Across (United States)

Life Story (Introduction)

  1. Arriving and departing are pretty much the same. For me, at least. 
  2. There was arriving, when I’d arrived after a three-thousand mile train trip and spent a month sleeping in a loft bed in a kitchen, and then moved into a flower room in an early-twentieth-century flop house called The Fridge. The flower room at The Fridge…—in there my mattress was a couch that didn’t fit my outstretched body, and so I slept in the fetal position for three months or so, or until I got myself a real mattress from God knows where.
  3. The train ride had been, as one one would expect, interesting. There had been Boston to Chicago, with the cheery, plump African-American conductor whose name I can’t possibly remember. She asked me for a cigarette in Buffalo, and then asked Frank for one somewhere else, maybe South Bend. Frank was my train-buddy. We rode together from Boston to Spokane, where our train finally split, one route to Seattle, the other, mine, to Portland. Along the way, we got drunk every night, played cards, smoked one another’s cigarettes, ate meals together, bought liquor (and smoked a joint) in Chicago together. Frank was a gem, and by the end we of course promised to stay in touch, but of course we never did.
  4. And then there was Portland, the glass room, winter with plastic on the French windows, a space heater, fires in the fireplace, and rain. The occasional snow.
  5. Or, no. It snowed once that winter.
  6. And then there were two-and-a-half more years in which many other things happened. Things that I don’t need to get into. Things-things.
  7. And so on September 1, 2009, I moved back into the glass room to paint a house and earn a paycheck. I moved back into The Fridge. My old house. But not my old house, my old-old house. My regular old house is now overrun with domesticity, and children; fine furniture and ginsu knives. This is the one where it all began, and where it will all end.
  8. In a week and a half, I will be packing up my 1984 Subaru hatch back with all of my possessions and I will be going East, through the Gorge and the Cascades, Montana, the Dakotas, through dairy country and the Rust Belt–to America.  And then to Montreal.  Where I’ll see if I can make it happen.
  9. It’ll be fun, and I’m excited.
  10. Wish me luck.

Roadtrip Blogging: Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington (175 miles)

So, I apologize in advance to all the people who come here to read my cuss-filled rants on politics.  For the next two weeks or so, I’m going to be doing most of my swearing at my car, at bad drivers, and at biker bars.  I won’t have time to read the news, I won’t have consistent internet access.  I won’t have any of the shit that makes modern life so splendid and simple.

I’ll be in flyover country.

For the moment, I’m in Seattle.  I arrived today, slightly after noon.  The whole drive here I worried about my axle, and thought my bicycles were going to fall off the bike rack.  I fretted about the condition of my clutch, the condition of my tires, the hub nut that I forgot to get properly torqued, the vise grips that I forgot to buy, and so on.

It was great.

And then when I arrived at the place I’m staying, I realized that there isn’t a driveway, that my car has all of my earthly possessions stashed in it, and that I would probably get robbed by some hooligans in the middle of the night.  The hooligans would, of course, steal my underwear, my sleeping bag, and my tent, to hock them for meth.  I would have to freeball across the Rockies, which would probably chafe.  I’d have to sleep on a towel in South Dakota.  It would all turn into a giant clusterfuck on the first damn day.

It’s midnight now, and though it hasn’t been a disaster yet, it might very well be.

Dinner menu:  steamed mussels in white wine, garlic, and shallots.  Corn on the cob.  Fresh bread to sop up the mussel sauce, green salad, pinot noir.

See you when I see you.

Love,

Blogbytom

Roadtrip Blogging: Seattle, Washington to Missoula, Montana (477 miles)

Missoula, Montana.  Alive and well.  Car still going strong.  Or whatever you call it when a 1984 Subaru hatchback does its very best for five hundred miles.

I left Seattle this morning early-ish.  Not as early as ideal, since the ideal never matches the real, but good enough.  Let’s just say eleven or so.  Let’s just say I had some shit to take care of in Seattle before I left.  Important shit.  Shit that mattered.  To me.  That kind of shit.  And when that shit was done, and once I’d eaten breakfast, I left.  And when I left I probably cried a little bit.  But I didn’t necessarily.

