The Love Sex Passion-Mobile
By mitch luckett
I prepared for the boring road trip across the eastern Oregon desert by buying a harmonica holder. It was the summer of love, 1969, and I was driving 350 miles from Portland, Oregon to the National Ol’ Time Fiddle Festival in Weiser, Idaho.
I drove alone. Painfully alone.
Earlier that ill-fated spring my girlfriend and fellow bluegrass band member of five years had run off with the band’s hot guitar picker.
Worse, no sooner had I returned to an empty house and a broken band from an unsuccessful song-hawking trip to Nashville, than I accidentally stuck my hands in a wolf hound’s mouth. Big dog, big mouth. Lots of sharp teeth. Some say fangs. Fingers chewed to the bone. There’d be no snappy three-finger banjo picking rolls for months.
I started tooting on a little ten-hole harmonica. Lonely banjo pickers do desperate things. I could blow, with practice, a few fiddle tunes. The harmonica holder allowed me to keep two hands, albeit injured, on the wheel at all times for the long, forlorn journey to Weiser.
With a deferential nod to the controversy these days over the use of cell phones while driving, during that ill-fated trip I learned that what you do with your mouth while navigating an automobile can cause grave consequences. I learned that slow waltz tunes such as “All the Good Times are Past and Gone,” causes you to sort of lurch down the highway at 15mpr in three-quarter time. Kick-ass fast tunes like “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” drove my old VW Bus’s speedometer to fly off the charts and the car frame to vibrate like a dyspeptic helicopter. Both speeds caused truckers and motorists alike to honk their horns and shake their fists at me. Freeway drivers can be so inconsiderate.
I quickly learned the road has rhythm. Wheels humming the highway are the bottom-end rhythmic bass. Tunes have a corresponding wheel speed. You play a knock-down fast tune and your wheels just naturally keep up. It might not be conscious but it sure is there on a subconscious level. After a few nerve-wracking mistakes I worked out the road-rhythm kinks to pickin’ and driving. I celebrated by learning a middle-of-the-road 55mpr fiddle tune called “Liberty.”
The Eastern Oregon highway, like my heartache and self-pity, was hot, empty and seemingly endless. But, I fancied I had learned how to get through it.
Halfway through “Liberty,” I heard a stringed echo. I stopped tootin’. The tune kept playing. I recognized a full-bodied mandolin with complete bluegrass band backup. Not canned music either. I didn’t have a radio or tape deck.
Stowaways in my unkempt van?
A female voice resonated in my left ear, “Don’t stop playing, Frizz Hair. I was just getting into it.” My head snapped around and there was another VW Van pacing mine not two feet away with a mandolin held by two hands sticking out the shotgun window. I could see a plump watermelon tattoo on the back of a delicate picking hand. It was on the fleshy webbing between thumb and forefinger. The watermelon pumped as the hand picked.
These words, in livid purples and bold oranges, were emblazoned the length of the vehicle: “The Love Sex Passion-Mobile.” I stretched my neck and took a good look inside their rig. A band crammed within a van of all female musicians, and, at least from the waist up, not only bra-less but blouse-less. Nothing but bluegrass and skin as far as the eyes could see or the ears could hear.
“Hey Melon,” the fiddler said, bow poised at ready on strings and with as fine a form as seen this side of Boise, “see if Frizz Hair knows Soldiers Joy.”
A mandolin picker named Melon. Melon was a name of moon dances and sylvan songs and overabundant harvests. Melon twisted rhapsodic choruses around my aroused lips. Ambrosial juices swirled about my mouth. My tongue tiptoed and tightened. I’d just been practicing “Soldiers Joy” minutes before. Oh civilian’s joy.
With a nod to a desert Pan, I ripped into the tune.
The mandolin joined right in there picking above and below my melody line. Her timing impeccable. Her picking flawless. The picker magical.
The band and eight wheels slapping a rhythm as one heady bass. The palpable highway heat embracing us like liquid chocolate.
We finished, Melon pulled her mandolin in and tucked her head out the window. A dark, dew-drop face with eyes of luminous brown and lips of cherry red. And, I blush, her alabaster neck led down to a cleavage suggesting that she, like her fellow travelers, was topless. My wounded hands shook so much, it’s a wonder I was able to keep my vehicle on the straight and narrow.
The roar of the engine only matched by the roar of my own revving motor.
“You know,” Melon said, “I would fall for certain in love with a man that could play Ragtime Annie on the mouth harp while tooling down the road. Seriously. Love forever. For certain.”
My heart did a deflated flip. I’d never played Ragtime Annie on anything, and only vaguely knew the tune.
The gig in the rig began chanting, “Melon’s in love. Melon’s in love for certain. Forever.”
And suddenly, a road-troubabour’s epiphany. I forgot my ex-girlfriend and her dalliance with a hot guitar picker. I didn’t know if Melon was in love but I sure knew one thing: I was in love. It was love at first sound.
