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September 22nd 2011
Published: June 26th 2017
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Geo: 41.8861, -87.6364

Within 20 minutes of driving northeast on I76, it was the furthest east I had ever driven. Kind of a cool feeling. Previously, the furthest east I had ever driven was to Denver International Airport, which is so far outside of Denver it feels like you are in Kansas. Upon a person's first flight in to DIA, there is often a mild panic - "Did I get on the wrong flight? I thought this was Denver? Nestled in the heart of the Rockies!?" That John Denver was full of shit.

When the moon rose above the horizon that night, it was a brilliant orange - a giant luminous pumpkin in the sky. My direction on the highway pointed me right at it, with small variations to avoid farms and corn fields. I drove and drove as the moon grew higher and whiter. I felt like if I drove far enough or fast enough, the highway would end and I would be driving into the dark heavens, rumble over the surface of the moon, and continue - up, up, up - right up over Orion's right ankle, across his belt, catapulting be past Mighty Taurus and Pliades and deep into the universe.

Four hours and a time zone later (3am local time) my weary body was warning me that it needed sleep. A rest stop near Kearney, Nebraska welcomed me in for the night,. Three hours later, I woke to a cold morning and every window in the back of my truck covered in steam. A quick piss and brushing of the teeth and I was on the road again.

Nebraska: sorry, but you're just kind of ugly. Not ugly.... plain. Lacking beauty. So maybe that makes you ugly. Got pulled over in Omaha for "failure to use blinker during lane change." Whatever. I bet those damn Canadians just paid you off. No ticket, thankfully.

Iowa: I was actually impressed. Some lovely country across your plains, rolling hills thick with fields of corn. For someone that grew up in the west, never being around miles and miles of corn fields as far as the eye can see, it is actually something quite beautiful and intriguing. When I mention this to my friends from the midwest their response is something along the lines of, "Oh... yeah... I guess so."

Sunday night was spent driving. I planned to spend four nights in the midwest, visiting friends
along the way, and be in Albany by Friday night. A 2000+ mile jaunt. To an outsider (and perhaps even an insider) the trip must have seemed sketchy: visiting Annie in Minneapolis, Becky in Madison, Jen in Chicago, then all the way to Albany to go to a wedding with a girl I'd just met. Oh, brother.

Minneapolis, Minnesota
Another short nap just over the Minnesota border. On to Minneapolis, where Annie greeted me with a Werther's candy. 889 miles traveled since the night before, 20 hours on the road (~3 sleeping in back), all after just a small nap on a Denver side street. Coffee and a walk around Lake Nokomis. Dinner: homemade pizzas with homemade dough, hand-tossed into discs, baked in a homemade backyard stone-brick oven. Late dinner, not enough coals, had to re-stoke the fire. Drinking wine in the meantime. Dark and slightly tipsy, lost balance on unstable rock. Like a cartoon character whipping back and forth on a high-rise steel beam, I launched from one side to the next, unable to regain balance, reached out for a tree sapling, planted just a few days earlier (I was not aware of this at the time), pulled the tree, roots,
and root ball right out of the ground, finally falling to my ass, defeated, sapling in hand. First thought was the searing pain in my feet. Annie and her aunt were concerned though trying not to laugh. Pretty sure I started to laugh, too. I mean, damn - that must have been hilarious to watch! Tended to the pizzas and realized my flip-flop was sticking to my foot from the oozing blood. Went inside and cleaned up a rather large mess, laughing more and more and apologizing to Annie's aunt for uprooting her poor tree. Three bandaids, a glass of wine, and two homemade pizzas later it was late, my belly full, and sleep came easy on the old futon. Woke up late, Annie already at the kitchen table filling a bowl with grapes for homemade wine. Delicious breakfast scramble. A small "hike" to the Hidden Waterfall, then a stroll and some rock skipping along the headwaters of the Mississippi River - only a trickle compared to its massive size a thousand miles downstream. Afternoon visit to Turtle Bread, a local bakery, for one of the best lattes and best slices of cherry pie I have ever had.

Madison, Wisconsin
A 5-hour
drive ahead of me, I left Minneapolis at 3 to avoid rush hour traffic which put me in to Madison at 8, also avoiding traffic. Went to a local bar near Becky's home to wait for her to finish class. She walked in, head swiveling in search of me, but before she found me I was already darting across the room to bear hug her and thrust her up in the air to the surprise and possible terror of her classmates. "I know him! I know him!" Cheap drinks, free laughter, short walk home, tame night as she pretended to be working on a paper but really just fell asleep. 😊 Next morning spent wandering town and catching up on the travel blog while she was in class. Got a haircut in preparation for the upcoming wedding (don't wanna be looking like I live in my truck or something...) We met for lunch, she decided her afternoon class wasn't all that necessary, convinced her friend otherwise, and we tortured our bodies on french fries, thick beer, and cheese curds. Laundry and naptime followed back at the apartment (yeah, we're crazy). On to the Nitty Gritty - a rather horrible bar redeemed only by offering birthday boys and girls free drinks for the entire night. A helium-filled balloon was tied to the mug of each birthday patron. Looking around the bar amusingly observed pockets of people, each with a balloon in the middle, and very few patrons otherwise non-associated with a birthperson. Was not nearly hungover enough to fully enjoy the greasy gutbomb of a breakfast the following morning, which sat heavy in my gut all the way to Chicago.

Chicago, Illinois
My third visit to the third largest city in the country. One "visit" was only a drive out of O'Hare, however, and the other was spent in the suburbs other than a White Sox game. Frank Thomas was up to bat, batting well under .300 for the season. "Frank ain't doin too good this season, is he?" my friend stated more than asked. "It's ok. He's gonna get a home run this at bat," I predicted. First pitch. Contact. Home run. Well played, sir. Well played.
I met Jen at her lovely third-floor condo just a couple miles from the city center. Excitedly greeted by her two pups, neither of which I had seen for years. We walked down the street to
Big Star for some tacos (sans les chiens). She told me that it was quite the hipster hangout and that with my cowboy boots I would fit in. "You mean hipsters are wearing cowboy boots now?" "Yep." "Damnit. I've been wearing these for years!" Despite my disappointment and newfound hipster likeness, the food was delicious. A short walk up North avenue in hopes to find some comfy yoga-like pants, but all we found were bright metallic pink skin tight and rainbow striped ones. Oh well. Loaded the dogs and made a trip to the sandy beach of Lake Michigan - surprisingly much cleaner than I was expecting. It looked like an ocean. Back to the condo. Fantastic conversation about energy and human design and theories and ideas that just seem crazy but manifest themselves in everyday life. My friend's fiance got home, stuck a pbr up a chicken and set it on the grill, to be complimented with steamed veggies for dinner. Though I needed to get on the road that night and wanted to sleep at some point, the opportunity for an open mic hosted by one of Jen's friends won out. We split shortly after dinner and had a grueling hunt for a parking space at the delightful neighborhood bar. The list was packed, all but spot 1. Nobody ever wants to be number one. I gladly volunteered. She opened with a few songs and a voice that could woo the Statue of Liberty to life. "Next up, we have Brett from out of town." Hi. I'm Brett from out of town. Here are some songs. When I was done Jen told me, "When you relax your throat and hit those high notes it's somethin else." We stayed for a few more acts, all unique and entertaining as we sang along to the songs we knew. Midnight back at the condo. I still had some energy and decided to go ahead and start the drive east immediately.

Solid farewell hug after an eventful 12 hours. Another goodbye. But another friendship rekindled. Time well spent. Time well enjoyed. Life lived.

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7th October 2011


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