The Subaru handled the Cascades like you would expect it to: lurchingly, reluctantly, slowly.  Like an old man being led around a grocery store in a wheelchair.  I figured if I could at least pass the semi trucks, I could count it as progress.  I therefore ignored when they subsequently passed me.  The thing is, when you’re driving with a busted axle, you don’t want to go around turns too fast, or hit bumps, or even really drive at all.  Instead, what you want is to be magically and safely transported to your destination without having to put any wear and tear on your vehicle.  But that doesn’t happen.  And so you pass the semis in third gear at fifty-five miles an hour going up to a pass, and they pass you fifteen minutes later, when the downhill’s to their advantage, and you’re trying not to fly off a cliff into a ravine.

The stars in Montana are amazing.  And the skies really are 20% bigger.

Ha.

But so, yes.  You have central Washington after the Cascades.  And there’s this mother of a gorge created by ancient volcanoes, and this bridge that leads over a large body of water situated in a lifeless desert.  Whose name I didn’t get.  The body of water’s, that is.  Nor the bridge’s.  But that’s neither here nor there.  What I’m trying to say is that there’s a cavernous, canyon of a gorge surrounding this stunning tributary/lake/river in the middle of a desert, and that if you cross that bridge and begin your ascent back up out of the canyon, I recommend you do not mistake a decidedly long incoming-traffic-lane for a bonafide third lane, lest the Bronco behind you decides to try to run you off the road when you realize your mistake.

Also, never drive in Montana.  Or, rather:  never drive in Montana in a shitty, out-dated automobile.  You will feel bad about your automobile.  You will feel penis-envy for other people’s automobiles.  You will wish that your automobile was brand new, had a warranty, had a clutch that wasn’t 25 years old, did not rattle at speeds greater than 65 miles per hour, had an alternator that you could trust, and so on.

The worst part, I’d say, is Coure d’Alene, Idaho to Montana.  It feels like six hundred miles of insanity.  It’s not, of course, but that’s what it feels like.  This is also what makes it the best part.

A good friend of mine told me that eastern Washington was a good place to scream to yourself, so in between singing songs at the top of my lungs, cursing at my car, and trying to eat a tuna fish sandwich, I did that to pass the time while I was there.  Eastern Washington is boring; you’ve got to keep yourself entertained somehow.  Therefore, another recommended action, via a friend:  If you’re driving alone through Eastern Washington, sick of belting out your favorite tunes with the lead singer, you ought to take a break, have some water, turn the tunes down, look at the endless farmland, and decide to scream out loud to the wheat, the grass, and whatever the fuck else looks so goddamned dismal–because you can, because you’re alone, and because no one’s listening.

Scream about whatever you feel like screaming about.

Additionally, Montana has the pinkest sunset I ever did see.

Love,

Blogbytom

Roadtrip Blogging: Missoula, Montana

Missoula, Montana is a nice amalgam of college town and Montana town.  There are young people with expensive bicycles and ironic mullets, and there are old-timers with expensive motorcycles and traditional mullets.  I can’t honestly say that I saw an expensive motorcycle being driven by a man with a traditional mullet, but I’d wager they exist.  Maybe the mullets hide beneath the helmets.

Who knows?

The temperature yesterday in Missoula shot up to 85, and I got a sunburn walking around downtown alone and smoking cigarettes on the esplanade by the Clark Fork River.  I hypothesized that it was called the Clark Fork because Lewis and Clark split up somewhere along their journey, and maybe Clark was the one who came upon what would later be Missoula.  I did not verify, naturally.  I did not need to.  My hypothesis suits me nicely.

My friend Amy and I spent the evening with her roommate Michelle, and her friend Jack.  Jack and I talked women while Amy talked on the phone to her boyfriend.  I made chili.  In order to make the chili I had to go to the grocery store.  To wit, let me tell you something about food shopping in Montana:  meat is cheap.  Ch-e-ap.  Extraordinarily cheap.  I bought two pounds of spare ribs for two dollars and fifty cents.  That’s how cheap.  And they were good.  Damned good.  Especially in the chili.  Which was also good.  Damned good, if I do say so myself.

Though I don’t think Amy liked it.

