My Long, Music-Filled Capital Corridor Commute

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The fog and the hills (Pendarvis Harshaw)

As rain falls on greater Northern California, and snow accumulates on the Sierra Nevada mountains, I keep laughing in disbelief, thinking about Kaddo's situation.

See, Kaddo is a rapper from 77th and Greenside in East Oakland. After getting transferred from Telsa's Fremont factory to the one in Reno, he now lives in Nevada. He's so committed to his craft and community, he used to drive back and forth just to record tracks.

A few weeks ago, I saw him in person and he told me about life on the interstate. How living in Reno isn't that bad, though some folks say the city's name is an acronym for “Run Every N*gg* Out.” He says Nevada’s open carry laws have made living there more comfortable than in Oakland, at least when it comes to weapons. And he's even gotten accustomed to the long slowdown over Donner Summit when there's a storm approaching. The image of Kaddo, a black man with locs and gold teeth, putting chains on his car tires in the middle of the snowstorm sticks with me. It’s a reminder that although my commute is bad, it ain’t that bad.

But it's still bad.

Since moving out of Oakland to Sacramento three months ago, I've seen a lot: car accidents, roadkill, sunsets. I’ve driven past the charred fields from fires that scorched the grassy hillsides adjacent to the Carquinez Bridge. One day on Amtrak, my phone died, so I biked home through hail. When I turned my phone on, I learned a tornado had touched down in Davis at the same time my train went through town. And then there was the day the dammed refinery in Crockett exploded; it caused my Greyhound bus to take the supremely scenic route—a four-hour detour through Stockton.

I often ask myself, what's the difference between a "commute" and "road trip"?

I’ve grown extremely familiar with the highways and byways between the Bay Area and the state capital. I know best times to go through the Yolo Bypass, as well as the MacArthur Maze (hint: never). I’ve gotten familiar with where CHP likes to hide out to catch speeding drivers. Hell, give me a few more months and I’ll have memorized the grazing patterns of the cattle alongside I-80.

I've reluctantly fallen in love with this commute, and how it gives me time to think about more than just Oakland. But I always end up thinking about Oakland. If we're going to be honest, I’m suffering, bro. It ain’t even FOMO. It’s POMO—the pain of missing out.

It hurts to not be in the town for small events. You know, potlucks, movie screenings and earthquakes—“Earthquake Twitter” just isn’t as fun from outside of the club. I think anyone who’s left home goes through this process. You know, where home isn’t home anymore, and at the same time, your new home isn’t home either.

So I've been trying to hold on to things that remind me of home. The result: long rides turn into listening sessions as I tap into some of the greatest musical gifts the Bay Area has to offer.

Kaddo. (Artist photo)

I’ve listened to all four of the projects Larry June put out this year— and I've enjoyed every last bar about healthy salads and fly cars; even if he does sometimes have an off-beat flow.

I've chuckled at the comedic bars from Guapdad 4000, who released his first album Dior Deposits last month. And I've downright cracked up listening to Dame D.O.L.L.A. trade bars with Shaq Fu.

I played the latest project from the duo SU’Lan, Tia and Tamera, and instantly started to drive faster. It's wild how certain music does that.

Nef The Pharoh dropped Mushrooms and Coloring Books, and now every time my Greyhound passes the Vallejo bus station, I get the urge to play the track “South Vallejo.”

Prezi Plane Jane dropped a seven-piece special called Money Bag. Beejus dropped a dozen tracks on a project called Beautiful. And Tia Nomore dropped a 30-minute project called Level.

Of course, I listened to Kaddo’s latest work. I mean, he travels twice the distance I do in order to do his work; I had to listen solely off the strength of that.

I've played music from elder statesmen, like E-40, who recently put out Practice Makes Paper, a 26-track project for his 26th studio album. I've listened to artists in the thick of their career like P-Lo, who between producing for other artists and serving as spokesperson for the 49ers dropped Shine.

And I've also paid attention to new artists, like Michael Sneed. Man! His Days We Lost album is made for looking out of the window during long drives. It's all about the coming-of-age process; I swear, the song "Junior" could be a theme song to a movie, playing over old footage from when he was younger.

The passing of time, the passing of the scenery. All in a day's commute.

Michael Sneed
A young Michael Sneed graces the stage at the Life Is Living festival in Oakland, circa 2011. (Pendarvis Harshaw)

There was this one morning, a few weeks ago, when my dadmobile pushed past the Red Top Road exit on I-80, headed west. Beyond the cows and the spot where the motorcycle cop sometimes hides, and just before cresting the hillside that separates Fairfield from Vallejo. That’s when Rexx Life Raj’s song “The Fog” came on.

No lie, at that exact moment, wisps of Bay Area fog began to accumulate in front of my car. A few seconds later, I was inside a full fog bank. I let out one of those laughs that deranged people do in the movies, pounding the steering wheel in excitement at the perfect timing of it all.

“Ayy, walk through the fog like bay weather / Still undefeated like Mayweather / I know I'm doin' it right / The universe sendin' me signs in bold letters,” Raj sang.

I feel him. I'm on my path too, and all the signs are there.

Even though I'm late for work in San Francisco, tired of driving 80mph on Interstate 80 in attempts to make it to and from Sacramento in under 80 minutes. Back pains from sitting. Pocket pains from spending. The last three months have been rough. But man, music.

What's the old saying? When it hits, you feel no pain.

Stream Pendarvis Harshaw's hand-curated playlist for long-distance commuting below. Not showing up for you? Click here.