X-Country Limbo. Cleveland, Ohio. July 20, 2008
New York City already seems so far away. Now we're 350 miles and three states away near Cleveland, Ohio in some dingy hotel that smells like mildew. I awoke at dawn in NYC after our last night. The subways weren't running so I walked all the way from 74th street to 34th street to pick up our rental mini-van. Over the last 10 days, we visited most of our old stomping grounds and fixtures, and walking down 8th avenue for the last time I passed some of the last remaining ones... The Time Warner center that was half as tall as when we lived on 57th street circa 2002-2003...
We also watched them building the Hearst Tower.The Newsweek building on 57th and 8th avenue where I worked for Comedy Central around 2005-6 is now under construction:
Eight years in NYC and I've never been propositioned by a prostitute, but walking down 8th avenue in the 40s at 7 am on a Sunday morning, I was propositioned by 3 prostitutes and 2 pimps. So if you're ever looking for action on a Sunday morning... Then past Port Authority and the NY Times building, resisting the temptation to climb it.
Past where I recently worked for Heavy on 39th street, and then past One Penn Plaza where I worked before that at BMG:
This was near to where I picked up the mini-van. There was a triathlon going on in our hood so I drove up the East side across 86th and down to 74th. Loaded the mini-van, hauling all our stuff down 5 flights of stairs. Easily fit everything in, though it was a good thing I sent the Calamari books ahead to Michigan. We were on the road out by 10 a.m. What a feeling! Extracting ourselves from NYC was just as hard as moving there.
Our mini-van (whom we now call Ginny because she has Virginia plates) has this GPS navigator that speaks to me in a calm female voice, telling me where to go. It's kind of freaky and Jess is jealous because Ginny kind of took her job. Pretty soon they'll have cars that drive for you. We jammed out to Interpol on the way out, and then discovered we had Sirius radio so let that dictate our musical course. We stopped at a Cracker Barrel in Jersey for a late breakfast. I had the eggs in a basket:
Early on in Ohio I got pulled over by a cop, but we talked our way out of it. We thought we might stop in Youngstown, Ohio. But it was pretty crappy and desolate. Here's the most interesting thing we saw:
Somewhere in Pennsylvania, we got caught in some serious downpours. Stopped here at a La Quinta Inn outside of Cleveland. Ate at Bob Evans. I had the bob-b-q chicken with corn pancakes.
The food on the road is truly disgusting... it's no wonder America is obese. Jess has started a food blog of sorts where she is chronicling the stuffed/starved dichotomy. For now we are just embracing it, as such disgusting food may be hard to come by in Kenya, at least at this level. As I'm writing this, Jess is talking to Jeffrey Sachs. He is in China, after a jaunt through Papua New Guinea. The world feels small and America insignificant, especially when you are between the east and west coasts.
We were pretty disgusted by all the food and seeing all the fat people and in desperate need of excercise, but there was no where really to go for a run, so we went in the small pool and did what we could, moving our bodies around, using resistance, swimming in place, kicking, running in place underwater, etc.
Brother Markus Visited, Trenton, MIchigan, July 21, 2008
Monday we woke up, grabbed a hardboiled egg and headed to Detroit. Got to Peter Markus' place around noon. He lives in Trenton, which is just south of Detroit. We hung out playing sandlot baseball with the local kids (with Peter pitching). Then Peter took us for a tour of Detroit. First we stopped at this old train station which was really something:
Went through Mexicantown then saw some of downtown Detroit, what was left of it. Saw the old Tiger stadium that is being torn down:
A lot of the blocks have been leveled with abandoned buildings and the occasional old brownstone ex-mansion that has been fixed up, but otherwise pretty desolate.
Then we went to Heidelberg street to see the Heidelberg Project, which is this incredible urban art project started by Tyree Guyton that spans a few city blocks.
Jessica posted some more pics of Tyree Guyton's Heidelberg project here. Cruised around Detroit more:
Then we came back and went to Peter and his son Solomon's baseball game, which was an interesting slice of Americana for sure. Here's Peter catching his Solomon's warm-up pitches and me pretending to ump.