I went to sleep around midnight, woke up at four, fell back asleep, woke up at seven to the smell of fresh brewed coffee.  Remember that Folgers ad campaign, the one that said, “The best part of waking up is Folger’s in your cup”?  And the ads would always have a woman arising with her nostrils flaring in joy, and her darling husband downstairs brewing a fresh pot of Folgers, and she’d come down and be oh-so happy and in love with her husband, because all he has to do to keep her happy is brew Folgers every morning?  Remember those?  It was kind of like that, but the coffee was better, and I got out of bed reluctantly.

Then I gave Amy a hug and left.

That was Missoula.

Roadtrip Blogging: Missoula, Montana to Sheridan, Wyoming (473 miles)

So there’s the pass.  Just after Butte, which I didn’t stop in on (despite recommendations), there’s the pass.  The big one.  The one over the Continental Divide.  6700 feet.  That one.  There’s that.

I decided this morning that the best thing to do would be to ride over it at 55 miles per hour with my hazards on.  Since my clutch is failing, I’d do it in third gear.  Natch.  I got up this morning, had a cup of joe, put my new in-case-shit-goes-horribly-wrong tools in my car (i.e., vise grips, flashlights, tire repair kit), and set out on I-90 East.  I followed a truck that was doing a good clip at 70 while I woke up, gathered my senses, got used to driving, the like.  I smoked cigarettes.  I fretted.  I wondered.  I drove.

Butte, from the interstate, looks like a hellhole, and so I left it be.  I didn’t have time.  Or, rather, I had time, but I didn’t have patience.  Which is a shame of sorts, because Jack had told me the previous night that it’s a depressed former mining town with a predominantly Irish-Catholic population.  Which is a shame, that is, because as a depressed Irish-Catholic (lapsed [ahem, for good]) I would’ve fit right in.  There’s even a a statue of Mary, Jesus’s mom, on the namesake hill.  Apparently the locals call her the Bitch on the Hill.

That’s blasphemy.

Anyway, I didn’t want to go, so I didn’t.  Instead I drove up through the pass in the manner previously described, all the while cursing and swearing and damning the world, before I got to the top, where the downhill grade was 6% and the trucks were advised to go 25 mph.  They did so, a fact for which I was thankful.  The way down is gorgeous, as one would expect, but no, I didn’t take any pictures, because I would’ve died if I’d tried.

I only take pictures on straightaways.  Have I already said that?

Anyways.

Between Butte and Bozeman there’s some kind of marvelous otherworldly plateau that carries you through various mountain ranges in the Rockies without you having to actually pass any of them.  This is one of the most beautiful drives in the world.  Cherish it, because you’re going to be in Billings pretty soon.

Before you get to Billings, though, you might have to deal with a person going the wrong way on the highway.  I swear to God it’s possible.  Before you finish going through Bozeman, even.  It’ll happen like this:  you’ll be driving along, right?  And you’ll be all like, “I’ve gotta stop for gas soon.”  And you’ll all be nodding and bopping your head to the music and being like, “Damn, that’s a good idea, to get gas.  I’m glad I thought of it four hours ago, when I last got gas.”  Because you don’t ever think about anything but the various ways in which your car can fail you, and gasoline is the one variable that you have complete control over (and so, what I really mean is, you don’t ever let your tank get below half-full)–and so you’ll be driving along, right, and thinking about how good it makes you feel to be able to control at least one aspect of your car’s performance, and out of nowhere you’ll see a white Mercedes E Class barreling down the highway toward you.  And you’ll think, “Mm, that’s odd.  I wonder why that’s happening.”  Then you will literally do a double take.  You will be suddenly awe-struck.  Really.  You will be.  To have this white Mercedes driving the wrong way on the highway at noon.  To have it coming directly toward you.  You will be flabbergasted.  And you’ll be in the right lane praying that the Mercedes will do what it’s supposed to do–or what it would be expected to do, if it were not already doing something entirely unexpected–by staying in the left lane.  When it passes you will not believe that this event has happened.  You will think that it must not have happened.  But it did in fact happen.  Indeed, you remember it happening, because it just happened.  And that, my friends, is a fact that you’ll have to contend with for the rest of your lives.

Or at least until you pull off to get gas again.

I fueled up in Bozeman.  Drove to Billings.  Billings is hideous.  Do not go to Billings.

But you’ll probably have to.

Let’s not talk about it too much.

