“here I am again in purgatory, trying to find meaning in the mundane. i am looking for answers and only end up with more?
why here, why now? too many doors open, too many options to choose. i’m in purgatory, finding meaning in the mundane. what do you see? what do you feel in this place? iiii need to go now, but i will remember this place always.
will you remember me, dear reader?
remember me not.”
- a typewriter in Columbus, OH
In Maine, the air is just barely warm in June. It smells like pine trees and tastes of fried shrimp and cinnamon buns. Lobster and corn from the farm stand down the road.
There is a big dinner table in a small house that hasn’t been filled in years. Memories stored in a cupboard among dusty glasses and jars of marshmallow fluff.
Which is harder, leaving or coming back?
Massachusetts has one good Tex-Mex restaurant and an old diner near the bus station. Boats on the harbor. Clam chowder and train tracks that look like the coast of Spain.
Bagels that are not as good as the ones in Brooklyn, but they have the flavor of adolescence.
New York and Connecticut and New Jersey are a blur. Highways and car crashes and strong iced coffee. Fog over water so that the horizon disappears. Watching trees fly by in a wash of green and brown, speckled with blue from the sky.
Not much to see here, just passing through.
Americana starts in Pennsylvania. Billboards advertising iced tea and fireworks, “Arby’s — we have the jobs.” Red barns and highway construction and pie on the side of the road. There is a farmer protest in India, and you can get off at the next exit for real Amish cooking.
A food forest is hidden on side streets in Pittsburgh. An intentional community with a shared garden, growing strong enough to feed its neighbors. Mutual nourishment. A fig tree in the northwest corner, with mint bushes lining the shade. A pollinator garden surrounding vegetable beds full of unripe tomatoes and pre-pubescent chard.
At a wine bar, the common language is hospitality. Familiar ingredients in a foreign room. The same conversations everywhere. It’s been a year. It’s been so long. Montenegro and ravioli with peas and mushrooms. Salad of peaches and granola and labneh. Dessert is a single bite of caramel.
Outside of the city are signs for Trump and Jesus and babies.
“Let Them Live.”
“Love Them Both.”
“Keep America Great.”
“If You Died Today, Where Would You Spend Eternity?”
Ohio is the worst state, says almost everyone except for one guy who went to school there and hasn’t been back since. He thinks Pennsylvania is worse. In Colombus there is one good place to get coffee and read books and listen to old records. A typewriter in the corner where anonymous thoughts ramble.
People say that Toledo is terrible and Cleveland is coastal, even though it’s in the middle of the country.
“Hey Biden and Fauci, hell is real bring ice (pray pray pray).”
Home Cooking, Exit Now.
In rural Kentucky, it’s best to stay quiet. An arm full of delicate tattoos is enough to give away an outsider, and an east coast accent only makes things worse.
In Winchester, they are proud to be American. Bourbon and beer and empty store fronts. Remnants of the first civil war. One square mile ghost town. Hot donuts, $0.67 each.
A farm with chickens and peaches and a compost pile which encourages cautious optimism. Fresh baked bread in Louisville and heavy rain on the highway.
Kansas is wide and empty. A peach-tinted sunrise in the rear view mirror with periwinkle clouds straight ahead. Big trucks and fields of corn. Grain silos and cows napping in the mud. Two radio stations that both play country rock music with updates from Fox News. They said that the boy scouts are in trouble.
Emptiness so big it will break even the strongest spirit. Nine hours to think about nothing, and everything.
You can get a sushi roll with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos at the Fourth of July party. Watch the fireworks from anywhere. Join the gold rush at crst.com.
“Make a good living and have a good life.”
Land for sale.
Colorado has it all, or at least that’s what the mug says.
It is harder to breathe here, but easier to look and to listen. Nature on all sides. Little mountain towns that feel like a movie set. Log cabins and snowcaps in the summer. A lake made from melted ice. Blue boy bachelor button flowers and the Budweiser factory just outside of Boulder.
There is no cell service on a mountain pass. Watch out for falling rocks.
Tomatoes grow everywhere, it seems.
The sky in Wyoming is impossibly big. Red rocks and green pines and brown grass. Horses running through a field at sunrise. Racing the rain along the highway. Lightning in the plains.
“Cow Country, Eat Beef.”
Biscuits and gravy and fried eggs with orange juice and black coffee.
The rodeo only happens twice a month, says Hawkeye the cowboy. He came from Fort Worth, Texas and last night he thinks he drank himself younger and prettier, but it didn’t last until morning.
High Fire Risk in Thunder Basin. No Trespassing. Coal mines and blasting zones and oil rigs. “Orange cloud possible, avoid contact.” The gas station sells Takis and guns to go.
