Performer: The Allman Brothers Band
Songwriter: Gregg Allman
Original Release: The Allman Brothers Band
Definitive Version: At Fillmore East, 1971, of course.
When I got Jessica’s wedding invitation in the summer of 1989, it wasn’t surprising. And the fact that she was a former lover didn’t give me pause. Instead, I heartily accepted and wrote her that, with the ceremony taking place in Colorado Springs, I was looking forward to making a vacation of it.
As I might have mentioned, by this time I hadn’t had a real vacation since I left Northwestern at Christmas 1987, and even that wasn’t a real vacation, because I went home. No, you’d have to go back to 1985 to find a combination of time off plus a destination that didn’t involve my family or a family vacation spot. This also was to be the first vacation I ever took by myself.
I knew right away that I’d drive, because I didn’t have the money for a plane ticket but more because, as I said, I wanted to see Iowa and Nebraska. The wedding would be Labor Day weekend, so I would be able to use creative scheduling to get maximum use of all my vacation time. I took three days to get to Colorado Springs from Mount Prospect and two days to get back, plus two days there—total four days off work.
I decided to take backroads, wandering around but with the idea that I’d go as far as I could before stopping. To maximize my money, I got a cooler and loaded up on lunch meat and deli salads and whatnot. I’d eat along the road, stopping wherever I wanted and buying only dinner at night.
All I needed were maps and some new music for the drive, so I allowed myself the purchase of a couple of tapes. One, as I mentioned, was Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen. The other was At Fillmore East. Why I chose the Allman Brothers, I don’t recall. I mean, I liked them, but I hadn’t been listening to them much around that time. I guess it just seemed like the right thing to do.
I have a clear memory of listening to this song for the first time as I drove through Iowa, where I stopped to eat some lunch along a windy road overlooking rolling farm land. That was just before I found the abandoned home that I wrote about last year.
A few other things I saw along the way to Colorado Springs:
* My first stop was in Eureka, Ill., the birthplace of Ronald Reagan. I don’t know if anything has changed in the 23 years since I’ve been there. I would suspect based on the ol’ Gipper’s resurgence as the bastion of conservativism, I would suspect it has, but in 1989, the town and his birthplace in particular was about as nondescript as possible. It was just a sign on the wall of a two-story brick building that had apartments over a bank. I was even surprised at how humble it was. I mean, it’s not like you could conduct tours of the site, like they do at various presidential birthplaces in Ohio.
* Along with the abandoned farmhouse, one of the most fascinating things I saw in Iowa was along U.S. 34 outside of Creston. It was an abandoned courthouse that was starting to fall apart—the “r” and “t” on the “courthouse” atop the building were gone. What made it particularly interesting was that it wasn’t near to the town. Instead it was surrounded by a modern-day residential homestead, as if someone came along and said, “here’s a great place to build a home. Let’s just leave that old courthouse where it is.” It was a bizarre juxtaposition, and I have no explanation why such a building would be out in the middle of nowhere.
* The capitol building in Lincoln, Neb., might be the coolest state capitol in the country. At the time, it was the tallest building in the city, and I guess it’s still the tallest state capitol in the country. On the inside, it more resembles a cathedral than a government building with dark, narrow and winding staircases and occasional flying buttress here or there. I took a journal with me, and I spent my lunch sitting and drawing one such winding staircase.
And then I came over a hill and could see the Rockies in the distance. I was almost there. I’d have a day to knock around Colorado Springs, and the wedding would be the day after that at the superfancy Broadmoor Hotel. Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway, I wasn’t staying there.