The Air Felt Like Heaven

Saturday dawned with unseasonable warmth and bright sunshine. A still unsettled Presidential election, too. Votes were being counted in Pennsylvania. The New York Times was unsettling, as it often is these days.

Exit 46 rocks the neighborhood. (Jim Motavalli photo)

I do better when I’m busy. The leaves were nice and dry so I filled six bags with them, then looked up and noticed how many more were still to come down. I went for my morning bike ride. I love my Pedego.

It was 11:25 a.m. when Biden won the Keystone State and the Associated Press called the election for him. My wife got the notification a minute later (I’d turned mine off as too unnerving) and within moments I heard the first car horn. A traffic jam? No. The horns were soon answered and swelled into a chorus with happy shouts from front yards and porches. It really took me a minute or two to get what was going on.

My friend Ron was across the street at his son’s house, and he came out and we did distanced fist bumps. A heavy weight had been removed from his chest, it seemed. One of my favorite singer-songwriters, Erin McKeown, posted about this moment:

on saturday morning, i was walking slowly on one of the dirt roads near my house. i think i was listening to the new david sedaris collection. all of a sudden my phone started blowing up. every text chain i am part of. folks i hadn’t heard from in awhile. you know what had just happened. at that moment, a cyclist whizzed by me. i spontaneously whooped and raised my fists, and they returned my whoop and shouted “i just heard.” it was a surreal and strange moment. and of course, i immediately started to feel better. the malaise i felt this week was trump leaving my body.

It so happened that Saturday coincided with the semi-regular Shop & Stroll event in our Stratfield neighborhood. People sold crafts, jewelry, coffee and hot chocolate in their driveways. My friend Ari and other lens people displayed their photographs. You could buy cider doughnuts.

Exit 46 has an array of strong vocalists. (Jim Motavalli photo)

I grabbed a $2 hot chocolate, and was reminded of why I don’t drink sugary drinks anymore. Sipping it, I walked down the street and there on the corner, in front of a house whose dog hates my dog, the band Exit 46 was set up. I met the band through dog walking, actually. There’s a high level of canine ownership in the band, which was originally called Josh and the Dogwalkers.

Exit 46 has been on my radio show—right before the COVID shutdown—and I’ve played their cover songs on the air. There are three women lead singers, and two male. The sax man rocks out, and there are also strong players holding down the guitar, bass (a psychiatrist!), keyboard and drum chairs.

Exit 46 (our stop on the Merritt Parkway) does mostly covers, some with subtly altered lyrics. They love Fleetwood Mac—the later period, not the blues band led by Peter Green. They’re not political—it’s not like this was a rally celebrating the ouster of Trump.

But it felt like that.

Wordsworth wrote, celebrating the French Revolution, “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!” They said the very air felt electric. And didn’t they set the calendar back to zero? I’m exaggerating, but it felt a little like that long-gone time.

Exit 46 went through some old favorites. The aforementioned Josh had a strong lead on Creedence’s “Down on the Corner.” He also joined the women on a mostly acapella version of “Seven Bridges Road” by Steve Young. I love that song. They did “Wagon Wheel,” which doesn’t sound like a Dylan song, but at least partly is—it was finished by a member of Old Crow Medicine Show from a fragment Dylan had left over from the Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid sessions.

Sorry for the digression, but “Wagon Wheel” has become so popular in Americana circles that it’s been banned in certain locations. John Cranford of Swampfire Records put up signs at the Swampfire Sessions proclaiming, “Absolutely No ‘Wagon Wheel.’” The New England Americana Festival sold a t-shirt with the image of a crossed-out wagon wheel. I don’t care—I still like it, even though it is the folk “Free Bird.”

But back to that day and that place. The sun shone down, making it almost too warm. Crazy to think it snowed the week before, but now I was worried about sunburn.

The band did “Quit Dragging My Heart Around,” and a bunch of songs I didn’t know—probably because I’ve ignore the pop charts for decades. The audience kept growing. The band swung into a version of the late John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery,” sung very well indeed by another Ari, owner of the house and that dog that hates my dog. Out of Prine’s vast repertoire, why does that song from his first album get covered so much more than any other one? Dunno. Maybe because Bonnie Raitt covered it. Here’s a video snippet of that:

The Shop & Stroll ended, the sun went down, the band packed up. There were complications. The President said, “I WON. BY A LOT.” But we had that shining moment.

PRESCRIPT: Before election day, we had another moment: Halloween. Most of the block was dark, including my house, but my neighbor Dan always goes above and beyond, and this year he had a fun COVID-friendly chute to deliver candy to the people who have long seen our neighborhood as a central gathering point. Here’s what that looked like:

Dan’s distanced domicile.

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