The first time I went to an all-inclusive resort it was the last time. Not that it was terrible. I just felt like I was in a pen where they served canned Mexican food at a trough. At home, I have a very demanding and very specific daily routine of a black Lab. But when I travel, I prefer to be outside of my comfort zone/pen and to be a little uncomfortable in my own skin—or a little squirmy in my black Lab fur.
I once chose, for example, to forego a visit with a dear high school friend at a paid-for resort in Orlando in favor of riding through the flooded-out dirt roads of the Honduran jungles with a Harley-loving Texan who spit-shined his machete so the "banditos" could see his bad-assedness reflecting off the dashboard of his ancient, sputtering truck.
Perhaps that penchant for the unexpected when traveling is why internet radio on road trips feels like the music/culture equivalent of an all-inclusive resort.
Personalized programming like Pandora, Rdio, and I Heart Radio offer up the perfect kind of self-controlled "surprises" a control freak like me can easily embrace. There's an uncomplicated beauty when José Gonzalez pops up on the Low Pandora station as you're rollercoastering through valleys. It's all perfectly reasonable and expected and within the constraints of a clearly defined algorithm. In nature terms, it's like catching a blurry glimpse of a deer's tail while hiking in the woods. Oh, that was nice.
But when you're traveling through parts unknown and you press that scan button on the old-school car radio, landing on Tears for Fears or Queen or Foghat or Stevie Wonder or Foghat again, it's like dipping your toes in the lake of organized chaos.
At worst, the stations are programmed with back-to-back praises of America and heartbreak dramas. At best, they're unique glimpses of culture and people you can't observe through the bug-carcass-stained windshield of an all-inclusive resort automobile.
We might be speeding through town, but when that scan button lands on Creedence Clearwater Revival and segues into an ad for Connie's Carpet and Window World ("We like nice things!"), it's a little like getting a mobile mini tour of town.
Where else can you hear a live broadcast from a county fair, brought to you by Tractor Central, where a woman running for state senate confesses that she's consumed so much she is now "eating her forehead off?" Where else can you hear a promo for a chicken dinner to be held in the parking lot of the hardware store benefitting the Ladies' Gun Club? ("Bring your own gun!") Or an ad for a Saturday night supper club prime rib dinner read by a human imitating a frog? ("Ribbit...tonight!")
With that scan button, you're like a superhero mobile interloper who can experience the town and its people without even stopping. And for a recovering control freak just passing through "anything goes," it's the ultimate road trip.