Saved By The Neville

Rock Me

Aaron Neville–Man in search of a recharge?

“They were just rocks, lying around.”

–Jesse Jackson, Pensacola, Florida, 1984

 Months before Jesse Jackson said he’d run for president in 1984, he spoke to a convention of Baptist congregations in Pensacola, Florida. The most stirring part of the speech was a slogan he used to describe the power the black community could have if it voted as a block: “Just rocks, lying around.”

To illustrate his point, he read off Ronald Reagan’s victory margins in each state in the previous election. Then he read the number of African Americans who could have voted against Bonzo’s buddy, but didn’t. The second number was always bigger than the first. He punctuated the totals from each state saying, “Just rocks, lying around.” By the time he finished the third example, the entire crowd was repeating the refrain with him. 

Catchy, but apparently not that helpful because Jackson couldn’t get enough people to vote for him to get the nomination. 

While the African American community may not have used rocks to its advantage in 1984, the North Vietnamese sure did in 1996.

They threw them at passing trains late at night. 

The windows may have metal awnings and mesh grates, but hearing the stones hit the car just inches from my head still rattled me. It was like riding in an unsubmerged submarine in a surrealist’s amusement park shooting gallery. Every hit echoed through the car like a gunshot and each impact seemed to get closer to the narrow gap between the top of the grate and the bottom of the awning without quite eeking through. We all knew the odds were in our favor, but no one was taking chances, so the windows stayed shut, adding to the air of discomfort in the car.

Although I like travel writer Scott Thoreaux, one of the things that bothers me about him writing is how he focuses on how miserable he is. Whenever I read such passages I want to yell at the book and say, “You travel for a living and visit most places people never even see. Get over it!” I have even tried to keep my tales of misery and woe to a minimum unless they’re amusing. Still, there’s no way to put a bright face on a 10-hour ride in a stifling hot train with locked windows, sitting areas that only have enough leg room for the average Asian and seats so old, bumpy and uncomfortable that there was a spring up my ass the entire trip. Add to that Sunny’s discomfort and complaints about her sleeplessness and you have a complete picture of dis-ease. 

The ride wasn’t without amusing moments, however. 

Since I was alternating between listening to my Walkman while reading and playing catch-up in my journal, Sunny asked who I was listening to. She’d never heard of singer Aaron Neville, a big man whose slow singing style is marked by his ability to hit high notes, but she was glad to have something to distract her.  Once she put on the headphones and turned on the Walkman, though, she listened briefly, looked at me quizzically (she did a lot of that), turned it off and said, “Your batteries are dying.”

Horrified at the prospect of a long sleepless night with no no tunes, I checked the tape player. After listening briefly I assured her Neville always sounded that way. She continued listening, but was unconvinced until she finally asked for another tape. I took the Walkman back when she fell asleep.

A half-hour later a Vietnamese woman who noticed my headphones asked what I was listening to. Since I wasn’t using the Walkman she asked if she could listen. One song quickly became two, then she had listened to an entire side of a long tape and was turning it over. She didn’t appear to acknowledge me at all and I was beginning to worry I might never get it back. I tried to catch her attention, but I didn’t want to be rude because she was sitting next to a Vietnamese soldier and was leaning on his shoulder. When the tape ran out she asked for another so I gave her one I’d listened to earlier. 

After listening to half a song with a horrified look on her face, she returned the tape player, looking crestfallen and apologetic as she broke the news:

“Your batteries are dying.”