Glen Campbell’s By the time I get to Phoenix was played on the radio. The gentle ballad of a man who leaves his long-standing partner speaks of physical distancing that accompanies the metaphorical distancing that has begun.
It was a song given frequent airtime in my teenage years. The place names were familiar from the American television programmes that filled the schedules. I would have answered without hesitation if I had been asked in which state the cities would be found.
There were no opportunities to check out the details of the song, but if it had been forty years later, being a geeky sort of teenager, I fear I might have wanted to investigate the journey described in the lyrics. How far was being driven? What speeds would the driver need to average to reach each point in the times given? Where might he have stopped for meals? How often would he have needed to refill the car with petrol?
“By the time I get to Phoenix, she’ll be rising,” It doesn’t say what time he left, leaving the note on the door. Presumably in the early hours of the morning? Might he have driven two hundred miles before the woman he has left behind wakes?
At this point, a geeky teenager might have turned to Google Maps to check on the next leg of the journey. It says that Phoenix to Albuquerque is 419 miles which can be covered in 6 hours 23 minutes.
“By the time I make Albuquerque, she’ll be working. She’ll probably stop at lunch, and give me a call.” The song makes sense for the morning’s travel. If he has left Phoenix around 7 am, and presumably stopped for coffee and fuel somewhere, he would be in Albuquerque at lunchtime.
It is the journey from Albuquerque to Oklahoma that needs more imagination. The distance is 544 miles and Google Maps says it takes 7 hours 43 minutes. If he left Albuquerque at 2 pm and made two one hour stops, it would still only be midnight. Does she go to bed early to be in a deep sleep by that time? Wouldn’t you have thought that his departure might have caused her sleeplessness? Perhaps she is sanguine about him having gone.
The road to Oklahoma passes through Amarillo, perhaps he sang, “Is this the road . . ?” as he travelled along.
The problem with Google providing the answer to almost everything is that no space remains for poetic license.