Hello! This week, I'm at the Summer Writing Festival at the University of Iowa, so I thought I'd share a story I told for an exercise in one of my workshops. Just for a little context (not that a whole lot is needed), the goal was to tell a story about a recent event we had been a part of or witnessed in order to find a beginning, middle, and end to a scene:
During the last week of June, I took a trip up north to Minneapolis for Twin Cities Pride. It was a trip I was intimately familiar with, having taken a similar trip (albeit shorter) many times when I was in college at MSU Mankato. It was so familiar, in fact, that I went on autopilot for much of it, which helped to pass the seemingly endless time. As I was exiting off of Highway 18 (which, by the way, I didn't know was also known as the Avenue of the Saints? Probably the only one who didn't know that, but whatever) onto I-35, I had a sudden flashback.
A few weeks prior to this trip, I had watched a documentary about the creation of Don McClean's "American Pie" (The Day the Music Died, if you're interested in watching it) and the events that inspired many of the verses. The one that struck me the most was the effect of the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Velan, and The Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson, Jr.) on McClean's life and the creation of the song. It was, truly, "the day the music died" for him, and so that was a major inspiration. Through the course of watching the documentary, I learned that the crash site, as well as a memorial to Buddy Holly, was outside of Clear Lake, IA. Where I was about to drive past.
I'm not proud of the next two things I did for very different reasons. One: I looked up the directions to the crash site on my phone while I was driving (sorry, mom). Two: I typed it as the Billy Holiday crash site. Now, before anyone comes for me, I am aware that these are two distinctly different musicians, so leave me alone. I'll blame the ADHD for that one.
Anyway, I was able to pull up the directions and follow the maze of gravel roads to the crash site. In case you've never been there or want to know what it looks like, here is a picture:
So, it's a big pair of glasses for Buddy Holly, and the tradition is to leave a pair of glasses on the big pair of glasses. I pulled into the little parking lot across the road, where the only other vehicles were two cars and a small shuttle van. But no people that I could see. I walked quickly across the road as a nice man in a truck stopped to let me pass, and I pulled out my phone to call my mom. I wanted to surprise her with where I was, so I tried to video call her. As it was ringing, I saw a group of tourists come over the hill and offer to take a picture of me with the glasses. That was when my mom answered. So now I was sort of frantic, talking to both my mother and this group of tourists. I showed my mom the pair of glasses, and she reminded me to send them to my Papa (her dad) since he's such a fan of Buddy Holly. I quickly promised I would, noticing the tourists walking away. She also asked if I had a pair of glasses to leave. I didn't, and she playfully admonished me. I abruptly told her I had to hang up, and we promised to talk later. After I hung up, I pulled up my camera and handed it to the lady who'd offered to take my pictures. She took a couple and then they left, and I stood there with the statue for a short time.
I took in the impact of the moment this represented and, in turn, how important musicians are to the shaping of popular culture. As someone who is a musician (I've played piano for over 20 years, and I played clarinet for all the years I was in band), I also felt a sort of religious experience of all the emotions of all the people who had visited the site and felt it important enough to leave a pair of glasses. It was such a different kind of feeling, a sort of lift in my spirit that left me feeling content, tranquil. Eventually, I went back to my car, and I got back on the road, continuing my journey to Minneapolis. It was a detour I'll never forget.