There are nine churches in Sundance, elevation 4750. A man in the corner of a bakery playing guitar. More gravy for breakfast, and conversations between old friends.
“one of those billionaires / the richest man / he’s probably taking it off for taxes / well that building that fell in florida / do you know what those apartments sold for / it looks like the basement rotted out from water / they found water”
America’s best roadside attractions are in South Dakota. Can’t miss. Must stop. Come see.
Home of the world’s only corn palace. 1888 town. Pioneer Auto Museum: Beyond Expectations! Elvis’s Bike is at exit 192. Wall Drug has fresh donuts and 5 cent coffee and an 80 foot dinosaur and a chapel and ice cream and wax figures. Cowboy alley, a shrine to colonialism. Established in 1931. Braided sweetgrass for $8.99. The next exit goes to Wounded Knee, but all the billboards advertise more victories for veterans.
“Anxious? Jesus offers rest.”
Civilization nested between mountains. No Name City. Rush No More.
“The fighting spirit of an entire nation.”
“Free Beer at The Man Salon, Where Men Get Their Hair Cut.”
In Minnesota, people are kind. Spotted cows and bright blue skies and a big yellow candy store. Fields of corn and soybean processing plants.
The Twin Cities are ground zero, streets of a revolution.
“People still grieving.”
“No racists allowed.”
“Please drive slow.”
Kohlrabi and kale grow in a raised bed on Chicago Ave. Where there are people, there is power.
Wisconsin, cheese next exit. Now hiring billboard installers.
“God Blessed America, He Sent Trump.”
In Chicago, Illinois there is a big metal bean. Deep dish pizza and hot dogs. Not many people seem to know about the incubator farm that sells affordable, local produce or the youth agriculture programs at the botanic gardens. Michelin stars are more important.
An artist’s apartment is the same in any city. Plants in all of the right places. Windows that make inside and outside feel the same.
Near the farmer’s market is a popular restaurant with a 20% service fee included. Rainbow flags in every window. Black Lives Matter. You can find the Fancy Chef Types in the West Loop, which is where all the magazines will tell you to go.
Gas prices are higher and it is hard to find gluten free food here, but that’s true everywhere.
Even an inland city is not immune to changing temperatures and rising water.
The revolution is everywhere, just like tomatoes.
People are ignoring the speed limits in Indiana. Painted toenails on a dashboard. A truck carrying Healthy Life White Bread, The Original Dieter’s Dream. Gary is the center of The United States, but so is Wall Drug if you don’t count Hawaii or Alaska or any of the territories.
Angus Beef Whole and Halves. Shelton Discount Fireworks, We Sell For Less (The World’s Largest Store!).
The best of Spain has been at Don Quijote Restaurant since 1985.
Welcome to Pure Michigan. Lakeside Cabin Resort: Tiny Houses, Big Fun! Donate a boat today at boatangel.com. Fields of wheat and rich green forests.
Cannabis grown in a family home, conversations that flow as though no days or months or years have passed. A chicken coop on the horizon, trellises in the garden that is lined by wildflowers.
Pizza with fresh ingredients and chocolate bars on an empty beach. Tacos eaten on the porch.
Apparently they are taking down the fruit orchards to make wineries and breweries and restaurants. People are building houses on the lake and trying to make access to the water private.
Amazon bought Whole Foods in 2016, two years after they moved into Detroit. Now they’re going to outer-space just to show that escape is possible, but only if you’re rich enough.
“Trump Lied People Died, Biden Harris 2020”
“My Governor Is An Idiot”
Back in Pennsylvania, not much has changed. A small apartment by the river and a negroni sipped on a cobblestone street. A desk on the corner of Mulberry and 38th that will travel back to Brooklyn.
“He doesn’t have a fucking job in Uruguay, Alexi. He doesn’t have a decent job.”
Sidewalks that feel like Europe. Comrades gathering with tattoos and messenger bags and takeout containers.
“Can I buy a cigarette? It’s a bargain my friends. We can go. It’s getting dark.”
Thoughts are scrambled, confusing and inconsistent. Poetic, but only if you make them so.
Breakfast is a bagel eaten on a cliff. Takeout only.
It’s better that way.
In New York City, the sky is small. Streets are tired and the air is red sometimes because of the fires in California.
In late July, the tomatoes are finally ripe. It is hot enough for peppers and afternoon thunderstorms. Intense flooding in the subway and congestion on the highway. Pavement radiating heat that suffocates an entire city, except for the people eating brunch on the sidewalk in SoHo.
The precariousness of man-made things.
Hours are longer on an open road. Construction in every direction. Capitalist wasteland.
Time filled with scattered thoughts and repeating songs. Willie Nelson and Louis Armstrong, sweet iced tea in the center console.
The middle of somewhere, USA.