WORDS & MUSIC CLUB
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01. WRITER

David Himmel 


02. THEME

Commute


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Fifteen:
Helter Smelter


04. WRITING

Bike Lane Blues and Ghost Bike White

According to my watch, it takes me twenty-four minutes to get to work on the train. That includes the one block I have to walk to board the train and the one block I have to walk from my stop to my office. Not a bad ride. Gives me a little time to read a bit of news or blow through a chapter in whatever book I’m reading, though I won’t retain anything my eyes may have consumed.

According to my watch, it takes me twenty-one minutes to get to work on my bike. That includes carrying my bike down the steps of my apartment to the street and locking the thing up at the racks outside of my office. Not a bad ride. Gives me a little bit of a workout. The wind in my face wakes me up and puts resistance on my chest, inspiring the determined spirit I need to tackle the day. When I arrive, I’m sweaty and sticky, and the helmet has permed my hair into a wooly mountain range with peaks where the slats were and valleys where the hard Styrofoam protects my skull.

I try to stick to the streets with the designated bike lanes. Some of them are protected with small concrete curbs about three feet wide. Some are protected with flimsy, reflective plastic pylons. Some are protected by faded white painted lines along the street. But there are small sections of the ride that are unprotected where cars and bikes must coexist.

Each day I ride my bike to and from work, I see a handful of bike memorials: ghost-white bicycles left upright at the scene where a biker was killed from a run-in with a larger, faster, angrier motor vehicle. The ghost bikes are usually surrounded by plastic flowers, stuffed animals, a photo of the dead rider, and in the case of one of these, an altar of religious artifacts accompanied by a woman who is dressed and draped in matching religious garb.

In the morning around eight o’clock and at night around six o’clock, she’s there. Every day of the week. She’s on her knees, her wild, tight curly hair swaying in the wind and bobbing as her whole body moves to the rhythm of whatever it is she’s saying. From what I can tell, she is grieving, and doing so through the comforting routine of some kind of religious procedure.

I ride fast. I have things to do and I enjoy the scenery of my own weekday routine much more when I’m whizzing past it in my best effort to blur it. Plus, the harder I pedal and the faster I go, the more I keep my body alert and closer to fit. But I’m sometimes forced to slow down near the grieving woman and her ghost bike because they’re at a light-controlled intersection. Every day, it’s the same thing: She nods and sways and mumbles things and raises her artifact-drenched arms up and down as if making an offering—pleading—to whatever god or gods or bicycle spirits she thinks or hopes are listening.

Last week, on the way to work, the intersection light was green, and I breezed through it with two fellow riders nearby—complete strangers but unified in our cycling quest to get to and from whatever and wherever in an eco-friendly, fast and free manner. The woman was standing up, her arms and head reaching to the heavens, her voice thrusting ear-piercing wails into the air. It threw me out of my standard concentration and awareness of the routine road and its potential to throw unexpected obstacles at We the Riders. A new traffic pattern for construction, a car pushing through a yellow-red light, a spastic rider not abiding by the Code of the Road, a parked car door swinging open without awareness… These things I was always ready for. The grieving mother or shaman on her feet and crying out in pain as if the rider had just been taken from this mortal world in front of her very eyes was not something I had ever expected. The intersection was made thick with sadness and agony.

As I burned through it, I felt heavier and disturbed. I thought I heard one of the other two riders who crossed through with me say, “Holy shit! I’ve never seen that before.” But it could have been me who said it. I kept pedaling. I made the turn onto the short, three block stretch that is without a designated bike lane. I wondered if today may have been the anniversary of that rider’s death.

And then I felt my shoulders tighten into my neck. The shock shot down my spine. My fingers crushed into my brake handles, which I felt break loose underneath my knuckles. My bike stopped. I heard someone yell, “Jesus!” But it could have been me who said it. The wind against my face maintained there for a moment before being replaced with concrete. The plastic and Styrofoam of my helmet screamed out as it cracked between my skull and the street. My knee burst into flames—or felt so—as the street tore away at my pant leg and then my skin as I slid a few feet in front of my bike and the Hyundai Accent driver’s side door that separated us.

