It’s been an hour since I woke up, and I’m already dozing. The constant rhythm of lane mark dashings keep me in a somewhat hypnotic trance as the sun rises to my left. Only twenty minutes until I arrive at SFO. Traffic is minimal and I’m able to speed about ten miles above the limit. I’m currently listening to a classical station that buzzes in and out based on my elevation. Right now it is playing Ravel’s Bolero, casting my drive as an epic excursion.
The Bay doesn’t seem quite real to my New York sensibilities. As I make my way down 101, I let the epicness of the open landscape expand me. There are no buildings blocking the sun. No corners to turn or people to avoid. The slow ¾ of Ravel's Bolero turns the hills over on themselves, and the triplet sixteenth notes, along with the caffeine in my black coffee, keep my fluttering eyes awake. It’s been slowly building over the last twelve minutes, to the point that sometimes I forget that it’s been playing so long.
I think of the rumor I heard that it was Ravel’s late onset dementia that caused him to write such a repetitive and enduring piece. They thought, at the time, it may have been a form of mania or PTSD brought on by driving ambulances in World War One. What would come across to other composers as static and boring, to him was revolutionary. It never gets boring. The trombone is soloing. The road bends slightly right and down, and then left, and right again, and then I see it: the bridge seems to appear on the downbeat where the flute part splits and is joined for the first time by the trumpets, clarinets, and oboes. There are two melodic themes; a lighthearted one, and a more tense paranoia inducing one. But the accompaniment is always light and driving; to the point of sounding mechanical. The drum that was once a flutter of a heart, is now a machine gun; an army battalion. The whisper of encouragement from a mother is now the hope that will keep a squad of men alive. What was the taunting on the playground is now the bombs of the enemy. For every seed of hope or doubt is a corresponding macro-system. But the backdrop is always there, always profoundly good; and sometimes darkly humorous when necessary. We’ve been in the key of C for sixteen minutes, and as the red Dodge Caravan I rented with Paul's credit card approaches the Golden Gate bridge, Ravel modulates to E and the whole earth seems to lift outside itself. The sun is now revealing itself just over the horizon, and the water in the bay sparkles with a passive vengeance. The orchestra crescendos into a chromatic crash, and I pumult my way into San Francisco. I turn off the radio and make the rest of the trip in silence, lightly tapping the fingers of my left hand on outside panel of the car door.