Then you’ll get to Crow Country, way down a ways.  Before Crow Country is a town whose name currently escapes me, but which hosts the last KOA until Sheridan, Wyoming.  I pulled over in this Indian Reservation town and got gas, and drove to the KOA and said, “Hey, where’s the next one of these KOA fuckers?” because this town whose name I forget was just a mess in the desert, and he said, “Oh, down in Sheridan, Wyoming, 80 miles or so.”

And I looked at the time, got in my car, and drove.

Here I am.

Love,

Blogbytom

Roadtrip Blogging: Sheridan, Wyoming to Sioux Falls, South Dakota (583 miles)

So I up and splurged a little bit, got myself a cabin at the KOA in Sioux Falls, because I figured I deserved it, and because it was only twenty bucks more than setting up a tent in the dark.  So I have real light tonight, not just the computer white, and I have a bed with a mattress on which to put my sleeping bag.  My back hurt this morning, another reason to splurge.  The cabin smells like conifers, there are two windows with matching curtains, and it’s impeccably clean.  All in all, I’m happy with my decision.

Where was I?

Right, so Wyoming.  Sheridan.  Sheridan is a Wyoming town.  That’s all I can say about it.  It’s like any other poor-ish small town, I guess, but set in the mountains, which gives it a distinctly rugged feel.  If by rugged you mean stupid.  One main street, a couple of old buildings, motorcycle repair shops, gas stations, population 15,000-something.  Extremely hostile seeming, so I gave the Shriners guys in front of the gas station a dollar–they were both in their seventies, shiny maroon jackets, with those even shinier conical hats–to, you know, give a gift to the gods and shit, so they wouldn’t strike me down on the highway.  The calculation was simple: give the Shriners guys a dollar and don’t get smitten, or don’t give the Shriners guys a dollar and have your ass handed to you in the middle of South Dakota.

As I said, simple.

But this is an example of the logic of your brain when you’re driving across the country in an untenable automobile:  you are inclined to make bargains with the gods.  You will try to trick them into thinking that one dollar for Shriners was the appropriate price to pay for another day on planet earth.  And when it works, you keep right on doing it.  And that’s how religions are formed, dummy…

Or so I thought somewhere in the middle of South Dakota, going insane.  I was absolutely going madly insane in motherfucking South Dakota.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, the Black Hills are pretty and all, but unless you like to go to boring oddities-type shit, you’re going to go insane in South Dakota, too.

So first I skipped Mount Rushmore.  I was driving along and considering going–really thinking hard about it.  And then the sign came and said, like, “Mount Rushmore.  Take this exit.  This is the one to take for Mount Rushmore.  Unless you want to go some roundabout way later on, take this one.”  And I just watched it go by.  And that was that.  That was what Mount Rushmore was like for me.

Then there’s Wall Drug.  Funny thing about Wall Drug:  it’s in the town of Wall.  I’d never thought about that even being a possibility.  I just figured, you know, Wall Drug, you know?  Like Wal-Mart, only with another L.  But there you have it, and I was wrong.

Wall Drug is boring.  There are lots of old people and a few German tourists.  They all walk around looking to buy things with the words Wall Drug on them. They’re taking pictures on benches with wooden cowboys.  They’re moseying and dilly-dallying.  There are tour-buses full of them.  And I was one of them today.  I walked around in Wall Drug’s various stores and thought, “Huh, hell of a marketing campaign for absolutely no payoff.”  Their marketing campaign is brilliant.  There are hundreds and hundreds of signs for sixty miles all around talking about fifty cent coffees, homemade donuts, T-Rex memorabilia, whatever, and all doing it in a somehow cute way, while not being over the top cutesy.  But then you get there and it’s just a carnival for people who want to buy useless crap.  I will say that I considered buying one of those Wall Army Knives with my name on it, but they were out of Blogbytoms.

So then I left.

And then I drove and drove and drove.  It rained a little bit.  There were lots of dead animals on the side of the road.  Um.  Lots of trucks, too.  Yup.  A little rain–did I already mention the rain?–ah, I see that I did.  Let’s see.  There were thirty-something consecutive miles of two-way free way traffic.  You know, when you share the same interstate with the other guys, the ones going the other way, because their side’s getting construction done on it.  You know that?  I don’t know what it’s called.  But there was a lot of it in a row, and it was boring, just like the rest of South Dakota.

