Little used for the better part of a decade, we called it Godwin, the 1980 Oldsmobile Brougham Sedan that my Dad signed-over as a wedding present. And once the lines and hoses had been checked, the gaskets replaced, the front plate – that said Let Me Tell You About My Grandchildren – set aside, it was the perfect vehicle for an awesomely harrowing commute.
Paying the price in worn rotors, ball joints and brake pads, Godwin made it through two metropolitan rush hours each day, from Old Town Alexandria, south of Washington, to Hunt Valley, north of Baltimore, in around 90 minutes. Put to music with an immense 7-Eleven coffee in your cup holder, it’s not hard to imagine Magic Dick (J. Geils’ harmonica player) riding shotgun on any given weekday in the fall of ’88.
First you cruise south down the George Washington Parkway, then east on the Capital Beltway over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Then, foot-decisively-on-gas, you exit for that topsy-turvy, white knuckle ride up the shoulderless Anacostia Freeway through notorious – as in the highest murder rate in America and lately they’ve been favoring automatic weapons – Southeast Washington, DC.
Bumpy, poorly maintained, occasionally desolate, you get used to it. It’s the most direct route and at least the morning drive isn’t in the dark. Soon enough you’re driving north on Kenilworth Avenue into leafy P.G. County, while the rest of the world heads south, then over the Capital Beltway and onto the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
In an age before texting (and barring the occasional idiot) it’s full-bore fast-lane sailing for another 30 miles until Godwin crosses under the Baltimore Beltway and, with the Bromo-Seltzer Tower dead ahead, into the very heart of Charm City. Someday this cluttered expanse around Russell Street will feature Oriole Park and M&T Stadium, but today it’s simply the Camden Industrial Park.
Time to pay attention. Right at the light onto Pratt, past the Inner Harbor, left on Gay, right on Baltimore Street, then left onto the elevated Jones Falls Expressway. Now go ahead and mash that thing. Chewing up the 10 miles of JFX pavement in 7 ½ minutes is a cinch as long as you brake before the Beltway. That’s where the Troopers lie in wait.
Go east for an exit, then north for another three, up the Baltimore-Harrisburg Expressway to Shawan Road and your destination, Executive Plaza III just off the ramp. Sixty-five miles on and totally amped, your day’s work awaits you, as does your evening commute.
Released in 1971, Whammer Jammer is the second track off the J. Geils Band’s second album, The Morning After. Little wonder that it’s far more enduring than poor Godwin.
When we traded it in a few years later, I asked the salesman what they’d do with it. “I dunno,” he shrugged. “Probably a demolition derby…” Never mind the grandkids. That car was a whammer-jammer to the end.