September 4 1998, Friday
n the morning Kim and I were awaken early by Spunky Lisa, who hugged us both goodbye before heading off to work. We dragged all our bags and belongings down the stairs and out to the Volvo, where Kim did her best to pack it all away. Towards the end of the packing, though, room was running low and we were growing cranky for want of coffee and glucose. I did the final phase of packing while Kim was off walking Sophie the miniature Schnauzer. I hate being watched while I'm figuring out spatial relationships. An observer's running commentary (or even the chance of an observer's running commentary) is enough to keep me from falling into the right brain mode necessary for this kind of work. When Kim returned with Sophie, the car was completely loaded and ready to go. I'd made Sophie a comfy nest and I'd even left enough clear space for the driver to see out the rear window.
On the way out of Ann Arbor, we stopped at a tidy newish bagel place staffed by a couple clueless older middle-aged women with whom Kim soon lost her patience as they repeatedly failed to prepare her the caffeine & cream-containing beverage she sought. We left that place in hasty disgust. Of course, I'm not as particular about my food as is Kim and I found my coffee and bagel adequate.
e headed west on I-94 through Jackson across the low rolling hills of south-central Michigan and then south towards Indiana down I-69. The Michigan Department of Transportation had planted some pines along the edge of the interstate and someone had evidently cut a number of them for use as Christmas trees. Infuriated at such blatant disregard for its authority, the highway bureaucracy then designed and posted an official but altogether unique highway sign where the trees had been, "These trees were cut illegally." (Of course, I'm surmising that this is what happened, since the sign came with no explanation.)
have a number of prejudices about each of the American states. When I think of Utah, I think of fussy Mormons living clean and fucking like bunnies. When I think of Iowa, I imagine wholesome farmers and their daughters bedding down with traveling salesmen. West Virginia conjurors up images of narrow mountain valley choked with dingy shacks and toothless white folks driving old rusting pickup trucks. When Kim and I crossed into Indiana today, I couldn't help but think of the cheerful stupidity exemplified by the erstwhile Vice President from that state, Dan Quayle. Indiana has made itself an easy state to think of in this way. After all, the legislative body of Indiana was once the author of a law which decreed p (pi) equal to four (according to the Guiness Book of World Records).
I'd never been to Indiana before, but being there did little to dispel my unflattering preconceptions. For example, though the rolling hills quickly died out and were replaced with consummately dismal midwestern flatness, the interstate roadbed itself continued to rise up and down as if by inertia.
As we passed through the heart of Indianapolis, we found a radio station in the middle of a seven-song block of tunes by local talent John Cougar Melloncamp. JC Melloncamp is better than a lot of what radios are playing these days.
West from Indianapolis, the road becomes a dull blur of low rolling hills and flatland. It's not especially agricultural countryside, though I can't say I was paying much attention. Kim and I passed the time in a perverted manner that didn't depend on the scenery.
e crossed into Illinois and Central Daylight time and, satisfied with this achievement, stopped for food in the town of Marshall, Illinois. A billboard read "Pornography Destroys Families" and, in its shadow, was a small windowless adult video store. Occasionally a dirty old man could be seen creeping in or out.
For Sophie's benefit, Kim would have liked to park the Volvo out of the hot sun under a tree, but in the commercial cluster built to serve the interstate, trees hadn't figured high in the plan. Any restaurant with a tree adjacent to its parking lot would have received our business, but without such a choice, we decided to eat at Hardys, which had a few useful limited-time-only deals.
Kim had been doing the driving up until now, but for the rest of the ride to St. Louis, I took over. The speed limit in Illinois is 65 mph, but I averaged about 80. My usual long distance driving technique is to find some other vehicle going at my chosen speed in a safe, conscientious manner and following him for many miles as he gently weaves through traffic. This affords me some protection from speeding tickets, since the lead car in a speeding convoy is the one upon which a malicious cop is likely to focus. Interestingly, more often than not the vehicle I choose to follow is a sport utility vehicle, usually some shade of red and driven by a middle-aged man. I often develop a wordless bond of allegiance with my chosen leader, even feeling a pang of sadness when he eventually abandons me at an exit.
The traverse of southern Illinois on I-70 is one of the most boring drives you can imagine. The land is completely flat, and there are no cities to break up the monotony. The force pulling me on was the idea of gradual discovery as I continually set a personal record for westness. It was rather different from the feeling of heading to the northern fringe of civilization, as we'd done in the Sleeping Bear Dunes trip (and that was neither a personal record for northness nor westness). When I head north, I get the feeling that I'm being squeezed under an ever-lowering sky, like I'm burrowing into the low-ceiling area of a dusty old attic. I get the sense that I'm gradually losing things in the environment necessary to support life. Heading west, though, it feels like I'm discovering exotic new habitable lands.