I skipped the Corn Palace and 1880 Town, too.

So now I’m sitting here in Sioux Falls with a mattress and a sleeping bag and a cabin.  With electricity.  I’ve got half a pack of cigarettes.  I’ve got nothing but time and deadlines.  See you tomorrow.

Love,

Blogbytom

Roadtrip Blogging: Sioux Falls, South Dakota to Madison, Wisconsin (436 miles)

Sunlight woke me up.  7:33 a.m.  Where am I?  And then the realization that I was still in South Dakota, and that I needed to get out.

I wanted to take a shower, really I did, but I lost a towel in Portland, and my other one is buried somewhere in a duffel bag in my car.  Plus I don’t have any soap.  So I went to do my other bathroom business.  It was while in the Men’s Room that I heard an old man grunting in the shower stall, that I noticed two pairs of crocs, and that I heard a woman say something nasty.  Let’s not say what I heard.  Let’s just say I heard it.  And that it was not a pleasant thing to hear.

I will say that among other shitty things about South Dakota, nobody knows how to brew a halfway decent cup of coffee.  The KOA coffee, when I poured it, looked like tea that hadn’t steeped for long enough, so I dumped it into the trash.  Well, no, first I took a sip, realized it was some flavored bullshit coffee anyway, then I dumped it into the trash.  The gas station coffee was the same deal, minus the added flavor.  But I had to drink it.  Because there was no other choice.  Because I needed caffeine.  And when I was done drinking it, and done eating a terrible egg salad sandwich from that horrible South Dakota gas station, I pulled over at a McDonald’s in Minnesota and got myself a halfway decent cup of coffee.  Yes.  McDonald’s had the best coffee I tasted for five hundred miles.  You never can tell.

Then I kept driving.

Minnesota is just as boring as South Dakota, but more pleasant.  No hills, the speed limit drops to 70, and it’s a blue state.  Something about being in a blue state made me feel more comfortable.  I can’t explain it.  Or no, yes I can:  South Dakota had billboards all around blaring shit like, “Abortion is for people going to hell!” and “Conception begins at life, sinner!!!!”  Minnesota, by contrast, had wind turbines everywhere.  In a battle for the heart and mind of this liberal, I’ll take wind turbines over signs that tell me I’m going to burn for an eternity any day.  (Not that I’ve ever had to deal with an abortion, knock on wood, but I’d most definitely advise one if I did.)

So yes, Minnesota:  boring, in an amiable sort of way.  Lots of roadkill again.  I saw a dead fox.

Also, Minnesota, like the rest of the country, has a great deal of highway construction going on right now.  It’s all being funded by the stimulus.  If I may take a moment to advise Minnesota’s federally elected officials:  Ahem.  Sirs and madams.  For the last sixty miles on I-90 going east toward La Crosse, the whole right lane makes your car do the jitterbug.  Makes CDs skip, too.  I noticed many, many stretches of less-worthy highway being entirely re-paved.  Please, put the pork in the bill where it’s needed, which is that sixty mile stretch before La Crosse on I-90 East.  It’s just the right lane, really.  I’ll tell you how to get there.  It’s easy.  In fact, you could probably figure it out from what I’ve already told you.

Then there’s crossing the Mississippi.  And then there’s Wisconsin, which is also boring, but which has trees, some of which are beginning to show their fall colors.

Then there’s Madison.

I got into Madison around 4:00, which is when my friend Danny said he’d be done with all of his grad-school brouhaha.  He wasn’t done with it.  He was in a basement at the University, talking about the “Environment.”  So I parked on the main drag, looked in my pockets for change (none), ran to a vending machine, put a dollar in, pressed the Coin Return button, which did not work, bought a Pepsi for 60 cents, ran to a coffee shop, got change for a dollar (and a small coffee), got back to my car, put the money in the parking meter, and sat.  I sat for an hour, looked at maps, made phone calls, people watched, said Hi to the wedding party guests as they walked by.  That was all.  Then Danny came.  Then I went to his apartment.  Then I took a shower (it was glorious).  Then we went to a park for some party thing, and now I’m back at apartment sitting around while Danny and Helen (girlfriend???  She’s only 20, you cradle-robber) do school work.  And it’s ever so nice to not have to do anything but drive a broken and breaking automobile to wherever I feel like going next.  And it’s oh so much better to not have any more mountains to cross in that broken and breaking automobile.

