At the gentle prodding (read: shameless provoking) of a friend, I cleaned my car on Sunday. It was filthy. Stratigraphers might have been able to use the dust on my dashboard to date the late jurassic period. A new species of lichen was glowing (yes, I meant glowing) in one of the cup holders. Moreover, like a boat that brings foreign species of seaweed to other lakes, my car may or may not be responsible for introducing new debris to places they most likely do not belong.
Of course my friend, who keeps her vehicle stately and in the shape she bought it from the car lot, was not the least bit shy in deriding me for my lack of cleanliness.
Accumulated filth is one thing, however, I routinely find that the much larger and unwieldy problem is the accumulated stuff. Stuff that I will now, like a Wes Anderson film, inventory for you:
2 pairs of sunglasses (1 for driving and casual use, 1 for heavy outdoor pursuits)
1 pair of glasses (to assuage night blindness)
1 pair of Chaco sandals
1 pair of Altra running shoes
1 North Face rain shell
1 Mizuno baseball mitt
1 Chicago Cubs baseball cap
1 iPod (5th generation, circa 2005, thank you)
1 wireless radio transmitter for iPod
5 novel (Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck, Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson, The Other Door by John Updike)
1 pocket sized journal with trail notes, etc.
1 pocket sized trail guide (Best Durango Hikes edited by Jeff Eislele)
2 Nalgene water bottles
1 Kindle Paperwhite
1 Osprey hydration pack
3 bags of trail mix
1 apple (half-eaten)
1 Pagosa Springs Folk and Bluegrass festival booklet
3 dog leashes
1 collapsible canine water dish
1 Epiphone Sheraton semi-hollowbody electric guitar
1 Swart STR Tremolo electric guitar amplifier
1 photograph of Little League baseball team (self featured on the left, notated as assistant coach)
1 PA loudspeaker (2 channel, powered, rated at 200 watts)
1 vintage suitcase filled with live sound equipment (including mixing board, microphone and instrument cables, microphones and original recording CD’s)
1 baseball bat bag carrying 2 microphone stands and 1 speaker stand)
1 sleeping bag (down, rated to -20 degrees)
1 wooden baseball bat
1 handheld power saw and battery
1 milk crate containing first aid kit, extension cord, half consumed bottle of water, lint roller, 3 tennis balls and spare t-shirt
1 folding camping chair
If a professor I once had is correct and indeed, you can tell a lot about a person by the things they keep in their car, I think that we can all agree that I am a bit of a mixed bag. However, there are a few assumptions that are easily arrived at.
1. I am a musician. (The guitar, amplifier and suitcase full of cables are dead giveaways. Unless, of course, I am a thief, which may also be true.)
2. I am active. (See: running shoes, headlamp, plethora of water bottles, trail guide, etc. Oh, and the Chacos.)
3. I like baseball. A lot. Also, I am a classy sort of guy (Cubs cap- need I say more?)
4. I like to read. A whole, whole lot.
5. I am prepared for just about anything. (Rain shell. First aid kit. Sleeping bag. Camping chair. Also, power saw.)
6. I have a dog.
To many of my friends, the list of things in my car and the generalizations I make about myself come as no surprise. Of course I have a dog- he goes most everywhere with me. Of course I have a Cubs hat in my car. Of course there is a Steinbeck novel on the front seat. However, there are people who used to be in my life for whom these things would come as a completely shocking surprise. These are people who knew me when I did not like fiction and preferred instead only to read nonfiction titles regarding politics, history, philosophy and compelling historical or contemporary figures. To them, my having a novel on my front seat is a stark and drastic change. These are people who knew me when my long-held love affair with baseball and sports was kept very private because I felt that a serious musician ought not to also follow scores, trades and highlights. I felt sports and music were incongruent and that I could not be compelled by the both. Moreover, the idea that I would have an electric guitar and amplifier in my car as opposed to a drum set is nigh on unthinkable to some of my former compatriots in Oregon. To them, I am Cyle the drummer. So it is when I play the drum set here, in Colorado. Many of my musician acquaintances are confused, associating me only with my singer/songwriter endeavors.
It’s an imperfect metric, but my old professor is absolutely correct. We tend to keep in our vehicles that which is most important to us (there is a socioeconomic dissertation about first world order, organization and the luxury that we Americans have become used to, but I’ll save that for another time). Bicyclists keep their bicycles with them. Computer people are surrounded by USB cables, hard drives and tech-y stuff that I don’t know anything about. If you have a child, you probably have, as my cleanly friend does, a change of clothes and a few toys nearby at all times. We surround ourselves with the things we like, but more importantly, we surround ourselves with the things we need.
Perhaps most interesting, though, is that the things we have with us now are (probably) not the things you had with you even a year ago.
I found myself thinking more about the people who had birthed these interests in me than in the interests themselves. The former girlfriend who was an avid hiker and backpacker who then inspired me to get out more. The former friend who was a brilliant electric guitar player and who made me think, ‘Huh, maybe I can do that!’. The former friend and lover of fiction who ceaselessly recommended me books. The same friend who, upon realizing that I knew more about sports than I let on, began asking me about scores, about trades and about the teams and players I liked, thereby showing me that sports and music are not incongruous and that a person can indeed exist with a wide array of interests (and thrive, thank you very much). The uncle who left the dog.
Perhaps my old professor was absolutely correct, but also a little wrong. Perhaps what he should’ve said was that you can tell an awful lot about a person by the contents of their car and that subsequently, you can also tell an awful lot about the sorts of people they associate with.
It would seem that the people we gather, much like the things we gather, are unwieldy and large influences in our lives.
So thank you, former girlfriend, for the unsightly tan lines and the incredible things I’ve gotten to see. Thank you, electric guitar friend, for the years of agony I have spent trying to figure the damned thing out and for the endless fun I’ve had in doing so. And thank you, dear reader of fiction, for changing my mind on Steinbeck and allowing me to love Sportscenter and Pitchfork equally. Oh, and special thanks to you, dear uncle. The dog has, far and away, the most expansive influence on these, the contents of my life.
After all, nearly everything I own is covered in dog hair.