Changing gears

Sitting in the room at the Chief Motel in McCook, Nebraska. I can hear everyone outside as it’s essentially a motor inn with pool that was covered over later with a giant metal roof. So everywhere you go, it smells like pool, you can hear people splashing about from the room, and if you peer over the balcony rail, you’ll see carpet adorned with patio furniture. Mini Truman Showvibes, if Truman’s entire reality was a cheaply updated midwest motel. And the soundtrack is 1940s era crooning. Or at least that’s what it sounds like from inside this room.

We’ve been going mostly straight ahead, barreling through the midwest, since Saturday. It’s now Wednesday, July 13, and the midwest will soon be to our east. Tomorrow we head to Colorado Springs – twisty mountain roads, trees, and most of all, a bit of rest. Staying in Colorado Springs until Sunday morning. With, of course, some riding in between, including a jaunt up Pike’s Peak. Which is more than a jaunt for most. I will likely take the cog train up instead, and take that time to shoot some 35 mm film, relax, take in the views (my first time in Colorado, weirdly), and not be in crazy stress mode while trying to ascent a 14K foot high mountain. Looking forward to that.

Today was an easy day, for the most part. We’ve covered quite a bit of ground, albeit the flat stuff. But flat doesn’t mean easy, necessarily– we skirted a large rainstorm this morning, the wind howling around us. I was getting pushed into the other lane on the highway until I figured out how to angle my body, riding like an Egyptian wall relief, my shoulders stacked one behind the other.

We stopped in Hastings for lunch. Turns out Kool-Aid was invented there. Unclear if Kool-Aid Man was invented there. Something tells me that happened later. The topography began to change as we passed through towns with names like Friend and Funk (yes, real towns in Nebraska). Little hints of the desert, evergreens here and there, tweaks in the landscape. I was reminded of my time in Kansas a few years back, during an artist residency in Salina. Found a book about the massive sea that once sat atop the earth there, leaving behind an abundance of fossils preserved in deep layers of limestone and chalk. Assuming Nebraska is the same, if you were to fly over this landscape you would see how the hills were actually shaped by wave movements. Undulations eons before. 

To keep my brain busy on these long stretches of lonely roads, I’ve ticked through my invisible song catalog, singing at the top of my lungs as we hurtle down the highway. Keep finding my way back to Captain Beefheart and Beck, which is no surprise really, as we are locked and loaded on their zone. What do I mean by that? Don Van Vliet and Beck Hansen were/are true American weirdos. Their music encapsulates the American West – all it was and all it is. Roadside kitch, lawlessness, cultural mish-mash, hicksville. A jalopy bouncing down a dusty street at sunset, pulling over to take a bong rip. That’s what it’s like. We passed tattered, faded, falling-down hand-painted billboards for a place called Pioneer Village. We didn’t stop, to my chagrin, because it essentially looked like the fictitious downtrodden Civilwarland in the namesake George Saunders novel. Ah, next time. Nevada will be even more hardcore Van Vliet / Hansen psychedelic, what with the ghost towns and legalized vice and all. Carson City, here we come.