If there’s one thing that characterizes any drive across northern New England, it’s not the pleasantly empty highways or the likelihood of hitting a deer or a moose; it’s the absolute dearth of decent radio stations. If you’re into country or the worst of classic rock (e.g., anything produced by the Kinks in their long, weary post-sellout days), you’re in luck. Otherwise you’re better served by belting out “One googol bottles of beer on the road, one googol bottles of beer…” all the way from Portsmouth to New York State, because fiddling with the tuner is a sure prescription for frustration.
Last night, however, somewhere near the Quechee Gorge, I stumbled upon a means of mitigating this joyless travel feature. Thanks to the personality whose signature phrase will always be “Kasey, could you please play… ,” I created a bastardized, highly limited version of the digit-span test for myself.
I found a station out of Burlington that was playing “America’s Top 40” with Kasey Kasem. I thought this was strange; I haven’t listened in years, but didn’t think the show was still being hosted by Kasem. It quickly it became evident when Kasem announced that #15 was 25-year-old Whitney Houston’s 8th consecutive top-40 hit that I was listening to some kind of retro edition, and guessed it was a “20-years-ago-this-week” thing.
My guess was close; it took a surprisingly long time, but I eventually learned that the show has originally been broadcast at the end of the week of August 6, 1988. Had this been a 1990s edition, I wouldn’t have stood much of a chance of guessing the right year, but 1988 was different. Though it was a poor year for music in my opinion, I had just graduated from high school and, by cultural default, was thus more attuned to popular tuneage than I would ever be again.
In 8/88 I was preparing to head to the University of Vermont and was only months removed from giving a kickass presentation on allopatric speciation to the members of my A.P. Biology class, a slick maneuver that mitigated my teacher’s chronic low-grade frustration with my apparent inability to draw my classmates into a web of harmless mischief and my willingness ot settle for 95’s instead of pushing from 99’s or 100’s. Though I didn’t have the sporting year I’d hoped (in high school, how many do?) but in the fall had captained the cross-country team to the top of the platform at the New Hampshire Meet of Champions, won the country champs individually, and had placed second in the 3,000-meter run at the state indoor track champs. I’d dated the same girl from November right up through August with only 35 or 40 mini-break-ups, a personal and perhaps a Concord High record for proficiency. The only six-week-old Jeep Cherokee I’d wrecked was a result of sheer incompetence, not recklessness, so I was off the hook there. I worked part-time as a dishwasher at a Ponderosa restaurant and continuedto record phone calls on the sly for no defensible reason.
All summer I’d worked for the DOT as a litter-crew member, meaning that I spent a few months ambling along secondary highways with a bright blue garbage bag in one hand, a picker-stick in the other, a coterie of potheads on all sides, and a surly, oblivious 76-year-old semiretired state worker trailing along in a truck behind. I was making over $7.50 an hour doing this, but I planned to give it all up to pursue a college degree.
Anyway, I decided I’d keep myself amused by making an effort to remember all 15 songs remaining in the countdown, or at the very least their performers, and write them down when I reached my destination. Right now I have 14 of the 15 in mind, with no plans to cheat. I’ll go for a run and post what I recall regardless of whether the remaining 6.7% of the data magically pushes its way into accessible regions of my brain.