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Conjuring the Lyrics to Freeway

Freeway – a song about a road trip and a free spirit

It all started with Steve’s poem. Stephen is my brother. While being a natural poet, he has spent a large part of his life working on oil rigs and in heavy industry. 

A few years ago, the winter holiday season presented one of those freak occasions…a need to bring a car back and the perfect opportunity to embark on a 1000-mile road trip just the two of us, from Orlando Florida to Springfield Missouri. 

Early January the weather in Florida was nicely warm and dry. The remainder of our party was to fly back to Missouri. After breakfast, goodbyes were exchanged and - not really planning a thing – our adventure began. 

We headed west the 2 hours or so from Orlando to Tampa then the short stretch to Clearwater Beach. What a beautiful ambience has that place - it’s ok to ‘do nothing’. I love to watch the sea birds, especially the pelicans. We found the most cheerful hotel, hung up our hats and headed to the beach. 

I caught a few rays and snapped a few photos, while Steve took a swim in the sea. He swam past the lapping waves into deeper water and I noticed he came close to a clanging buoy. Illogically, I began to keep a keen eye out recalling a scene from Jaws. It was a relief when he finally got out of the water! There was a beautiful sunset that evening.

Little did we know that the photos we took would come to be the Freeway Double Album cover. The next day we convinced ourselves away and drove the slow road up the Gulf coast. Before long we had turned the corner and by the end of the day rolled into Panama City Beach.

The north coast by comparison is more wild and windswept. Powerful waves crashed the beach. The wet sands were awash with big blue jellyfish that looked to have been kicked up by a storm. The beaches were deserted but for a security type guy stationed in a pickup. We popped over and asked, ‘what are the jellyfish?’. They were ‘Man o’ War’. Luckily - though pretty new and naive to these phenomenon - we left them well-alone.

Back at the hotel we were the only guests in the restaurant, with our own waiter at table. I felt like a queen on the set of ‘The Shining’ all so alone we were, in party-land. 

Like many of the beachfront hotels in Florida, our quarters had tile flooring and exited straight to the exterior - we guessed it was for easy wash-out of sand. Up a few floors, we said our goodnights early, and I walked the gamut of a windy walkway to my room. Opening the door, I saw an apartment that went back a long way, dimmed by wooden shutters and two single beds sat to the right. Through the windows was a fantastic panorama as far as the eye could see. Down below, the pool-bar was being buffeted, palm trees were lashing frantically. Feeling the glorious solitude I was lulled to sleep by the surround-sounds of mother nature doing its thing outside.

Next morning was crisp and sunny. The wind had stopped. Steve and I met out front. We packed up the car and walked across the road for a hearty breakfast in a little café busy with winter hotel-contractors. We had met one contractor the day before, teetering in a lift halfway between floors.

Then back to the car and on we went. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves in the sailing town of Destin. We parked up to stretch our legs - checked out the boats in the harbor and watched the fishermen and tour guides going about their daily business. Driving further west, we caught a tea break at Fort Walton beach, where we took in the brrrr-eezy pier and watched the die hard surfers - there was some pretty good surfing going on! 

We reached Pensacola by early evening, a little more happening of a place was this. Rock music wafted from a beach bar that opened onto the sands. A few young ones were playing pool and a sea dog sat in a corner with a beer and a newspaper (ok my imagination runs away with me at times!) We grabbed some food, quaffed a few scoops and enjoyed drinking-in the sea air equally as well. Steve went into 'oil rig mode' and decided to stay a while and chat to the locals. I happily crashed at the hotel, flagging after the long day's drive.

Next day early we said goodbye to the coast and turned the car northwards. 

Driving through Alabama, one can feel like the only person in the world (or at least on the continent of the United States). There is so much ‘empty’ space between each city. We couldn’t decide whether this felt good, or unsettling! 

