Santa Monica, CA to Iowa City, IA
We left California with so many balls in the air that it felt almost unnatural to be zooming out of town with the bikes strapped to the back of the Prius – it’s almost like we expected somebody to stop us at the gas station in Barstow and demand that we return. We’re leaving things in LA in the capable hands of Fate, and I just hope It knows what It’s doing.
A quick glimpse of the Friday-traffic-to-Las-Vegas from a mountain top was all we needed to know; we took a southward journey through Arizona, which ended up being excruciatingly, excruciatingly hot. We got out of the car at one point, and it was the diametric opposite of “The Day After Tomorrow”: our faces were flash-frozen with searing heat. The car said it was 110 degrees in the shade, but that seemed low.
We stopped at the only store in that part of Arizona, which contained several signs saying “WE KNOW THESE THINGS ARE OVERPRICED, BUT WE’RE IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, SO STOP COMPLAINING.” To make matters more bizarre, there was no direct way back on the interstate, so we had to take the ancient Route 66 through the god-forsaken desert. I officially dubbed this picture The Last Place in America You Want To Be When You Get a Kidney Stone:
Anyone who has been to Eastern Colorado knows it’s about as boring as North Dakota, but it provided a little shortcut here to Iowa. At first we succored ourselves with the Satellite Radio, but all of the news was about Reagan dying, so we delved into the Audio Book of Phillip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials,” which, by the way, is fabulous.
“His Dark Materials” – which has a plot involving barbarians from the Russian North – actually got me thinking more about Reagan than any lugubrious newscast of his memorial. I should have expected that he was going to receive a eulogy from every network, and breathless recounting of his enduring “vision,” but I had no idea it would be so out-of-control as to make us sick.
Here’s the truth as I saw it: he was President when I was 12 until I was 20 – an incredible span of my life – and I hated the guy. He was mean-spirited, simple-minded, lacked all nuance and only believed in “Morning in America” if you happened to be white. He never did a thing for minorities, ransacked environmental controls and he gets reductive, laughably ham-minded credit for toppling Communism. His speeches on how he Believed in America were just like the 1980s: hollow, decadent, and full of mousse.
On a personal note, he was a Big Movie Studio guy who took away the tax deductions for independent film investors, thus killing the creative end of the movie industry for decades. Want to know why movies were so amazing in the ’70s and now they all suck? He’s your man.
The day he joked about the “missiles flying towards Russia” off-camera showed what this guy was truly made of. He began the Republican tradition of “moral certitude” in place of “facts.” He shares George W. Bush’s low-rent populism; his total incoherence and asleep-at-the-wheel grasp of specifics is passed off as “charmingly homespun,” and like Bush, he got away with it.
He filled me with fear, and made me feel very, very alone. And worst of all, he’s the spiritual godfather of every right-wing campus politico nut you ever knew in college, the kind of guy that is now running for the House of Representatives in Virginia and hopes to make sure you have no control over your own uterus.
When I first learned he had been elected, it was 1980 and I was living right here in Iowa. I was very young, but I knew something dark had just happened. Now, in my thirties, I’m back, it’s an election year, and I’m fighting for the light.