On Wandering

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[This was originally posted on Facebook. April 15, 2008]

“I went in search of astral America…” Baudrillard writes in Cool Memories. Standing on a cool Friday night outside a honky tonk by the Cedar River, under a blanket of stars, I think I’ve begun to sense it. The drive to the bar had been on dark, lonely roads through cornfields. At one point my brother wondered whether we should turn around, head back to Iowa City. I was busy watching not just the road ahead, but to the sides. A herd of deer came out of the darkness, but they stayed on the side of the road. I slowed. A year before a deer had leapt out in front of my car on a dark, rainy night. The hood, the headlamps, and the front bumper had to be replaced. It could have been worse.
After a wrong turn that led us away from where we wanted to go, we were finally on the right road. A farm road through the corn fields on a Friday night.
Later, standing on an abandoned bridge under an intensely starry sky, with the rush of the river below, it felt like I had walked into one of those movies that felt intensely about the US. A US of darkness, rural, wild. Not the urban USA of Scorcese, or the suburban USA of Lynch’s Blue Velvet, but a lost USA, somewhere out there.
Drinking beer —Pabst Blue Ribbon, the beer of choice in these parts— in the bar, we watch the locals moving about. Large men in cowboy shirts, wearing trucker caps unironically. Women in tight t-shirts and jeans. A group shooting pool while a crowd watches. All of the tables are full, the jukebox is playing. Country and Western, 70’s rock. Two stunning women tend the bar, while a group of men and women work in the kitchen. There are families eating. Outside we had been greeted by a group of young girls running around in the dim light cast by the lights of the bar. The last time I had been there, back in the fall, there had been a couple of young girls practicing cheerleading moves in a back room.
And later, we walk back out into the night. Our destination, a house party in a nearby town. We drive on unpaved roads through the cornfields, the roads slick from rain a day before. We feel the wheels sliding and hope that the car doesn’t get stuck.
The other party is a mix of faculty and grad students. Hip Hop on the iPod. The party is for the opening night of a documentary film festival. There are many varieties of drinks available. The conversation turns on film, on literature, on travel. It’s a different social scene.
Driving back to Iowa City at 3 in the morning, we see a deer, standing alone by the side of the road. Unsure of whether to cross or to head back into the cornfields.

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