Alice Munro and Marilynne Robinson at 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center in 1983 (credit: Thomas Victor)
This is how I feel.
Ronnie Spector/Joey Ramone/Johnny Thunders for life.
The night before the badlands we stopped at a gas station in a town east of Billings (I can’t remember the name). Liz had been driving and nearly had to slap herself to stay awake. It was 12:30am. When we stopped she went into the bathroom to wash her face, brush her teeth, piss, et al. I asked two women smoking cigarettes outside if there was any nearby place to camp for free. One said not unless we drove for another hour and a half. The other said if we followed some twisted mountain road for 45 minutes there was a spot. The first woman said she heard that “the locals” like drive down a road, turn onto a gravel road, drive down the road for bit, park on the side of the road, and camp in a field there, or something. So when Liz came out from the gas station we opted to go to the campsite across the street. It was the sort of place you pay $23.73 at 12:30am to set up a tent in between some RVs.
Of course the office was closed, but I still rang the doorbell and stood there for at least one minute before getting back in the car. Lights turned on in the office, I got back out and went inside. The door to the office was somehow open and the lights were on, but no one was inside except for five cats and, like, one million mosquitoes. I said, “Hello” a number of time. I stood there swatting at mosquitoes and itching where they bit me. After at least one and one half minutes a woman looking like a chubby Stevie Nicks stormed out of the backroom.
Stevie Nicks said, “Did you ring the doorbell?”
I said, “Yeah.”
Stevie Nicks said, “Are you driving a truck?”
I said, “No”
Stevie Nicks said, “Okay, stay right here. I’m going to have someone arrested,” and ran out the front door.
I texted Liz and said, “This is nuts.”
Liz said, “Yeah it is.”
I guess Stevie asked Liz if she saw a truck drive out of the parking lot.
Liz said, “No.”
When Stevie Nicks came back in she told me people had been sneaking showers at the campsite. She referred to Liz as my wife and couldn’t believe neither of us had seen the truck. I got four mosquito bites. We set up our tent and went to sleep. We were tired.
The day we drove through the badlands we woke up and ate some bananas. I took a huge shit. It took so long that by the time I’d finished Liz thought I’d decided to take a shower and dismantled the tent, put it away and was waiting to go. We sorted it out so that we could spend the next night in Ames, Iowa with Liz’s cousin. She drove to Gillette, Wyoming. We took a pic there cuz that’s where Mina grew up. We at spinach, feta wraps from Starbucks. Gillette, Wyoming is a shit hole. All of Wyoming was a shit hole. As soon as we go to South Dakota the scenery improved. There were signs for Wall Drug just like everyone said there would be, but at a certain point we got to a junction. If we turned left we could go to Wall Drug and if we turned right we could take the scenic loop through the badlands, so of course we went right and missed Wall Drug, which I guess is fine because Liz was annoyed by all their signs and said she’d never go there just on principle. Just before getting to The Badlands State Park, or whatever, it started pouring rain. Like, the road was flooding, trucks were splashing me, or hydro-planing me, or whatever. The windshield wipers could not work fast enough and I could not see anything and I was fairly stressed about it, but played it cool cuz I’m a man and was with a woman. Once we actually entered the park the rain stopped, the sun came out just as it was getting ready to set, and I turned the Badlands soundtrack on my ipod. We stopped at the first turn off (see the photo of me). There was a guy there with his camera on a tripod taking time lapse photos, or whatever. We walked out and I was pretty floored at the beauty of it and pretty stoked simply by being there. I think my level of stoked almost comes out in the photo. There’s no hiding my feelings. In my mind South Dakota and the badlands are some mythical place that I have idealized for years and years and have always wanted to go to. When I finally did I was not the least bit disappointed. At the second place we stopped (see photo of Liz) I started to get teary-eyed, but played it cool because I’m a man and was with a woman.
We drove through the park slowly. Talked about wanting to stay. About quitting grad school before it started and working in the National Park instead. About biking through the park. About other things too. We stopped at a gift shop and bought a few postcards.
Liz took over driving. We stopped at some town and ate taco salads at the grossest diner. It wasn’t worth it. Liz drove the rest of South Dakota. I drove through Minnesota. There were times I was much too tired to be driving. If something had been in the road, if something unexpected or sudden had happened I would not have been able to react in time and we would have been fucked. At Iowa Liz took over. She’s unstoppable. We drove something like 1,100 miles that day. We rolled up to her cousins house at 5am. He had to go to work at 8am. His partner had to go to work at 6am. We never saw or heard either of them. We slept til noon and took showers (separate). We made eggs (separate). We went to a coop and got snacks (together). We headed out.
My plan was to drive that whole day, the rest of the way to Bloomington because I wanted to give Liz a break. She had to drive back the next day. I underestimated how long of a drive that was. We stopped at a rest area in Illinois. The bathrooms were indoors. There were swings and wooden platforms on springs to play on. There was plenty of grass to walk dogs on, trees to picnic under and vending machines to get soda from. Liz took a funny pic of me on a wooden platform with springs under it. I look like I am entirely made of torso. Maybe someday you’ll see the photo.
We got to Bloomington around 12am. We had to drive down a foggy, winding road for about an hour. Sometimes there were no lines painted on the road. Sometimes it was difficult to tell where I supposed to be driving. Liz decided that Halloween must be, like, super scary fun out here and I don’t think she was wrong.
My roommate let us in my new house. She gave me a hug. She told me that maybe I should bring my bike inside the house instead of leave it on the back of Liz’s car over night, even though she thinks our neighborhood is safe. She helped us pull out the futon and went to bed. Liz took some music off my ipod and we went to sleep. The next morning my roommate left a kind note. In it she told us about a diner around the corner named Wee Willy’s. We ate there. My breakfast combined with Liz’s breakfast cost $12.39, so I bought Liz breakfast. We walked back to my house, hugged, said goodbye and she was off, which bummed me out. Of course I played it cool cuz I’m a man and was with a woman. I to campus. I walked around campus. I road my bike to a coop and bought some bananas and some carrots. I met up and walked around with Mitch. I started living in Bloomington or something, I guess.
This was the second time Liz drove me across the country to move to a town where I didn’t know anyone. Both times were precious because friends and the time you spend with them is precious. Seriously though, we’re so good at being friends. You don’t even know, breh.
Gilles Peress, Donna Tartt, New York City, 1993.
Icelandic novelist and Nobel Laureate Halldór Laxness was born in Reykjavík, Iceland on this day in 1902.
“Whoever doesn’t live in poetry cannot survive here on earth.”
― Halldór Laxness, Under the Glacier