Big Country Little Car Tour, Day 10
People notice the car, and because they notice the car, they notice the plates. Mostly, they comment that they can't believe I drove a Tupperware container all the way from New York City, but now and then, they say something like, "Must be quite a change," or "This ain't what you're used to."
It ain't, but not for the reasons they think. The main thing I notice as I make my way between stops or cities is the way the towns end — what "the edge of town" means. The town I come from is a smallish town, but in that part of the state I come from, all the towns form a kind of megatown, and they fit together like puzzle pieces, with rivers and roads for the cut lines. The edge of town is also the edge of the next town, and you just step over it.
The rest of the country is, for the most part, not that way. The towns trail off into unincorporated areas, farms, fields, municipal land. Where I'm from, the border is between "town" and "next town." Here, it's between "town" and "not town." New York City takes forever to get out of, before you see even a single tree on the interstate or feel like everyone who ever lived is not within the sound of your voice. Little Rock came up on me out of nowhere and then in ten minutes it had disappeared again; it can take three times that long just to get through the Bronx.
You can get anywhere in New Jersey from anywhere else in New Jersey in about four hours, but it isn't the size; it's the distance between. I turned off a state road in Arkansas and followed signs for a café, but when I got there, I found it boarded up. Nothing else around, birds that looked like hawks overhead, my little car seeming even littler in the dusty driveway, and I thought, I have no idea how far it is to the nearest human being. Probably not more than a couple of miles to a logging depot, or one of those roadside churches slapped into a trailer, but I don't know where, or what direction.
This isn't a bad thing, which is often the implication, I think — not that my conversation partner thinks so, but that I must, that I feel disoriented and bereft without some New Yorky thing or another, bagels or crowds. Yeah, I miss New Yorky things — things at my house. Things named "Bunting." Felines. My other beige bra that doesn't suck (I mistakenly packed the back-up beige bra, and I'm so over it, I'm under it…literally, at times). Yeah, the road is boring at times, but boredom is not a bad thing; my mind gets a lot done by drifting, given the chance. Yeah, it's different, and thank God. I've eaten bagels and I've knifed through crowds and I'll do those things again. Right now, the job is something else: finding a cup of coffee somewhere on this two-laner without bumbling into Texas.
Several hours post-coffee (I don't think I went to Texas), I ended the day in Nevada, MO. Nevada, MO is not the scent encounter you hope for after ten hours in the car. I've come across that stench before, in Pennsylvania's mushroom country; the "looks like a Currier & Ives print, smells like a diaper" dichotomy is only funny for about three minutes anyway, and those three minutes already occurred on a previous road trip a decade ago. At the restaurant near the hotel, everyone seemed beaten down, perhaps by the relentless odor — patrons, waitstaff, even the kitchen had stopped caring, sending out my omelet in the oops-well-fuck-it shape of a stepped-on hat.
The hash "browns," evidently prepared with a curling iron, were also disastrous, but then there came the flawless pillowy toast! Perfectly even browning; perfectly subtle buttering; perfectly balanced between softness and crunch. Championship wheat slices, on the edge of a town that smells like poo. Damnedest thing.
Next stop, still KC MO.
Editorial note: it takes me a day or two to get entries up; where I say I "am" is more like where I just was.
Tags: Big Country Little Car Tour institutional starch the food/poo Venn diagram travel