I’m writing to you tonight from the town of Cheyenne, Wyoming – known to most of you in the family as the “place we wanted to get to on the first night of the trip to California but then Dad and Mom gave up and we stopped in North Platte, Nebraska instead.” There is truly nothing happening here, just a bleary little town that survived the Old West by virtue of Interstate 80. If you drive past here at night, good fucking luck. Three hours of uninterrupted high plains with 45 mph gusts of frigid air await you.
I spent the last two days in Iowa City, which has always been a kickass experience. Maybe I equate Iowa City with hope (as opposed to the brown, concrete desolation of Cedar Rapids) – I remember driving with Kent to his cello lessons when I was 5 or 6 years old, looking with macabre fascination at the mysterious letters drawn on the huge lawns. Later, I realized they were Greek fraternity letters, but I think the whole “college town” affection led me to live in Chapel Hill eight or nine years longer than I should.
Sean Patrick took me to the University of Iowa fieldhouse, where we played 2 hours of pickup basketball with the local sophomore jocks. Finally, two assholes showed up – they always do – and we played one miserable game with them before we left. Then went to “Harry Potter” and sat next to the lusciously non-sequitarian Lucas, whom I believe to exist on so many planes concurrently that going to a movie for him is an act of dimensional sacrifice. He whispered a few things to me during the film, but they had nothing to do with either the movie or anything happening that day.
I agree with Kent about the movie’s shortcomings, and indeed, a second viewing does not do the movie any favors. But like certain authors we forgive because of the times they lived in, I’m willing to forgive “Harry Potter” its transgressions because I’m living, right now, in a time when magical distraction, no matter how mundane, is unbelievably welcome.
You get the sense out here in the middle of nowhere that September 11 is something that happened to other people. I know there is a great deal of emotional (and financial) outpouring that has happened over the last few months, but folks in the less-populated interior of the country are moving on. An AM radio talk show host in Omaha decried all the charity money “going East” and how they should give more help in Nebraska. You get the sense that in the worst case scenario – surrounded by farmland, inured by bitter weather, hills darkened with cattle – you’d survive here just fine. I don’t get that sense in New York City, and it will be some time before any of us do.
The deep midwest has its own despondency, of course. Somewhere near Ogallala, I stopped at the McDonalds of Sadness, the fast food establishment where dreams go to die. Dotted throughout the store were four patrons, each a woman in her 40s sitting by herself, each with a hamburger or McNugget in their hands, not chewing, staring into middle distance. They were all characters in that awful painting of James Dean, Marilyn and Elvis at the lonely restaurant counter. Even the Filet-o-Fish I ordered tasted extra mealy and sogged with dampened hopes.
Tomorrow: on to the happier grounds – I-80 through Nevada! Look at it on a map and see how much fun it looks! At least there will be gambling at rundown truck stops. I’ve got fourteen dollars burning a hole in my jeans!