On a quiet forest road a possible bear-sighting was added to memory. It was then we realized we needed to refuel! (and take a break). Fortunately soon we came upon a little gas station. The outdoor entry to the washroom though was locked; the key with the store keeper. I remained at the pumps filling up, while Stephen went into the store…and promptly came out again, muttering quickly ‘there’s a queue it looks like the cast of Star Wars in there’! Steve is hilarious the comedian of the family. A place you would miss if you blinked and yet pretty full of folk - and even a good British queue, albeit left to my imagination. We soon hit the road again. 

Through Birmingham, then NOT onto to a chilly Chattanooga. Super friendly chatty Chattanooga. Choo-Choo and aquarium too. That was a port of call indeedy on December's southbound leg to Florida...still, a 'done and dusted' worthy of a mention.

Just after sunset, we rolled into Nashville. 

The weather driving north had gradually turned bitterly cold. A stone’s throw from Nashville’s main drag we reached the hotel - a creaky old place that had a warm smell of wood polish. I remember its cramped and unnervingly rumbly elevator and Steve – admiring all things antique – advising it was likely as solid as a rock…which it was. We explored, went into a record store and met a dead ringer for Johnny Cash. I had to let him know. He took it as a compliment. We enjoyed the quaint downtown 'main drag. This time what I remember most is the frozen-to-the-bone feeling, walking along the river path past the big old bridge.

Next day we rode into Memphis. Beale Street looked a little worn around the edges, yet another place we had visited on the southbound leg so we decided to soldier on, crossing the wide river Mississippi, (which also forms the border with other States). Shortly thereafter, we hit Missouri turf. 

We drove through dilapidated towns of days gone by and cities with main streets so short they were gone in the twinkling of an eye. We crossed the Missouri expanses of the Mark Twain National Forest – its picturesque views and bluffs - until the trees parted and the scenery turned into rolling farmlands.

As the sun was setting, Springfield loomed an orange glow in the distance. On a frosty January evening we arrived back home. 

And so it was. The end of our 1000-mile trip. “Let's do it again!” we high fived. But like everything, would it be the same? One might say it was little or nothing, but as siblings who live an ocean apart who have not explored much of the States by car, it was a trip to treasure.

Stephen returned to England and wrote a poem as he often does as a memento. It was from snips of Steve’s poem that the lyrics to Freeway were originated.

{photos by Alison Fleming} 


Sipping Pensacola, Mississippi in Mind ~ a poem by Stephen Hugill

Flip the top, Hit the gas, 

Precious moments coming thick and fast, 

Ships on a wacky tack, 

Clear way freeway, leaving water behind, 

Drivin’ on that tacky black, 

Young ‘n’ fun, beach, balls and bums, 

Shades and braids these careless days, 

Flip-flops, ice-pops, melting me away, away, away 

Big blue skies stinging my eyes, in a dash my feet are on 

Tears streaking the face my cheeks are on 

These days so hot and so long, and on and on 

Slappin’ eyes, cutting bends top-gun pretends 

Pulling the hood, needle’s on red 

Scootin’ bears, playin’ dead 

42 to a barrel, men will quarrel 

It’s comin’ thick ‘n’ fast that oil 

Bears in cold beer traps 

10 gallon hats talkin’ caps 

And again tomorrow, so hollow, so hollow 

Through cotton fields under cotton clouds 

Balmy Alabama playing hard and loud 

Flamingo land behind 

We got Birmingham in mind 

Big teeth in a dog a tendency 

Chomping tender steak a certainty 

Chiming to the Nashville strip 

Surely it’s Tennessee we’ve hit 

Fast over the ironer we go 

Big slow black water down below 

Missing that town, homeward bound 

Shades down to the setting sun we ride 

Slappin’ the tacky black, a tear in the eye. 

© 2010 Stephen Hugill 

(PS note an inference to the ‘Deepwater Horizon’ oil spill of 2010) 

Steve continues to write poetry, record-engineer music and is an inventor of many extraordinary things. He also runs a successful antique radiator business in Yorkshire UK.