“Get off the Road, Toad”
For Mike Cloninger
50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
by Paul Simon
It was the summer of 1973, and I was 8 years old. My family was once again traveling from our home near Asheville, NC, to Cocoa Beach, FL for another episode of the annual Coninger family vacation. There we would spend 7 lovely days collecting seashells & sunburns, while visiting my mom’s older sister and splashing around in the Atlantic Ocean. Of course, this was several years before interstate 26 was built, which would eventually shorten these grueling 18-hour road trips to a mere 9 hours, thus becoming as painless as your typical Sunday afternoon drive. However, in 1973, my older sister and I endured the super sweaty and lengthy ride, sticking to the backseat of our parent’s non-air conditioned 1969 Chevy Malibu station wagon the whole way.
Although avid music lovers, my parents knew of one genre and one genre only; American Country Music. So naturally, the entire trip included non-stop radio hits by the most popular voices of Country Music. We continually heard the same 25 or so tunes by artists such as; Charley Pride, Jerry Reed, Tammy Wynette, and Conway Twitty, as they repetitively blared through our station wagon’s speakers, which I might add, produced a less than mediocre sound at best.
I remember this trip seemed extra-long. It was due to the record-breaking heat wave we were having that year or it was because of the unusually heavy patches of traffic we ran into along the way. Towards the end of our ride, we were all four feeling a bit ‘over it.’ It was then that my sister and I gained enough courage to politely ask that our parents change the radio station. “Couldn’t we just SEE what else might be on?’’ we begged, genuinely believing that a break, even if only for a few minutes, from every top country radio station between North Carolina and Florida, was absolutely the only conceivable way to ensure that either of us kiddos would survive the rest of the gruesome drive.
My father, usually a man of very few words, glanced at my mother as we made our request. My mother sat quietly for a moment before looking back at my dad and mumbling, “well let’s just change the station for a few minutes for them dear’’. My father silently obliged and moments later my sister and I found ourselves happily head bopping to Paul Simon’s ‘50 Ways to Leave Your Lover’. The song’s upbeat non-country rhythm and clever rhymes were just what we needed. So, we sat there listening to the catchy phrasing; ‘Slip out the back, Jack,’ ‘Make a new plan Stan,’ Drop off the key, Lee’ and so on.
I casually noticed that we were going slow, then realizing we were stuck behind an elderly lady who was going less than 5 miles per hour and pressing her brakes every 1 to 3 seconds. I saw my father’s grip on the steering wheel, and watched as his knuckles went from a pale white to neon blue in a matter of seconds. Still, Paul Simon sang about getting free while I began to worry that my now road raging father might become ‘The Hulk.’
I noticed my mother’s eyebrows raise higher and higher before turning to look at my sister, who’s face seemed frozen in fear. As we all imagined the worst, something astounding happened. Perfectly in line with the song and without missing a Paul Simon beat, my straight-faced father sang aloud, ‘GET OFF THE ROAD, TOAD.’
The rest of the drive was filled with giggles and laughter, not just from us kids, but even from my mother as she laughed aloud from time to time while my father occasionally grinned.
Although our parents have long since passed away, every now and then when speaking with my dear sister, one of us will mention that epic moment, and giggle together as we remember our father, and his infamous lyric addition, to Paul Simon’s ‘50 Ways to Leave Your Lover’, A song I will never ever forget.
Written by: Jenny Lind