Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Secret Transmissions

January 2, 1994. Outside, it is 2 AM. 

It’s a trick, you know, balancing a hot-dog in one hand, working it out of the wrapper so’s just a little bit sticks out, enough to get two bites, maybe, even though it’s covered in Stadium Mustard, coleslaw and chili, while steering with the other hand, trying not to fishtail, driving home, alone, down Lorain, toward Carnegie Avenue.

Especially if you’ve had a couple drinks and all of a sudden there’s a cop you pass every block, every single block, like, I wish these guys were around to help people during the day when there’s actually traffic, Jesus.

But things were so I needed to look forward to this. It was not just that we didn’t cook at home, or that I should have been hungry for some reason. I needed a reward for getting through another show, another day, and I needed to feel I was connected with the city, that I had my own city-oriented ritual, my own personal connection.

So I went to the Hot Dog Inn for one of those dogs, or two or three, and I listened to college radio on the journey home. Not The End, but Honest-To-God experimental radio. I had Wainstead All Night on WCSB, who had his own Harper’s Bazaar kind of list going where he recited all this shit from wire reports, like News of the Weird only it’s the Government that’s weird. 

Or a hip-hop show on WUJC where all the fellahs were giving their “shouts out" or taking the crank calls from guys trying to get the chance to say “fuck” or “ba-ba-booey” on the air. 

 Or WRUW was playing I don’t know what they were playing, whatever the hell it was they decided to play that night. Odds are good it was dub. It still is.

Thousands of people my age might have been listening to The End or Jammin’ 92, but how many could actually have been listening to this stuff at that moment? Doing what? Doing nothing? Sitting in their dorm or using it as a soundtrack in the basement, smoking weed, the radio full of chatter over here, the Dead playing on the tape deck over there? 

These were secret transmissions, in the middle of the night, signals sent through the sub-freezing temperatures reaching, whom? Maybe I was absolutely the only person listening at that moment, skidding through drifts of road-slush, careening past the towering, sightless, Guardians of Traffic

Someone was sitting warm and cozy inside a booth behind locked doors in Rhodes Tower or in the basement of Mather Hall, spinning records and telling the Truth before dawn so that a lonely guy driving from point A to point B would have something different to listen to.

Driving slowly down Carnegie, past the new ball park (opening soon) with a messy hot dog in my lap, feeling connected. To that. A mouth full of salt and sugar and fat, ears full of local, unpolished noise, with one hand on the wheel navigating the slippery boulevard. All my senses were full and I was alone. 

And in that place, that personal space, in limbo between the theater and my house, for a brief moment I felt like myself.

Old Fashion Hot Dogs is still located at 4008 Lorain Ave in Cleveland.

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