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Westward Ho!

Maybe the sun will shine today
the clouds will blow away . . .

It was pissing rain when I drove away from Chicago. It felt like a sort of turned-shoulder send-off from my hometown as I headed west with all my life crammed into my two-door hatchback, en route to Seattle. Or maybe it was a fuck you, get used to it type of thing; a nod to the city notorious for rain and depression. All the same, I can accept that, as I sit here and watch the downpour out my window in Washington.

With a sky blue sky, this rotten time wouldn't seem so bad to me now . . .

There was something very therapeutic about sitting in a car alone for four days with my two cats. Cats, by the way, are excellent partially-sedated passengers for cross-country trips. So good, in fact, that I left them lucid for the last couple days, as to let them enjoy the scenery.

My mind was naturally in a unique frame upon leaving my beloved city, family and lifelong friends to move to an unfamiliar and dramatically different place. I teetered quickly and often between deep sadness and unknowing excitement. I attempted to focus on the latter as much as possible, but there's nothing quite as heartrending as riding alongside Chicago for the indefinitely final time.

Knowing the sadness that would surely accompany me on my trip, I expected to comfort myself with a 2,000-mile musical journey, led by Radiohead, Shawn Phillips, Pink Floyd, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, and Wilco. Maybe a sprinkle of Neutral Milk Hotel around Montana.

When my journey was said and done, though, I had spent about 25 of the 30 hours meditating solely on Wilco. Specifically, Wilco's latest album, Sky Blue Sky. Sometimes albums just feel undeniable.

The treetops nod, the rain applauds . . .

Fears take on different forms when you are thrown from your environment and forced into your essential sort of self. I wasn't running around naked, or spearing fish in frozen Minnesotan lakes, but I felt elemental. My fears on the road were some I had not previously experienced in my Chicago comfort zone. I uneasily became aware that it would be a while before I understood my location beyond a mile marker on a map. Even once I arrived, I would still be lost in unfamiliarity.

I feared my tire blowing on a mountain pass. I envisioned my car flying over the metal rail and contemplated what would consume my last thoughts. I concluded that the overwhelming loss of control and certainty of death would occupy my whole focus and leave little room for anything else. But if I did have a spare millisecond, I would try to change the CD and listen to Radiohead's "Let Down."

Tires type black
where the blacktop cracks
Weeds spark through
dark green enough to be blue . . .

Quite possibly the best thing about driving long distance alone is all the time you get to spend with yourself. I mean it. I didn't talk on the phone, text, or watch DVDs. I just hung out inside my head, which I think most people don't do much anymore. The human mind is a lot scarier than, say, Dancing with the Stars.

On the road, I had plenty of time to introspect. At some point, I decided that if life expectancy increases, the conversion to dog years should be also affected. I pondered whether couples with vanity license plates that somehow cutely combine their names ("PAT N PAM" or "JON N JDY") loved each other more than everyone else. I thought about religion and how Jehovah's Witnesses could make a killing during the holidays (specifically on Christmas Eve) since households are more condensed with people. But then I realized that maybe Christmas Eve wouldn't supply the best market for Jehovahs after all.

I watched as my windshield transformed from a mere killer into a mass murderer. I had one stubborn splat of a bug whose juicy body managed to get lodged in my windshield wiper, so that every time I needed a swipe of the blade, I got a perfect parabola of bug guts drawn upon the glass. That lasted for at least 1,000 miles.

I also got to see a vast assortment of not-your-average road kill. I'm used to raccoons, squirrels and possums. Headed west, I was treated to all these, plus a giant turkey, a cow, a deer, a deer being eaten by a wolf, and a baker's dozen of indistinguishable small animals. As I passed the wolf feasting on the deer, I thought of how cool it would be if I could symbolically relate something in my life to that scene. Despite my best poetic efforts, I couldn't.


North Dakota was one flat sonuvabitch; the road kept disappearing into the sky just in front of my eyes. All of a sudden, though, I hit Valley City and the elevation was a sorely welcome sight. I pulled over to stock up on duct tape and bungee cords to shore up the belongings that were just barely hanging from the roof. It wasn't long out of Minnesota when I noticed in my rear-view mirror that my bike was dangling down the side of my car, so it was long past time for the kind of reinforcement that Tesoro was promising.

People were eerie in Valley City. When I arrived at the gas station, I heard the Tesoro record skip. I noticed a few people staring. By the time I came out of the store with my duct tape and bungees, there was a crowd of at least 15 people gathered outside the adjoining cafe, smoking and watching my every move. It was right out of one of those serial-killer-on-the-road movies. I threw a couple pieces of duct tape over my bike rack and got out of there quickly, as I felt the eyes of a local woman upon me just a tad too suspiciously. And just like the movies, I left in such frightened haste that I forgot to remove the pump from my gas tank. I sheepishly returned to the pump as the smoking spectators kept their vigil; I felt like a horse's ass. But that feeling passed as swiftly as a White Castle slider when I remembered I was an unknown in the middle of nowhere. Maybe I was the eerie one.


Around mile 288 in North Dakota I saw the greatest billboard in the world: Black letters on a white background that simply said "Smile".


No corporate brand, website address, or sales pitch. No source credit whatsoever. Just a pure advertisement for pleasantness.

A giant warehouse of a store in Montana called Aluminum Critters N More amused me. And exit 192 in Montana got me to wondering: Why would anyone want to take the exit for Bad Route Road?

Minnesota's abundance of lakes made me to realize that although almost all other bodies of water have their water description following the name (Pacific Ocean, Red Sea, Mississippi River), for some reason we describe lakes in the opposite way (Lake Michigan, Lake Crescent, Lake Wobegon).


I made it to Seattle in a comfortable four days of driving. I eventually developed a method for securing my bike on the back and my canvas bag on rooftop holding on by a singular, duct-tape reinforced sturdy strap. Duct tape saved my ass repeatedly through this journey. It would be cool to symbolically relate that to something in my life, too, but sometimes duct tape is just duct tape.

So here I am: a Chicagoan to the bone, living in an evergreen land of gentle-mannered hippies, eco-nuts and passive drivers. Much has changed since my initial road trip. For starters, I can no longer put on Sky Blue Sky without conjuring images of Volkswagens and a pauperized Jeff Tweedy selling out. But that aside, living in Seattle is an enormous culture shock. I am taking it all in as it comes. And at the moment, I am just hoping this rain with let up. I survived. It's good enough for now.


Next: Seattle is about as edgy and diverse as a Death Cab For Cutie concert in Naperville.


Posted on March 17, 2008

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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