I don’t know that the Midwest has more murderers than other places, but it certainly felt like perhaps it did. Statistically that doesn’t bare out, but judging strictly by roadside bathrooms and ooky abandoned farm houses I think there must be a lot of murdering going on in those parts.
A few months ago, Max and I decided to drive from Salt Lake City to Washington D.C. instead of flying. America! We kept saying to each other when we thought about it. America! We spread it over 5 days to visit friends and take in the sites (i.e. “Foamhenge” in southern Virginia where a true-to-scale-and-shape model of Stonehenge has been built out of Styrofoam) and only almost resorted to reciprocal eye-gouging twice.
We sailed through Eastern Utah and on to Denver, the mountain air rifling through the back seats of our car, windows down to breath it all in. But once past Denver things flatten out in Eastern Colorado and continue much the same through Nebraska. We stopped in Roggen, Colorado for gas and I think Max was thoroughly startled when I emerged from the motel turned gas station with a 2 gallon jug of water under my arm signaling frantically for him to start the engine and get a move on. Now that I think about it, he probably thought I’d robbed the depressing gas station of not only the oversized water bottle, but the circa 1979 fake oil paintings wrapped in gaudy wooden frames or extra small snowflake sweaters displayed inside. Though tempting, I did not. I am not easily spooked, but this place gave me the hibbity jibbities. The east side of the station might once have served food, but the equipment, outdated by about 20 years, was covered in dust or outright rusted over. The walls were lined with nic nacks better suited for a salvation army; dusty GI Joes, old jack in the boxes, a collection of holiday sweaters, ancient travel games in bulky boxes, but all had neon yellow price stickers and most came in their original packaging. Two tuffs from the actual motel next door (the second of two buildings for miles) guarded the door in a peculiar way, as if keeping the Asian couple who owned the place inside against their will.
The man asked me in broken English when I bristled past the tattooed gatekeepers.
“Yeah…” I said wearily, eyeing the place.
“It’s very nice. How much it cost?”
“Oh,…I don’t know.” The one eyed dolly perched on the counter, glowering out from an old but resealed package, convinced me to play things a little close to the vest. He probably just wanted to get one of his own and drive away from this place of horror and I should have stayed to talk interest rates with him.
The real purpose of my visit was not the barrel of water I came out with, but to use the bathroom. I waited outside the locked bathroom door for 10 minutes before convincing the store owner that no one was actually inside, all the while conjuring up scenes in my mind of a drug deal gone wrong and that a dead body would roll out from behind the door and onto my feet when we opened it. Or maybe someone had gone in there to give birth to a baby they would then abandon like that movie. We want to adopt, but I don’t know if haunted gas station baby is the way to go. When we got it opened there was no body or abandoned baby or drug paraphernalia, just sagging pink wall paper, daisy chain printed from floor to ceiling and stripped mostly away, rust rimmed toilet bowls inside stalls with no doors and at least 7 “Water not potable” signs plastering the walls and mirror. This is where you come to die, I thought. I locked the door not for fear that someone would intrude and cause a bit of embarrassment, but for fear that someone would intrude and mistake me for the woman they had come to murder and cause a bit of death.
But the “Middle Places” weren’t all one-eyed dolls and haunted old coke machines. In Nebraska we ate divine fried chicken – you fry it in a pressure cooker! – and learned many, but not all of the names of our server’s dogs. Jasmine, Sassy, Lady, Toby – he’s almost as big as Jasmine if you can believe it – Hammy, MiMi. We also let the sass of Nashville seep into our pores and bemoaned our lack of cowboy boots and cut off daisy dukes (I’ll let you decide who bemoaned which). We stood beneath the Arch of St. Louis and ate BBQ from Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City. BBQ will never be the same. In fact, I might just never eat it again so as not to torture myself. And although not on this road trip but on a weekend layover when we first arrived, we had killer hot dogs in Chicago and walked the city with the wee dog ‘til we dropped.
So yes, America!