The Tape

How often do you hear a song on the radio that can take you back to a specific place and time in your past? A song that is so indicative of a specific memory that you can, even if just for a moment, feel like you are instantly transported to a happier moment. This morning, on my way to work, the Billy Joel song “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” came on the radio and that feeling rushed over me. Most songs by Billy Joel, from his 1970s phase, will transport me through time, but this song has special meaning.

When I was a teenager I was obsessed with music from the 1960s and 70s. Billy Joel was one of my favorites because when I was a child my parents would play him, along with such greats as Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Yes, Carly Simon, Chaka Kahn, Jackson Browne, Chicago, Hall and Oates, Fleetwood Mac, Carole King, Queen, Jethro Tull, The Doobie Brothers, Stevie Wonder, and James Taylor, on heavy repeat. As you can tell from this list, which is just the tip of the iceberg, my parents loved music. My whole family was musical and that was one of the reasons I ended up eventually pursuing a degree in music, but that is for another post.

Getting back to Billy Joel, in 1999 I was living on Elmwood Avenue near Summer Street. At the time there was a Bakerman’s Donut Shoppe and a Wilson Farms directly across the street. Bakerman’s was not a good place to hang out at night. Things went down on that corner that most people in the neighborhood did not want to be involved in. At the time, I was working an overnight shift, so I was rarely at home during the nighttime hours, but on the weekends I would be off for 3-day stretches (working 4 by 10 is actually the best – I miss it) beginning at 10 am on Fridays and ending at 8 pm on Mondays. I would spend Friday trying to adjust back to a ‘normal person’ schedule and by Saturday evening realize that my adjustment had failed and simply return to the vampire life.

During this time I was driving a Toyota Corolla that I bought when I was in college (new!) and, by this time, had about 100K miles on it, easily. It was a huge upgrade from the 1985 Ford Escort that had a push button radio where the dial would shoot across to the set radio stations. Actually it was a 1985 and and a half (the 1/2 year changed over to flat headlights – hello Jeopardy – I’m ready for my appearance!)! Automatic locks, along with electric windows and cd players, were not yet standard in the 92 or 93 (my memory fails here) Corolla but I did, however, have a radio with a tape player!

I carried all my mixtapes around with me at all times, housed in one of those metal lunchboxes that many grrrls in the 1990s carried in place of purses. This one came with a CKOne set that I was given for Christmas one year so I just used it to store the tapes, never as a purse. It fit about 30 tapes at a time, so I had to place my tapes in a rotation from bedroom wall to silver lunchbox and back to the wall. The cassette player also had the flip feature, so when the tape got to the end it would flip over and start playing the other side. This was, truly, advanced technology for the time, which quickly became old news a few years after I bought my car.

One tape, in particular, was a favorite of mine and the Grunge Doctor‘s. And this, my dear readers, is what we now affectionately refer to as “the tape”. One night, after going out with the doctor (long before he became a doctor!) and his brother, I had dropped the brother off at home and returned to our apartment. This was a Saturday night and my plan was to park the car on Elmwood and not leave the apartment for the rest of the weekend. We had stocked up on the essentials from Wilson Farms and made sure that the beverages were filled to the appropriate levels. I arrived upstairs, threw off my shoes, sat on the couch and proceeded to loaf for 3 full days. (Ahh, my twenties were a wonderful and lazy time!)

Earlier in the year, my car was parked in the back parking lot at our building and it had been broken into. The drivers side window was shattered and the aforementioned silver lunchbox was stolen. I always believed that the people who stole it (they didn’t take anything else from my car) probably got super pissed when they got down the street and realized it was not a purse, but a box full of tapes. And MIXTAPES at that. Not even valuable outside of the sentimental value I had placed in them. Having had a break in happen to me already on this stretch of Elmwood Avenue, you would think that I would have been extra careful, but, this particular weekend I was more concerned with being off from work than worrying about my car. I left it parked on Elmwood for 3 straight days and never went out to check on it.

