Iowa City to Boulder, by William Matthews
I take most of the drive by night.
It’s cool and in the dark my lapsed
inspection can’t be seen.
I sing and make myself promises.
By dawn on the high plains
I’m driving tired and cagey.
on the mileposts, like candle flames,
flare their wings for balance
in the blasts of truck wakes.
The dust of not sleeping
drifts in my mouth, and five or six
miles slur by uncounted.
I say I hate long-distance
drives but I love them.
The flat light stains the foothills
pale and I speed up the canyon
to sleep until the little lull
the insects take at dusk before
they say their names all night in the loud field.
one of my wife’s friends makes that trip pretty regularly, must say we head up to cedar rapids and fly into lincoln when we visit the inlaws, it’s a pretty uninteresting drive until you get quite far west in nebraska heading to colorado and then lots of cops near the border now cashing in on ticketing (and sometimes confisticating) the marijuana traffic.
STARS. He said that people knew many different kinds of stars or thought they knew many different kinds of stars. He talked about the stars you see at night, say when you’re driving from Des Moines to Lincoln on Route 80 and the car breaks down, the way they do, maybe it’s the oil or the radiator, maybe it’s a flat tire, and you get out and get the jack and the spare tire out of the trunk and change the tire, maybe half an hour, at most, and when you’re done you look up and see the sky full of stars. The Milky Way. He talked about star athletes. That’s a different kind of star, he said, and he compared them to movie stars, though as he said, the life of an athlete is generally much shorter. A star athlete might last fifteen years at best, whereas a movie star could go on for forty or fifty years if he or she started young. Meanwhile, any star you could see from the side of Route 80, on the way from Des Moines to Lincoln, would live for probably millions of years. Either that or it might have been dead for millions of years, and the traveler who gazed up at it would never know. It might be a live star or it might be a dead star. Sometimes, depending on your point of view, he said, it doesn’t matter, since the stars you see at night exist in the realm of semblance. They are semblances, the way dreams are semblances. So the traveler on Route 80 with a flat tire doesn’t know whether what he’s staring up at in the vast night are stars or whether they’re dreams. In a way, he said, the traveler is also part of a dream, a dream that breaks away from another dream like one drop of water breaking away from a bigger drop of water that we call a wave.
– Roberto Bolaño, 2666
there’s a similar ride to omaha in
I might give Powers’s latest a go, though it seems a daunting prospect at first blush. That westbound drive through Iowa to Colorado became an iconic American road trip via Kerouac’s On the Road. A courier in one of my fictions followed part of that pilgrimage route:
He headed north before turning west again, picking up the legendary Pony Express route for a while before forking southwest to follow Kerouac’s trace. Through the bug-spattered windshield he saw on the right a small herd of antelope grazing the sparse brush a quarter mile off the highway. A solitary pheasant stood erect and immobile in the passing lane, staring at him like a desperate avian hitchhiker. Low-slung oil wells performed their oblique one-stroke rotations, the idling pistons of the American West. It wasn’t until he caught the first glimpse of the mountains hovering on the dusty horizon that he gave any real thought to his delivery…
that’s when it gets interesting out where the deer and the antelope play, Iowa has become the most artificial landscape in the US almost nothing untouched and the only striking thing these days is the occasional flatbed bearing giant windmill blades. The Powers is a pretty easy read tho certainly not required, a good summer book I thought.
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