Monday, March 16, 2009


In the evening at the rest-stops along I-80 you see the tractor trailers parked and in the cabs the blue glow of TVs. They'll be makin deliveries in the city Monday morning but Sunday night is for sweet dreams after a cross-country run. There's so much country once you start drivin out of the cities, and so poorly used.

Abandoned farms, burnt-out houses parked in the middle of fallow fields. A hamlet mired in poverty, backyards filled with trash. Then an exit, with its gas station, convenience store, and motel. Then blackness for miles. A dead deer in the shoulder. It's been a rough winter, the road needs resurfacing outside Port Jervis. Potholes. The black and mangled carcasses of burst retreads bunched into the median. Freedom. The open road.

Slash-and-burn. A manufacturing plant gone dark sporting a big poorly lit sign: "180,000 Sq.Ft. Will subdivide." A raccoon mashed into the asphalt, only the wavin tail recognizable. Over in Mt. Arlington a dead strip center with a lone pizzeria hangin on, two cars parked out front. I look up through the moon-roof and see so many stars. The night clear and cool.

Outside Middletown, I swerve to avoid a plastic bag and hit the rumble strips, knockin me back to the fact that I'm travelin at seventy miles an hour. The illusion of standin still for long straight stretches on I-84. The red blinkin lights of a radio tower in the middle of nowhere. You go down into the valley and the cell doesn't work. Killjoy culture. A state trooper passes me on the left, he's doing around ninety. A few minutes later I see him pull over two kids in a souped-up Honda.

These are our rivers. And the people out here, what do they do? It takes two people workin three jobs at these wages to feed a family. They got the house but they gotta drive four hours a day to a job that pays. Wal-mart, BJs. A boarded up house with four cars in the driveway. I stop at a McDonald's to take a leak and get some coffee. A kid with fiery red acne is tryin to unclog the sink in the men's room. He stares at the gray water and sticks a piece of hose down the drain. Nothing happens. He giggles. I figger I'll make do with dirty mitts. But the coffee is good and will keep me going for the last leg of the trip.

Quist had a cousin Rae who married a hunter lived out here somewhere. Did a little landscapin in the summer, drove a delivery van when he could. After a couple of whiskies, Quist would say, "How can they keep things going like that? I'll tell you. Welfare. Food stamps. Sellin drugs, sometimes guns. Workin off the books for the summer people. Creditors come lookin for you, you move. You can't blame them for the way they live. There's no jobs up there and they ain't gonna drive a hundred miles for minimum wage. Of course the houses are fallin apart -- who's got the dough to fix 'em up?" Quist believed Rae and her family had a fixed existence, and people like them would be around forever. "They lead very basic lives, except for the gadgets, TVs with the dish out back. Cells. Lemme ast you, poot, you think educated well-off people care? Shoot, there's a big country out there they don't even know exists."

You drive these interstates and take your eyes off the road, you see it all around you. Second and third-growth woods, barbed wire around penitentiary property, lit-up shacks, old rutted roads leadin to nowhere, a steeple on a hill. Whatcha think, poot, you feel like takin a ride?

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