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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I've Come to look for America: Part 2- Midwest is the best

Every small town in the Midwest has a barn, a broken fence, an abandoned church, and a graveyard.
 'America' by Yes

 'Look at Miss Ohio' by Gillian Welch

 'Come on Feel the Illinoise!' by Sufjan Stevens

So I meant to write this earlier but I've been sick with a chest cold/sinus infection for the last week.  But, it's better late than never.  It's the second part to my travelogue series.  I last left you off describing Central PA (ie. Pennsyl-tucky) and why it's worth visiting.  However, there are many folks out there who also have never been through the Midwest.  And you don't know what you're missing there either.  I make a lot of jokes about the Midwest, but the truth is that there is a lot of charm and personality.  What many consider 'fly over' territory is actually worth driving through.  And if you disagree, then you're just a coastal snob. 

After leaving Harrisburg, my mom and I drove through Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois before reaching St. Louis (that's in Missouri by the way).  It astounds me the number of Americans who don't know US geography, especially when it comes to 'fly over' territory.  Many people think Missouri is next to Texas or Idaho.  I never correct them; I just give them a look like someone just farted gold glitter.  Actually, what I find sad is that foreigners I've met know US geography better than most Americans.  They also usually speak English better too.  Sorry, but it's the truth.  So I will go to the liberty of putting a US map below so you can identify whichever states you don't know. 

So the first day we spent driving, I listened to some 70's folks/acoustic rock on a Sirius XM station called The Bridge.  The tunes matched with the landscape and the dwindling Indian Summer sun.  Artists like: Carly Simon,  Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, The Allman Brothers, Tod Rundgren, Seals and Croft, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and The Eagles.  All of the slow guitar and gentle crooning matched perfectly with the rolling hills and curving road.  It took us all the way to the Ohio border in fact.  

See, I've always been very careful about which artists I listen to while I'm in the car.  Whether I'm on a short drive or a long road trip, I pick my tunes very carefully.  I used to spend a couple of hours putting CD's into a mini CD booklet for any long car trip.  And since I love going on road trips and driving in the car, music is the only way I can magically go somewhere else and drift away.

In college, I used to go driving for hours to de-stress while listening to Sigur Ros, Polyphonic Spree, or Buffalo Springfield.  And in high school, I'd only pick Smashing Pumpkins or Sonic Youth but only specific CD's that depended on the length of my drive and the season.  For longer drives, Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness, shorter ones, Pieces Iscariot.  For fall, Bad Moon Rising and for Spring, Goo.  The CD had to be just right and usually I'd try to match the songs to my mood or where I was going.  Because we have Itunes/Ipods now and Sirius, it is much easier to do this.  I can match my mood and the tapestry outside my window to my own private soundtrack.  It's fantastic!

So as I drove through Pennsylvania and Ohio, I thought all about  first my journey home from New England/Massachusetts after living there for three years.  I drove from Western MA all the way home to St. Louis.  Then, as we got into Ohio, I thought about all the times I drove to and from St. Louis on the way to Columbus for school.  I passed the exits I would have turned off of to get to Kenyon College.  It's too bad my mom and I couldn't stay there for the night, but it was the first weekend the students were returning and all the hotels/inns were booked.

So my mom and I drove to Huber Heights, right outside of Dayton.  We ended up staying at a hotel right next to where my wife and I stayed the one time we visited our Alma Mater while we both lived in St. Louis.  We got to eat at Denny's, which I insisted on.  It was fantastic.  Some of you might be gagging but Denny's has a special place in my heart.  It's where my friends and I would go after every single rehearsal and show.  We'd sing show tunes and annoy the goths.  We'd scrunch about 20 people into a booth and overfill the table with greasy fries, onion rings, bacon tuna melts, and double cheese burgers.  So though Denny's wasn't a gourmet meal, I thoroughly enjoyed my cheese omelet and hash browns.  I didn't get grits, though.  And yes, they did have something called 'Brooklyn Spaghetti and Meatballs'. Neither me or my mom ordered it, though. 

The next day, as we drove through Indiana and Illinois, I changed the station to Lithium, a 90's alt rock station.  I got to revisit all my old friends, like Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, Lemonheads, Live, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Belly, Bush, and Foo Fighters.  These were the bands that got me through my teenage years.  Billy Corgan and Dave Grohl understood my angst and inner turmoil like nobody else.  And as I listened to all of this angry rock, I reflected on my dark, brooding teenage years where I only wore black and had Holden Caulfield, Edgar Allan Poe, and Kurt Cobain as my idols.

