My voice cracks with emotion as I choke out my thank yous and my goodbyes. It wasn't meant to be this hard. The car is heavier, topped with food mountains from our over generous hosts. Oscar growls sluggishly as he accelerates away, tear pricks starting in my eyes. Farewell to St Louis, where happiness was found and sweet drunken nights were wasted. Livers were pounded like steak in a tenderiser, dimple marks left in our hearts as well. All things go, all things go. Jessie "Kicky" Schmitz recedes into the background, a dot in our rear view mirror.
We cross the Mississippi like we always do, hugging its meanders and oxbow lakes as we ascend northwards, the nights getting shorter and the days getting longer and the heat tempering down down down to pleasant summertime warmth. No more bayous, no more desert, no more swamps. Verdant shores await in Illinois.
Bloomington is Ashford stretched out, more space added and (shhhh now) less charm. Another water tower with another name emblazoned. Basement living in the suburbs, Katie takes us bowling to an empty old venue. This is Friday night in smalltown America. No one goes out. The balls are slammed down and travel mainly diagonally. By the end of this trip I will be a professional bowler. The bar next door has pool (i lose) and karaoke (i watch). Three inch thick binders contain your options- anyone for The Wedding March (instrumental)? Lunchboxes are bought for us and I feel like a docker, Nicky Sobotka in the bar with Ziggy after shifting some crates. Drunken alcohol purchase, with flirtatious puns and we are back to drink cheap acid poison wine with ring of fire. The idle boasting and jesting. One of those people quiet until drunk, then loud and splendid and why aren't you like that all the time? Eyebrow shaving threats are sending me to sleep so I fold into a sofa and kip fitfully til morning, an empty airbed lying next to me in fevered dreams. The cushions keep sliding out from under me, escaping their paisley suffocation and flopping to the floor. I have drunken every night of the week. Can I stop now?
Hanging out with the divorce kids- sometimes it's better that way. Alcoholic or adulterer, by jove, don't stay together for the kids. John has a blind girlfriend. There are no jokes here. The youth of America cares little for DUI fines. Every single one- even the godfearing goodies- drinks and drives. Is this bravado, or arrogance?
Davenport is another town in another state with another strip mall. Me and Katie search long for a cinema, but all we find is deadbeat chain stores full of deadmeat and junk food and a boarded up moviehouse long closed. Sophie absconds with a lesbian vegetarian for a "GPS hunt" while we sup our smoothies defeated in the juice bar while the owner croons to some teenage girls, trying out new material. Jason Mraz songs are not new material, and those ladies are underage. Keep it in your pants, boy, no one wants to see what you've got. Time is filled with conversation, comparing lives and cultures. This week I mainly want to teach shorthand.
Bye bye Molene, look at the water. Filthy, dirty, cloudy, muddy, messy, mucky, crystal clear. This is the last crossing of the Mississippi, so we nod to Huck Finn and go. On and on and on we drive, never looking back. We hit toll roads and blast math metal as we hand over our tuppences and thrupenny bits. In our deluded states this is endlessly hilarious. One day none of us will be comedians. The Great Plains spread outwards, grain growing forever to the horizon and back again on either side. Bread basket boring. I long for the mountains and the forest.
There is no wind in Chicago tonight. It would be the same anywhere- computer games and snacks and cable television. What is making this a unique experience? Sometimes this expanding black hole of red numbers seems like an exercise in waste. Not tonight though, tonight is horizontal gossipmongering beauty. Necessary slowdown, handbrake applied, parkup, unload, sleeptight, sweet.