Monday, October 3, 2011

X-ing Borders: Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana

The full title of this post should be: "Crossing Borders: Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and the Spirit" because some thrill or high tone on the emotional register always accompanies a border crossing.  You pass out of Kansas and into Missouri, and your spirit lifts.  You might hate Missouri and love Kansas, or love Missouri and hate Kansas—it doesn't matter which way around it goes; some dip or elevation of the spirit always comes with a border crossing.  Borders are both imperceptible and perceptible lines; sometimes the terrain on one side of the line varies so little from the terrain on the other side, and yet there it is, that tiny lift or alteration of spirit.  When you're traveling X-country on the interstate, bound for a distant point, crossing a state line may only lift your spirit because you know you're that much closer to home.  So borders become these real and simultaneously artificial phenomena at once.  There isn't space enough in one blog post to delve into state politics and the and the funky old ways in which this country was divided, mostly, into neat rectangles (we're not cartographers here), but there is time for one quick observation: if you're passing from a conservative state to a, well, less conservative state, you can be sure that all the vice that new state has to offer will be piled up along the interstate within the first twenty miles of the border.  XXX superstores, discount cigarette outlets, and fireworks are what you find on I-70 when you cross from Kansas into Missouri.  

Rivers and mountains are another kind of border, and sometimes those borders lie within state lines.  I'm not sure which river I was crossing when I took one hand off the wheel to photograph (several times) this bridge.  Needless to say, I found my way across it.  Missouri was a breath of fresh air after Kansas.  I didn't stop at any of the roadside, 24 hour titty bars, and I didn't pull off the interstate to purchase one single firework, but I did stop for cheap gas and contraband cigarettes.  I figured I could deliver some cheap smokes to my friends back in New England and still find room to make a buck.  Making a buck is what interstate commerce is all about.  Yesterday I passed a semi truck laden with bags of white onions somewhere in the middle of Kansas.  I stopped in Topeka and found my bed.  Then, today, sure as hell, I passed the same truck.  There might be a lot of oil tankers on Interstate 70, but I assure you that it's not everyday that you see a truck loaded with hundreds of 200 lb. sacks of onions strapped to the bed, barreling his way to parts Eastern unknown.  Me and that trucker are on the same route, and there's no doubt about that.

Still, though, for as much as I've talked about crossing borders, crossing state lines, I haven't talked about what happens when you cross the border from a place that is nothing more than a state on the map in your head and into the place where you have lived a long life, wept, loved, drank, celebrated, felt pain and felt pain disappear.  When I crossed from Illinois into Indiana, when I crossed the Wabash, the usual flicker of the heart that comes with any border crossing became something much larger and more difficult to comprehend.  It became something profound, something grand.  I spent the best part of my twenties in southern Indiana, and the moment I saw that "Welcome to Indiana" sign, well, I turned up the radio as loud as I could, partially to drown out the Indiana ghosts that crowd my brain, and partially to celebrate them.  It didn't hurt that I was nearing the end of my travel day (a 3rd wind always accompanies that last stretch of driving, no matter what you feel about a state), but still, crossing from Illinois into Indiana was the most monumental border crossing of this X-Country Road and Farm Adventure.  I wasn't merely crossing a state line.  I was crossing into memory, and I didn't know how I'd feel about visiting some old haunts.

Turns out I felt f***king great about it.  It did spook me to cross into Indiana, the state where my heart got kicked around, but something about the road and the momentum carried me through those borderline ghosts.  I lost a lot of love in southern Indiana, had my heart and faith in the decency and goodness of life trampled there, and so upon returning I expected my speedometer to drop to 55 miles an hour and my heart to drop to ten.  I was wrong.  That peculiar mix of elation and sadness drove me through.  I pushed hard up Indiana 37, peeing on the roadside and keeping the radio loud.  It was move move move.  Get there get there get there.  I was crossing from a place of relative ease, of happiness and well being in life, and into a place where life was happy and joyful, but also difficult and painful.  This was the big border crossing of the journey.  It wasn't that I didn't know what the state on the other side of the state line would be like; it was that I didn't know how my heart would respond to my memories.  I pulled off the highway and onto South Walnut, Bloomington.  The same old businesses were piled up along the road.  Not much had changed but me.  I'd changed.  I'd expected the town to be full of old ghosts, but instead I found it to be full of old friends.  I'm in a hotel room now, on the north side of Bloomington, enjoying the free beers my old chef/boss/mentor gave me when I popped into his restaurant, just before close, on the way up to this hotel.  He took me into the kitchen.  We chatted about fermentation and french fries.  I actually had a thing or two to teach him about french fries.  Times change from 25 to 35.  Age is another kind of border.  He told me to come back tomorrow, to see if the restaurant had gotten better or worse since I'd worked there.  I told him that you only get better if you don't stop caring.  Clearly, by his enthusiasm, he hadn't stopped caring about food, and nor have I.  We have both gotten better.  He is still in the kitchen, and I have come from the farm.   

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I still say Kansas is a whole different world, seperate from it's brother Missouri. I could be wrong, but I doubt it. A strange thing, from skateboarding around the downtown, which is divided up into two pieces by the two states but of course, is that one side is like all these coffee warehouses and factories and stuff and the other isn't. I forgot which was which. As you can imagine the side to the city that reeked of coffee grounds and looked of old brick buildings wasn't where the good skate spots were. i worked at two pizza places in Kansas, MInskys. Still the best pizza I've had to this day.... Famous for barbecue or something as such, that part of the country but I never got into it much. Burnt ends. I'll stick with chicken wraps from California....