There are few impediments on the Plains, little to catch at the eye but fracking camps and simple vastness. I know, spoken like a coastal Hobbit, But I liked how my mind and heart expanded in that void, how the train stretched its legs on the long continental straightaway, how our speech slowed. Conversations in the dining car drifted into the surreal, with one lady attributing climate change to increase in temperature of the earth’s core, and another passenger very confidently opining that the Kennedy assassination was faked. It is possible that, whatever their contributions to Zen-like calm, the Plains make people crazy.
But then hills, greenery, and malls returned, the stops became more frequent, and it felt as though we were shouldering into a high-pressure zone of urban jitters. This culminated in Chicago, a place whose brutal urbanity can be summed up with the fact that they reversed the direction of flow of their river to suit infrastructural convenience. We rented a car, and rattled around in the city core for a while, dodging cars and pedestrians – neither of whom appeared to be making any concessions to right of way, common sense, or simple charity – and were eventually disgorged into the sludge of Friday evening rush hour traffic, bound back roughly the way we had come, decompressing again, only faster, with massive freeways shrinking to merely huge ones, and so on until by nightfall we were winding along on an unlit two-lane, with minimal sight lines and bad cambers. It was wonderful, in a bone-weary-escape-from-psychosis sort of way. The idea was that we were going to a sweet spot between the frontal-lobe-frequency-jamming prairie and the adrenal neurosis of the city.
We fetched up in Galena, a place so filled with Victorian and pre-Victorian architecture that it makes Port Townsend look like a trailer park. It cascades down steep hills on either side of the Galena River, which feeds into the nearby Mississippi. It is completely infested with tourists like us at the moment – though most visitors appear to be here for Oktoberfest and/or leaf-viewing, and we are here to visit old friends, so we can claim to be visitors instead of the T-word.
We are in a not-awful motel, and plan to more or less remain here unless our friends pry us out to gaze at old churches or something equally stultifying/edifying.
On the Plains
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