I told someone the other day that the most boring drive of my life was from Chicago to Kansas City. I’ve done some pretty boring drives: I16 from Macon to I95 (fuck you, Kite, GA!), LA to San Francisco (or thereabouts), any US road with three (3) or more CVSs, I40 through Oklahoma and the hat of Texas (is that what the square dingleberry that holds Amarillo is called?). Hell, even the drive from Kansas City to High Hill (preceded by Manhattan, KS to Kansas City and followed by the nine hundred miles to Richmond and my first viewing of The Matrix at Chip, Steve, and Billy’s place in The Fan) was more exciting than the drive that contained its inverse from High Hill to Kansas City. This shitty, flat, and radio-silent drive began at Swim Cafe.
John Hughes had died a that week. A cartoon of his boyish, bemulletted visage was flattened into the Chicago weekly stacked by the entrance. Overgrown youths lined the walls and street, facing inward. Each posed behind a silver laptop with white apple like the partition in front of a psychologist administering a standardized test. They judged all, though I felt, had I the saccharine yet satiric eye of Mr. Hughes, I might contextualize them in my life in such a way as to forgive the tragic necessity of their disdainful glares. Fibber, who had hauled me here to say goodbye, said they were all unemployed. Hardworking guys removed the big Odwalla or Naked juice coolers in a labor that outsized the place both in physical presence and appearance of actual effort. Two aggressively unemployed women with an enormous all-terrain stroller blocked the door. The hardworkers moved their coolers back, thanklessly helped the women hoist the absurd stroller into the shop and went on their way. Those loafers who’d looked up were already glazed back into their computer screens by the time the men left.
I had spent about eight waking hours in Chicago. Compared to the twelve or more I had and would spend in the car getting there it hardly seemed worth it. Perhaps the couple of coffeeshops I could add to my oeuvre gave me some satisfaction at the time. But four or five years later I hardly remember that part of the trip. All I can remember, though a blurry smear, is that awful drive back to Kansas City.
People not from Kansas who scoff and ask how someone could live somewhere so flat, as if that is the biggest strike against it, would do well to visit southern Illinois. I kept my eyes open for places to stop. I’d found the future birthplace of James Tiberius Kirk in Iowa on my way to Chicago. Nothing cropped out of the landscape. I searched the radio but was stranded between NPR affiliates. The classic rock station was more hair metal than Pink Floyd. I caught a snippet of ‘My Sweet Lord’ before it disintegrated into another station of whatever pop was pop in 2009. I listened to many Christian talk programs and Sports talk programs and tried to articulate to myself why I found them to be so similar. I theorized it had to do with how much meaning was ascribed to so little, how much they seemed to struggle to make a point seem contextually significant only to find equal importance in the next insignificant point, and how little it interested me. Though now having traversed the country a few more times fueled by newly veganized Skittles, I ate nothing on the drive. I took a bypass around Saint Louis and missed a glimpse of the monument to westward expansion, though as I crossed the Mississip’ a decent literary talkshow came on the radio and poetry was read aloud. I listened intently. I was taken by how much meaning was ascribed to so little, how much they seemed able to make a point seem contextually significant only to find equal importance in the next insignificant point, and how greatly it interested me. The high point of the trip, which I had been waiting for for seven hours, and unfortunately slipped past in darkness, was my fly-by of the moldering interstate motel in High Hill where I’d bivouacked nine years earlier in a room full of houseflies. It looked the same, alluring, wretched. My eyes went bleary in the night. Headlights grow brighter each year. Nobody cares. Missouri went by.
The motel I finally crashed in was moist. I cranked the air conditioner and moved an oddly large couch in front of the adjoining room door. At the Kansas City airport in the morning I finished Sam Shepard’s Motel Chronicles. I reflected on how much more interesting his experiences were than my own. Idiots put out their cigarettes on the sidewalk next to me and I moved from place to place for a few minutes at a time until my flight left.
Swim CafeSwim Cafe
1357 W Chicago Ave
Chicago, Illinois 60642
wifi: free access