The Trenton Blue Jay's shut the the other team down with plenty of high drama from the sidelines. Afterwards Peter took us to the Detroit river, the backdrop that inspired The Singing Fish and Good, Brother:
Then we went and got Canadian bacon and pineapple pizza at the local pizza joint, Del's.
Then I got Peter hooked into the Calamari distribution chain, so if you get books from Calamari Press now, this is where they will be coming from, mud and fish smears and all.
Bowling for Jesus, Effingham, Illinois, July 22, 2008
Peter made us pancakes and Peet's coffee for breakfast. Hung out then left late morning anointed in labradoodle hair and Markus mud. Backtracked a bit back down through Ohio. Corn and soybean everywhere and of course churches galore. Billboards and barns plastered with slogans about god and Jesus and unborn fetuses. Corn and Jesus, what more could you need? Cows maybe. Same story as we traveled through Indiana. We got off the freeway in Terra Haute to see if there was anything to see, but there wasn't much besides what every other American city has, McDonalds, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, etc. Ended up in Effingham, Illinois. We slept in the shadow of the world's largest cross. I feel safe knowing that. If you look at it sideways though, it could be an X-marks-the-spot.
We're staying across the street from a Wal-mart super-center. The parking lot is full of consumers. The Wal-mart is keeping them just enough alive that they will come and spend all the money they have there. We ate at Ruby Tuesdays. Not like there's options that aren't chains. Ruby Tuesday's is the same as TGIFs, which was across the street, or Apple Bee's. These are the "healthy" alternatives to McDonalds and Burger King. These towns are just populations of fat people that keep these chain restaurants and Wal-marts in business... think the chain owners give a flying fuck about these consumers and how fat they are? They just want them to consume as much as possible and to keep coming back. And apparently that's what these consumers are doing. Walking back to our hotel, Jess saw an old bowling pin on the side of TGIFs. And this doorway.
We ventured into the door, past some smelly locker rooms towards the distant sound of balls striking pins and the smell of wax. Felt like entering a casino, we were in an oasis of fun! This is how America entertains itself when not watching TV.
Got some shoes and a lane and starting throwing these heavy balls down the lane at these pins. People around us were doing it, taking turns. Most people seemed kind of bored doing it, but it had been so long for us that we were high off the sarcastic nostalgia (if not the wax fumes). Though I went to a work bowling party at Port Authority within the last year that was plenty sarcastic, at least for me. Jess almost beat me the first game, she got a 117 and I got 135. The second game I started out good, then choked and got 160. We decided that in Nairobi we would join a bowling league. If they have a bowling alley.
Crossing the Mississippi, Vinita, Oklahoma, July 23, 2008
Woke up in Illinois in the shadow of the largest cross at the cross roads. Took a picture of some neckless people to send to Blake Butler. Then got on the road and stopped in Vandalia, some sort of place that Lincoln made historic for whatever reason.
Continued on into Missouri. Crossed the Mississippi, then stopped in St. Louis to dip our feet in the Mississippi and walk under the arch.
This was pretty much the half-way point, we passed through the arches like Lewis and Clark but instead of Sacajawea, our guide is Singha. Here's Singha riding on the hood of Ginny.
We've had Singha since I don't know when. I got Singha from Indonesia almost 20 years ago. He's been with me and us ever since... the closest thing we have to a pet. We are rather superstitious about Singha. Every new place we move to, Singha always needs to be the first to enter. He's our guard dog that always needs to see what's going on. He never can be boxed up. He rides between us with a view of the road. Though I didn't go so far as to carry him through the arch... he had to stay back with Ginny to make sure she didn't get washed away by the Mississippi.
Here's a montage medley of our road trip to this point, mostly just us lip-synching to classic tunes that came on Sirius radio.
From St Louis, we pretty much followed the route of the old route 66, diagonally down 40 into Oklahoma, Texas and ultimately New Mexico.
