Long White Line
Apparently this is the year of country music for me. I've never been a country guy - I had a quick phase when I was a kid where my family went to the Ozark Opry and my dad bought a record which I'd spin from time to time - but country music has always been pretty far off my radar. Especially "modern", what-you-hear-on-the-radio country music. Just not my thing.
But this year I've found myself drawn to some "authentic" country. It started when Gabe Megginson tweeted something about Tyler Childers, so I looked up who he was talking about and, in a fit of insomnia one night, listened for hours to some of the most authentic music I've ever heard. A dude from Eastern Kentucky singing about life in Appalachia. So, so real.
Six weeks after that I find myself driving to Memphis for an overnight trip with two of my sons (both Tyler Childers fans, it turns out) to see young Mr. Childers in concert. It also turns out that when I do this, I get VERY millennial and start recording myself singing to the songs I know. Camera flipped towards me and everything. Never drink at a concert.
With all of Tyler Childers' music devoured, I set out to find more music with the same authenticity. And I landed on Sturgill Simpson (who, it turns out, was the guy who discovered Tyler Childers - I have so much catching up to do in this Americana/rockabilly/outlaw country scene). Sturgill Simpson has a song that reminds me of that Ozark Opry record from my youth - a straight-out-of-the-70's tune called Long White Line. It's impossibly authentic.
Why? Because it's about driving a truck. Every great 1970's song should be about driving a truck, right? Eastbound and Down? Eddie Rabbit driving his life away looking for a better way? I don't know what a Florida Georgia Line is but I am all about this long white line.
It's just so real, you know? Here's some lyrics:
Went to the bank to get my dough
I don't care where I go
Gonna' push this rig 'til I push that girl out of my mind
If somebody wants to know
What's become of this so-and-so
Tell em' I'm somewhere looking for the end of that long white line
I think I love a good truck-driving song because we all ask the same question when we're out on the interstate: how do these guys (and gals) do it? If I have to drive to Madison, Wisconsin it feels like it takes forever - how does someone drive a truck full of grapefruit from Orlando to Minneapolis? And then back? What kind of life is that?
I should note here - Sturgill Simpson didn't write the song. It was written by someone named Buford Abner (because of course it was). Aaron Tippin first covered his song (I went and listened... it's baaad) and now Sturgill Simpson has covered it. Covers can feel authentic, especially when a man named Sturgill covers a song about truck-driving written by a man named Buford.
Why do I bring this up? Because the truck driving life speaks to me. It speaks to my Illini fandom. This decade - the only decade where I've blogged about my team - has felt so endless and pointless. That question I ask of the truck drivers? "How on earth do they do it"? I get asked that question all the time.
Seriously - all the time. When people find out how much I drive to Champaign - how many vacation days I use to cover the team - they can't get over it. For this team? Illinois? With absolutely zero payoff? I told someone recently that I made it to 11 basketball games last season, almost always arriving home between 1:30 and 2:30, often with work the next day, and they wanted to slap me. "For a 12-win basketball team?"
This is not a brag. This is not some SUPERFAN proclamation. Lord knows I've questioned my fandom so much in the last two years. There's a crowd of people who attend most every Illini football road game - those are the real fans. You the real MVP.
I'm saying this because it's just my thing. In the same way that trucker heading to Minneapolis with his grapefruit sees it as his thing. Looking for the end of that long white line? Makes total sense to that guy. Makes total sense to me.
I cannot wait to get to Champaign tomorrow. I won't sleep well tonight. This might be - 34 of 34 Big Ten writers believe it will be - yet another failed season with a detonation at the end and a new coach next spring. And yet here I am, hopeful.
I think the "I don't know how much more of this I can take" side of me died years ago. Just as it probably did for that trucker. It just is. The losses still hurt, and I still can't believe that this is the decade we've had, but a new season approaching? Maybe this is the year.
Because, honestly, maybe this is the year. No more youth excuse. No more "well they are the youngest team in the Big Ten....". We've endured the rebuild after Not Ideal and now we get to see the result. It's all clean and neat and tied up with a bow: the coach, who is now coordinating his own defense, either fixes it and starts winning or doesn't fix it and heads off to a beach somewhere. All seasons should be this neat and tidy, right?
Yes, there are big questions to discuss. If he's 5-6 and we miss a field goal to beat Northwestern and go bowling, with 31 seniors next season, what does Whitman do? If there's a bowl but it's a Zook-like 6-0 followed by 0-6, what does Whitman do? We'll have plenty of time to discuss those things over the next four months.
For now? I'm quite hopeful. I'm so ready for this camp to start. Yes, I moved us to DEFCON 2 during the spring game (man, it was bad), but it's time for a fresh start, right? I'll head to Champaign in the morning with a clear head. Time to see what we have.
Is it crazy to approach another Illini football season with optimism? Absolutely. But this is just what I do, man. This is who I am. Maybe this is the year. Maybe it finally starts to click. Maybe the transfers make a difference. Maybe a quarterback emerges.
Or, maybe I'm crushed again. Maybe we have to start over again. Maybe in four months we're firing the coach and hiring the next guy who will promise to bring Illinois football back. Maybe that's our future.
Until then? Tell 'em I'm somewhere looking for the end of that long white line.