Tomorrow, I conquer Madison.  I’ll tell you all about it when I’m done.

Love,

Blogbytom

Roadtrip Blogging: Madison, Wisconsin

Madison, Wisconsin is a big city in small town britches.  By which I mean that it fills them out nicely.  There appears to be culture, the streets are bike-friendly, the capitol building is beautiful, the coffee is acceptable, the beer is pretty tasty, the lakes are sailboat-friendly, the waitresses are attractive, the food is good, the living is…easy?  It’s something.  Madison, Wisconsin wants to be bigger than it is, and it does a good job of living that lie, which is maybe why I kind of dig it a lot.

Downtown, on one of the lakes that begins with M, there’s a Frank Lloyd Wright building on or near the site where Otis Redding died in a plane crash.  I said to Danny, as we were walking down there, “So Otis Redding died on the dock of the bay?”  To which Danny said, “Ah, no, he drowned on the dock of the bay.”  Or something.  I didn’t know I was going to be writing this, so I didn’t write it down at the time.  But at the time we thought it was funny.  The violence of a plane crash.  That’s funny.  We couldn’t find the plaque that commemorates the event, so I took Danny’s word on faith.

But I just now looked it up.  Turns out Otis Redding’s plane crashed in Lake Monona, in Madison, Wisconsin.  So there you go.

Dipped my feet in the other lake whose name starts with an M.  Forget its name.  I dipped my feet, and Danny and I shot the shit, and then went to a rummage sale, where he bought coat hangers and a mug and I bought nothing.  It began to rain.  I bought us drinks and lunch at the Weary Traveler.  Life went on.

The thunderstorms came a bit later.  Two or three hours or so.  The rain started thumping, the trees started bucking, and the sky started intermittently glowing.  It’s the first thunderstorm I’ve seen in months, and it’s divine.

It even smells like the east coast here.

Ohio, tomorrow.  God willing.

Love,

Blogbytom

Roadtrip Blogging: Madison, Wisconsin to Youngstown, Ohio (547 miles)

Dear South Dakota,

I was wrong about you.  You’re not boring.  You’re charming.  Your signs advertising your useless and kitschy shit?  Amazing.  Your endless farmland, your anti-abortion billboards, your roadkill–all of it, delightful.  I’ve come to this retrospective conclusion because I drove through Indiana today.  And then I drove through Ohio.  These, my dear friend South Dakota, are the wastelands of the country.  Not you.  So I take back what I said about you earlier.  I didn’t mean it.  I was having a bad day.  It was my blood-sugar.  I swear.

Fuck.

I was going to stop in Toledo for the night, but when I’d arrived I realized that I had absolutely no desire to spend any more time in central Ohio than absolutely necessary.  So I kept driving.  I kept driving until it got dark, and I started getting drowsy.  Then I pulled off in Youngstown, Ohio, got a hotel.  Sixty bucks.  Whatever.  I can shower.  I can watch television.  I can go for a swim in the morning and get a free continental breakfast.  And then I can drive to New York City.  Where God knows what will go down.

Today was tolls.  At least twenty dollars worth of them.  Maybe more.  I can’t remember.  Illinois has the screwiest ones.  $1.60 here, $0.80 there, $0.40 somewhere else.  No sense.  None whatsoever.  Especially considering the roads.  Herewith:

Dear Illinois, your roads are horseshit.  Do something about it.

Then came Indiana.  Wow.  Indiana.  Indiana’s roads are good, as they should be, since they charge you $6.75 just to drive through their shitty, shitty state.

Next comes Ohio.  I’m in the hole $9.25 to Ohio.  Their roads are tolerable.  But Indiana’s are better.

Suck it, Ohio!

Fuck ‘em all.

So now I’m in a hotel, and I can smoke cigarettes in my room, which I’ve been doing religiously since I got here.  I just watched Bill Maher.  He had Paul Krugman and Eliot Spitzer on.  Whatever.

