I left off some time in October. It’s March now, and trying to recollect what happened between now and then is probably a moot point. The last real text post I had left off with a tease about Peoria. A lot has happened since then. A deer smashed into my driver’s side window in Missouri. I started running out of money. My car started sputtering. I got an apartment in Salem, Arkansas. I went back home via train for a few weeks. And I’ve been living in Salem for the time being. Yesterday was also the one-year anniversary of my leaving home.
I haven’t updated in a while, and this is probably a good enough time to do that. I left off in Marion. When I left Marion, I drove for a while until I made it to Monticello. Monticello is perhaps best known to Indianans and Chicagoans as the only town near Indiana Beach, which is a tourist destination surrounding a lake. During autumn and winter, it’s empty. That is, Monticello and the beach are empty. You can tell businesses thrive during the spring and summer months but they just sort of shut down after that. There’s a drive-in movie theater that’s only open seasonally (even though, at the time I was there, it was still warm enough and dry enough to have showings). The town was markedly silent. They were working on the main highway while I was there, widening it, which seemed like an irrelevant expenditure at the time. I’m sure in the summer, though, the widened road will be greatly appreciated.
I’ve been a little lax on text posts lately because I’ve been working a lot. Writing. Making money, but not a lot of it. I was in Coshocton, OH for a while, long enough for an old man to mutter under his breath “Just get a job,” every time he saw me typing away at the McDonald’s. He said these things to his wife and he thought I couldn’t hear him because I had headphones in. But I wasn’t listening to anything.
That’s the thing about rural (or semi-rural) McDonald’s, though: they all have regulars. People come in daily and I can’t imagine how they do it. I’m at a point where McDonald’s makes me sick. I can’t eat it. And some people (geriatrics) use the McDonald’s as their local meetinghouse.
I remember one thing vaguely about Delaware. It was dark, past midnight I think, and I was driving on a two-lane road. I was somewhere in between Harrington and another town I can’t remember. My head was hurting, I was groggy, and, outside, it was the kind of pitch, enveloping darkness you find in lightless rural places. Stars everywhere, and I gawked at them and then back at the road, trying to keep my head afloat before things went spinning. Things were spinning, eventually. I had to stop myself from looking at the stars because every time I whipped my head back to the road, I lost equilibrium, and I had to blink, blink, blink blink blink blink.
I don’t use high beams often and I wasn’t really in a logical enough state of mind to use high beams, anyway. The bright yellow lines on the road were only visible for a few yards, and beyond the penumbra that escaped my light I couldn’t see a thing. For a moment, I thought I saw something in the distance in my lane, a silhouette of something ruminant. I didn’t think anything of it, really. My window was down, the cool air flushed through my car, the music was loud. Abadabad, Beach Fossils, Wild Nothing, something to make me feel good, to soothe the prurient mania fomented by frontal lobe damage, and to ease the pain, the fear, the throbbing, heightened, synaptic cataclysm of neurons shooting off haphazardly.
I couldn’t, though. I couldn’t bring myself down. In my head, my brain was vibrating, rocking back and forth violently in the grey matter, and I couldn’t focus.
And then I really saw something. This strange piebald deer standing nonchalantly in my lane, looking out toward the darkness, to the fields of whatever vegetation—corn, probably—was out there. She didn’t move, not an inch, and I slammed on the brakes and turned the wheel hard to the left, and then quickly back to the right, fishtailing myself safely back onto the right side of the road. An oncoming car far ahead flashed its brights for whatever reason. I put my car in park and looked back out the window but I didn’t see my mottled doe. I didn’t see anything, and I wondered if I had just imagined it all in the floating recesses of my mind. The otherworldly, spotted deer in the middle of a Delaware Highway in the pitch black nothing, a tenebrous fog roiling, roiling roiling roiling roiling on forever.
I was in Aberdeen forever, because I was still sick. I stayed there another four days in a hotel being sick. By the end of the four-day stay, I started feeling much better, but almost as soon as I got on the road, the nausea and dizziness came back. I figured if a nice drive couldn’t ease the pain, I’d seek medical help.
The past week or so has been ridiculous for more reasons than one. It’s consisted perhaps of the highest and lowest moments of the trip thus far, all of which culminated in a raggedness I’m not accustomed to.
