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America from the window of a uHaul.

rearviewmirror2Friday night is Prime Rib night at Lincoln’s Restaurant in Stuart, Iowa. For $12.99 you get a bloody two pounds of beef, and all you can eat from the salad bar, with it’s lineup of pickled herring, egg salad, canned peaches, pepperoncinis, chocolate pudding, pistachio fluff, and cheese cubes.

Friday night is also softball night at West Central Valley High School, home of the Wildcats! The girls duke it out as the whole town mingles in the bleachers. The sun is setting over the cornfields. Hot damn, this is America.

A sign points to a turn-off from the freeway: The Cove Family Restaurant open since 1961. Only it’s not open. The back door has its glass knocked out and you can go in and wander through the empty, trash-strewn place. They won Restaurant of Note five years running from the community newspaper. The bulletin board up front advertises a garage sale. And a Xeroxed sheet: family restaurant for sale. There is a pair of reading glasses on the floor and a child’s devil trident on the bar. I think, this crazy recession.

Outside a minivan has pulled into the parking lot. Wade and David are construction workers. Wade wants to know if we’ll buy the place. If you buy it, I’ll come. What happened? I asked. Oh, the owners, they liked to gamble a little too much. They lost all their money down on the casino boats. He and his friend are drinking beers and smoking cigarettes before driving home to their wives who don’t like them drinking beers and smoking cigarettes. When we drive off, he shouts, Buy the place! I’ll be your best costumer!

Birds fly and dip and swoop before storm clouds. The cornfields grow gradually into undulating hills.

At the country’s largest truck stop, there is an old milk van from Chicago. It ran entirely on electric. It’s from 1911. Who killed the electric car? In the bathroom a pretty, rail-thin girl applies thick black eyeliner. She grins at me in the mirror. Where you headed? To San Diego. Oh, I want to go there. She’s a little jittery. What about you? I ask. Oh, we’re haulers. Headed to Chicago. Then we’ll turn right back around for Denver. She and five guys take turns driving. Chicago to Denver in 16 hours. Unload. Denver to Chicago in 16 hours. For five days straight. Moving. Moving. I wonder for a minute if she’s hitting on me. Sex in a truck stop bathroom. Isn’t that what happens in the movies?

It’s nighttime early here.Fod

Saturdays in Logan, Iowa are garage sale day. Everyone’s got their tables set up out front. I wonder who’s buying and if they buy something from their neighbors on one Saturday do they then sell it at their garage sale the next? Out front the Double Barrel gun shop, Chris is trying to sell a wooden high chair with a teddy bear painted on the back. He kind of looks like a giant teddy bear. He is so excited to talk to us. His wife Jodi loves Clint Eastwood, shows me her pink handgun. She has a Clint Eastwood cardboard cutout. A Clint Eastwood clock. A Clint Eastwood doll. A Clint Eastwood mirror. Chris says, We got married at 17; Jodi was 18; we were pregnant. We got divorced for a year and a half. I couldn’t live without her. We got remarried.

He looks me up in down in my all-black outfit. Where you headed? California. He tells us right away: Chris is not an Obama fan. Although Obama has helped boost gun sales. Jodi says their products are just flying off the self. She calls it the “Obama Effect”. Everyone’s stocking up cause you know Obama’s going to try and overturn the second amendment. I say I’m a journalist. She gets so excited. Time magazine just came and took photos of them, asked how Americans spent their money now. She shows me the laminated article. In the photo Jodi’s holding a purple shotgun.

The Religious Museum has a life-size wax diorama of Jesus Christ’s life. Kathleen is sitting behind the counter. The exhibit is truly awesome, she says. She’s right. It is truly awesome. You walk through a dark passage way and suddenly a scene will appear, with heavenly spotlights shining down. There’s the manager scene, Jesus riding his donkey, the twelve disciples at the Last Supper. I want to climb up and take a photo as the 13th disciple at the Last Supper. I’m aware this may be vaguely sacrilegious. But Jesus has a sense of humor, right? An alarm goes off. High-tech Wax Jesus apparently does not have a sense of humor.

In Colorado, all the snow is melting and the rivers are flush with water. Joe sells antler horns on the side of the road for 45 days a year. He makes $33,000 a year. Though this year he may have to work 50 days. It’s a little slower. Not so many people looking for antler horns. The rest of the year he just heads out hunting. His 22-year-old daughter just brought down her first big buck. She’s a better hunter than most of my friends, but of course I taught her to hunt, he tells us. All the other men in his family, 14 cousins and brothers, are all bald. His mom says he’s the milkman’s son, but he’s got the family nose. He holds up his waist length ponytail. I think its cause I smoked dope; it keeps the hair!

Margaret and Ernest built their taxidermy shop in 1955. Their oldest son’s footprint and handprint mark the occasion in the cement outside the shop. They all lived in the back growing up. Now their son’s a stockbroker in California. She’s not exactly bursting with motherly pride. Especially since no one’s going to take over their shop. Do you shoot all the animals yourself? Margaret looks aslant at me. I learn later: you ‘hunt’ animals; you don’t ‘shoot’ them. I wish I were more country.

Mikela and Dawn swim in the shallow end of the Sand Dunes community pool. They don’t want their make-up to get wet. They’re 16. They hate it in Monevista, Colorado. There are no boys to date. Everyone is in everyone’s business. Mikela talks. Dawn treads water.  We’re interrupted by a man shouting in the deep end. He’s struggling to pull a guy out of the water. I run over. An old Hispanic man with a thin mustache is blue. His lips are actually blue. A nurse runs over. Starts CPR. He coughs, opens his eyes. We throw towels on him. The guy that pulled him out of the water has bright red blood springing from fingernail scratches on his neck. Man, I thought I was going down too, man, he says, laughing. Everyone’s laughing suddenly. We’re all okay.

Outside Yuma, Arizona a sign reads Yuma Proving Ground. What’s a proving ground? What do you have to prove to be there? I have miles to ponder the Proving Ground. It’s nothing but sand and low brush and saguaro cactus. But finally in the rearview mirror we see a huge dust cloud. It’s moving. Fast. It comes up behind us: a low-slung camouflaged tank. It’s roaring down the desert, over the brush, down small canyons, up dunes. It speeds past us. I think of this whole wide country we just passed through. And the boys in that tank that will have to leave it all to go to another whole wide country across the world to race tanks there.

I see what I think is a film set in the middle of the desert. Huge cranes, a sea of white tents, lights set up on booms. I wonder what they could possibly be filming out here. But it’s not Hollywood. It’s Border Patrol. A sign boasts how many arrests they’ve made that year: 6,456.

Another sign on the side of Route 60. The sign says: You are now beyond Hope.

Welcome to America!

One Comment

  1. Sarge says:

    I have an unnatural fascination with taxidermy and mid-western salad bars that has been herein satisfied. Please now a post on being Indian and being adopted.