My mind is numb.  The rust belt is hundreds of miles of doldrums.

There is nothing to do here.

Love,

Blogbytom

Roadtrip Blogging:  Youngstown, Ohio to New York City, New York (399 miles)

I had breakfast.  I had breakfast at the hotel.  There were breakfast sausage patties and individually scrambled eggs in the shape of regular eggs–sunny-side-up eggs–which I found bizarre.  How do you make a scrambled egg look like a regular egg?  I didn’t ask.  Instead I ate as much as I could, packed my shit back in my car, and left Youngstown, Ohio just about as fast as I could.

And then I was in Pennsylvania.

Let me tell you something about western Pennsylvania, or the whole of Pennsylvania on I-80:  it’s gorgeous.  It ain’t the Rockies, and it ain’t Oregon, but it’s subtly wonderful crossing the Appalachians in early fall, leaves dying and looking their best, rolling hills coming and going, silos and barns all about.  It looks like Amish country, and I may have even passed through Amish country, but I was going 80 the whole time, and I didn’t stop to look.  Let’s just say this:  if there were one stretch of the cross-country trek that I was forced to do again–as penance, say–I’d pick Pennsylvania.  It’s not just the natural beauty of it all, it’s also the fact that my car, I assure you, would not break down.  And so, even though the Rockies are more sublime, I’d take the Appalachians and the Poconos over the continental divide any damned day.  The Subaru hummed the whole time through them.

And then I was in New Jersey.  Which was prettier, for a while, than I expected.

And then I was through the Holland Tunnel and into New York.

New York City is not a driving city.  It’s a walking city, and a subway-ing city, and a bicycling city, and a roller-skating city, and a juggling city, and a baby-stroller-ing city, and a cross-country-skiing city–it’s all of these before it’s a driving city.  Unless you know exactly where the fuck you need to be, it’s a mess.  It’s a world of hurt.  It’s a clusterfuck.  I got into Manhattan out of the Holland Tunnel.  Sign says, “Brooklyn, Exit 3.”  What do I do?  I follow that fucking sign, that’s what I do. Sign says, “Williamsburg Bridge.”  I say, “Hmm.  Okay.  I’ll go that way.”  And then, my friends, that sign abandons me.  Utterly.  I’m left somewhere in Manhattan looking for the follow-up sign to point me toward Brooklyn.  And do I see it?  No I do not.  So I pull over.  Ask a lady and her child.  Where do I go?  She says that I’m on the west side of the island, that I need to get on the east side of the island and ask directions from there.  So I try to do that.  Really, I do.  I pull over again, ask a cop.  He says, Go to the West Island Expressway or whatever the fuck, take a left, and there will be signs.  And so I try to do that.  I call everybody I know.  I ask them, Where am I going?  Various stories are told.  I pull over again in the Village.  Another cop says:  expressway, signs, Houston, etc.  I listen.  I follow.  Then I’m at a red light.  I see no signs.  I ask another cop as I drive by him at 10 mph.  Me:  Brooklyn Bridge?  Cop:  you should’ve taken a left right here, and I am, of course, driving past him as he says so.  I say Shit out loud.  I take the first U-turn I can.  I take the right that would’ve been a left if I’d seen a motherfucking sign.  I finally see a sign for the Brooklyn Bridge.  I follow it.  I get enormously lucky because there are, for the first time in Manhattan, follow-up signs that point me in the direction that I need to continue going.  I see the bridge.  I sing Halleluia.  I cross it.  I find parking in Park Slope.  Everything is illuminated.

My dear friend Liz met me in front of her apartment two hours after I’d arrived in the city.  We talked about our love lives–or lack thereof–over two beers at a swanky bar.  We bought chicken and mushrooms and shallots and scallions, went back to her apartment, made risotto and green salad.  It was the best meal I’d had since the Central Time Zone.  She read me a poem by Frank O’Hara called something like “Having A Coke With You,” which made me feel wistful and regretful and envious and tired all at once.  And then it was nine o’clock.  I gave Liz a hug and drove to my brother’s apartment.  We went to a bar called Moonshine to meet up with my dear friend Maura, and while there a man named Eric decided that he wanted to fight me.  Apparently I had gotten in the way of his sister’s game of darts while en route to the bathroom.  He seated himself at our table.  He talked trash.  I had my hand on my knife the whole time.  Then he said something revealing.  He said this:

“I’m just here to cause trouble and to play darts.”

