I Believe in the Car Radio

Molly Walter - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
As heard on the This I Believe podcast, March 2, 2015
Molly Walter

It was when Molly Walter was fourteen years old that one of her fondest memories was created when she heard a song on the radio. Now, she believes that listening to the randomness of songs on the radio provides an opportunity for creating—and reliving—great memories.

Themes: music, pleasure
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I believe in the car radio. Not in its existence, clearly, but in its ability to transform one’s mood in just the length of a drive.

This realization came to me a few weeks ago while I was driving back from work at the boathouse. I’m a coxswain for corporate rowing teams and practice had been a disaster. The boat was offset, the crew was grouchy and whiny, and I was freezing. However, after the first few minutes of the car ride home, consisting mostly of me grumbling and swearing under my breath, “Blinded by the Light” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band came on the radio. Immediately, a smile took over the horrid mood practice had put me in, and I cranked the volume, belted the words I knew, and air-guitared the hell out of it at every stoplight. While this song isn’t anywhere close to musical genius, what made it brighten my mood so suddenly was the very simple memory I will forever associate with it.

This memory took place when I was a freshman in high school, the time in your life when you want to curl up and disappear into independent adulthood any time your parents open their mouths. My mom was giving a few of my friends and me a ride home and “Blinded by the Light” began to play. My mom started singing along quite loudly, an already humiliating act. Then she proceeded to jump from humiliating to mortifying in 2.5 seconds. After singing the line “Blinded by the light/revved up like a deuce/another runner in the night,” she felt the need to pose the following question to the group of six fourteen-year-olds in the backseat of her van: “Do you guys think they’re saying ‘deuce’ or ‘douche’?” But no matter how red my face was and how destroyed I believed my social life to be at the time, Mom and I have had some great laughs about it since then.

However pointless and silly that story may seem today, it still makes me smile and with every listen of that song comes that smile. This simple drive home made me realize how important those little memories are. “Shimmy Low” by The Clarks reminds me of my first concert where my aunt loudly requested the song, knowing it was my favorite and that I’d never have the guts to do so myself. The memory of driving around Pittsburgh the night my best friend got her driver’s license will always come to mind whenever a DJ picks “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield.

Whichever radio station you choose gives you the randomness of songs, and with it the randomness of memories. Every three to four minutes contains a new opportunity to have a bad or mediocre mood magically transformed into a contagious smile. While so many things can ruin a day, it only takes something as simple as a car radio to make all the bad seem as though it never happened. This I believe.

Molly Walter now lives in Boston with her boyfriend and two cats. She works as a campus recruiter for a large tech company, and she admits she watches too much television. She and her mother still call each other anytime "Blinded by the Light" comes on the radio.