LIVINGSTON, NJ — Forty years since "Born to Run," and I still haven't run and fulfilled my destiny. Like Bruce Springsteen, I remain pretty close to where I grew up, in a nicer house, maybe, and in a more tree-lined neighborhood, but within an hour's ride of the place that I still name when people ask, "Hey, where are you from?"
In 1975, I was 17 and a student at Montclair State when it was a college and had not yet put on its long pants and become a university. "Tramps like us" were supposed to have walked with a skinny, bearded Bruce "out on the wire." Having gone to 12 years of Catholic school, I thought "tramps" were girls who rolled their plaid wool skirts up just a bit too high and wore two-tone platform shoes. I did not have any clear idea of what "out on the wire" meant, but I wanted to be there with Bruce because he was "a scared and lonely rider." Being one of millions of teenage girls suffering from low self-esteem, I thought maybe I'd have a chance with such an earnest, scared, and lonely guy who just had to know "how it feels." What "it" was still remained mysteriously alluring and very much the subject of discussion.
As for those "suicide machines," well, I never had one, at least in the sense that I think Bruce meant. My suicide machine was not "hemi-powered," all tricked out, or in any way sexy. It was a suicide machine because it was dangerous to drive, a three-block-long blue Mercury Monterey that died an ignominious death on Tonnele Avenue in Jersey City. Once a friend soldered a penny to the radiator to patch a hole; once I pulled the massive front bumper nearly off on one of the logs in the quarry parking lot at Montclair . Occasionally, though, it "screamed down" Kennedy Boulevard (mostly because of leaky brake fluid,) and it did free me from a cage or two on Highway 3. Nobody "combed their hair" in my rearview mirror (there wasn't one.) No heads turned when I made my "last-chance power drive" home from a part-time job at the Palisades Park Burger King, clad in a red and yellow double-knit uniform and the matching hat also worn by Rerun on "What's Happening!"
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About "wrap your legs" around this and "strap your hands" across that, I have to modestly confess that I never sang those parts of the song out loud. Too many years of going to school next door to the convent, I guess. I never played a guitar or rode a motorcycle, but this was a great opportunity to pantomime doing so in front of the record-player, the needle of which bobbed on a cushion of dust and dog hair. I did want to know "if love was wild," though, and I certainly wanted to know if it was "real." Despite my parochial education, I already new that what was wild and what was real generally overlapped in the Venn diagram of human experience.
Who could resist dying in "an everlasting kiss" and "the madness in my soul?" "Wild . . . sprung . . . madness . . . stepping out over the line . . . in a runaway American dream" I just had to know what it was like, even though death in the streets and suicide lurked in the background and the bones were being ripped (yuck!) from somebody's back, it still seemed worth it to run. Bruce's Wendy ran with him down Highway 9, like Peter Pan's Wendy flew with him out that London window. How did it feel to run with the Lost Boys? Where is that place that "we really want to go?" I still don't know.
It's hard to acknowledge the passage of 40 years since Bruce Springsteen told us all to "get out while we're young." In some ways, I wish I had gotten out. Instead, like Bruce himself, I became one of the "broken heroes" jamming the highways of New Jersey. We are broken because we spent too long huddling on the beach in the mist; we are heroes because we survived long enough to see what exactly is beyond the Palace.
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