Blog: Frankie Lee

A road trip with Mississippi-born hog farmer-turned-musician Frankie Lee

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I was fixin’ to buy a 1972 Chevy C10 pickup from a retired farmer outside of Duluth, Minnesota in the winter of 2010. It was the middle of December and the Canadian wind was whipping down the central plains, blowing snow over the highway like a ghost had laid down across it. I was looking out the window of a Greyhound bus headed northbound on Interstate 35. Duluth is about two hours from the city and the truck was another three or four miles out from there. The bus dropped me in West Duluth.

He greeted me at the end of the driveway with a firm handshake. “I’m Ron… find it all right?”

Ron was a retired grain elevator operator but his main priority these days was keeping the farm in order. “Since everything shut down,” he said, “I need a car to commute now more than a truck to haul.”

I wanted to ask him how long he’d been waiting for me out there in the elements but men like that don’t put much importance on small details like time and how long and how cold. If it’s cold you bundle up, if someone’s late and you have things to do, you don’t just sit there ‘n’ wait. I bet he’d been out in the barn all day fixing a snowblower and heard me pulling around the corner about a mile and a half away.

We walked up the driveway along a row of snow-packed pine trees leaning sideways. I followed him with a strange sense of purpose, like I belonged there. Men who use few words and waste little time possess this level of gratitude and respect from me. Always have. I hate to hear anyone blabbering on about nothing, and it seems they always find a big empty circle to stand in when they do.

Ron wasn’t wearing gloves and brought his hand up to shake mine – leathery, calloused bear paws that had seen a lot of wear ‘n’ tear. All he had on his body was a blue and green flannel button up underneath a pair of Carhartt overalls that looked liked they’d been shot with a grease gun and dragged through the gravel. He said he only used the truck to load hay to and from the feed store. The undercarriage and body weren’t too rusty and he put new brakes on it last winter. Anyway, it was the holidays and I was home visiting family but needed to get back to California. I was in need of a truck that could haul motorcycles back to LA and figured this was just what I was looking for. I told Ron my plans but he didn’t say anything. He just looked towards a patch of dirt that the snow hadn’t touched and said “yeaaaaauuup” really slow, then walked from the silo to a little shed about 100 feet away. I was starting to feel chills from standing out in the cold and wanted to get out of there before Ron changed his mind.

I paid him in cash and with another firm handshake I was on my way.

Down the road, I picked up a couple 1970s Honda CBs to flip and figured they’d sell right away. There’s a certain year/model of Japanese bikes without much power, or bells and whistles, that rich kids and hipsters love to chop up to match their bad sleeve tattoos and expensive jean jackets. I loaded them up in the truck and carried on. I decided the best route was probably straight south to Texas on Interstate 35 and then head west on Interstate 10 through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. I’d given myself three days for the trip…

Frankie Lee plays UK dates in support of his debut album American Dreamer, including Gullivers, Manchester, 10 Nov

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