This is a series of stories inspired by background music. My clearest memories are often tied to the music playing nearby. Like mile markers or souvenirs from a road trip, there are songs that point directly to certain moments. Life is a highway and these are the loudest billboards.
Pontoon by Little Big Town is a song that pop country music apologists apologize for. I remember watching an interview where the band even described the process of writing “an obnoxious song about a pontoon.” However, this song has an incomprehensible power to make me cry. Music is awful. Music is wonderful. Click here to Read Pt. 1.
"The county fair's just about a half hour away from here." Steve said, his teeth ripping a scrap of steak off of his fork. "Think you'd probably like it. On your way back too."
"Yeah!" His girlfriend chimed in, "There's lots to do, we used to go all the time."
"Watch your wallet, though, there's a lot more black people there than there used to be." Steve offered this piece advice as he tore off another bite of the sinewy steak. "I seen you talking to them on the job though, so you'll be all right, yeah."
I nodded. "I'm not worried. What's at the fair?" I said, trying to brush past his crude oblivion. No heroic objection. Steve was one of the few guys on my crew that liked me. I needed him on my side.
A couple hours later, I was pulling into the parking lot of the Danville-Pittsylvania County Fair. It had turned into a pleasant enough evening. The humidity had cut enough to lessen the effort for every breath. I felt listless, though. It had been a bizarre day and loneliness is only heightened in crowded areas. I wandered through the crowded fair, through a tunnel of people. The music was fighting for attention over the children screaming.
After discussing the merits of donkeys with a bored kid at the petting zoo, I headed toward the Ferris Wheel. As I stood in line, watching the creaking metal wheel protest every movement, there was a burst of confusion to my left.
Everyone in line turned in unison like rubberneck machines, created to find best view of a car wreck. A black man barreled through the crowd after a white man. The white man clutched a backpack in front of him, weaving and ducking through the crowd. "Hey!" the other man yelled. "Come back here! That asshole took my backpack!" He screamed, jumping over a picnic table and just missing the top of thief's head. They quickly disappeared into the heaving masses.
The brief opening they created in the crowd was quickly closed by the spectators, soon returning their attention to cotton candy and lights. I handed the irritable Ferris Wheel attendant some money and sat down in the seat. The wheel slowly rotated and the crowd grew quieter, eventually just a low din below the music playing out. It clumsily staggered toward the apex of the ride. The sun was setting, disappearing behind an explosion of pinks and blues. Below me, the music had changed.
"On a pontoon!"
The words drifted up from the ground and into the air.
"Makin' waves and catchin' rays up on the roof"
I looked down at the demolition cars speeding through the muddy arena and the crowd milling about.
"Party in slow motion, out here in the open"
I laughed and made plans to tell Steve about who actually stole a wallet.