Big Country Little Car Tour II, Day 21: Davenport, IA to Northwood, OH
I wished I could stay at the hotel longer. So big! Such good coffee in the lobby! So tired of portaging my bags in and out and up and down, getting stuck in doors, making two trips (or three), rummaging for a hairbrush or a right sneaker or a plastic bag to take the trash out of the car. The routine was long established by then, the rhythms of the road trip had entered muscle memory, but that was the first day I longed for the specificities and placements of home. Thanks in part to yet another thoughtless motel-room layout that had me looking at myself in the mirror while sitting on the toilet, I looked at my patchwork tan and my stretched-out hip tat and my weathered tennis socks, everything flabby and dirty in the ruthless fluorescent light and the auto-fan disgorging some sort of steel-wool hairball, because I couldn't look anywhere else, and I thought, "I really don't want to watch myself do this anymore. …Wow, that scar is still there?" (Worst bike wreck of my childhood career, summer of '81.)
I rolled out early, to pass the cities before homebound Sunday traffic kicked in. My to-do list looked like this: "1. EZ Pass 2. Ohio." The EZ Pass holder is one of those suction-cup dealies, and it gets better suction (hew) if you moisten (hew) the cups (heee-yew) before whapping it onto the windshield. Well, I guess the AmericInn coffee isn't that good, because without even thinking, or looking at what dregma the cups might have been sitting in in the glovebox for the last eight states, I pulled the holder out, licked the cups, and stuck them onto the windshield. And then I did an "AAAAHH mah GAAAAHHHRGLE" imitation of Martin Sheen in the hotel room in Apocalypse Now while rinsing with Diet Coke and hand sanitizer. What an idiot. Not that surprising, though. Ask McK about one of the times plural that I microwaved a metal utensil.
The bad taste in my mouth remained literal, fortunately, but I did have concerns about the weather, which just the night before had demolished a stage at the Indiana state fair. I'd welcomed the prospect of drizzle, because my whole existence had started to smell like an oily coconut, but: drizzle. Not gale. Not "rename the car 'Cambleweed.'"
The driving itself got off to an exciting start just a few miles in when a handful of teenage deer dared each other to scamper across I-80 in front of a Ford 150. They made it unharmed; not so the driver's boxer shorts, I fear, because immediately afterwards, he veered onto the shoulder to take a minute. When I passed, he was gripping the wheel with his elbows locked straight, and seemed to be hyperventilating.
After that, very little of note, except a traffic snarl near Chicago that, once I came upon its apparent cause, I could only nod at: a suitcase's worth of clothes and shoes, stirred across five lanes. A formerly filmy unmentionable, now a grimy gummy wad; a black pump that Weebled back upright after each tire tried to mash it; a white Y t-shirt with red writing; a V of disarticulated bra parts. I could understand why everyone had slowed down, and in fact felt glad that I could peek at that chapter at a leisurely pace myself. No sign of the owners, and what could they have done, anyway? Google "old navy store locator" on the Droid and drive on.
The weather didn't get any worse than a brisk drizzle, but having had a chance to sample roadwork and lane closures all over our fine nation, and as much as I hate to talk shit at this sad time for the state, I'm going to have to go ahead and give Indiana's highway authority an F. A lower grade than that, actually…like, a K or something. Warning signs for lane closures that never happened. Abrupt, too-late warnings for lane closures that came close to happening violently. I think I went through someone's front yard at one point. And the "BUMP" signs that cried wolf can bite me, especially the one stationed next to velvety new asphalt…instead of next to the meteorite crater a quarter of a mile later that I only knew to dodge because it chewed off and spat out both the driver's-side hubcaps on the Lexus in front of me, and picked its teeth with sparks. Indiana is a fine state, responsible for such talented exports as my mom, but IN-DOT needs to get a grip with both hands like yesterday.
Toledo was muggy. The motel was in a section or suburb, Northwood, that felt like it had been left behind or given away; laid out in a series of giant ells, with dozens of rooms along each, the motel felt empty. The computer put a father and daughter in the room next to mine, but the three of us had that hallway to ourselves, and the in-house restaurant, which advertised at the elbow of each hallway, was closed that day. "Closed forever, or closed 'til seven, or…?" The girl on the desk shrugged. "Closed 'til there's people. And there ain't been." Can't argue with that timeline, so I didn't, and went to Subway.
Going back in, I started to use my door key to let myself in, but the lock mechanism didn't work anymore, and if it had, I'd have had to cut through an impressive triplex-style spider web to get at it. The resident Charlotte, a nickel-sized specimen with the translucent legs I find especially repellent in arachnids, sat right at the top, and seemed to be twiddling her thumbs while waiting for a lightning bug to stop struggling. I folded my arms: "Fine, ugly. Show me something." She did. I still hate spiders, but I have come to admire them as well, because they have a lot of imposing skills, they do not fuck around, and we have partnered productively on an indoor-mosquito-reduction project. (Note to self: get screen door for deck already.) This one chopped up and wrapped that entire firefly in about five minutes and broke for a snack.
Later, I stepped outside to find a small party in the parking lot — flat-top guys with cycle 'staches, enjoying an "if the wife doesn't know about it, she can't yell about it" Bud-Light-'n'-Parliaments-fest out of the backs of two mini-vans. It looked pretty fun, and we talked about Campbell for a few minutes. The moon had picked up a flat waning edge, and rose over the abandoned Pabst truck at the edge of the parking lot. Inside, I stared at a map and wondered if I should stop anymore.