The Road Goes On Forever, and The Party Never Ends

“I like your music,” she said as she hopped into my truck. “Who is it?”

“Joe Ely.”

“I never heard of him, but I like it!”

“You aren’t from Texas, I reckon?”

“No, Alabama. You?”

“New Jersey.”

I was in Mississippi helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina in September of 2005. On the long drive from New Jersey, I had been listening to several Joe Ely tapes that a friend had given me. On that day, we were listening to Live at Antone’s. Headed down Old Spanish Trail, south of Highway 90 in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, the song came on. It was one of those moments that one never forgets. The song was Joe Ely’s cover of “The Road Goes on Forever” by Robert Earl Keen.

The Road Goes on Forever

Sherry was a waitress at the only joint in town.
She had a reputation as a girl who’d been around.
Down Main Street after midnight, a brand new pack of cigs,
A fresh one hangin’ from her lips, a beer between her legs.
She’d ride down to the river, and meet with all her friends.
The road goes on forever and the party never ends.

Sonny was a loner, older than the rest.
He was goin’ in the Navy, but he couldn’t pass the test.
So he hung around town, sold a little pot.
The law caught wind of Sonny; one day he got caught.
But he was back in business when they set him free again.
The road goes on forever and the party never ends.

Sonny’s playin’ eight-ball at the joint where Sherry works
When some drunken out-of-towner put his hand up Sherry’s skirt.
Sonny took his pool cue, laid the drunk out on the floor.
Stuffed a dollar in her tip jar, walked out the door.
She’s running right behind him, reaching for his hand.
The road goes on forever and the party never ends.

They jumped into his pickup, Sonny jammed her down in gear.
Sonny looked at Sherry, said “Let’s get on outta here”.
The stars were high above them, the moon was in the east.
The sun was settin’ on ‘em when they reached Miami Beach.
They got a motel by the water, and a quart of Bombay Gin.
The road goes on forever and the party never ends.

They soon ran out of money, but Sonny knew a man,
Who knew some Cuban refugees, who dealt in contraband.
Sonny met the Cubans in a house just off the route,
With a briefcase full of money and a pistol in his boot.
The cards were on the table when the law came bustin’ in.
The road goes on forever and the party never ends.

The Cubans grabbed the goodies, Sonny grabbed the jack,
He broke the bathroom window and climbed on out the back.
Sherry drove the pickup through the alley on the side,
Where a lawman tackled Sonny and was readin’ him his rights.
She stepped out in the alley with a single shot .410.
The road goes on forever and the party never ends.

They left the lawman lying, they made their getaway.
They got back to the motel just before the break of day.
Sonny gave her all the money, and he blew her a little kiss.
“If they ask you how this happened, say I forced you into this.”
She watched him as his taillights disappeared around the bend.
The road goes on forever and the party never ends.

It’s Main Street after midnight, just like it was before,
Twenty-one months later, at the local grocery store.
Sherry buys a paper and a cold six-pack of beer.
The headlines read that Sonny is going to the chair.
She pulls back onto Main Street in her new Mercedes Benz.
The road goes on forever and the party never ends.

It was a moment that I can’t fully explain, but I’ll never forget. I’ve been listening to a lot of Joe Ely lately, and when I hear “The Road Goes on Forever,” I think of that moment on Old Spanish Trail specifically, and my three weeks in Mississippi in general. The moment is clear in my mind more than three years later. I had a brand new pack of cigs, a fresh one hanging from my lips and a Dr. Pepper between my legs. That road seemed to go on forever, but I loved driving it. I was free. I don’t remember the name of the woman who was with me, nor do I remember where we were headed exactly, but I’m sure we were going to help someone who needed help. That was why we were there.

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The Party Never Ends

There was a local bar/pizza place on MS-90 that was heavily damaged but open. It was packed every night with volunteers from all over the country (and the world) and locals. I pictured one of the bartenders as Sherry from the song, and although there was never any trouble, there was a guy who was either her friend or her brother, or just some random dude who was protective of her. He was Sonny in my mind. I often wonder what ever became of the people I came across while there.

Sometimes when I’m driving, and I hear “The Road Goes on Forever,” I think of that day on Old Spanish Trail. I was so happy. Everything I did there meant something to someone.

On the long ride home in early October, 2005, another Joe Ely song came on that I’ll never forget: “All Just to Get to You.”

I have stumbled on the plains
Staggered in the wind
Stood at a crossroad or two
Cried to a river
Swept to the sea
All just to get to you…

To this day, when I hear that song, I remember that long ride home to be back with my wife, family and friends. I made it home in seventeen hours. I only stopped for gas. I smiled the whole way home.

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