Solitary Van Soundtrack

Music always played a role on the trip.
To match the landscape (Neil Young in New Mexico), enhance the mood (Black Flag in Colorado), or to keep me from falling asleep (Archers of Loaf in Iowa).
It's also the easiest way to judge me.
Here's what was played in the van:

New Mexico
Cracker - The Golden Age
Neil Young compilation (1968-75)
Pavement - Slanted & Enchanted Disc Two
Danzig - Danzig
Danzig - Danzig II Lucifuge
Pink Floyd - Meddle
John Lennon compilation (1972-80)

Black Flag compilation (1979-85)
Beastie Boys - Check Your Head
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Orange Disc One
Mix: Everly Brothers, Chet Atkins Picks The Beatles, The Monkees, Gary Lewis & The Playboys, selections from Sun Ra's Batman & Robin album
Breakdance compilation (see Good Riddance Colorado)
Run DMC compilation (1983-85)

The Who - The Who Sell Out Disc Two (Mono)
Kim Deal compilation (1990-2009)
Frank Black - Frank Black
Frank Black - Teenager Of The Year
ELO compilation (1975-80)

Dave Dudley compilations (career spanning)
Cream/Graham Bond Organisation compilation (1964-68)
The Beatles - Magical Mystery Tour
Archers Of Loaf - vs. The Greatest of All Time

The Move - The Very Best of The Move
Tubeway Army - Tubeway Army (skipping issues, ejected)
John Entwistle - Whistle Rymes
Garage Hangover compilation (1964-68)

Apparently I'm allergic to music from this century.
Or I'm just allergic to this century.

Curiously, Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man" was never once played.
But I've had that damn song in my head for the last two weeks.
Now you do, too.

Thank you for reading.
See you on the next I don't know.

300 Miles

The majority of my family resides in Iowa.
I've been to Iowa 783 times.
It's a well worn path.
When I was a kid I used to lay down in the backseat of our Buick Skylark on those long drives and just stare out the window.
I got hypnotized by the waves of telephone wires as they danced from pole to pole.
It was the closest thing to an Iowan ocean.
300 more miles.

It's still a sleepy drive.
I stopped for coffee.
I scraped bugs off the windshield.
I passed the World's Largest Truck Stop in Walcott.
182 more miles.
The Mississippi still looked mighty.
Radio stations now began with W.
Freeways turned into tollways.
155 more miles.

My anti-climactic homecoming was happening before my bleary eyes.
There was nothing I could do.
I pissed in Dekalb.
62 more miles.
The NPR preset worked again.
Traffic got selfish.
I got annoyed.
48 more miles.

I gassed up the van.
I parked it at the rental place.
I waited for Lauren.
30 more minutes.

I counted the pouch.
Still no Lauren.
I called Lauren.
Ridiculous unmarked O'Hare expansion detour.
20 more minutes.

Lauren arrived.
No A/C in the van.
Wet hugs.
Salty kisses.
I'm home.

Goodnight, Solitary Van.
You were a good van.


I left Des Moines around 2pm.
Lunch still hadn't happened.
My notes listed a Maid-Rite in a town called Newton.
Maid-Rite is a regional chain that serves loose meat sandwiches.
Tavern sandwiches.
The kind of sandwiches that Roseanne served at The Lanford Lunchbox.
A lot of Maid-Rites operate out of gas stations.  But the one in Newton had its very own building.
The photo I had seen of it online looked promising.
It seemed forever old school, like how I demand the world to be.

I imagined chowing down earnestly on the castrated sloppy joe among the colorful Newtonians.  While I traded my tales from the road with the barber's exaggerated fishing stories, farmers and Maytag men regaled me with salt of the earth fables, John Deere jokes, and juicy local gossip.  All of us slapping our knees silly while sipping root beer phosphates.

Newton had an airbrushed Norman Rockwell quality to it.
That's because somebody airbrushed Norman Rockwell scenes onto the buildings.
A boy stared longingly into an appliance store, with dreams of microwave ovens and 90 day warranties.
From a stroller an infant cooed to an elderly gent while Old Glory hung proudly above, like a Family Values mistletoe.
A waiter peered out of a deli with a tray, ready to serve the hardworking patrons of Newton.
I couldn't wait for my loose meat lunch miracle!

I pulled up to Maid-Rite.
The blood orange building looked empty and alone.
I didn't see any barbers or farmers or Maytag men.
Just my crestfallen visage in the reflection of the CLOSED sign.
It was Sunday.
They were closed on Sunday.
My hopes shot up when I saw the diner right next to it.
The Snook Inn!
This place looked even more old school than Maid-Rite.
Here I would get morally stronger fables, folksier jokes, and more specifically local gossip from farmers that were so old school and salt of the earth, they pulled corn out of the ground with their bare hands!
They slaughtered pigs with their raw teeth!
They took tornados, cut off their balls, and used them to cool off a fresh batch of caramel pecan rolls!

