It's 3pm on Friday and I'm in a jam on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey, listening to Fresh 102.7 FM playing Michelle Branch's "All You Wanted" ("I'm sinking slowly . . ./ Where you go when you're gone"). Down on the Boardwalk at Asbury Park 40 minutes ago, I'd had my palm read by Lisa, granddaughter of the celebrated Mystic Marie, who once told Bruce Springsteen he was going to make a ton.
Lisa has the gift, too. By her chiffon-draped crystal ball an ashtray bulges comfortingly with half-smoked Luckies.
“You're going to have three children," she tells me.
“Oh shit - really?"
“Well, mother three," she reasons. I suck quickly on the straw of my Polar Purple.
“But you said have."
“I meant mother." Whatever.
“Something big's gonna happen in September," she says.
“Don't tell me anything horrible!" I blurt. She asks for five dollars to go into my situation in depth.
“There's a man here," Lisa says, tapping my upturned index finger, "that needs dealing with."
Fresh FM is the station of choice for anyone in a blind panic. Its keynote is total agony. “You work - the days fly by!" goes its jingle, and its listeners collectively hoick themselves up on their elbows, crack open another tin, and mouth: "Yeah - in hours of pain". Even the adverts have an air of bridges being burned. "Hasta la vista, SOAP SCUM!" goes the ad for Scrubbing Bubbles Extend-A-Clean.
No, there's nothing fresh about Fresh. It's as fresh as the palms of a bombardier flying low over miles of paddy fields. Next up, Jennifer Lopez: "Thought you'd understand/Baby, credit cards aren't romance . . ./My love don't come for free . . ."
I sing along. "It's 'My love don't cost a thing'," corrects my godson, Max, in the seat behind. Max is nine and wants to be in the military - navy, CIA, FBI. He says he wants to "be the bridge between evil and all the people I love", which is precisely how Hoover put it. Max's social conscience runs to Serpico levels. Graffiti is a flat-out "crime" and his definition of squatting is: "That building's been adopted by a crook".
Next, a plug for the Sunday-morning show Acoustic Sunrise makes itself known via a burst of Taylor Swift yelling, "YOU BELONG WITH ME!" Then it's "Love Song" by Sara Bareilles: “your help just hurts" and the relatively upbeat "I'm not gonna write you a love song . . ./My heavy heart sinks deep down under you".
Fresh is exhausting. This is life lived permanently half an hour before the montage sequence where, after many tribulations, I have my hair artfully streaked and start turning heads at the office. Just occasionally they'll let a male singer on the playlist - provided he's in even worse pain, like Danny O'Donoghue from the Script ("I'm still alive but I'm barely breathing . . . ") or Eminem, featuring Rihanna ("Just gonna stand there and watch me burn?").
“Turn to the other channel," implores Max, frowning at his reflection in the window. Max likes Black Eyed Peas, band of choice for all New Jersey under-tens. His favourite song is "One Tribe". "It's about peace," he says. "And it's in a soda commercial."