I spent the last several days in the heartland, and to Thomas Frank, I can tell you what’s the matter with Kansas: the people are pig-ignorant with respect to their own economic interest. The GOP created a monster during the Reagan administration with their, “The Government is the problem” mantra, and now it’s come up full flowers. Good going, Tea Party.
Wednesday night I spent talking at the hotel bar with a man whose name I didn’t get until I shook his hand and left — which means that I don’t remember it. We discussed hitting deer on motorcycles, running businesses, state income taxes, our pasts, our histories. He said, You have to be careful about deer out here, and I said, Why are you even here, and he said, I’m at a conference, and I said, At this shitty hotel? And he said, Yep, and I said, Well, better luck next time. I asked the bartender what my tab was, and since I was interested in running it up as close to my per diem as possible, when she told me I was only at $46, I bought us both another round.
Kansas is a place. Nebraska is a place. Kansas is prettier, though. My GPS, contra Google Maps, decided that the best way for me to travel from Kansas to Nebraska was via one-lane highways — the scenic route. It was foggy and drizzly, and the wheat wore the color of young rust and the trees were simply yellow and I pulled over more than once to take pictures, in addition to the ones I snapped from the road at 80 miles an hour. Oh, and let me tell you: there’s nothing more thrilling than scootching your car up to 95 as you pass someone who’s only doing 70, looking straight ahead, where a big rig is thundering toward you, and sliding back over into the right lane seconds before catastrophe. I did this more than once, this dance with death. I was in a hurry, for no real reason at all.
Then I bought a magnet that says “Nebraska.”
Because turning 30 doesn’t mean you’ve actually grown up any, I sat at a bar in Lincoln on Wednesday night and watched the Red Sox win the World Series. Some young woman next to me and I exchanged hugs when the last out was recorded. She was the only other fan, though the bartender, charmer that she was, feigned interest, obliged me when I requested that we turn on the sound of the game after the 7th inning stretch, and even pretended to be enthused when we won. I went to bed expecting a hangover, but all I woke up with was dry mouth.
The drive from Omaha to Kansas City is two hours and twenty minutes. In theory. In practice, there’s construction, and you can watch your GPS tick minutes off your arrival time, and stress out about making your flight, as the speed limit drops from 70 (you were doing 80) to 55 over and over again. You can buy booze and cigarettes at the gas station when you refuel, and you can even say to yourself, even if you don’t believe it, This is all going to be okay. When you get to the airport and return your car, hop on the shuttle to your terminal, and even if it’s stopping at Southwest instead of Delta, be sure to get off, because there’s a guy there who will not only light your cigarette for you (you left your lighter in the rental), but who will give you his lighter.
I’ve got a couple of extras in my bag, he says.
I thought I at least had some matches, you say.
Then smoke your cigarette, walk to security, and get on the fucking plane.