Travel Journal: A Road Trip to SXSW

Nothing quite says road trip like a mix CD.

When Koury Angelo, the photojournalist I would be covering SXSW with, told me he needed to drive his car from LA to Austin, asked me to join him, and then requested that I burn a couple mix CDs for the ride, I was instantly ecstatic.

I burned 8 mix CDs.

In the era where AUX cords, Bluetooth, XM, and Spotify reign supreme, I have managed to stay married to the idea of the mix CD and make them for myself and others on a consistent basis. There is something nostalgic, sentimental, and irreplaceable about burning a specific mix just for the drive somewhere. That mix will exist forever (albeit with a culmination of scratches), most likely tucked in the door of your car; and just as sure as you will want to burn all the clothes you were wearing during the road trip after you take your first shower at your destination, you will stumble upon the CD months or years later, and memories will come flooding back of that one time you drove really far through a lot of desert and with two people whom you just met.

Each one was individually crafted to the time of day and stage of the road trip they were to be played, and labeled as such. Impressed and excited about this feat, Koury and Phil (Phil being our other photographer and fellow road tripper) asked me about their contents. I began my explanation by recounting a story of how in the 5th grade, I met one of my best friends, Doug (who coincidentally happened to be hosting me in Austin this week) back in our hometown of Fairfax, VA. He went to a different elementary school, but we shared a mutual friend who had developed a huge crush on him. One day, she gathered up enough courage to call him on speakerphone with me by her side, however, because she was too shy to speak to him, I ended up having to fill in the awkward silences. This ended up as an hour long conversation centered around one thing—how my family recently bought an external CD burner (a newfangled device at the time), giving me the new ability to burn mix CDs. Each CD held 5 songs max, took at least an hour to burn, and you always had to go through a few trial CDs before one came out that worked. But it was a huge upgrade from the days where I would try to catch my favorite songs on the radio to record music with my rainbow colored Playskool cassette recorder, so I was happy. We finally met in person two years later in middle school and upon realizing who I was, he affectionately referred to me as, “the girl who burns CDs”.

Here I am, 15 years later, still burning mix CDs. Except now I can fit 18 songs, they finish burning in 2 minutes, and I usually get it right the first time. I like to think that after 15 years of continuos practice, I have mastered the art of the mix CD.

Except when we attempted to play the first of my 8 mix CDs, it read “BAD CD” on the headunit.

We could not start such a long journey without the proper music, so I quickly got on my laptop in the backseat of the car and remade the first cd just in time for us to remain on schedule.

At one point, the two photographers in the front seats took out their cameras (yes, even Koury who was driving) and began snapping pictures non stop of the passing scenery as the Soulwax remix of Arcade Fire’s – “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” came on. They happened to be taking pictures of the passing mountains. When we realized the serendipitous coincidence, I couldn’t stop laughing and felt like that 11-year-old girl again, reveling in the amazing qualities of having a well crafted mix CD. That was the first sign of how perfectly the mixes would become our soundtrack for the rest of the drive– sparking roadside dance parties, reminiscent conversations of middle school, and excitement and anticipation for performing SXSW artists.

Aside from the music, our road trip consisted of speculating about the science of windmills, pointing out naughty billboards, having people catch us snapping pictures of them while we drove past, signs in creepy gas stations that pointed to the bathrooms and/or massages, haircuts in driveways, suspect meth labs, more mountains, Chex Mix, noisy New Mexico roads, a charmingly colorful Mexican mariscos restaurant, countless “rustic Texas star” outlets, and lots of sheep and desert. Oh, and a mysterious abandoned gas station identified with a lone spray painted sign, which came up as “Truck stop rub n tug” when we tried to tag the location on Instagram. Open to interpretation, I guess.

After 24 hours in a car together, we finally made to our destination. Austin, Texas.

Photos By: Koury Angelo

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