So as we passed Richmond and the water tower displaying 'All-American City', I remember my times at Earlham College for two summers, 1998 and 1999.  These summers are where I learned to be myself and let my 'freak flag fly high'.  I stopped being a wallflower and had a major transformation, a metamorphosis.  I made great friends and had unforgettable experiences that shaped and forever changed my life.  I learned how to be a 'gutter punk' and how to style my hair into spikes with Elmer's blue gel glue.  I dyed my hair and had shaving cream fights.  I dressed in drag for the first time ever and met people who had views like mine.  I didn't have to pretend to be buttoned up and conservative.  I met Wiccans and learned what bidis and djarums were.  

I made my first group of 'townie' friends and saw girls fall in love with each other.  I made friends with many kids who had piercings and tattoos, who listened to metal and alt. rock, and many of whom were gay or bi.  It was like the episode of The Simpsons where during a summer, Lisa makes visceral friends who respect her for who she is, where she becomes 'cool'.  That's exactly how these two summers went.  I was 'popular'; people liked being around me.

This was quite the opposite at my high school, where I was a freak, a weirdo.  But after these two summers in Richmond, I was never the same.  I learned to speak out for my views and I became much more confident in who I was and what I represented.  I knew in my heart, that if I found the right niche and group of people, that I'd recreate my experience of being adored and loved.  I started dying my hair different colors and buying my clothes at Salvation Army and Goodwill.  I wore snapping cowboy shirts and Dickie's pants to school.  And when my peers started commenting behind my back that I was 'on drugs' or 'liked boys', I ignored them.  I knew they were wrong but I didn't feel like I had to prove anything anymore.  I just went full speed ahead. 

I ignored my friends when they said that I wasn't really 'like this', when they referred to my alternative looks and sensibility.  I was one of them; I was too nice to be grunge/goth/punk.  I didn't listen to them.  What's more is that I didn't have to tell people what was true and what wasn't.  I knew in my heart what my own truth was.  And though I have lost touch with most of the friends I made at Explore a College at Earlham, except Leah C., every person I met had a huge impact on who I am today.  And so Richmond will always have a special place in my heart.  If anybody from that program (in '98 and '99), happens to come across this and read it, I have not forgotten you.  I will never forget you and what lessons you taught me about loving myself for who I am, not for who others want me to be.  

Another fun thing my mom and I did was stop into Cracker Barrel.  If you have never done this, do it.  No matter what mood I'm in, if I step into a Cracker Barrel, I'm instantaneously at ease.  My friend Diana and I are on the same level about Cracker Barrel.  There's something about it that just makes you feel at peace and comforted.  For me, Cracker Barrel brings back memories of any road trip and every single to and fro trip to college.  Any time my mom and I are in the car together, we stop at Cracker Barrel and pick up some old fashioned candy, Whistle orange soda, or some little knick knack.  So Cracker Barrel also has a soft spot in my heart and always will.

Note: If you don't know what a Moon Pie is, then I don't even know what to say.  It's marshmallow between two  chocolate covered wafer-like cookies.  Expect a bit of a mess when you eat one.  Also, you should go to the Moon Pie Festival in Bell Buckle, Tennessee.  Yes, I've been to it before.  Look it up; it's real!  Both the festival and a town called Bell Buckle. 

The funniest thing that happened, however, is when my mom and I stopped to get a cup of coffee somewhere in Indiana or Illinois.  We went to a McDonalds first, but the line was too long.  So we went to Dunkin Donuts but it was closed for repair/remodeling.  Then we went to Burger King and got our coffee.  Third time is a charm, right?  Well, as we were turning back onto the highway, I spilled hot coffee all over my white linen pants.  OWW!!  And, will this stain come out?  Luckily, I was able to laugh for like 20 minutes.  My mom was snorting because she was laughing so hard.  Our trip to St. Louis was a hoot.  Driving through The Keystone state, Buckeye state, Hoosier state, and Land of Lincoln was a blast.  You'll have to try it for yourself. 

I haven't seen the movie The Guilt Trip with Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogan but I am sure that is something akin to what my road trip was like with my own mom.  And that reminds me, don't be afraid to go on a raoad trip with your mom.  It might be fun.  And if it's full of crazy xanax inducing antics, well then you can write a book about it. 

And that ends my road trip saga.  I cannot wait for the next time I get to jump into a car and drive off into the great beyond 'looking for adventure and whatever comes my way'.  Until next time! 

Happy travels,


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