I spent a couple of days in Garrett County, Maryland driving around and taking in the nice weather and beautiful scenery. Garrett County is big with tourists this time of year and the hills are replete with little inns and motels and cottages that surround Deep Creek Lake. I left the county on a Saturday at which time it reached a rather high saturation point. The lake was full of jet skis and boats, and the shores were full human beings lounging in relaxed deshabille under the tepid noonday sun. I headed to the north of the county were I found the Casselman River Bridge, a picturesque structure that’s been standing for almost 200 years. Part of it actually recently collapsed and reconstruction efforts were sort of underway while I was there. No pedestrians were allowed on the bridge but it was still nice to look at. If you want to see it before it crumbles to bits, go soon.
After Pikeville, I spent the next week or so winding my way through West Virginia. Much of the state is densely-forested and mountainous and beautiful to look at. I entered the state in Huntington—West Virginia’s second-largest city and home to Marshall University. I just drove around town for a while before heading up Highway 2, which runs right along the Ohio River. I took a few back roads at night, and wound up in Ripley where I spent the night.
The weather there gave me a much needed reprieve from all the heat and humidity. It was often foggy and cloudy and around 70 degrees for most of the day. The landscape affected a sort of sullenness, a calm solemnity, and being in the mountains, it felt considerably less like the summer I’ve had to protect myself from. Clouds hovered in skeins above and amid the trees, and, at night, it was cold enough for a blanket again. It was nice.
I spent the night and all of the next day in Tompkinsville, KY. I mostly lounged in and around the Old Mulkey Meeting House, an old log church that’s stood since the early 19th century. The cemetery on the land next to the meeting house is the final resting place of Daniel Boone’s sister, Hannah. There was also a tombstone marking the grave of one of Stonewall Jackson’s cousins. Not quite famous people, but interesting nonetheless. The meeting house itself is impressive in that it’s incredibly old and still maintains a certain folkloric history inside its walls.
I left Tompkinsville at night, opting to drive in the cool, dark air with no traffic. I made it into Williamsburg and slept in the Walmart parking lot there. Williamsburg is beautiful. In fact, most cities in this part of Kentucky are beautiful. They’re all situated in the center of several rolling Appalachian hills each replete with vegetation. The buildings are dark, mostly brick, with streams of mold deliquescing down the sides. Most of the older downtown buildings are musty, drenched in coal ash, and laden with ivy. And even though most of the towns are actually quite small, there’s this weird urban feel to them. Downtown Williamsburg and Downtown Middlesboro (the town I traveled to next) seem altogether too tall and too busy to be home to only 5,000 and 10,000 residents respectively.
To recap the last week: I got into Nashville on Monday night, slept at a friend’s house, and and then woke up the next morning to drive all the way to Chicago with one of my friends from California. It was insane, but probably closer to most people’s definition of a road trip than anything else I’ve done on the entire trip. We drove 8 hours indiscriminately which was easily the longest I’ve driven without stopping to look at something. We spent three days in Chicago mostly getting lost or stuck in traffic, but also doing plenty of fun things. The best part of our stay in Chicago was getting to spend an afternoon at Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs play. I’m a huge Cubs fan and there’s certainly something magical about being in the stadium of one of the unluckiest franchises in sports history. I loved it.
Chicago is, far and again, the fanciest and most upscale place I’ve been to on this trip (or really, ever). Everyone is so well-dressed, the streets are clean, the lights are bright. Despite all my gushing over the quaint beauty of small towns, it was nice to be back in a city for once. We got a hotel downtown, and parking was $40 every night. But, it was worth it. There’s a vibrancy and cleanliness about Chicago that you don’t really see in small towns. And the buildings are so tall. So very tall. We walked the Navy Pier, went to the Lincoln Park Zoo, ate at several distinctly Chicagoan restaurants, and really just ambled around downtown most nights.
On Friday, we drove all the way back to Nashville, where I spent the next few days just hanging around. I didn’t actually do anything substantive in Nashville, mostly because I had just traveled over 1000 miles in the space of 4 days, and I was in no mood to do anything. So I just hung out with people I hadn’t seen in years. It was nice.
I left earlier today, heading east. I’m in Tompkinsville, Kentucky as I write this, back in the lassitude of rural America.