I tried to push myself up but my arms wouldn’t do as they were told. One of the riders turned me over. “Are you alright?” she asked before recoiling and using her phone to call 9-1-1. Other riders arrived. I could hear their brakes squeaking and their bikes dropping on the sidewalk. I heard some of them restraining what I assume was the driver of the car who had opened his door into me while neither of us were paying attention. Was he trying to get away? Was he trying to help me? Was my bike okay? Would my arms be okay? I couldn’t move my legs either.

And then I heard the wailing. It started softly but built as she rounded the corner and fell to her knees by my side. She draped me in the necklaces and scarves and beads and bracelets that she had always worn. She continued wailing in a language I recognized only as misery.

Minutes later—I think they were only minutes—more wailing approached, this time from the sirens of cop cars, a fire truck and an ambulance. The medics moved on me. They lifted me onto a stretcher and loaded me into their rig. As they closed the doors, I heard a cop say, “Goddammit. I really hope another one of those stupid ghost bikes doesn’t get put up here. I’m so sick of seeing those things. When are bikers and drivers going to learn to watch out for each other? Who are we ticketing here?”

But it could have been me who said it.

 
 

01. WRITER

Jonathan Diener


02. THEME

Commute


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Nada Surf:
Hyperspace


04. WRITING

Hyperspace

Tommy walked out of school with a smile on his face. Surprisingly it wasn’t because Derek gave him half of his chocolate chip cookie at lunch or because Brittany smiled at him in the hallway. Today Tommy was going for a bike ride into town all on his own.

After jumping down the steps of the school bus, he rushed into the house, hung his backpack on the hook in the laundry room, filled his water bottle using the new filter in the kitchen sink and ran to the garage. The rush of humidity from opening the door gave him memories of the indoor swimming pool he frequented as a little kid, but he wasn’t a kid anymore. Not today at least.

A blue Schwinn bike was leaning against some boxes his mom never unpacked from years ago. She was visiting her sister a few towns over and gave Tommy permission to go on his own adventure. He’s had adult supervision for years and today was the big test. He could finally prove he was mature enough to explore on his own. If things went well this would become the new normal.

Tommy connected his water bottle to the frame of the bike using a handy clip that came with it. He put on his favorite helmet—the one with the skull on the top—and reached for his goggles. His friends said he didn’t need the goggles and he looked like a goofy wannabe fighter pilot, but that didn’t matter. He hesitated and looked at his own reflection in the lenses and let out another massive smile. They couldn’t be more wrong. He looked awesome.

Now, fully equipped with goggles, helmet and an ice cold water for the trip, it was time to head out. If he was lucky there could be some straggler school buses making their rounds in town full of his peers ready to witness his awesomeness. They’d stare with jaws dropped as Tommy would fly down the roads as a solo rider. While imagining this he began to hum the song he heard on the radio that day. He felt cool.

Riding through the subdivision was easy. The guy who lived a few houses down with the annoying dog was checking his mail and waved. His dog barked like she always does. Tommy waved back and hoped they noticed he learned how to stay balanced with only one hand on the handlebars. They must have been impressed.

Construction on the new subdivision across the street was in the early stages, but the roads were paved and the workers had the day off. Not only was it a shortcut into town, but it was the perfect place to learn new tricks just like the guys he saw on TV. After pedaling and taking a water break, Tommy made it to the big hill at the back of the lot. He stared for a few minutes, gulped and tried to muster up the courage to finally conquer it. He wasn’t sure if he’d make it down the hill without any problems, fall down the hill and die, or gain so much speed that he’d set on fire. They were all real possibilities, but he didn’t want to talk himself out of it this time.

The hill was too steep and the air too humid, so Tommy walked his bike up slowly while replaying any and every scenario in his head. Finally, at the top, he looked down at the winding streets and houses that ants could live in. He was terrified. This was the real deal. He closed his eyes and imagined he was on a motorcycle with bad guys on his tail. The only way to get away was cruise down the hill and he’d be in the clear. While adjusting his goggles, his terrified frown turned into a determined grin. It was go time.