To take a break from the monotony of cornfields and churches, we fell for some sort of "exotic animal paradise" sign somewhere in Missouri. At least we didn't pay to support such a sick operation (we snuck in). We were so disgusted by the miserable looking animals in miserable cages that we didn't do the drive-thru part of it. We did say hi to our hip goat friends in the petting zoo though.
Jess took a video of the goats that she posted on Goat Rodeo. Goats rule.
We thought maybe we would stop for the night at this place Grove, Oklahoma as it was recommended to us, but it was a pretty dismal place. No redeeming features. It was on a lake, if you could call it that, looked more like a festering cesspool. Nobody was on the lake. The people we saw were missing teeth and had bandanas and drove monster trucks around between dollar-store strip malls. This lake seriously needed some chlorine as did it's inhabitants.
We retreated back to the highway and went further up the road to this town Vinita, which is one of the oldest towns in Oklahoma and home to the largest McDonald's in the world.
We didn't eat at McDonald's, but at some diner along route 66, one of the oldest in Oklahoma. I had chicken fried steak and now I feel like throwing up. I'll spare you the photo, suffice to say I have a better understanding of why the majority of people in middle-America are morbidly obese. It's unsettling. This sort of poverty is more disturbing than third world poverty. This is mental poverty where people's brain mass has been traded in for body mass. Overnourishment is just as bad as undernourishment, or worse if you consider the overall consequences on the environment and the depletion of resources for others in need. The only point of existence for many people in America is to placate corporate greed and act as consumers. Our hotel room looks out on a Wal-Mart parking lot again. On the other side of the hotel are rodeo grounds.
OKie Dokie, Edmond, Oklahoma, July 24, 2008
Nothing much else to say, the days are starting to blend in to eachother. The landscape of Oklahoma was actually prettier than Missouri or Illinois, less agriculture and more trees and the occasional lake, but still plenty of Jesus billboards. We even saw a movie theatre with a huge cross next to the sign.
I found myself reading mudflaps to stay engaged.
The thing that really sucks about Oklahoma is the toll roads. It's criminal. It's the only state I know of west of the Mississippi that has tollroads. As if we don't pay enough taxes. We had to stop every 50 miles and pay a toll, probably like $10 in all, just to get across the state. We stopped in Edmond to visit Jess's sister. They had two Maine coons which were really cool.
Clearing the Palate, Tijeras, New Mexico, July 25-30, 2008
The last day of driving. Left Oklahoma City and into the Texas panhandle.
Not much to see except the Cadillac ranch just outside of Amarillo and some place where you can get a free 72 ounce steak, if you can eat the whole thing. We stopped to add some paint to the already crusted caddies.
From Cadillac ranch it was easy sailing into Tijeras, New Mexico, which is just east of Albuquerque. Here's part two of the Montage medley, from St Louis to New Mexico.
Driving west from NYC, this is really the first scenic place you hit, at least with any mountains. Albuquerque is a good a home base as any while we are in Africa, especially as we just bought some land here next door to Jess's folks.
I woke up and went for a run along route 66 in the remnants of hurricane Dolly. Then we went to put our stuff in storage, everything fits in a 3x4x8=96 cubic foot space. After we returned Ginny, next order of business was a green chili burrito at the Frontier.
After the Frontier, we did odd errands like go to the Mac store to get a new iPod for Jess and some small kick-ass speakers for Nairobi, went to Border's and I got a few more hefty books (V., Infinite Jest and Americana) in case they are hard to come by. Somewhere along the way we also went bowling at some alley with black lights and day-glo pins and shoes (see end of video above).
Today and yesterday was spent mostly clearing trees and brush on our property and moving rocks and dirt around to keep the erosion at bay. Manly stuff you don't get to do in NYC. Tomorrow morning some drunkard biker dude is coming with a mulcher to turn the wood into chips for us. Should be interesting.
Now we're just chilling, soaking in a hot tub on the deck every night looking at the stars, eating our fill of Mexican food and waiting. Only a few more days til we say goodbye to America.
(c) 2008 Derek White