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I have been in love with Tom Petty for over 35 years. I can’t help it. I’m convinced that had Tomcat met me when I was younger and could hold a tune, he would have snagged me to be one of his “heartbreakers.” Yes, I know Stevie Nicks is the Honorary female Heartbreaker, but she had proximity on her side.  The truth is that Tom Petty (as well as the miles of highway that stretch from coast to coast) is largely responsible for my emigrating from Ireland to America in the first place.  Well, that along with finding work and leaving The Troubles and the rain behind.

In 1985, I was part of what they call the “brain drain” that took about 20,000 of us away from Northern Ireland. By all accounts that number hasn’t changed much – I was a bit sad to read in The Belfast Telegraph just this past week that in August 2014 that 67% of people do not see a future in Northern Ireland. Why?

Myself, I remember just knowing that an education meant immigration, that I would leave for America and probably never return. Older and wiser, I understand better now what it says about a little country when all its talent is expended on faraway places like America or Australia, bringing to mind what Eamon De Valera said to the Dail in 1934:

No longer shall our children, like our cattle, be brought up for export.

Sobering, especially in light of all that has happened on the emerald isle in the past seventy years – and when you’re one of those children in the thick of it, young and well-educated, unemployed and broke, fed up with politics and parades, flags and fighting, grey skies and rain, America is awfully appealing – the idea of it, anyway – which leads me back to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.  Come on now,  is there anything more American than driving down a highway with the top down and the radio up and Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin‘” blaring from the radio?  Just ask Tom Cruise how his Jerry MaGuire is feeling as he sings along. (Naturally, he had me at “free”. . .)

My husband never quite got over being flat-out flummoxed by my relationship with “the road.” I had no sense of direction and frequently took the long and wrong way home, not really noticing because I was always singing along with the radio. Silently noting my stellar capacity for getting lost – and notwithstanding the fact that I was then still a novice driving on the American side of the road – my man intervened as best he could, with the gift of a silver pocket compass.  I hadn’t the heart to tell him that I was never one for “orienteering” or map-reading or paying attention to directions. I was more of a free-spirited “let’s-just-see-where-the-road-takes-us” kind of gal. Mind you, with that attitude, I got lost all the time, and eventually, devil-may-care on the open road gave way to blind panic. I would fret over whether to turn left or right, then commit to turning right only to look back over my shoulder and realize I should have turned left. Then I would call home to report that I was lost. Again. You can imagine the inconvenience BC – Before Cellphones – calling collect from pay phones outside convenience stores.

Invariably, he’d ask me if the sun was behind me or in front of me, somehow believing that if he helped me establish North, I would know where I was. That never worked. So for our first Christmas together, he gave me the lovely silver compass which – until I gave it to Sophie for her first birthday without him last year –  had remained untouched in the blue velvet-lined box it came in. I always thought it was too much like a piece of jewelry to be practical and, anyway, I didn’t really need it to help me find my way home. I relied on him to do that for almost twenty-five years and on Tom Petty to keep me company.

It’s not that Tom Petty is in the same category as Camilla Parker Bowles  (remember how Princess Diana told Martin Bashir  that there were three people in her marriage to Princess Charles?), but he has definitely been along for the ride. Ken liked Tom as well and took me to every concert he ever gave in Phoenix. He always made sure we had plenty of Tom on the playlist for our road-trips to California, and earlier this Spring, I’m sure he was looking down at me and laughing when the Hypnotic Eye tour dates were announced with not a single show planned for Phoenix, because he would know that I would convince my best friend to drive to San Diego to see the opening gig – something I would not have been able to convince him to do.

A mere five hours away, a road trip  to San Diego would require no planning. As long as we had tickets, what else was there to worry about? Buying tickets was a snap for me as a member of the Highway Companions Club. Judge away. Let it be noted that I was also a card-carrying member of the David Cassidy/Partridge Fan Club once upon a time. Head held high . . .

Yes. We only needed tickets, gasoline, a place to stay, at least three outfits, and an assurance to each other that we would be back to Phoenix the morning after to see our girls off to school – my daughter’s first as a high school Senior, and Amanda’s little girl’s very first as a pre-schooler.

We made great time, rolling in to San Diego around 5PM on a Saturday afternoon. Being sensible, we checked out the concert venue so we wouldn’t get lost on our way the next evening, and then began calling a few hotels. How hard could it be to find a room on a Saturday night in San Diego? After being laughed at by The Sheraton, The Holiday Inn, Best Western, The Hilton, and a Motel 6, we decided to call hotels.com, and after being transferred to a call center, presumably in a place far away from America, a nice lady on the other end of the line informed us that she had just the room we needed, not too far away from us, albeit in another country.

Resigned to a night in Tijuana, Mexico, we forgot about the fact that nobody had left the light on for us and decided to concentrate instead on finding something to eat. Bona fide foodies, we were on a mission to find  the little restaurant that had defeated Bobby Flay in the “Taco Throwdown.” Forget hotels.com – it is much more fun to play with the TVFoodMaps app. And soon, we were safely ensconced at a table by the window of  Mama Testa Taqueria. Funny how a good margarita, guacamole, and all manner of salsa will make you forget about forgetting to book a hotel room.


After demolishing all that was laid before us, we tried one more time to find a room in America.  Siri dutifully informed us that there was an “inn” nearby.  Because it ended with “-shire,”Amanda thought it sounded rather respectable like a B & B in The Cotswolds. I thought it sounded, well, not like that at all.  The man who answered when I called said he had “all kinds of room,” no need for a reservation, to just ‘come on down.” And even though my gut screamed, “No! No! No!” I knew Amanda had been enchanted by the idea of a B&B that ended with “-shire,” so we made our way there. Shortly after exiting the freeway, we found it – across the street from a Bail Bondsman, and nestled between a pawn shop and a “gentleman’s establishment.” Under its eaves, I noticed a  transaction taking place between a man and a woman. Maybe he just needed change for the soda machine . . .

“Oh, let’s not.” I said. “How about we head north? Sort of like going to Mexico except in the opposite direction and still in America?”

And so we did . . . stay tuned for Part 2.

Yvonne & Amanda- Road Trip to Tom Petty part 1 from yvonne watterson on Vimeo.