Tommy took a deep breath and used his right foot to push himself forward. Within seconds he felt the decline increase, the wheels pick up speed and the wind start to blow at his face. The loose stones on the newly paved streets started to crunch under his tires. He started to shake as he continued down the hill, but he flexed his arms and knew his shocks could withstand any bump that got in his way.

Halfway down the hill the wind was blowing at Tommy’s ears so hard it sounded like static on his TV. He made the mistake of leaving his mouth open and swallowed a mosquito, which was gross. This was the fastest he’d ever been on a bike, or maybe ever, and it was almost over. The hill began to level out and the smirk turned into a full blown celebratory smile. He was cruising with the wind rushed at his face right until he forgot to turn with the street and rode straight into the curb.

Tommy felt his stomach sink when the bike came to a halt. It was like the end of a cheap ride at the carnival. His head jolted down and he lost control of the blue Schwinn bike that he once felt was part of him. After doing a front flip off of the bike, he fell into the sand and dirt of the unfinished yard.

He looked around and screamed for help before assessing the damage. He was all alone and he started crying. Not sure if he was in pain or just in shock, he looked at his knees and elbows that were now covered in cuts and gravel. It stung like a sunburn and felt so bad. Scared of trying to get back on the bike, Tommy started walking it home, using it as some sort of an alternative crutch even though he didn’t have a limp from the crash.

The sight of a crying, bleeding boy alarmed some of the neighbors who tried calling out to aid him, but it was too embarrassing to respond. Tommy made it all the way home, laid his bike against the boxes in his garage and jumped in the shower. The water stung, which made him cry more, but at least he was getting the small stones and gravel out of his cuts.

Tommy found the first-aid kit in his bathroom and frantically put Band-Aids on every visible cut.  There were only really four or five of them total. While looking in the mirror with his bloodshot eyes and tears going down his cheeks, he decided to wear his pajama pants and a sweater to cover his wounds. He came back to the mirror, washed his face in the sink, wiped his face and tears with a towel and forced a big smile. He nodded to himself with approval.

He got to the couch and started playing a video game right as his mom walked in. She was still glowing from a great day with her family and hummed to herself as she closed the door and put her purse on the kitchen table.

“So, how was your big solo adventure?” she asked with excited and interrogative eyes.

Tommy hesitated and tried to decide if he should come up with a story or just pretend nothing happened. He finally looked up and tried talking, but his voice cracked.

“It was fun, but I—,” he couldn’t finish the sentence and started crying again.

Tommy’s mother rushed to the couch and gave him a big hug. While she was holding his head, her warm breathing into his hair was comforting and relaxed him. He sniffed a few times and was finally able to muster up the courage to tell his mom the big reveal.

Before he could talk, she rolled up his sleeve to see the Band-Aids on his elbows. It was like some kind of maternal mind-reading power that he didn’t understand. He looked at her, terrified, assuming the worst was about to spill from the same lips that were just breathing into his hair.

She returned his watery-eyed stare with an apologetic and comforting look. In some unspoken bond, it made Tommy smile again.

“I don’t want you to be afraid of telling me the truth,” she said as she held his shoulders, looking right into his eyes. “We can all make mistakes as long as we learn from them. Did you learn from yours?”

Tommy looked up, wiped his eyes again and nodded with a cute, little smirk. He knew he wouldn’t be grounded and that his life wouldn’t be over. This was only the first hill he’d have to conquer.

 
 

01. WRITER

Christopher Michalik


02. THEME

Commute


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Cake:
Long Line of Cars


04. WRITING

In the second half of 2013, I was working on a contract with Ford Motor Company as an ergonomic engineer near their headquarters in Dearborn, MI. Commuting from my parents' house in Rochester Hills, MI took me anywhere between 1 hour 15 minutes and 1 hour 45 minutes, depending on the rush hour traffic. Working 8-9 hours a weekday, this was my first real taste of the feeling of sinking my entire life into my career. Every weekday for 6 months was tasked with the same routine. Wake up at 7, leave by 7:45, arrive at 9, leave at 6, get home at 7:30, eat dinner with the family, sleep at 10.