I shadowed my hands to look in at the heartier laughter and the thicker, creamier phosphates I was about to enjoy at the Snook Inn.
The ultimate climax to perfectly end this amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity of a lifetime.
But the Snook Inn was also closed.
Forever it seemed.
Stools had been torn from the tiles.
The yellow formica counter peeled at the seams.
A clock froze at 3:35.
Today's specials at the Snook Inn were fluorescent tubes, industrial buckets, and the bottom of a coffee pot.

I sulked past the Norman Rockwell mural again.
The waiter's tray was empty.
Even the airbrush was closed.

Lunch happened at a Taco Bell drive-thru.
I ordered a few "lose-meat" tacos.
Vacation was over.

Des Moines: Vacation Procrastination

I went to Des Moines.
Because I am still on vacation.
This is a vacation!

It's a beautiful capitol.
All maizey and golden and shiny.

With drooling livestock fountains.

And cannons!

And hey, there's Lincoln and Tad!
What do you mean, "Who's Tad?"!?
He's Tad from Tad's Steaks in New York City.

That makes sense!
I am still on vacation!
I am still on vacation!

Look at that lamp post light pole thing!
Doesn't it look cool next to the capitol?
Did I mention how maizey and golden the capitol is?
Vacation's all I ever wanted!

What's that way over there?
Past the trees!
It's like a dancing woman or something!

Didn't Fame take place here?
Look at me!
I'm still vacationing!

Hey! Hey! Hey!
I'm going to start getting all artistic with my girlfriend's point and shoot camera!

Look at how the like, flag is all angled against the goldenness of the dome!  And how it reflects.

Oh snap!
Look at what happens when you just focus on like the architecture of it all.  The way the angles and with the windows!  

Hey and over here look!
The ground has all the counties on it!
Look!  Look!
There's Johnson County!
And Webster County!
And Humboldt County!

Bonnie & Clyde & Duane

On April 16, 1934, Bonnie & Clyde robbed The First National Bank in Stuart, Iowa.
According to Stuart ("Home of 1700 Good Eggs and a Few Stinkers"), it was one of the more exciting things to happen in the town.
The old robbed bank is now a police station.
But today it was closed.
I didn't know they could do that.

A guy down the street waved and yelled "HI!"
I looked around to see if he was waving at someone else.
There was nobody else.
Then he disappeared.
I walked to where the man had been standing, in front of a brown box called Duanes Pastime.
A sleeping neon sign hinted at billiards.
Duane's sole pastime.
Maybe that man had been Duane, inviting me into his cool lounge to wait out the heat over a few rounds of pool.
Duanes was closed.

I think I found Stuart's stinkers.

Freedom Rock

Hey man, is that Freedom Rock?

Yeah, man!

Well turn it up, man!! 

Iowa Windmills

The meadows of eastern Iowa rested.
It was Sunday.
But the modern windmills freckling the landscape continued to work, violating the Sabbath.
Actually the Sabbath is Saturday, it being the seventh day.
The Sabbath was given to Israel, not the church.  It is still Saturday, not Sunday, and has never been changed.  But the Sabbath is part of the Old Testament Law, and Christians are free from the bondage of the Law (Galatians 4:1-26; Romans 6:14).  The Apostle Paul said...

Yeah, so those windmills were really neat.

A brown sign led me through the hilly green pastures of Elk Horn.
I wanted to see what this Danish windmill was all about.

I do like when signs shout.
So I parked the van by some farm equipment and walked into the giant Danish windmill.
Actually, this type of mill is called a smock mill.
Smock you.

Built in 1848 in Norre Snede, Denmark, the mill was dismantled, shipped, and reassembled in Iowa in 1976 to coincide with the debut of ABC's What's Happening!!
I said to coincide with debut of ABC's What's Happening!!
Why isn't my inner dummy correcting me?
...for in six days the Lord Made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested (Exodus 31:16-17).  In Deuteronomy 5, Moses restates...
I see.
Anyhow, the Elk Horn, Iowa windmill remains the only authentic working Danish windmill in the United States.
"Would you like a tour?" asked the nice lady.
The tour cost money and I had blown the last of my per diem in Nebraska.
The nice lady nodded and began the tour without me.
I flipped over a price tag on a Danish flag hoodie.
And left.

Just south of a Hans Christian Andersen bust sat a sod house.  
I stuck my head in it.
"Come over here to this side," said the volunteer docent.
I ended up getting a free twenty minute tour of the VikingHjem, a replica of a Viking smithy's home circa 900 AD.
Elk Horn is the largest, rural Danish community outside of Denmark.
Danes from all over the midwest flock here to get their Danish on.
They don't fuck around.
This kid from Omaha made all these tools and helmets and shields and weapons.
Sharp weapons.
On Labor Day they reenact Viking battles from the Dark Ages.
"Whoa!" I laughed, "they better be careful!"
"Actually, one of them did cut their face last year."
She made a downward slash on her cheek.
I liked the docent.
She wasn't Danish, but she liked that she was doing this.
I did, too.
The Omaha kid had also crafted these pewter Thor's Hammer pendants.  
They looked bad ass.
I played with the adjustable leather cord necklace.
I wanted one.
Who are you, King Diamond?
Yeah, you're right.
I don't quite have his falsetto.

