Large swaths of California are comprised of what Steve called “music deserts”: areas lacking quality radio stations. Places where you look out the window of your car and see nothing but expansive fields of…lettuce, perhaps—or Love’s gas stations and bare hills covered in parched grass; and the soundtrack to this depressing landscape consists of outdated pop, tacky country (“if I had a dozen roses/I’d send them to her/just to have her back!”), or Jesus shit. Actually, the Spanish-only stations often had good driving music, and since Steve couldn’t understand the lyrics, he had no way of knowing if the writing was bad. Since leaving the Bay Area, Steve spent much of his time on the road angrily switching between stations before finally landing on something passable—only to lose signal and have to start the whole process over. His mood was made drearier still by the lingering diarrhea caused by a Denny’s outside of San Jose.

              Fortunately, though, Los Angeles was not far out. The coastal views lifted his spirits, as did the increased quality of the music on the radio. Tasteful soft rock; liberal, urban America beckoned once again. Steve caught the tail-end of “Come on Eileen” before stumbling upon a personal favorite: “Daniel,” by Elton John. Right away he grooved to the gloomy synth and drummed his hands on the steering wheel. Started singing along even before Elton could describe Daniel’s lonely overnight flight to Spain.

              “Do you know what the song’s actually about?” Steve asked. Though he was the only one in the car and no one was on the phone with him, he waited a few moments before answering his own question. “It’s about a Vietnam veteran. Written from the perspective of the younger brother, I guess? The older brother—Daniel—went away to war and, well, as you could imagine, he didn’t come back the same. That’s why Elton says those things, about how Daniel’s ‘eyes have died, but you see more than I.’ Get it? Pretty sad, huh?”

              Steve paused his rambling to sing the chorus, to chant that Daniel was indeed a star in the face of the sky. Maybe he didn’t sound as good as Elton but, shit, his own singing brought tears to his eyes all the same. That’s how much he believed the song.

              “I don’t know why,” he said, “but for some reason I used to think that Elton was singing about a lover. I clearly wasn’t paying enough attention to the lyrics, though. I mean, you know, given the fact that at one point he even says ‘Daniel, my brother.’ Shit!”

              These moments on the road, alone with the person he missed the most, loved the most, that’s what made the driving bearable. Enjoyable, actually. That’s what made it possible to put up with the fact that most of the country was just stinky lettuce (cabbage? What crop gave off that awful smell?), diarrhea, and bad music.

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