You don't wonder where we're going or remember where we've been

If I'm honest with myself, the commute was the most enjoyable part of the work week. It was enough time to listen to an entire album or podcasted interview. This is where Cake came in. I had only really started listening to the band regularly a few months prior to this, so everything I heard from them was fresh and new. Sitting and staring forward, making sure I didn't collide with all the other tired and frustrated drivers didn't seem so bad when I had something to soothe me. At first, I didn't like “Long Line of Cars.”

There's no single explanation, there's no central destination

Now, I know to listen to a song multiple times, on different days, with different moods, before I decide my feelings about a piece. I remember getting frustrated by the repetitive bass line, the long, droning vocals, and the theme coinciding and highlighting my annoyance with being stuck in traffic. I'm not sure what it was, but I eventually came to appreciate Cake's ability to turn a boring, routine, stuttering voyage into something beautiful. The daily annoyances turned into a melody. The bumper-to-bumper chronic braking turned into a percussive rhythm. The anxiety of trying not to get killed by a road rage-infused disgruntled commuter transposed into a soothing, droning vocal line that almost sounded like John McCrea got bored mid-note. The resentment of other drivers not knowing the rules of the road being contrasted by the lyrics appreciation of every other driver having a destination, but the traffic as a whole having no real destination.

So this long line of cars is trying to break free

The mounting inspiration on my feeling like I held a deeper understanding of the piece coupled with my previous contempt for the piece felt like too much to handle. Even now, when I listen to the song, it brings back flashbacks of I-75 southbound, mounted at a vantage point to see the impossible amount of vehicles in front and behind me, feeling like I could never escape, makes me anxious. I'm glad I no longer endure the troubles of a commute via car on long highways, and this song makes me appreciate the beauty of that history, and the relief of escaping it.

 
 

01. WRITER

Brandon Trammell


02. THEME

Commute


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Fugazi:
Last Chance for a Slow Dance


04. WRITING

I drive. 
A lot. 
Sometimes a thousand miles in a week. 
Most of my job is just driving. 

So I do a lot of thinking. 

Thinking about how much I love people. How bad that movie was last night. How miserable the world is. This cup of coffee. 

I think about creating art with my heroes. How we would(n't) get along in a band. How unlikely any of that actually is. I think about traffic. Weather. Weekend plans. Movies I need to watch. People I used to be close with. Where they are now. I think about how different I am from ten years ago. Five. How much time I have left to think about things. 

When I get bored I make lists. Favorite Disco singles. Cities I've played. Best Fugazi record (there is no right answer). They never seem to end.

When I'm hungry I have a constant list in my head of every decent restaurant within a 5 mile radius of wherever I am. Sometimes I daydream about getting pho in Madison Heights, or dim sum in West Bloomfield. How I probably only have time for drive thru.

I think about how I'm going to put my kids through college. How I'm going to afford retirement. How my knee will hold up. How many car payments I have left.

When I'm not driving, I think about what I should be doing. All the things waiting for my time.

But instead, I just sit.
And think.

 
 

01. WRITER

George Lukezic


02. THEME

Commute


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Weezer:
Surf Wax America


04. WRITING

Traveling to and from work either by car or mass transit can consume over 10 hours a week or more.  Ten hours would be 520 hours a year.  That is 3.09 solid weeks per year.  You have to work, but what if you had options?  What would you do?

 
 

01. WRITER

Eric Doucette


02. THEME

Commute


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

PUP:
Sleep in the Heat


04. WRITING

The road sings out it's siren again,
I am ready and willing as always.
But reluctance creeps in as you
Sneak to the corner of my eye.

Most will find their commute
Only an hour or two.
I've never had a longing for a trip
Of that kind.

And as your shine begins to fade,
What I never wanted became
What I think I might need.

I hope, at the very least,
That you'd made a last friend.
And I'll hope in futility
That we will meet again.

 
 

01. WRITER

Boon Sheridan 


02. THEME

Commute


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Pursuit of Happiness:
Walking in the Woods


04. WRITING

Between Breaths

Between stops. 

Between people. 

Between the sound of breath in my ears. 

Mr. 'Cheap-shoes, expensive watch, and respectable sports jacket’ is on my left. He exhales with looping, long sighs. I’m caught up listening for his inhales and I keep missing them. His breath is stealthy, zen-like (when did his exhale start and his inhale begin?) 

