Be a Badass

Sunrise, somewhere in Illinois

Somewhere in Illinois

Sunrise, August 27, 2014, eastbound U.S. Highway 70, 83MPH en route to Indianapolis and I am a fucking race car driver.

It was the music.

I was jammin’ out to Crossroads, full blast. Full blast and feeling fine for no apparent reason.  Hell, I was on my way to a video shoot, with four hours on the road, coming and going. But with the sun coming up over church steeples and countless rows of corn flashing by at the speed of, well, 83MPH, and Clapton blaring from my speakers, I felt like I was 17 again. Never mind that when I was really 17, Eric was Derek and Layla was Clapton’s rocket ship to the moon. I use 17 as a reference to a feeling — a feeling of freedom and anticipation, hopefulness and excitement, on the cusp of some new and wonderful experience, heretofore untold.

How can a song invoke something so deep and so powerful?  In my soul, at that moment, that Jean, the 17-year-old Jean, was behind the wheel again. In my mind’s eye I was Peggy Lipton thin again, hair down to my waist, blowing cigarette smoke out the window, drumming on the steering wheel of my VW bug, with my Albuquerque hippie chick homies, as we’re cruisin’ up Corrales Road on our way to the Rio Grande.

The beautiful Rio Grande

The beautiful Rio Grande

If there had a camera on me Wednesday morning when I was barreling across Illinois, sans cig, I would have no doubt been so mortified and depressed, I might have crashed my car into a concrete divider and called it a life. “Los años,” as my momma used to say with a resolute sigh. Ah yes, the years. I begin to understand what she meant now, as I look in the mirror at an alien image, not at all who I see in my mind. “Who stole my skin?” I challenge her. “What happened to my eyebrows?”  In a rare moment of mirror truth, I am starting to see what my grandchildren, yet to be, will see.

How I wish they could have known me when.

Sundown, August 30,1969, east side of Interstate 35, just north of Dallas, in the hay strewn infield of the just-finished Dallas International Motor Speedway, me and about 150,000 other people were listening to music. My big brother Don and my sister-in-law Beverly took me and my friend Jayne Battenfield to the Texas International Pop Festival. It was just two weeks after Woodstock.  A ton of ‘noreastern hippies caravanned or hitchhiked from New York to Big D, where they were met with a healthy throng of southern, southwestern, midwestern, Californian and hell, probably even some hippies from Mexico. Maybe Europe, who knows?

I was 14. After the opening band, I take off for the porta-john, leaving everybody else on our blanket. It takes more than hour to move through the masses to get to the bathroom, and then another hour standing in line. When I come out, it’s getting dark. I head in the direction of the speaker tower, which I had carefully charted, memorizing the colors of the tents or tapestries latched to the tower for much needed shade. By now, they’re unnecessary. Tapestries down, my landscape has changed.  I pick my way over bodies on blankets, weaving through the narrow path of withering straw, separating the human encampments, this group or that, each new clan with helpful hands for me to grasp, generously offered to keep me from falling. But then, I just stop. I quit looking at the ground to make sure I wasn’t squashing someone’s face. I look up and just listen to the music. I am standing there on a blanket with a bunch of stoned hippies I don’t even know and I just listen to Chicago. I will never forget the clear notes of the trumpet, waves of brass rippling across a gigantic mass of humanity at the beginning of “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”

Do we?

I believe we don’t change much over time. At that moment, yes, 45 years ago, standing amidst acres of humans splayed on sun-soaked, smelly blankets or dancing as the moon rose, I felt open. I felt free, on the cusp of something wonderful heretofore untold, with a fierce desire to share that experience.

I still feel that way. Call me a fool, but I still feel a sense of urgency, to sing my song, tell my stories, reveal what’s inside my bursting heart. Maybe others are not so afflicted. Perhaps this is a quest for understanding.

Do you ever feel this way?

Do you ever feel like you just need one person on the planet to see the whole of you? Not the extension of someone else, not the bit player in the ensemble cast of the different stages upon which you act –your job, your family, your friends with the predictable lines of dialog. I am not talking about forced or unnatural restraint, I am merely talking about convention. Good or bad, the conventions of life frame what we say and how we behave.

