Thursday, June 25, 2009

Illinois - Chicago, Joliet, Rock Island

“Pretty soon the redness turned purple, the last of the enchanted rivers flashed by, and we saw distant smokes of Chicago via Ed Wall’s ranch, 1180 miles, in exactly seventeen hours, not counting the two hours in the ditch and three at the ranch and two with the police in Newton, Iowa, for a mean average of seventy miles per hour across the land, with one driver. Which is a kind of crazy record.” (225)

(You've got me beat, Dean--The most I've done so far was 800 miles in 13 hours).

“Great Chicago glowed red before our eyes. We were suddenly on Madison Street among hordes of hobos, some of them sprawled out on the street with their feet on the curb, hundreds of others milling in the doorways of saloons and alleys.” (226)

“Old brown Chicago with the strange semi-Eastern, semi-Western types going to work and spitting.” (226)

“headed straight for North Clark Street” (227)

"To get out of the impossible complexities of Chicago traffic I took a bus to Joliet, Illinois, went by the Joliet pen, stationed myself just outside town after a walk through its leafy rickety streets behind, and pointed my way" (12)

“… drove clear through the rest of Illinois to Davenport, Iowa, via Rock Island. And here for the first time in my life I saw my beloved Mississippi River, dry in the summer haze, low water, with its big rank smell that smells like the raw body of America itself because it washes it up” (12).

(via Rock Island)

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It looks like not much has changed with Chicago traffic since Kerouac's day; like New York, driving through the city once is enough to convince me that public transportation is the obvious way to go. I only spent a couple of hours in Chicago this time around (been there before), but I was alright with that. Cool city, but I wanted to make up for the time I had lost earlier that day, as at that point I was still trying to make it to the Black Hills, South Dakota by the next night.

The rest of Illinois wasn't anything spectacular. Joliet seemed nice enough, but after that it was straight through to Rock Island/the border of Iowa. As for the river with its "... big, rank smell"; God, that's the truth. The smell of the Mississippi was the first thing I noticed as I was coming from Rock Island into Iowa. It's not a bad smell, just noticeable, powerful; you can tell you're by a significant body of water. This was at night, so none of my pictures of the River turned out anything close to visible.

Indiana - Indianapolis, Terre Haute

“We arrived in St. Louis at noon. I took a walk down by the Mississippi River and watched the logs that came floating from Montana in the north—grand Odyssean logs of our continental dream….The bus roared through Indiana cornfields that night; the moon illuminated the ghostly gathered husks; it was almost Halloween. I made the acquaintance of a girl and we necked all the way to Indianapolis.” (95)

“Henry Glass was riding the bus with me. He had got on at Terre Haute, Indiana ...” (244)

(What you see is what you get in Terre Haute).

(This wheelie, seen here being performed by this homeless gentleman in downtown Indianapolis early in the morning, cost me $7 but I think it was worth it).

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Indiana. Where to begin. I came into the state at night, and I enjoyed myself then (though the bars close too early). Indianapolis is beautiful, and if there are ugly parts--like, Newark NJ-style ugly--I haven't seen them (though I did stick to downtown and the main roads). After the repetitive scenery of industrial cities and the agonizing country nothingness that plagued my windshield all that day, Indiana was a joy to drive through.

After a rejuvenating hour or two in Indianapolis, I felt ready to drive again for a little while. This energy lasted halfway through to Terre Haute, but by three a.m. I had nothing left; I stopped at a rest stop. It was hot, but I didn't realize how hot until I was cramped in the back of my car, laying on a deflated air mattress (inflated, it wouldn't fit) with the windows cracked just enough to permit some sort of respiration. The humidity was staggering, I spent most of that time swatting mosquitoes and swearing at my then-demolished notions that sleeping in my car wouldn't be that bad; I cursed myself for not finding somebody I could stay with via in Indiana. It was miserable. When the sun was coming up, I dozed off for two hours or so.

I was back on the road by eight, the previous day's driving still wearing on me enormously. I stopped for coffee, which was a bad idea considering I was already exhausted and hadn't eaten anything since yesterday afternoon in Detroit. The heat from the night in my car, coupled with the 97-degree day that Thursday, completely wore me out; I caved in and bought a filthy room for six hours at a motel outside Chicago. It was the worst traveling experience of my life, and I thought I'm only two days into it. I was weary from travel, sick and nauseous from the sun, and probably dehydrated (my own damn fault). I took a salt tablet (for the electrolytes), drank some water, and fell asleep thinking that if I were to get sick on this trip I'm out of luck--no health insurance; our great big America's not afraid of anything except for socialized healthcare and other ideas with a five-decade-old cold war stigma attached to them.

I woke up later that evening and remembered this quote:

“I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was—I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost. I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future, and maybe that’s why it happened right there and then, that strange red afternoon.” (14; emphasis added)