Mr. 'Brand new sneakers, brand new basketball shorts and old hoodie’ on my right is all-in for both cycles. His gasps for air might be mistaken for panic if not for his calm exterior. The force of the gasps matches the rattling exhaust fan of his reversal. I am without headphones. I curse skipping my morning pat-down before I leave the house. ("Keys, wallet, phone, headphones?")

Next stop. Shudder. Wheeze. No movement. Doors open, bringing a whiff of dark air from the station deep under the earth. My commute will not live into the morning sunlight for another three stops.

Three stops. Nine or ten minutes. 

How many breaths can one take in a minute? Why not compare my train mates? I can count and keep score. Is that be too much to attempt this early? (I’m one hasty cup of coffee into the morning. I usually postpone math until the third.) I could make it a competition - tennis or an awkward tug of war. Forget tennis, too complicated. (I can’t calculate sets!) I’ll count the exhales of cheap-shoes and inhales of new sneakers. Straight scoring.

1-1. Simple. Too easy. 

2-2 and the game is afoot! 

5-5 and I’m enthralled. I almost forget to breathe myself.

They're in synch and it's neck and neck at 8-8 when sneakers sniffles and coughs. 

Crap. Does that count? Now it’s 9-8, cheap shoes takes the lead! 

Worse, sneakers fiddles in his pocket and goes silent for two more exhales from cheap shoes. Do I score it 11-8 shoes or do I give sneakers credit? The train bumps and everyone resets their positions. 

Shoes and sneakers are back in sync but shoes has pulled into a comfortable 16-12 lead.

Now the questions race through my brain. Is shoes breathing too fast or is sneakers breathing too slow? Is shoes a Type A cranking through his allotment of life’s precious moments with nary a thought? Is sneakers coasting, recognizing the here and now? How do I find balance in a world where I’m slammed between the two with no escape?

All this time I’m arguing with myself did it get to 20-16? Is sneakers shifting into deep breathing exercises? Is sneakers about to find enlightenment while shoes and I watch our lives dribble away between stations? Do I urge him to catch up?

Next station. Each stops breathing. No, just pausing. They inhale deeply. They are preparing to leave! Are they ensuring they leave with a lung full of train and memory of home? How does one last deep gulp prepare them for the station, the walk, the bus, or the people? They leave side by side, neither giving deference to exiting the cramped commute. No quarter asked. None given. 

New faces file in. New air falls to the floor, exhaled with defeated tones. Shift from foot to foot. Nothing to do but breathe.

 

01. WRITER

Stephen Wisniewski 


02. THEME

Commute


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Metallica:
Stone Cold Crazy

Queen Cover


04. WRITING

Here’s the thing: When I was 17 years old, I found an unmarked, dubbed cassette tape in the parking lot of a tiny black box theater in downtown Flint, Michigan.
 

On the cassette was Metallica’s “One” and “Stone Cold Crazy” – their B-side cover of the Queen song – repeated over and over again, both sides, for the entire duration of the tape’s 60 minutes. Once upon a time, someone made the effort to stand in front of a dual cassette deck and make that two-song mix tape, repeated into infinity, and then lost it in a parking lot. It told me that story when I put it into the cassette deck of my blue 1995 Geo Metro.

I don’t particularly like Metallica. Especially not in 1995, when the Black Album was still part of the soundtrack to every high school dance – hack DJs used it to follow a slow jam like “End of the Road” as a promise that the party wasn’t done rockin’.

But during the early summer of that year, as my junior year of high school was ending, those two Metallica songs were the only thing I listened to.

I was driving back and forth between my parents’ house and Buckham Alley Theater, where I was rehearsing for a play. It wasn’t a very good play. The cast was just me and one other person, and we played angels having a conversation about the pluses and minuses of heaven, and what we thought of the human condition. My position was that heaven was ultimately unsatisfying, and at the end, I make a decision to go back to earth and live as human. I take off my wings, and the last thing I do is to sing a song in my white robe about how excited I am to be mortal again. The song was to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” It was not a good play.
 

