A car was pulled over on the hard shoulder of the slip road from the motorway, behind it, there were the red flashing lights of a car driven by a traffic officer. There was a moment of imagination when the Highways England vehicle with its cherry red roof lights became the car of an American highway patrol car and the roadside incident became the sort of moment that would feature in the lyrics of a song.
Bruce Springsteen’s Highway Patrolman would have turned on the flashing red lights on the roof of his patrol car as the song tells of his pursuit of his miscreant brother up a road towards the border between the United States and Canada:
Well, the night was like any other, I got a call `bout quarter to nine
There was trouble in a roadhouse out on the Michigan line
There was a kid lyin’ on the floor lookin’ bad bleedin’ hard from his head
There was a girl cry’n’ at a table and it was Frank, they said
Well, I went out and I jumped in my car and I hit the lights
Well, I musta done one hundred and ten through Michigan county that night
It was out at the crossroads, down `round Willow bank
Seen a Buick with Ohio plates; behind the wheel was Frank
Well, I chased him through them county roads
Till a sign said “Canadian border five miles from here”
I pulled over the side of the highway and watched his tail-lights disappear.
Would anyone in England have ever written a song about a police officer pursuing a car driven by his brother and have expected the song to be popular?
It seems that people could sing about almost anything or anywhere in America. Amarillo, Massachusetts, Tulsa, San Francisco, Phoenix, West Virginia, Baton Rouge – place after place have a romantic hue, if they are American.
In England, has anyone ever heard a song about Birmingham or Manchester? A BBC report once featured a singer who was singing about Northampton, arguing that if American singers could sing about places like Galveston, then why couldn’t English singers write songs about their own towns and cities? The song was not a success.
There is something in American culture that can make the most prosaic of places into poetic locations. In the United States, even the traffic officer on the M5 would deserve a song.