Driving To Chicago
You forget how flat and wide open it is. After coming home in two or three week segments for five years. After living in the shadows of mountains browned by sunlight and under the tall buildings. You get used to having something cut off your horizon. Here there's nothing but clouds and clumps of forest that bunch on the horizon. The tops of immature corn over green stalks. A line of bleached fencing. A splintered barn with the roof caved in. A corrugated steel greenhouse. An old cherry-red tractor. Wildfloers lining the A-2.
NILES SOUTH BEND EXIT 30. AMTRACK BLUE WATER SERVICE KALAMAZOO TO CHICAGO. KOEGEL'S VIENNA FRANKFURTERS
And so my head's propped up against the window and I'm watching the yellow lines tick by. I'm listening to Sufjan Steven's Michigan and feeling queasy from the painkillers and scrubbed raw and early with shower water, in a van on the way to Chicago. We take the exit to Benton Harbor and I remember hearing about the riots. I was in California at the time.
BLUE CHIP CASINO: "REEL" COMFORT! COME CELEBRATE CHRIST WITH US! FIRST ASSEMBLY OF GOD. DAYS INN EMPIRE BUFFET. BURGER KING EXIT 29 BURGER KING EXIT 28 BURGER KING EXIT 27 BURGER KING EXIT 23.
I'm listening to Sufjan Steven's Michigan and feeling - not like a tourist, exactly. But like I've been gone quite a while. The town's changed since I was last here for more than a few days. A year ago, now. Downtown is brightly lit and hopping. There's a music club called Lemoncello's where the high school kids hang out now. Knots of people on the summer night streets at night. It wasn't like this when I was growing up here. I feel vaguely like I'm missing out.
RED ARROW HWY STEVENSVILLE. SMOKE SHOP: DISCOUNT CIGARETTES PREMIUM CIGARS. ROAD WORK AHEAD ROAD WORK AHEAD ROAD WORK AHEAD RAMP NARROWS. JOHN BEERS RD EXIT 22
I'm here listening to another former native since removed to the East Coast, singing a song named after my hometown over fingerpicked guitar and a few single piano notes carried with a sustain peddle and breathy backing vocals. He sounds tired, and a little sad. He knows home never leaves you. He knows that once you go you can never really come back and have it be the same.
LA PORTE COUNTY: REJUVINATE. ELKHART RV OUTFIT. KRAZY KAPLAN'S FIREWORKS. REDAMARKS BUFFALO WINGS. LIQUOR AT DISCOUNT PRICES. GET THE US OUT OF THE UNITED NATIONS. RISING SUN GENTLEMEN'S CLUB.
In the meantime, I'm here, where you can see the storm fronts two miles away, see the fat raindrops and the blue-black of low clouds before you're in it, before the sun's snuffed out. It's a short visit. It's home. There's a handpainted set of signs next to a patch of orchard: Cold Pop. Handpicked Apples. Fresh Pie. Next Right.