Thoughts on the Song “Against the Wind”

A couple of days ago, while we were playing cribbage, Sena asked me who sang the song “Against the Wind.” I offered a name, which later turned out to be wildly wrong. It bugged her so much she got up from the cribbage game and went to the computer to look it up.

Of course, Bob Seger wrote the lyrics and sang it. She asked me what I thought it meant. I wasn’t sure at the time. I hadn’t thought about it for a really long time.

I read about it on the web. I didn’t know what the lyric “8 miles a minute” meant and found a forum message saying that it corresponds roughly to the speed of a cruising airliner which is about a “480 mph.” That’s technically more like 480 knots, which converts to about 550 mph.

Anyway, it’s really fast and might be a way of saying you’re moving through life at breakneck speed. In Seger’s case, it might have had a more concrete meaning, referring to flying all over from concert to concert.

The song was released in 1980, which was about the time we moved to Ames so I could go back to college at Iowa State University (ISU). It was a big change from working as a draftsman and land surveyor’s assistant in my hometown of Mason City.

If you extend the “against the wind” metaphor a little bit, Sena and I were both moving against the wind in terms of our place in society, income level, location and educational attainment. I thought I wanted to be an engineer at the time, mostly because I had worked for years for consulting engineers.

Backing up in time a little, I had done some undergraduate college work previously at an HBCU (historically black college/university), Huston-Tillotson College (now Huston-Tillotson University) in Austin, Texas in the mid-1970s.

That was also a kind of move against the wind. I grew up in Mason City, and often I was the only black kid in grade school. I got used to that, although the racism was more overt back then and it was difficult sometimes to bear up against that kind of wind. On the other hand, I felt like a fish out of water at H-TC. I just felt like I didn’t fit in. It was part of the reason I left Austin.

It was also challenging to fit in at ISU. I figured out quickly that I would never complete the engineering degree program. The math and hard science courses were tough from the beginning and only got harder. I realized I was going against the wind there.

So, I changed my major and settled on medical technology, which led to working in a hospital laboratory. But it took about a year to get a job after graduation. Looking back, It was a frustrating time and that really felt like pushing against a headwind. I don’t know what I would have done without Sena.

I finally got into medical school at the University of Iowa. Biostatistics and Biochemistry were brutal. I was very close to quitting before the 3rd year of clinical rotations. I doubted I was cut out to be a physician. I thought about going back to surveying. But I didn’t.

Many deadlines, commitments, and struggles leading to brief forays from academia into private practice led me to think of myself as more of a fireman or a cowboy than an academician. Yet I spent most of my career at the University of Iowa.

Now I’m retired. Sena is my shelter against the wind. I guess if you look hard enough, just about anybody can relate to Bob Seger’s song. Let the cowboys ride.

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