It was time to get on the road.
I wondered if my inner dummy knew any Black Sabbath lyrics?
No, but in Colossians 2-
What is this that stands before me?
Figure in black which points at me,
Turn around quick, and start to run,
Find out I'm the chosen one,
Oh no!

Touristism: Omaha

Coffee and a hot plate of ham and eggs.
Leo's Diner accommodated this request.
It was a hot Sunday morning in Omaha.
I grabbed a stool at the counter without having to wait.
They were doing brisk business.
Toastin' up the toast.
Flappin' up the jacks.
My coffee never sank lower than half a cup.
The woman on my right brought her hacking summer cough for everyone to enjoy.
The woman on my left put her breakfast on her tab.
I fondly stored my ham and eggs in my belly.

Leo's is a family affair.
A mother and daughter manned the register.
The line cook was married to a woman with a shift later that day.
"Everyone's related to someone here," the daughter almost said because I'm paraphrasing.
But it was something like that.
The mother told me that Leo's got a favorable mention in The Atlantic.
"Don't come here if you don't want to talk."
Why did she say that to you?
I don't know.
I didn't talk much then, but I am right now.
That's how I roll I guess.

I was determined to see some Omaha that wasn't just drunk college kids, and drunk people in their 20's and 30's clinging to their college daze.

Downtown, a big bronze homage to the Joad lifestyle played out like paralyzed theater.
Stagecoaches packed with strong stares, leashed livestock choking itself to death, wagon wheels stuck in the mud, and one particularly fetching pioneer woman.
I'm glad they made it to the convention center parking lot.
And they probably couldn't have done it without their chef.
Chef Boyardee.
So it's 10 o'clock and you're in Omaha taking pictures of a bronzed Chef Boyardee.  Do you really want to get this van back to Chicago by tonight?

But I will.

Satellite Motel

I had always wanted to sleep in a cake.
On a weedy business strip in South Omaha, my dream came true.
The Satellite Motel.
A tiered, eight-sided, lemon slab of lodging deliciousness.

With its model kit planet inertly orbiting a sizzling vintage font, I was expecting the lobby to resemble an Ed Wood film.
Circuits and blips and zero gravity gumdrops on fishing wire.
Instead, a curt Indian man behind fortified glass watched nine security cameras with no signs of humor.
But the cement walls were pink, the carpet putt-putt green, and the upstairs hallway a two-tone mousse.
It was the yummiest fleabag.

My room was a huge trapezoid.
Its wooden ceiling twelve feet high.
Royal discount curtains decorated the entrance to the balcony, which encircled the motel and provided instant and easy access to the other rooms' sliding doors.
Not safe.
The bathroom was the yellowest yellow, and featured a stand-up shower shaped like a big home plate.
Fastened to one of the six corners was a small tube TV, far away from the bed.
For enough to practice archery.

I walked around the whimsical mustard octogon, trying to capture it with a camera and my motor goggles.
A grey vagrant shouted "Hey!"
He staggered toward me like an astro zombie, gesturing demandingly the way elders used to address youngsters before all children became geniuses.
I grabbed for my blue bank deposit pouch, now containing about $800.
Still there.
I grabbed for my Electro Pistol.
Not there.
He was still about 40 zombie paces away.
I walked back to my room.

I relaxed to the tiny images on the far away TV.
An infomercial for The Genie Bra® got my blood going.
I practiced my "archery".

In the morning the Satellite Motel looked even more tasty.
But I wasn't going to eat a Star Crunch® for breakfast.
The long drive home laid ahead.

Children Of The Corn

Omaha panted like a lipsticked dog in heat.
Abandoned hoodies laid draped over parking meters.
Fog collected around the frames of my glasses.
The cobblestone streets were slick with sweat.
Or worse.
I walked off my tipsy among the sloppy herds.

It seemed July was Drunk Cornfed Girls Ruining Their Heels Month.
Or Frothing Shirtless Knucklehead Month.
Whichever one, it was being celebrated.
Every fourth person, regardless of gender, screamed loudly for no reason.
Maybe to be heard.
The corn still didn't care.
"It smells like shit.  Literally," one pale/pink girl observed, stumbling.
She was right.
Nebraska smelled like shit.
But the people out in those fields knew how to turn that shit into gold.

Dum dums, floozies, and nervous nice guys lined up outside of an ugly disco.
An intense dude yelled something about turning 30.
Something about hurdles.
One of those pub crawl drunk shuttles idled empty while people constantly bellowed in parking lots.
The corn continued not caring.

Where did all the Saddle Creek kids hang out?
Is this what Mannheim Steamroller did every Saturday?
Where was Arnie Barnes?
I knew I hadn't really seen Omaha.
Just like I hadn't really seen Colorado.
So I couldn't write it off.
It would be like going to Chicago's Viagra Triangle and proclaiming the entire metropolis a city of douchebags.
When really it's just 65% douchebags.