Missouri held its own with Pennsylvania and Louisiana in the beautiful drive department. We once again left the interstate and followed the Missouri river, through rolling hills of surreal bright green. We passed our fair share of racist landmarks, such as the Daniel Boone home (not to be outdone by the Pony Express stations that glorified the brave riders who had to put up with “hostile Indians”). The air was hot and wet and hung on you like a giant jellyfish. Not just in Missouri but everywhere. We chose one of the hottest Julys in recent history, and the heat followed us around the entire country like a determined child molester until the first bits of relative cool (by that I mean temperatures in the nineties that actually felt like the nineties, since the humidity was gone) in Denver.
Time and space bent every which way on this trip, as we tried to ignore the maps and trust our senses, so you won’t mind if I discuss St. Louis after I discuss the drive which succeeded it, will you? St. Louis has my favorite monument in the entire USA. It’s called the Jefferson Expansion Memorial, but since the last thing I want to pollute such an amazing work of art is the memory of our genocidal ‘expansion’ (a euphemism for invasion), I will simply call it THE ARCH. It’s surprisingly big. It’s surprisingly abstract for something so big. We in the USA like our memorials to be more obviously referential: big presidential heads carved into rock, big statues of Lincoln or Washington, or a massive cock (the Washington monument) to symbolize how Washington tries to penetrate the rest of the world, contemptuous of consent. But the arch is magnificently unique. Shiny metallic and higher than the whole city, it’s the antidote to our usual border symbolism: gates, fences, walls, buildings. The arch is open. It goes both directions, a liminal space between east and west United States. Vanessa and I stood below it, watching the Mississippi river flow), and promised to make an arch of our families, marriages, work, bodies, and, if possible, country. Amen. No wonder the one of the most brilliant tours of all time, U2’s “Popmart” featured a massive arch as its centerpiece, and ended with a big bleeding heart on the screen under that arch.
St. Louis is the murder capital of the USA. Not the metro area, of course—just one of the areas where we like to shove the people of color. It has some of the smallest houses in a United States city I’ve ever seen. We stayed at the Congress Inn for 30 bucks, with its two dollar key deposit and four free channels of porn. I respect a motel with free porn. It’s the least we can do in a country that insanely outlaws prostitution. Vanessa called the premiere strip club, Centerfolds, and was invited to work there, but got sidetracked by the arch and its bizarre museum with animatronic American Indians and settlers. St. Louis hasn’t had a Republican government or Mayor since the forties, so it makes sense that the museum was less brazenly racist and revisionist than some of the shit we saw in Texas, Kansas and the Carolinas. We read about the various American Indian resistances, all of which end in defeat. It is mind-boggling the number of treaties that the U.S. government broke, lied about, changed, etc. Every time a tribe made a deal, it seemed like it couldn’t possibly get any worse than this. But in fact it did, every dishonest and broken deal by dishonest and broken deal, for two centuries, until the last real glimmer of hope in the 1960s and 1970s, the height of the American Indian Movement (AIM). This land was in better hands when its people believed in spirits rather than a single improbable and ridiculously cruel God.
After a stop at the astoundingly good Gates BBQ in Kansas City, where the waiters are so nice you think they are going to walk you home and tuck you in, it was into the great void of Kansas. A motel in Abilene, KS, right next to a ramshackle trailer park, replete with friendly Mexican-American roofers from Pueblo, CO who were shipped here to work for three weeks. In the morning we ate at a café with literally no décor (it was like eating in a cardboard box) except for dire signs about teenage drinking. I like to read local papers, especially editorials, so I picked up a Topeka paper and read an editorial about how disastrous it will be for the working class (they didn’t use the word ‘class’, of course, because they like to participate in the United Statesian whitewashing of all issues of class) if Obama made good on his promise to diminish the tax breaks for corporate jet owners. Yes, seriously—corporate jet owners. The plane industry is big in Kansas, but it was yet another attempt to perpetrate the lie that if rich people (oh, sorry—“Job Creators”) don’t get enough tax breaks they’ll just fire every one and maybe even stop working altogether. News flash: rich people love money. They won’t stop earning it even if the government takes a higher share of it (as in nearly every other Western country). And when they do lay people off to try and scare people into never voting down tax breaks again, that’s a fault of a capitalist system that makes it too easy too fire and manipulate workers. Another example: the most powerful Kansan energy company, Westar, is threatening to drastically raise consumer energy prices because of new EPA pollution standards. Sorry Westar, it’s simply time to earn less money, not raise the prices of the 6-person family living in the shotgun shack in North Topeka.
Ah, Kansas, thanks for adding fundamentalist Christian bigot Pat Roberts to the Senate. Then again, if Burroughs wanted to die there, it’s got to have something. There’s always something brilliant, weird, and unlikely hiding in every state. One of Kansas’s such wonders is the Garden of Eden. Who knew the Garden of Eden was in Kansas after all? We went through a French-Canadian (that’s right!) town, where one of the daughters who spoke no French (only the old people barely do) had repainted all the storefronts’ titles in French . We tried to eat steak at a place googlemaps led us to called “Bill’s Steaks”. We drove through the non-paved streets of this town, whose five businesses were all closed at 3pm, only to be directed to an abandoned schoolhouse where we met Bill, who did not in fact own a steakhouse but rather a place to buy wholesale gigantic slabs of beef. Oops. Through fields set off by rock fences we rolled along through towns that the maps said existed but our senses said did not: everything caved in and vacated. Just when you thought it truly was a ghost town, a mechanic would emerge from a crumbling building with a faded, nearly unreadable sign like ‘Car Repair’ and you’d realize that place is actually open. In rural Kansas I kept wondering—where are the Black people??? Take note readers: that’s a good question to ask wherever you go and see none. Then ask ‘why’? Hint: LINK
The next part of the blog is Colorado, and should be a departure from Kansas, shouldn’t it: Rocky mountains, big important city, thin mountain air. But strangely, once you cross the border from Kansas it still looks like Kansas for an hour or two. I wish states magically changed color when you cross the border like they do on maps. We drove into Colorado still reading about Kansas in a tourist map that included such gems as “What is There To Notice About Fences”. Answer? “Oh, many things!” This brochure told us that although there were many places to get facts about Kansas, what we held in our hands was the only one with “fun facts about Kansas”. Oh, many things.
Have I made it clear yet my main pieces of road trip advice here? (1) Leave the interstate. (2) Talk to the locals (3) Go to the quirky not-so-touristy stuff. Finally, I should add: never believe white people who tell you to stay away from certain areas. Don’t do that. Go there. Remember the Forbidden Forest in Harry Potter, where it turns out that it's so 'dangerous' only because of racist fear/disdain for the locals (centaurs)? Remember the Wachowski’s Matrix trilogy? Avoiding people is just taking the blue pill. Those houses that are far from each other so you don’t have to hear or see other human beings except when it suits you—they’re just an illusion in the matrix. Real life, real humanity is only the whole thing, the totality, the manifold. Get in.