But sometimes, a trigger comes along to awaken our essence. Like smoke from the incense burner in church, our essence rises, stirred from that place deep inside us, our one-of-a-kindness, the singular imprint that only we can make on this world…our voice, our touch, our smile, our hand to hold, our sweet neck to fall upon. We only get one ride. We have just one opportunity to prove our case, demonstrate our authenticity, to leave our mark. Just imagine some giant court clerk in the sky and your defense attorney is saying, “let the record indicate…”

Let the record indicate that I am a badass. At least that’s what one man said as he was telling me goodbye. He said if he could choose just one word to describe me, it would be badass. Well, okay then, I come by it honestly, from my grandfather Booker, to my mother Beverly to my brother Don who passed away on this day, August 30, 2010, four decades after he took his little sis to the biggest, most badass concert Texas has ever seen.  Cancer did not rob him of his badassness.

Bev and Don, May 2009

Bev and Don, May 2009

I urge you call up your badass self. Go back and fetch it. Do not let time and experience or sun damage throw a blanket over your badass self. Do not go quietly into the night, nor be content to wear elastic waist pants. Deny this at every turn.

Sunset, August 27, 2014, westbound U.S. Highway 70,  81MPH, en route to St. Louis. Got a goddamn speeding ticket in Bond County, Illinois for $120. One-hundred-twenty dollars! Small price to pay for a round-trip ticket to invincibility.Jean,JR & Paul _opt

About Jean Ellen Whatley

Writer. Dreamer. Sometimes schemer. Journalist/memoirist/observer and sometimes constructive irritant. Prisoner of demon muses. Mother to four humans and two dogs. In my spare time, I delete phone numbers of former boyfriends.

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  1. I’m sure it still hurts something awful, four years later…

    I am surprised you couldn’t talk your way out of the ticket, as silver-tongued as you are. Perhaps you didn’t even get a chance to open your mouth?

    My badass self has been dormant for too long. Thanks, Jean.

  2. connie dunavin says:

    Hello friend, Thank you for sharing again your ride! I too want feel the need to share who I am, the whole book, not just the current seemingly redundant chapter…. although, I keep that desire pretty locked-up. Regarding your road trip: Love them myself. Yes, always fun to see if we can get out of the ticket (knowing maybe your old high school friend who is now a Judge, could help :-)…. then there are the times when the bad ass part of you knows you EARNED that ticket and take it with a bad ass smile! My friend once said if there was a road to Heaven I would be on it, I love to drive, drive fast, chase the horizon….on the Interstate – I even out ran the Sheriff of Crawford County, Missouri back in ’89. Whew! That was crazy, but I got away with it. Going through an awful divorce and I needed to feel empowered. That pretty much did it.. ever felt so much fear, and yet felt so alive at the same time… right, like I said, crazy. I gave thanks to Jesus for keeping me safe after that episode…

    Jean, I love your truth-telling! You wake me up! Get me thinking. What a beautiful picture of you and siblings. We all had that long, flowing, parted-in-the-middle hair. Rock concerts, smoke in the air, open mindedness, all our life to live…out loud, even. Then ironically, life silences us. It just happens, maybe its a purposeful tactic thats part of maturity, or survival. Either way, it sucks. …. I often wonder if everyone feels the need (like us) to share ourself, get our story of who we where, how we got here, out? Or, do ‘the others’ just feel contentment? But, aw, to be the bad ass again, feel more alive, fearless…. Thinking about the Chicago song ‘Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is’…. Does anybody really care… If so, I can’t imagine why… we’ve all got time enough to cry, to die’… Lets all fine time enough to LIVE! Here is to all you BAD ASS, SASSY BITCHES, and TO JEAN! Rock on you Moonlight Ladies! Let’s take the Long Way Home!
    Your friend,

    • WOW !!! Connie, what a comment. Thank you for validation what so many of us feel. Oh and thanks for planting that insipid Frampton song in my head. “take the long way home…” Gawd…