Big Country Little Car Tour II, Day 8: Mauston, WI to Dakota Dunes, SD
I woke up just after dawn. I hadn't slept enough, quite, and I kept doing things like trying to wash my hair with bar soap and almost packing a cup of coffee. Once I actually drank the coffee instead of attempting to fit it into a shoe in vain, the clouds cleared somewhat and I headed to Madison to pick up Campbell.
Dain explained my hilariously understated bill — "concern" this, "unable to communicate with the ESP" that. Long story short, the power-steering module threw a shoe, so Zimbrick European replaced it. The part cost $490. The crack in Ava's windshield, as hoped, cost me nothing, so I decided to call it even in my head, and besides, I didn't care — I was so happy to see my little red friend again! The detail team at Zimbrick scraped all the bug guts off her and shined her up, and as I portaged my stuff from Ava to Campbell, I couldn't stop smiling. I hopped in and eased her out. "Let's go, little lady," I said. "When we get to Iowa, someone's getting treated to a new air-freshener tree!" I cracked the windows to enjoy the last of the cool morning air, and threw the iPod on shuffle. What song came up third? Handel's "Hallelujah" chorus. Perfect.
Into Iowa we went, headed for the Field of Dreams. It's clearly marked from the highway, but after that, less so, and as the noonday sun got steadily nastier, Campbell and I went up and down ten variations on the same hill. I peered into the horizon, looking for a diamond; Campbell tried not to crash into patches of soybeans. "This isn't heaven," I grumbled, "because in heaven, they'd have clearer signage for people with no sense of direction." I must have bumbled in and out of three different towns (okay, it may have been two towns, one of them twice; hello again, guy in a ladies' Derby hat on the general-store porch) before accidentally running across the "thanks for visiting" sign at the exit road. Finally! I flipped a tiny bitch and followed the driveway in.
It was unsettling at first, driving up to this spot I'd seen half a hundred times — just driving up to it, just getting out of the car and walking into it. Families were playing wiffleball right on the field; the kids who had gotten too old to care about the same shit as their parents (or let on that they cared, anyway) lolled under the trees next to the house, shooting straw wrappers at each other. The house is smaller than it looks in the movie, but the field is bigger, and it has terrain: the outfield fades up into the corn. And you can walk right up to the corn, maybe walk into it and disappear like the players do. I did walk right up to it, but I didn't go in. Just in case, you know.
A tiny blonde girl in pink shorts jumped onto first base with both feet as if to subdue it, and screamed, "Dad! Look!" and I wished mightily at that moment that I had brought my own dad, to have a catch with. For five minutes, because based on sentimentality levels you might not know we're related, but we would have easily agreed that a tribute to the film is one thing, and 91 degrees is another thing. I bought a t-shirt and got on my way.
Not that I knew "my" "way," exactly. Annie (the GPS on my Android; Tom, may he rest in library-silent peace, died a few months ago) couldn't pick up a signal anywhere. I asked her to find Crofton, NE and she repeated "data connection lost, data connection lost" over and over again. If she started singing "Bicycle Built For Two" in a creepy slowing-down voice, I was going to lose it, so I shut her off and decided to stay on US 20 westbound until I came to a sufficiently westerly hotel.
That hotel did not present itself until past Sioux City, in which I got lost, and before that…oo-fah. As the hour got later, the temperature ticked farther up, not down, 92 at 2:30, 94 at 4, 98 at 5:30, 100 half an hour later. I left the AC low because I didn't want to overtax the car, sometimes turning it off entirely on steeper hills, rrrrrrrrrrrrr up the slopes, neeeeee down the other sides, a trickle coming down my back. Farther west in the state, the DOT is indifferent to rolling its pavement joints flat — the Ford F-150 never feels them. I felt all fifteen thousand, kechump kechump kechump kechump.
The bumping, the droning, the vistas that came and came, the same ones repeating, the sun that surrounded me and stepped on me. I felt tiny and physically insignificant, lost, muddled in the bowl of the land, afraid to stop and afraid to keep going — afraid. I would melt, gasify, disappear.
I-29 spat me out in Dakota Dunes. I skulked into the Country Inn and asked if they had an available room. They didn't. …Wait, they did after all. Some guy had just cancelled his reservation. I hauled everything inside and crumpled into a chair and stared. A text from Noecker came with directions to his spot on Lewis & Clark Lake. My response, approximately: "Incapable of driving further. United States of Monsanto is beating my ass. Please tell me you didn't actually mean 20 East or I will kill myself and you."
I ate pizza. I did laundry. I admired a huge cricket on Campbell's antenna. I followed a frog down the sidewalk while it ate mosquitoes. I leafed through Rand McNally and worried.
Next stop: Noecker's Arts and Macaroni Salad Retreat.
Tags: Annie G Big Country Little Car Tour Campbell Dain the Smart Whisperer friends Li'l Ava Tom The GPS Guy