(1) northern states ~2002



We cram Jeremy's life into the trunk of my car and begin with a drive to Seattle. The drive away office, after verbal abuse and then reprieve, yields a car and the offer of beer from the mini-fridge (a trick. we don't fall for it, duh).

. . .


Helena in the middle of the night may as well be any other sleepy small town. Empty streets under vigilant streetlights and the occasional cop prowling for something juicy. Hop a fence to sleep inside a baseball stadium, wake up to sprinklers in your face. I don't ever seem to learn from some mistakes. Falling asleep to the sounds of restless, bored, small town kids in the adjacent park, making out and fighting their way through the idle hours of the night. They invent drama to fill a listless void, they will do what they can to make a life out of this town.

Take us from home and feed us adventure, we are hungry.

. . .


Billings, Montana at noon. A dusty go no-where town of pawn shops selling guns and paycheck cash-advance desolation. Worn out sun-bleached buildings and weary people live stranded in a desolate prairie land black hole. We settle down in shady park grass for a nap inside sleeping bags when the wind begins to blow fiercely. Trees thrash, branches crack and crash, sirens rise and fall all over town. We zip up flat and low beneath the sun as blasting wind skims over us. Feels so nice.

Super bright green grass to our right, driving at eighty pacing a cloud shadow to our left. We run parallel for a while, then chase the shadow directly down the interstate until it veers off the road, it goes cutting across the golden wheat fields and outruns us.

. . .


Dumpsters and thousands of bagels.

I wake up early to drive through rural chicago, the scenery is lush and idyllic in that small town crop fields dotted with silos way. It is pleasant until the acres of cookie cutter housing developments materialize. They look like they have been prefabricated in a single huge chunk and then dropped out of the sky into the middle of remote and lonely nowhere. There are no traces of development around them, just an abrupt transition from tilled rows to vinyl siding. These are the outer reaching tentacles of chicago, outpost colonies of a gritty industrial wasteland to come. In order to avoid paying tolls I take an awkward combination of roads, highways, interstates and alleys, switching on and off at random. It gives a slightly more personal and less bland taste of the passing country and people than the interstate alone can offer. From sleepless commerce to intense poverty and back again.

. . .


The morning after. Grand Rapids lays out all it's ugly urban strip mall sprawl in vapid, depressing glory. The jaundiced underside to a park filled downtown waterfront. Walkways along the river gave the town a deceptive promise during the night that it only half deserves, it never delivered as a whole. Under my breath : America may be an industrial giant, but it is a cultural wasteland. I only half take that back.

. . .


The Greyhound station is thick with the crushing weight of despair, half-crumbled people carrying broken lives on their backs are quietly crying and yelling into payphones. It is hard for it not to rub off some, a little bit of panicking backslide into helplessness, the sort that keeps you paralyzed awake and worrying until sunrise. It makes the desire to escape to suburbia understandable, though that comes with its own flavor of broken spirits and aimlessness.

I feel gnawing unease. The motion of the bus is soothing though, the ground and cities streaming past form a coherent momentum which promises that everything will be alright. Mechanical progress will give us speed and an advantage that will allows us to outrun any problems that may arise. This is the American Dream Lite, cheap ticket cramped into a small seat as the road vibrations send me to sleep.

By night the little I have seen of Detroit does not seem as grim as I expected, but I also know how darkness and city lights lend a deceptive grace to cut-throat ugliness. This assessment of declined industrial cities always seems harsh until I am confronted by their bleak reality in daylight, when they press in from all sides with no escape in sight. Yet, people build lives and live them within these places - they make the best of what is possible, and sometimes make much worse what is already marginal.

. . .


Between the all these cities are thousands of acres of mono-culture crops, they are amazing and beautiful. And depressing.

. . .


Somewhere along the way, between all the mischief and new scenery, we found everything it means to be on the road again and gradually left off thinking of home.

(2)

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