It has been at least 100 years but I remember it as though it were yesterday. On a motorcycle tour, traversing the Volunteer State of Tennessee, it was my good fortune to find myself in the city of Nashville during a performance of the Grand Ole Opry. My favorite, Johnny Cash, was the headliner and the best tickets money could buy were purchased for that evening’s concert.
His first song was “Ring of Fire.” The second was a duet with June Carter. A bit later in the show after “Hillbilly Hijinks” Johnny came back with “I’ve Been Everywhere.”
With its dismissive attitude and its braggadocio flavor I’ve never much cared for that song and Johnny Cash reprising the Hank Snow version didn’t help.
For those readers who have never been inflicted with this song and with apologies to Johnny Cash and Hank Snow here is a snippet:
Listen, I’ve traveled every road in this here land!
I’ve been everywhere, man.
I’ve been everywhere, man.
Crossed the deserts bare, man.
I’ve breathed the mountain air, man.
Of travel I’ve had my share, man.
I’ve been everywhere.
I’ve been to:
Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota, Buffalo, Toronto, Winslow, Sarasota,
Wichita, Tulsa, Ottawa, Oklahoma, Tampa, Panama, Mattawa, La Paloma,
Bangor, Baltimore, Salvador, Amarillo… Etc.”
(It continues for several more nauseating verses.)
The song has clever phraseology and a good beat but like they used to say on American Bandstand, “You can’t dance to it.” More importantly, every time I hear it I want to argue with the list of towns.
I stood up at the end of Johnny Cash’s rendition and yelled out at the top of my lungs, “Oh yeah, you didn’t mention El Monte, Yellowknife, Yakima, or Walla Walla … so … you haven’t been everywhere.” Little did I know my seat was in the middle of the reserved section for the Cash family. Immediately attacked, I was pummeled with purses, shopping bags filled with root vegetables and pelted with flying missiles from every seat within 10 rows. I had defiled a country god. How dare I speak out against the hero of the Opry? Beaten senseless with broken fiddles and old washboards, choked out with cat gut guitar strings, security showed up, took their turn, thrashing me senseless before finally turning me over to the local sheriff.
After lingering in the Nashville poky for years, I was in court for the arraignment: “But, honest, judge, I didn’t mean to impugn the veracity of Mr. Cash. He is my hero. I have all his records and was just accepted into the membership of the Johnny Cash Fan Club of Duluth, Minnesota. My only intent was to prove that he had not been everywhere. As a Nashville judge, you know this better than anyone, the one thing we insist on with country music is honesty and truth. By mentioning four towns that he had not been to I proved that the singer and songwriter have not been honest. They were not telling the truth. No country western tune could abide a dishonest travel song. As an American citizen it was my duty and responsibility to jump up from the audience to call them on it. I beg the court’s and Johnny’s forgiveness but I had to do it.”
Yep … I then served a 20-year hitch on a Tennessee chain gang for that one.
Some years later I just happened to be at the Harley dealer, sitting outside, soaking up some rays, drinking a cup of free dealership coffee, when a big guy swaggered out wearing a T-shirt that read: “Been there, done that and bought the T-shirt.”
Feeling friendly, I asked him, “Really? Is it true?” I like asking people about the sayings on their T-shirts.
This gentleman stopped and said, “Is what true?”
“What it says on your T-shirt.”
He looked down to read his wardrobe’s slogan upside down and said, “Yeah, why?”
“I figured you must be a real mileage guy with lots of highway experience. Thought we could compare notes on some motorcycle events or maybe you could make some nifty suggestions about out-of-the-way roads or localities that are worth the trouble.”
“You got a big mouth.” He stood erect, leaned in and took his best bully pose. “You being a sarcastic smart ass?”
Realizing that neither of us understood the other, we locked eyes and didn’t blink. I didn’t answer him, brought the cup of coffee to my lips and for a while we just stared at each other. Eventually he figured it wasn’t worth the trouble of washing my blood out of his new T-shirt, so he turned away and walked to his truck.
It was not the first time I had been accused of sarcasm or being a smartass with a big mouth but this time I was just looking for some friendly biker conversation at the Harley dealership.
When it comes to asking strangers questions concerning road information not all exchanges have to be negative, combative or intent on correcting an arrogantly boastful song. Indeed, most are positive. I remember one trip in the Midwest, Iowa to be exact, where I was sitting at a diner reading a map. The waitress poured me a cup of coffee and asked, “You riding that motorcycle outside?”
“Yes,” I said looking up from the map. “I see there is a lake close by with a campground.”
“Yeah, but I think the road is under repair. Hank?” she said turning to another customer reading his newspaper, “Is the road open to the lake?”
Hank answered, “Yes, but there is a detour. I don’t think your biker friend will find the turnoff.” Addressing me, “When you finish your breakfast I’ll show you the way; it’s kind of complicated.”
I thanked him and later, finishing my griddle cakes, walked over to his table expecting a map. No! He had the waitress put his breakfast back in the kitchen and had me follow him in his pickup truck to the turnoff. Then he went back to his breakfast.
There was no bragging about “I’ve been everywhere” or “been there done that.” Now that is the way people should act toward one another when out on the road, or at any time for that matter. I like Iowa.