Bloomington, Illinois — There is a field of root vegetables next to the Fairfield Inn where Owen and I are staying tonight. I don’t know what kind they are and it seemed less than wise to pull one and find out. I’m in a new country and a main road runs by the field.
There is a baseball tournament in town and the hotels are full up. Owen and I tried the Holiday Inn first but no luck. The desk clerk there phoned the Fairfield across the street. They had a suite and we took it. Pricey but beats sleeping in the truck.
Beyond the north edge of town there is a wind farm, the first we’ve seen since Oklahoma. The southern parts of Illinois are mile after mile of corn and soybean fields. Then comes Springfield, which is a little undulaty and treed, then more miles upon miles of corn and soybeans. And the mysterious root vegetables.
Missouri’s Ozarks were under overcast skies this morning, the clouds so low that at times they were fog and at times they were drizzle on the Penske’s windshield. The roads there and in Illinois were fine as they always have been, even the portions where work is being done and the lanes restricted. I was a little boy when the interstate highway system was being built. Though we now take it for granted, it remains a wonder of its age.
The Illinois state police were active along the interstate this afternoon. In a short space of road they had pulled several cars over. All but one looked to be routine traffic stops. The one exception was where two police cars, one from the state police and the other from some other agency, had pulled over an SUV and had the people out of it and the doors opened while the vehicle was searched. The motorists were black and the police were white. As we sped past I said, “Busted for DWB,” and Owen said, “Yep.”
Chicago tomorrow. We expect to reach the city late in the morning.
Springfield, Missouri — It’s just after 5:00 a.m. I’ve been awake since before 4:00. I lay in bed for over an hour, hoping I might get back to sleep, not believing it was likely I would get back to sleep, knowing I need as much rest as possible before today’s long drive through the Ozarks down to St. Louis, across the Mississippi, then up the Illinois shield to Bloomington. I lay in bed in the dark of this Holiday Inn room, listening to Owen snore, watching the light on the smoke detector, thinking a thousand thoughts.
It’s not what might go wrong on the road that I think about. No, that’s not quite it. I do think about that, but I’m not terribly worried. Everything Susan and I own is in the back of the Penske rental. One may say, “It’s just stuff,” and it is, but stuff is always more than just stuff. It’s the physical evidence of the years of one’s life, one’s labor and dreams. One doesn’t want it to be lost or destroyed, but the news is awash in stories of people who lose everything to fire, flood, storm and war. Odd the ways we entertain ourselves. One gets used to footage of the survivors testifying as to how “it’s just stuff–we survived, and we have each other, and we can rebuild.”
It’s just stuff. It’s not what I’m worried about. The roads are good–interstate all the way up to Lakeshore Drive–and I’m an experienced driver, though this is only the second time I’ve driven a truck as big as the bright yellow Penske land-caravel. The first was a lifetime ago, when I was living with my parents in Arkansas for a short time and they decided to move to Colorado and asked me if I wanted to come along. I did, and so I did. But that’s another story. Its relevance here is that it showed me that one can be a middle-aged American and load up all one’s worldlies on a big rental truck and cross the continent to make a new life when all one has is a little bit of savings and a lot of determination.
Not to get all rah-rah, here. This is not a pep talk, not even for myself. The drive is work and is tiring, but harder work was getting packed and loaded, and harder work will be getting unloaded. Due to necessary vagaries of scheduling and planning, Owen and I are due in Rogers Park, Chicago, at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow. We are to get the keys to the new home Susan has secured for her and me–an apartment on N. Eastlake Terrace–and we are to pull the truck into an alley. My nephew, Eric, is to meet us there and help us unload, which must be done before the end of day, then I must find a place to park the Penske for the night. The following morning–Friday, August 2nd–it is to be returned by 9:00 to a place just across the Chicago River. Susan, who is flying in on Thursday with our two remaining cats and getting a rental car at the airport, is to pick me and Owen up at the truck rental return place and bring us back to Rogers Park. I am to get ready for a job interview Friday afternoon. I have a new suit just for that. It is hanging here in the Holiday Inn room so it doesn’t get overly wrinkled. The interview is at a law firm in The Loop. I’ll be taking the El, the Red Line, to get there and back. Owen will be coming along, as he would like to visit the Field Museum while I am angling for what I hope will be my new job. Saturday afternoon, he flies back to Albuquerque.
A thousand things ran through my mind earlier this morning while I lay in the dark and watched the smoke detector’s light. Things like, Will the timings work out right on Thursday? Is this all a terrible mistake? Will I get a job before the money runs out? Will Susan and I be happy in our new home? Will we make it safely to Chicago? Did I get enough sleep last night? Is 55 the new 35? Am I sharp enough for the streets of Chicago? Will it matter that I have no advanced degrees? Can I make it not matter? Will it matter that I’ve no practical experience in my field in the state of Illinois? Can I make it not matter? Will it matter that my resting mental state is confusion and my resting emotional state is fear? Can I make it not matter? Will it matter that I just posted the questions here? Can I make it not matter? Can I make matter only what I want to matter? Can I sufficiently control this? This life? These choices? Can I dance with it? Can I flow with it? Can I make it matter? Anything could happen. If something terrible happens, can I make it not matter?