The radio was playing a documentary about the rock band The Police, focusing on the album Synchronicity. Sting was talking about the song "Every Breath You Take," saying it was really about being kept cozy by the sinister superficiality of the Reagan years. That was kind of odd, because to Kim and me the song had always seemed like just another song about obsessive love. So we gave it another listen to see if Sting was being honest with us. It all seemed plausible until the line, "I look around but it's you I can't replace. I feel so cold and I long for your embrace. You got me crying 'Baby, baby, please!'" Slippery little disingenuous revisionist bastard, that Sting guy.
uddenly we could see the skyline of St. Louis, complete with the Gateway Arch glinting in the lowering sun. It was just like postcard. When we crossed the Mississippi, though, I was a little disappointed. It wasn't nearly as big in reality as it was in my mind. I've read Huckleberry Finn and I expect the river to be miles and miles across. But it's no bigger than the Ohio River defining the northwest edge of West Virginia.
onight we'd be visiting and staying with some of Kim's St. Louis friends. Our best connection in St. Louis was Kim's old boyfriend, Gabe, but we couldn't stay with him since he is currently recovering from drug and alcohol addiction and residing in a half way house. We drove to Gabe's parents' house in University City, Missouri and knocked on the door. Gabe's mother did her best to be hospitable, but we couldn't stay or even really come in the house. It seems that Gabe's father claims to be allergic to dogs (even little ones like Sophie) and since Sophie can't be tied up outside without throwing an absolute fit, we had to sit outside with her. We tried hanging out and killing time on the back patio, but mosquitoes soon forced us to flee.
We ended up drinking some coffee at a fairly unpretentious espresso joint named Kaldi's in a little nearby collegiate commercial district. Kim over heard young college girls nearby talking about their experiences smoking pot and it made her feel old. I put up a few musings promotional flyers as we walked Sophie the dog. Plenty of together people were walking their dogs, and Sophie anxiously squealed and strained against her leash, wanting to run up and smell each and every one of them.
ventually Gabe got off work from his job as a bank teller and joined up with us at his parents' house. He's a slightly stocky guy with a warm, outgoing demeanor and a wonderfully sarcastic sense of humour. It didn't take long for me to conclude that he's one of the funniest people I've ever met. He reminds me of a mix of people: Matthew Hart, Johnny Two Boom Mancini, and the funniest guy I knew in Oberlin College, Steve Price from Seattle, Washington. There must be a certain amount of pain associated with being this entertainingly funny and Gabe's recent life has been rather similar to Johnny Two Boom's, characterized by cycles of addiction and rehabilitation. I don't exactly know the specifics of Gabe's history, but part of the reason he and some of his friends are now in St. Louis is to escape problems with addiction they experienced in San Francisco.
Kim, Gabe and I went back to the halfway house so Gabe could change into something a little less formal. A half dozen sober gentlemen were socializing on the porch as we went in.
For dinner we went out to the gay part of St. Louis, the Central West End, which (as in most cities) is also the trendy restaurant district. Gabe was full of jokes on that theme. When, for example, he saw two obviously gay men walking a Dachshund, he said, "I don't envy what that poor dog has to go through." Earlier Gabe had been talking about people in this district "walking their hamsters."
As Gabe drove us through the affluent residential areas of St. Louis, the mansions rather reminded me of what I know of the deep south. I kept lapsing into thinking I was in New Orleans, a place I've never been (though Kim talks about it all the time). This was aided considerably by the common St. Louis practice of putting potted palm trees out on the sidewalks for the Summer. Of course, New Orleans and St. Louis do have a strong connection. There's a whole river culture based around the Mississippi.
We ate out in front of a restaurant named Lewellen's. I had fish and chips, but didn't especially like what they gave me. Potato chips are not the chips you are supposed to get when you order fish and chips. The beer was good, though, a fairly hoppy local microbrew whose name I would remember if Kim hadn't lost the coaster I saved. Sober wherever he goes these days, Gabe stuck to ice tea.
he plan for tonight was to go see a band called Like whose guitarist, Josh, is a good friend of Kim and Gabe. He's another of the San Franciscans who escaped drug problems by relocating to St. Louis. We stopped in at the vaguely eccentric residence of Gabe's "female friend" and walked from there through an iron gate to Delmar Street, emerging in a busy commercial district. Like was playing at Blueberry Hill, an old, ever-expanding bar where Chuck Berry used to play. Inside, the Blueberry Hill strives by decoration to be weird and kitschy but it comes off instead as kind of stupid. The performance stage was in "The Duck Room," and featured display cases full of hunting decoys.
Like was the first band. They played straight ahead rock and roll which wouldn't have been too interesting had Josh not been playing guitar. He had a whimsical, understated experimental style which he executed casually, as if his mind was elsewhere. (He came down off the stage and carried on a calm conversation with a member of audience in the middle of one of his solos.) I'd been weary and sleepy until Like began playing, but something about Josh's guitar woke me up. I suddenly wished I had a guitar.
Kim and I started out with beers, but I'm so used to vodkatea at this point that it almost seemed like a chore to swallow all that fluid just to get a little beer buzz. It's not a good sign, I know, but that's the way it is. I quickly graduated to vodka and cranberry juice.
The next band was another rock and roll band, this time featuring a glamourous vocalist whose day job is news anchor for a local television station. Kim, Gabe and I left somewhere in the middle of their set.
Kim and Gabe had an amazingly difficult time finding a place for Kim and me to sleep tonight. The problem was Sophie; everyone was claiming to be allergic. Though there might be a lot of dogs in St. Louis, no one seems to want them in their houses. Getting Sophie into places has the conspiratorial feel of a girl trying to sneak her boyfriend into her girls-only Catholic finishing school dormitory. The compromise solution was for us to stay at the place of Josh the guitarist, but to sleep out on the porch (which is screened-in and very pleasant).
one year ago
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