Little did I know, the brother had left the back passenger side door unlocked. He was already used to people having cars that locked automatically and did not know that he had to manually lock his door. Since he did not lock the door, it was available, on Elmwood, for 3 whole days and nights, to any passerby that decided to rifle through it. And rifle through it they did. When I returned to my car on Monday night to go to work, there was a distinct level of disarray that I noticed well before entering the car. The passenger side rear door was open, not just unlocked, but open. Everything that was formerly in my glove compartment was strewn across the front and back seat. Everything that was in my back seat was thrown all over. A blanket, 2 hats, a pair of gloves, a scarf, bottles from different beverages (maybe mine, maybe not), an umbrella, 2 ice scrapers, a snow brush, and various other bits of papers were scattered throughout the car. All of this was no big deal. Other than the violation of people rifling through my things, I had learned from the first break in to not leave anything valuable in the car, so I felt good about the fact that there were no broken windows and nothing major was missing.

Just as I was letting out a sigh of relief, I sat down in the driver’s seat, turned my head toward the center console, and saw it. My tape deck – my prized possession in the car – had the face ripped off. The person that was trying to steal the radio obviously didn’t realize that it was the manufacturer model, which meant that it was pretty securely in the dashboard, and really only the face was detachable with a great deal of force. I could tell that they had tried to pry the face off with my ice scraper and were unsuccessful. It was half off, so I ripped it the rest of the way. It was either that or leave it hanging there while I was driving and potentially have it fly off half way to work. I sighed again and started the car. After all, I had to go to work. As I started to head north up Elmwood to get to the 198 I noticed that the cassette tape that was in the player, prior to the break-in, was still there, in the player. And it was playing. This, I thought, was actually great. At least the cassette player still works. (Even though I was goth back then I still tried to look on the sunny side of these situations.)

After a few days of driving back and forth to work with “the tape” playing, it started to skip. Halfway through a song, it would stop and flip over and start playing the other side. In order to stop this from occurring, I shoved a matchbook above “the tape” to steady it, which appeared to work. After a week of listening to “the tape” over and over, I finally got bored with it and decided to eject it so I could listen to the radio. But, of course, that was not possible now since the face was missing from the cassette player and I had no way to get to a station. I also realized I could not put in another tape because the eject button was gone. “The tape” was the only thing I would ever be able to listen to in the car, ever again. It would be either “the tape” or silence in my Corolla henceforth. A break in that didn’t seem like that big of a deal became a really big deal in a matter of minutes in this realization. Now I would have to listen to my hits of the 1970s for eternity.

Oh right – I never told you what was actually on “the tape”! So, as you may have guessed, the first song on side A was “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” by Billy Joel. The first song on side B was “The Tide Is High” by Blondie. These two songs were the most frequently listened to due to the constant flipping. I went through a multitude of matchbooks to try and make the flipping stop, but in the end, the cassette player won that battle. Other songs that graced “the tape” were “Come Sail Away” by Styx, “Rhiannon” by Fleetwood Mac, “Aqualung” by Jethro Tull, “The End” by the Doors (of course) and many others that I cannot recall. I am sure that the doctor remembers more than I do, since he was my most frequent passenger during “the tape” years. Yes. Years. He actually got so annoyed with this situation that, for the holidays one season, he headed to The Stereo Advantage (now defunct) and bought me a new cassette player for my car.

Ah – sweet relief. I had the new player installed in January and the universe righted itself. When I went to pick up my car from the shop that installed it, the installer asked me if I wanted him to dislodge “the tape” so I could listen to it in my new player. I looked at him with a look of disgust that he probably thought was super rude and said: “um – no – I’m done with that.” And that was the end of “the tape”. But was it? I still love all the songs on that tape, individually, and I made a playlist that is a homage to “the tape” and my youth. So if you are looking for a fun trip down memory lane, instigated by “the tape”, check out the link below. You will NOT be disappointed.

Peace and happy listening,