Cleveland is old hat to me. Growing up in Chicago, my family took an annual summer vacation in Massachusetts. We had a Ford station wagon, a white Country Squire with fake wood trim and a red upholstery interior. I would sit in the "way back," a couple fold-up seats in the back of the squire near the hatch. My brother probably sat back there with me as well. Ohio was a big state that we would always pass through on our way out east. We would stay in Rochester or Buffalo, NY. Every time we neared those towns my dad could not resist mispronouncing their names: rock-hester, boo-fallow. And whenever we crossed a state line, we would roll down the windows to smell the air. I would insist that I could smell the difference between Pennsylvania and New York state. I couldn't explain how they smelled differently from one another. It was something I knew in my gut. No two states smell alike. Even air has a funny way of respecting arbitrary lines on a map.
My next stop will be Chicago. Home. My brother is turning 40 on September 15th, and I will attend his birthday party before resuming my journey out west. How could I miss it? I just called my mom to find out if he and I ever fought in the car on our journeys back and forth from Chicago to Massachusetts, but apparently we never did. We played the license plate game and behaved ourselves. There was, however, an incident at a rest stop in Ohio. Someone had switched the signs on the bathroom doors: me and my brother went into the women's room while my mom and sister went into the men's room and freaked out. I remember another incident at a rest stop in Ohio, but it's too embarrassing to tell. I was only a wee boy.
St. Louis is a town that I don't have too many associations with. One time I visited my friend there. We were both in college. It was winter, but not winter break. I attended Indiana University, and Andy attended Wash U. I was impressed by his very intellectual group of friends, such as I had not managed to assemble at my humble state school, but I was not impressed by their obsession with boring "math rock." I remember going to a bar one night that was sponsored by Camel cigarettes. Attractive young women would give you all the free packs of Camels that you could ever want. How shady. Me and Andy almost died that weekend when, on a trip across the state line into East St. Louis, my car hit a patch of ice on the right-hand shoulder and spun out across three lanes of interstate highway. We almost hit the concrete center wall. The cars behind us did their best not to ram into us. This was by the exit for Scott Joplin's house. The incident was harrowing. Andy, who was a bit of a hypochondriac back then, immediately came down with a head cold. I may or may not stop in St. Louis. I may want to make it to Memphis that night. The important thing is that once I reach St. Louis I will get off the interstate and take the smaller (and slower) state and federal highways. My plan is to follow the Mississippi river down to the delta.
Memphis. I passed through there last year on the X-Country Road and Farm Adventure. I was on interstate 40 when I missed my exit and got routed down toward Mississippi. The result was that I spent about an hour on the streets of Memphis, trying to find my way back to the interstate. I was impressed by those streets, by how slowly some of the residents walked across the road, oblivious to the traffic. One man seemed to be riding his bicycle rather drunkenly. I really wanted to stop and have a look around—the culture seemed so cool and easy—and this time I will. And you can help me pay for my room! If you are reading this via Google reader or some other reader, the following will make no sense. Please visit the actual blog. Take a gander at the top right-hand corner of the blog. You will see a very clickable 6. Above that you will see a drop-down menu. To help make The 6 Motels Western Adventure possible, you can choose to donate a "FULL ROOM," a half room, a third room, a quarter room, and, for the poets out there, a sixth room. Prices are based on the average price of a room ($39.95) at a crummy Motel 6, my favorite cheap motel chain. Other options are fractions of $39.95.
Baton Rouge! I've never been there and I have zero associations with that town. I only know that my friend Ben Kopel hails from there and that the name literally means Red Stick. Sounds a little dirty to me. Did they paint the stick red? Or did the mud do it? Is there even mud in Baton Rouge? Are there shrimp? I want some shrimp! What on earth will I do in Baton Rouge? How will I pay for the room? Oh god, the room! Dear lord, please make it scummy and surrounded by dubious neighbors on drugs. Please let the room have a curious funk, as Motel 6 rooms often do, and please let it be edgy enough so that I feel just a tad unsafe. I don't feel comfortable in nice hotels. I'm serious. I like them to be a little gross. I can afford gross. You can probably afford gross, too. The beauty of gross is that everyone can afford it. Perhaps I shall associate with some sordid types. What I love about traveling without much money is that you meet other people without much money. Can you imagine me at the Ritz Carlton? I would cop an attitude bigger than Texas.
San-fucking-Antonio! This is the part of the journey that makes me salivate in advance. Big wild Texas. Home to Bush. Land of Texas Rangers. Oil derricks. Paris, Texas. Stock and trade cliches of Hollywood cinema. Waco! And home to Jandek, the uber experimental, reclusive, and impossibly avant garde musician. Also home to Bill Shute of Kendra Steiner Editions, the coolest low-fi chapbook press in the West. I am really looking forward to linking up with Bill and getting some tacos, but that could be just because I want a taco RIGHT NOW. Gimme a taco, dear lord, gimme a taco. Send one down through the firmament and place it in the mouth that you have blessed me with. I can multi-task. I can chomp and write simultaneously. I can chomp, write, and ask for donations. Don't you want to donate to The 6 Motels Western Adventure? I know that Obama is probably pounding your inbox, like he is mine, and asking for daily contributions to block Romney's path to the White House, and that's a noble cause, but The 6 Motels Western Adventure is FUN, and you can make it MORE FUN by clicking the 6.
"Pass the Old El Paso," the salsa commercial from the 90s said, but I say "screw that." I say, "click the 6." El Paso will be the last stop on my journey to the Crawford farm in New Mexico, and it is El Paso that I am most excited about. It's so close to Mexico! But alas, I forgot to renew my passport, so I will not be taking a day trip into Ciudad Jaurez. Oh, how I wish I could! Instead, will peer over the border, longingly and with a giant spiritual hard-on. I have worked in so many kitchens with so many great Mexican guys, all of whom took major chances to cross the border into this country and for whom I have so much respect and admiration, and I wish that I could just step foot into Mexico, just put one foot on official Mexican soil, but this time I will have to satisfy myself with looking at a border fence and sniffing the air, trying to get a whiff of our huge neighbor to the south, trying to understand the border between this country and that country. Okay. The sun has burned off the morning fog; the air is drying up; and this post is finished. Almost. I have one more thing to say: Please help me make The 6 Motels Western Adventure possible by clicking the 6 and spreading the word. In exchange, I will do the best possible blog writing that I can. I promise. You all made it happen last year, and I would love it if you made it happen again this year. Thank you so much. Jono