Friday, August 20, 2010

Mile 8810, New Jersey

We reached home at sunset after driving the length of Pennsylvania for the day—almost 9,000 miles since our start 27 days ago. We caught everyone off guard by showing up a day early, but still comforting to be back in the family pack again. In twenty-five years, many aspects of the country remain the same. Certain remote locales are more developed, while others remain as pristine as ever. In those, I am reminded how the nighttime sky actually looks. One evening, Karin and I saw a meteor skipping off the atmosphere, its fiery trail across the. There are casinos everywhere in the U.SA. now—not just hotels and resorts, but slot machines in taverns and rest stops. All that money that states collect and they still cannot make ends meet. The country appears to be at the leading edge of a depression. People whom you’d consider to be your neighbor stand beside the byways with signs, pleading for jobs, money, and food. Families are clearly living out of their cars. These are the silent, unrecorded facts of the way we live now. Large corporations own much (if not most) of the farmlands and rangelands, and we are only now becoming aware of their efficiencies of hormones, pesticides, and genetics—pervasive, dangerous practices with real consequences. And strip mining within borders of our national parks! The national parks are flooded with Europeans. They are alternately curious, obnoxious, respectful, and arrogant—the very things they accuse Americans of being. These are some of the changes I’ve noticed in twenty-five years. Other things will never change. In a truck stop, a fellow American stops at our table for a cup of coffee before we both hit the road. He’s a war veteran and black man with perhaps twenty years on me. He’d lost his left foot in battle and his son in gangland Detroit, but he remains bright and confidant about the future for us all. He tells me that he prays every day for hope and a change of mind. When we part, he gives my son a small gift from his pocket. My son wants to know why a complete stranger did this. Eventually he'll realize that in this country, even though we don't talk or walk the same, we are never really strangers. For now at least, I'm confidant that he's seen America.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mile 8342, Cleveland

We headed directly east across Indiana and into Ohio. I'm feeling strangely sentimental. This territory is where a good friend that I lost was born. She was indifferent about her place of birth and often spoke of it in dismissive terms even though people she loved most could be found here. I'm thinking of the crazy places we hide pain and love. We can each be Houdini within the parameters of our lives. Zack and I pulled into another local joint for lunch. We are talking and thinking about home. Our day of rest at George's allowed us to see just how much ground we have covered this summer and in our lives. In the afternoon, we strolled inside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, absorbing the nuanced history of modern music—all blues-driven, lots of chaos and pageantry. Modern times.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mile 8060, Indiana

We reached George’s house in the woods in Plymouth and swam in a nearby lake while my tires were being repaired/installed from Friday night’s difficulties. This will be another restorative couple of days as George and I catch up. His wife Michelle is charming, and we sat up late in the night playing instruments together. (Well, I enjoyed watching.) It was particularly stimulating for Zack to be around other musicians. He has taken to the mandolin and will be traveling to George’s friend for a lesson tomorrow.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mile 7797, Frankenmuth

Why Frankenmuth, Michigan? It’s “Little Bavaria,” home of Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, the largest Christmas store in the world (and by no small margin). Nothing gets the Christmas spirit recharged better than Christmas in August. Zack was on the hunt for what he called “crossover” Christmas items. Sure enough he found orange Christmas balls with jack’o’lantern faces, the perfect prescription for a kid that used to unload the Halloween decorations after the first day of school every year. We ended the bavarian experience in the Bavarian Inn, of course, where I discovered blue raspberry martinis. Enough said. Earlier in the day, we crossed the Mackinac Bridge where Lakes Huron and Michigan join. I’ve been told that motorcycles have been blown clear over the side. Winds today were average—enough to jostle us in our driving lane. As we complete our trip around Lake Michigan, we’re beginning to close the lasso we’ve fashioned around the country. Tomorrow we visit another writing friend, George, in Plymouth, Indiana. No doubt, we’ll be up half the night talking.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Mile 7524, The Upper Peninsula

On the road, we’ve tried to eat at as many local establishments as possible. It’s one of the fundamental ways to understand a region. Any longstanding eatery is a gem. Here’s Mickey-Lu’s Bar-B-Q near Green Bay, WI. Superb cube steak sandwiches and brauts. I’ve lost track of time, as our daily routine unfolds like clockwork, and the long drives have stretched our patience. In my head is a map of the country and where I might be tomorrow. Regardless, Zack and I have passed through a critical juncture in the trip. For the last few days, we have been quiet in our thoughts, as we cover large portions of the country by car. Zack sleeps a lot and I sleepwalk through the past. Today we drove up through Wisconsin and into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to where the great lakes converge. The terrain reminds me of Maine. We’ll dine in Canada tonight and sleep on the shores of Lake Superior.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Mile 6947,Wisconsin

Our trip East accelerated today with a 500-mile trek down I-90 through South Dakota and Minnesota and into Wisconsin. We’re plowing through heavy agricultural regions. The staples of the country and many parts of the world are at their harvest peak, but the sunflower fields stand out in saffron gold. In Minnesota, a rear tire blows, just as a wicked thunderstorm breaks open. I mount the spare under guard of the Minnesota Highway Patrol, and I appreciate the kindness and appropriateness of the police officer on duty. Quite a contrast! We eventually meet up with one of my oldest writing friends, Matt Ryan, to have dinner. During the final 100 miles, we are dogged by thunderstorms from Zeus himself. Lightning bolts stabbed the earth around us, and the rain flooded our path. We are road weary and spent. A trip like this tests your resolve. By the end of the day, we have crossed the Mississippi River—once again and officially returned to the East.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mile 6426, The Black Hills

Our journey to The Black Hills, South Dakota brought us through Badlands National Park—rough beauty, incredible temperatures, looks as if it’d swallow you up alive. Outlaws have hidden here throughout the centuries. Who really wants to track a man here? We eventually reached the oasis of The Black Hills. The Oglala Sioux consider this a sacred place. Coming off the desert of the western plains, this place was a refuge of wildlife and sustenance—Buffalo (Bison, Tatanka, etc.), various deer, Big Horn Sheep—the list goes on. Begging wild burrows greeted us by the roadside. We stumbled into this region during Sturgis Rally week. It’s the largest motorcycle rally in the world. We’ve seen enough Harleys, leather, and tattoos to last a lifetime. We are completely outnumbered in our car. Maybe one hundred motorcycles for every car, and somewhere between 100,000 adn 5000,000 bikes at the rally (news reports varied). We are the renegades! Towns simply cordon off Main Street and let the bikers have it. Driving is harrowing, having to stay constantly aware of the two-wheelers in our blind spots. Overall, the bikers are cool and very aware of their negative reputation for living life the way they want. They are also among the most patriotic Americans that you can find. These are veterans, ex-cons, freaks, and flotsam—just the very cast-offs that settled the West if not a good bit of the country.