So my brother, infinitely wise, said, “Let’s play darts,” and Eric went from asshole to bar-buddy in the blink of an eye.  We played cricket.  We lost twice.  We got smashed.  And in the end, we all shook hands and had a hell of a night.

Now it’s the morning time, I’m hungover, and the people of New York are on their way to work.  And me, I’m thinking about brushing my teeth and going back to sleep.

I’ll see you tomorrow.  Or tonight.  Depending.

Love,

Blogbytom

Roadtrip Blogging: New York City, New York


The most important thing about New York City was sleeping in my car.  I had to sleep in my car because I got back to my brother’s apartment at three in the morning with no keys, called him fifteen times, realized that he wasn’t waking up to let me in, and resigned myself to my fate.  It was cold.  It was cramped.  It was uncomfortable.  I woke up repeatedly from the cold, the cramps, and the discomfort.  At seven I went and got coffee, called again, and was let inside, where I slept for two hours on a couch.

Then I spent the rest of that day recovering from a hangover.

Another thing:  New York City is expensive.  It’s expensive and you can’t figure out what happened to all of your money.  Oh, sure, there’s the cigarettes, and there’s the drinks at bars; but after driving across the country for a week, you’ll be amazed to discover that you’ve spent more money in New York City than you have during all the legs of the rest of your trip combined.

That is all.

Oh.  And I’ll be back.  To, you know, live and shit.

Roadtrip Blogging: New York City, New York to Beverly, Massachusetts (241 miles)

The second shortest day of driving felt like the longest.  I suppose it’s like a marathon, where by the end of it all you’re so exhausted that the last mile seems like an eternity, even if you’re going the same speed, the same tempo, the same rhythm.  I suppose, too, that the traffic had something to do with it.  No matter.  The drive was a haul.

It began with waking up at six in Carrol Gardens, walking to get coffee, walking inside the coffee shop before it was open, apologizing for doing so, and getting coffee nonetheless.  It continued with breakfast at my brother’s apartment.  And it continued even more with me getting into my car and driving directly into traffic after the Triboro Bridge ($5.50, by the way), a woman in a Lexus asking me to mind the funeral procession as three lanes of traffic converged into two, when all I really wanted to do was play Dumb-West-Coaster-With-Oregon-Plates who doesn’t know what a funeral procession is.  But I couldn’t.  And so I minded the funeral procession, which didn’t cost me much time, but which I felt did, and I was frustrated.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the parking ticket.  Remember, I just drove three thousand miles.  There had to be one.  It was in New York, and I discovered it this morning.  Turns out, my front license plate was illegally positioned.  It sits in the dashboard instead of the front bumper.  And that’s, um, illegal.  The reason?  I don’t know.  But the reason I do not have my license plate in the proper place?  The last person who owned it somehow got the license plate changed in Idaho by literally ripping the plate off of a stripped screw.  Ergo, I could not put the new license plate on without it flapping about in the wind.  Ergo, I put it where the previous owner had put it–on the dash.  This was a good idea as long as I lived in a city that was not going bankrupt.  This was a bad idea in New York City.

Then there was Connecticut.  The traffic cleared up.  New Haven was ugly and Hartford had charm.

Then came Massachusetts.  Driving over the border.  Feeling lost.  Deciding that, if nothing else, I am going home a failure.

Or something of the sort.

There was traffic again on I-95, and I hated everything.

I pulled into my parents’ driveway a little after four.  They were happy to see me and I was happy to see them.  We unloaded all the shit from my car, and talked about how the drive had been and how everything was so dirty in my little 1984 Subaru hatchback–and we didn’t talk much, if at all, about me coming home a failure. For that I was grateful, because all I’d been doing for the past two weeks was thinking about failure, and how it was time for a bigger kind of kill, the kind you don’t feel like a failure for.  That kind.  That’s what I’d been thinking about.  And I was excited and depressed and angry and relieved all at once.  And I was glad to be someplace where I didn’t have to drive anymore.

And where I didn’t really have a damned clue what to do.

Love,

Blogbytom


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