TBT: “Surfin’ Bird”

Today, I’m wrapping my summer series of articles about songs that remind me of my past. I’ve saved the best for last.

Time: May 23rd, 2003.
Place: Route 40 near Cumberland, MD.
Setting: Stuck in horrendous traffic with my mom.


Every year, my family spends time at my grandfather’s cabin in rural West Virginia during Memorial Day weekend. It’s a great opportunity for all of us relax and catch up. My mother usually doesn’t go because space is limited, sleeping accommodations are less than ideal and, most importantly, there are bugs. But this year, she decided to make the trip with me. Big mistake.

The journey from Baltimore out west began wonderfully. I was driving and my mom was my only passenger. We chatted and listened to music and occasionally we’d remark on the every increasing amount of fog shrouding the road ahead. We were having a great road trip. That is, until we hit traffic east of Cumberland on I-68.

When I say traffic, I really mean parking lot. We were barely moving. That was very unusual out in western Maryland. I turned on the radio to try to find a station giving traffic reports. Turns out that people out in that part of Maryland are more concerned with scripture than with traffic because I found at least 4 different AM stations broadcasting christian sermons and not one giving traffic updates. What about a smartphone, you ask? No such luck. They haven’t been invented yet. Wow, I feel old.

Anyways, we decided to bail onto Rt. 40. Apparently, so did everyone else. Rt. 40 was also jammed up, but at least the traffic was moving. Still searching for a traffic report on the radio, we instead found an emergency bulletin: 85 car pileup west of Cumberland on I-68. Two killed and many more injured. All lanes on I-68 were closed in both directions. Holy smokes!

At that moment, it occurred to my mom that my 16 year old sister Jaime and her friend Rosie had left for West Virginia about an hour before we did. Was she okay? We needed to find out immediately. We tried to call Jaime with our cell phones, but the signal was too weak or non-existent. We pulled into a motel and asked to use their LAN line to make a call. This time Jaime’s phone rang, but no answer. We tried calling a half a dozen times with the same results. Perhaps she was in an area with no signal too. Or not. We didn’t want to think about the possibility that Jaime and Rosie were involved in the pileup. We were worried. Totally stressed.

As I was leaning against the window in the lobby of the motel, someone smacked the glass behind me. I jumped out of my shoes and spun around to see my cousin Bonnie and her husband Chuck laughing hysterically at me through the window. Man, I was boiling. Really pissed. Of course, Bonnie and Chuck had no way of knowing that mom and I were not in the mood for jokes. They just happened to see us from Rt. 40 as they were crawling through town on their way to the cabin. Once we explained what was going on, they offered to let us use their cell phone to try calling Jaime again. This time it worked. Jaime was okay. She was up the road a bit, also on Route 40. Relieved, my mother and I jumped back in the car and restarted our journed.

Now, all we had to do was drive past the accident and jump back on I-68. Easier said than done. The traffic was awful and our nerves were shot. We had already been in the car for 6 hours and we’ve only gotten about a third of the way to the cabin. We were primed for bickering and flaring tempers. But we kept our cool. We even laughed until we cried. Why? Because of one song from an oldies compilation CD that my mom brought with her: “Surfin’ Bird” by The Trashmen.

At 1:08 into the song, there is the most ridiculous breakdown of any song I’ve ever heard and it saved our 12 hour road trip, a trip that should’ve taken 5 hours. We replayed that song countless times and everytime it made us laugh.

Everyone made it to the cabin safely that year, but my mom and I are the only ones who made it there with a smile.

In case you missed them, here are the previous articles:

TBT-1: “Epic”
TBT-2: “Baby Got Back”
TBT-3: “Sultans of Swing”
TBT-4: “Barbie Girl”
TBT-5: “Symphony of Destruction”
TBT-6: “Right Here Right Now”
TBT-7: “Crush”

For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit www.ewguitar.com.

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