I auditioned for it for something to do; something to drive to; something to bridge the gap between the school year and summer. I was increasingly living in my own head, and my own head was increasingly inhospitable, so I wanted distractions. I had another year of high school left, but in lots of ways, I was already done, already gone. I didn’t really like this play, and I didn’t really like Metallica, but they gave me a reason to be elsewhere, and provided background noise. Those couple of months were all Stone Cold Crazy and New York, New York. They cleared my head, in the way that something you don’t particularly care about can. They were the only soundtrack I had for that moment when one thing is ending and another is going to begin – the strange seasonal twilight when you’re holding on to the muscle memory of one mode of being, while at the same time unlearning it.
 

Downtown Flint, Michigan in 1995 was an empty place. Empty in an existential, Reaganomics way. Empty in the way cities are in bad 80’s movies, with almost every door and window covered with plywood. It was also empty in a way that made it feel all yours if you were able to be creative there, which I had become addicted to – playing tiny punk shows and now doing black box theater. It wasn’t all ours, of course, but it had the power to make you feel at home in a way that New York, New York can’t. I thought about all that as I drove through Flint in my Geo Metro.
 

The Geo Metro was not a good car. But it made me feel at home in a way that other cars couldn’t. It was small, and so was I. It was comically small, and flimsy, and so I really had to crank up the cassette player to drown out the road noise.

Stone cold crazy, you know…(dun dun, dun dun)…


I did like Queen, but Metallica sucked all the Queen-ness out of that song in favor of speed. The speed that made Metallica acceptable crossover listening between metalheads and punks is what made a strange, playful song into…something else. Instead of harmonies that come out of nowhere, it’s all cymbal grabs and dive bombs. James Hetfield grunts out “UGH” before the solo, punctuating the chugging, macho thrash. But it’s the only cassette in my car as I commute to and from the theater. It was like listening to nothing, with guitar solos.


Commuting can be a strange place where the space becomes blurred between not liking something, and being kind of into it just because it’s there. You stay on a radio station way too long because you don’t like what’s playing, but fuck it. It’s not terrible, and there’s going to be something else coming up anyway. It’s a space where you become aware of what’s behind you, and what you’re about to do, and those two points are within the same moment that is also not really anything at all – you’re not here, and you’re not there. So fuck it. Wait for the next song. (The next song is always Stone Cold Crazy.)

Oh shit, guitar solo…

James Hetfield: UGH!

(Plays air guitar on the impossibly thin plastic steering wheel of a 1995 Geo Metro)…


Am I listening ironically? I’m not even really listening. 

I’m not there. And I’m not really here.

 
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01. WRITER

Andy Dalton


02. THEME

Commute


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Burning Airlines:
Pacific 231


04. WRITING

Gripping black mass skid
Sliding 'cross the black top
Metal, glass, liquids
Twisted up & junk shopped

Ricocheted backwards
Careening at the headlights
Vomiting bad words
I should've stayed in bed, right?

Evaluate existence
Crumpled on the shoulder
Evacuate assistance
Blood is feeling colder

Slumber-lack abasement
Terrified compliant
Humbled in amazement
Mortality defiant

 
 
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01. WRITER

David Beuthin


02. THEME

Commute


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

U.S. Royalty:
Vacation Vacation


04. WRITING

I've listed all the things I need to take
Probably will forget my toothbrush
As I do every single time

But I will not forget the picture of you and my mother
I'll always need a reminder
To always be aware

I hope I enjoy myself this time
I will look down
Upon all landscapes
Upon all corners of life
And see the reason i'm still here
Through everything around
Passed on by you

I will feel the warm sun
Raise goosebumps on my skin
I will feel the warm sun
And ask to have you here again

 
 

01. WRITER

Michelle Lukezic


02. THEME

Commute


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Golden Retriever:
Sunsight


04. WRITING

Jump off the train five stops too early, to examine the city's arteries. 
Leverage a sleepless night and the reparable dance of light. 
The urban commuters; the visual cadence and polyrhythm coalesce. 
This city feels so right. 
Contrast shimmer on glass and stark-matte-soiled concrete. 
Every character in perfect position, ready for the act. 
The chaos neatly organized into rows.

 
 

01. Photographer

Rick Saliga


02. THEME

Commute


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Bison Machine:
Cloak & Bones