A great well of confidence suffused my body. The melody of Ragtime Annie surfaced to me with all the clarity and vigor of an underground mountain stream during spring runoff. I set crisping lips to sizzling metal and blew. I blew hot and I blew true. I blew the 55mpr mating call of the lonely, and lusty, road troubadour.
My cross-pollinating concentration was consummate. So, at first I didn’t recognize what was happening in my frizzy hair. I thought maybe a yellow-jacket had flown in and was cruising my curly locks looking for a choice stinging spot. Ha, ha, ha. Who cares? Sting me Brother Bee if you must. A mere pinprick. It will not sidetrack me from my moment in highway history.
But wait, I smelled human musk, incense and myrrh. Queenly fragrances. I glanced to my left, and there was the goddess Melon, hanging out the car window from the waist up, in all her resplendent naked glory. Her sculptured breasts and nipples as proud and pure as a clipper ship’s masthead facing stoutly into a western gale. Her “watermelon” hand reached into my window and sensuous fingers pulsated arpeggios behind my left ear in time with the syncopated beat of Ragtime Annie.
Our eyes met. She was courageous and outrageous and unashamed. My crisp lips stayed glued to the harmonica, yet I reached out with a wounded hand and touched—no, don’t even go there—her chiseled cheek. Our skins joined in an electric spark, our eyes locked in an embrace of amour, innocent and everlasting.
But I couldn’t seem to shake that bee buzzing. It sounded louder in my ear, out of synch and off key with Ragtime Annie. The buzz suddenly shifted to the unmistakable nastiness of a killer wasp. A State Patrol siren.
Atonal and ugly.
My lips lurched.
My rhythm broke.
Melon’s touch severed. “Good bye my noble road lover,” she said, as the Love Sex Passion-Mobile surged past me. “See you soon on the Wheel of the Great Mandela-la-la-la.”
A State Trooper car, black and white and quick as an attack tiger shark, siren blaring and lights flashing, passed both of us, the trooper inside pointing, with a pudgy trigger finger, to the highway shoulder. I pulled over. The Passion-Mobile, however, like a royal coach, went right on up the highway with nary a hesitation. I assumed the trooper would go after them, but no, he parked and walked back to my vehicle. He got up beside my window and we both watched as Melon and her merry band disappeared into the desert heat haze up the highway.
As I watched the love of my life fade away into the mystic highway, I planned to be in hot pursuit in minutes. Get whatever ticket for whatever violation I was guilty of, and be on my lusty way. In worse case scenario, I had no doubt that the Love Sex Passion-Mobile was headed for Weiser, Idaho and the National Fiddle Festival.
In my tunnel naivete, I could think of nothing else of consequence happening in Idaho in June of 1969.
“What the hell’s that contraption you got around your craw,” a voice like razor-wire being dragged across slate, snagged into my left ear. My eyes stayed straight ahead. My hands extracted the harmonica holder from around my neck and forked it over.
I glanced at him. His face was sweaty and beet-red and, dare I say it, big and round as an October muskmelon. His body, stuffed into a brown uniform a size too small for him, followed suit. He handled the harp holder gingerly, as if it might bite.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” he said. “When you passed my hidey-hole back there, I thought ‘that boy’s got the worse case of braces I’ve ever seen.’”
“Go ahead and give me whatever ticket you have to,” I said, “and let me be on my way.”
He popped the harmonica out, viewed it like it was a nugget of gold. “Golleeee!” he said. “My horoscope said music would play a big part in my day today.” He reached toward his gun and, magically, pulled another harmonica, same key of “C” as mine, out of his belt. “The good Lord seen fit to send me a coach. Son, you can get on down the road as soon as you learn me a tune on this little ten-hole mouth harp. I swore I’s gonna learn a tune today or my name ain’t Ribeye Klang.”
I spent the next two hours behind Verle’s crop dusting sign—the only shade within fifty square miles--teaching a tin-eared State Trooper to toot the melody to his favorite tune.
Later, much later, I arrived at the fiddle festival and began my search for my enchanting mandolin picker. I figured to easily locate the Love Sex Passion-Mobile. It wasn’t exactly inconspicuous.
Alas, I searched all night long and still no Passion-Mobile. I flopped for a few hours in my blue van at dawn and then I was back looking for love in Weiser, Idaho in 100 degree weather. I searched every tent, RV and street corner for seven days and nights and never did find Melon.
I don’t remember playing one tune on my harmonica the whole time I was there.
I went back to Weiser the next year and the next. I put ads in papers from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine—Frizz Hair seeking Melon--and never did find the lovely road siren.
My eyes get juicy to this day when I hear the tunes Liberty and Soldiers Joy. Ragtime Annie makes my tears flow freely. And if I hear the unlikely song that I ‘learned’ Ribeye Klang—the song I played while the heat of the Eastern Oregon Highway swallowed the Love Sex Passion-Mobile--I downright cry like a newborn babe: an old Bob Wills swing tune.
Melon, my sensuous road minstrel, whoever you were yesterday, and wherever you are today, in the words of the swing tune, “though my hair has turned to silver and my life has lived in vain,” I will always remember our “Faded Love.”