placed light leak and rudimentary control of exposure lengths. The shaky-cam angles I’d attempted of the sunset on the ride up from Portland were still in a curling triptych where I’d laid them on the dashboard after the old camera spit them out like toast from a toaster. The snuck shot of K in the blue of the gas station lights hadn’t turned out, hadn’t done justice to the ritualistic feeling of being on a road trip to see a rock band with a friend on a still summer eve.
I had a feeling of something beginning. Friendship, fandom, my new life in the wide open Northwest far away from the weight of the past years spent sandwiched between the hot concrete aisles of Manhattan. At that time, K and I probably had crushes on one another, heightening my buzz, but that wasn’t the point. The point was, it was lovely.
K turned a corner, finally in traffic, and made a long slow left at a yellow light into the queu for the highway. I held the Polaroid aloft out the open window and pressed the shutter as he turned the wheel. The exposure opened up wide.
An hour later we were in the slow lane in the dark, being shown up time and again by the passing wheel-wells of semi trucks, doggedly plowing south.
I still shook the Polaroid absent-mindedly. I moved my bare toes on the glovebox in slow motion repetitions of the band’s earlier rhythms.
Through the dirty windshield played a live-action, frame-by-frame montage in fast-forward: trees, sky, trees, concrete, trees. And on the concrete, rows and rows of undulating white bumps—those funny round lane dividers paved into the road to keep you on the right side, to accept your eyes’ focus when another driver’s blinding bright-lights came at you in the dark from the other lane, to jerk you into awakeness when you nodded off at the wheel and drifted over into oncoming traffic.
I pointed vaguely to the floor of the highway and said, “I love those, at night. Driving. They, like, glow.”
“Bot’s Dots,” said K.
I could see the outline of his profile, messy spirals of black and silver hair silhouetted against the green-black night sky out the window. But I had no idea what he was saying.
“Bot’s Dots. Don’t you call them that?”
“Call what what?”
“Those little white bump thingies on the side of the lane. Bot’s Dots.”
“Oh. That’s what my dad always said they’re called. On road trips. We always wondered who the hell Bot was, and how the hell he ended up inventing some stupid dots to put between the lanes on freeways.”
“We didn’t call them anything. They’re just … the lane divider thingies.”
“Oh. I thought everyone called ‘em that. Maybe my dad was full of shit. He was full of shit about everything else. You wanna put a new CD in?”
As a kid, weekend drives with my Dad were more about lines than dots. The man-made white bumps of highway order were never a part of the topography of our day trips, nor was the discussion of such topics; for the Martin family, the road meant only three things: silence, the constant soundtrack of rock and roll pumping from the cassette player in the car, and views of farm fields that seemed never to be harvested.
The fields—the inverted blue and green stripes of row upon row of produce, the agricultural architecture veeing by as Dad’s Volkwagen took turns at 50mph and took the long way via Watsonville, Salinas, Gonzales, and other Californianizations of Spanish nomenclature—the fields might have had names, but I wouldn’t have known them. At highway speeds, even on traffic days, all I could see out the backseat window were stripes of ripening agricultural bounty that intersected the road at a perpendicular angle, providing driversby with a perfect geometrical display of vanishing points, horizon points, and v-shaped jaws of plant life threatening momentarily to envelop your car before suddenly disappearing, only for new ones to immediately take their place.
Watching the produce lines was like watching tennis, except beautiful: I placed my face directly on the car window, my nose leaving a smudge on the glass and my eyes approaching, retreating, and reproaching along with the man-vs.-nature horizon. By age 10 I could identify the fruits of my homestate, the products of this land: the artichokes, rows, strawberries, fields, figs, rows, garlic, and the men—the nameless men, bent low behind trucks, in the shade of stacked palettes, kneeling in the short fields out in the open, inscrutable dark faces squinting, sunglasses-less, from beneath straw hats blanched white and soft by the light of the central valley sun, by the life. I liked the men, and I liked the view, and I liked doodling with my finger in the glass-fog left behind by my nose, and I liked following the dizzying v-lines of the fields until my head hurt and I had to blink and rub my eyes and roll down the window.
That was all that ever happened in Dad’s car: vees and headaches. We didn’t talk. Didn’t need to. The only people who spoke freely in that blue VW squareback were rock ‘n’ roll men—no one as obscure as Tom Verlaine, but often his brothers-in-arms Bob Dylan and Lou Reed (80s solo Lou)—and everybody liked it that way. So no, there hadn’t been any discussion of white round lane-divider bumps or their namesake. But at night, through the window, when the fields were too dark to see, the dots glowed. I liked that, too.
The Polaroid dried in my hand and the moon rose and the landscape revealed change like a torn curtain.