Thursday, April 24, 2008

the night i met tom petty was grim, cold, maybe even snowy, and it was on an interstate rest area in northern ohio, which in fact was where i was born and raised. that is to say, i was born in cleveland and raised until i was ten in toledo, spent the rest of my childhood in pittsburgh and buffalo, but spent some of those times travelling back and forth to iowa to visit grandparents, and, having settled in rural iowa in my mid-twenties, now found travelling back through ohio to be somewhat like going home. it was twelve hours straight driving from pittsburgh to iowa, sixteen maybe from buffalo to iowa, and it would be a little more than that hitchhiking, but it didn't bother me, because at either end, where i was going, i could catch up on my sleep, and would, though sometimes i would fall asleep in some truck in the wee hours of the morning when i probably should have been trying to keep the poor guy awake. there was always plenty of traffic in the industrial north- no matter what time i was out there, there were plenty of cars; my problem was the opposite, if there were too many, there was no room to stop, or if there was room, it didn't appear that way. road construction was worst in the sense that if people were in "danger" mode they just plain wouldn't stop, and i'd be stuck for hours. but the wee hours themselves were not a problem, and neither was terrible weather- in fact it worked in my favor, in that usually i didn't have to wait as long, no matter where i was.

i heard a lot of music when i was out hitchhiking, usually in car radios, usually the music of the driver's choice though occasionally it was the radio station of my choice. the night i met tom petty i still hadn't heard of him though, and that was partly because i was living way out in rural iowa and hadn't been listening to much popular music at all, at the time. in other words, i'd left iowa, gone back to buffalo, and was now on my way back west, and when this particular incident happened i didn't recognize tom petty's name, even though he was already famous, and i probably should have recognized his name. i had been dropped off at the rest area- knowing, actually, that it was probably illegal, yet it was safe because it had a kind of on-ramp with plenty of room for cars or trucks to pull over, and was well-lit- yet it was the wee hours, maybe four or five in the morning, the grim cold of winter or early spring. i was cold and walked back into the rest area to use the bathroom and was considering a cup of coffee. but i was wide awake, and one reason for that was that i was back on my old stomping grounds, the ohio turnpike. something about it made me smile, made me happy to be there, unafraid of anything really, and i don't remember being especially burdened by a pack; if i had one at all, it wasn't heavy. as i got to the bathroom a number of men were coming and going, and as doors were opening and shutting, he was coming out and i was going in, and i just happened to come face-to-face with tom petty, who also smiled at me as i was smiling at him. impulsively he reached out and shook my hand, and said, hi, i'm tom petty. i shook and said, hi, i'm tom leverett. i'm sure he expected me to instantly know his name, but i didn't. i'd been listening to bluegrass or something, and just hadn't heard it, or hadn't been in the habit of remembering it when i did.

but the ironic thing was, i heard a tom petty song soon after, before i'd even got back to iowa. it was on somebody's radio, and when i heard his voice and heard his name, i knew it was him. sometimes these cities would play more of a guy and his band, when the band was on tour and was coming to the city, and i'm sure that was happening, in either chicago, or detroit, or maybe toledo itself. why else would he be on the turnpike at four in the morning?

a lot of songs remind me of those days, one in particular called
heavy weather, a fast-moving jazz song, which came up during some blizzards and in particular in one in pennsylvania that i'll never forget. the pretenders- another band from northern ohio, which embraced rock and roll, fast-moving, it would keep you awake when you were driving on rutted roads or through cities with green highway signs everywhere you looked. but i put tom petty songs in the same category, if only because it gives me a smile to remember it. i was there. i met him. it was just a coincidence, maybe, but sooner or later, just about everyone comes through that little stretch of road.

just passing through- true travel stories from out there



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