Sunday, August 4, 2013

ROADS OF THE FLYOVER Part 4 by Peter Nolan Smith

Heading north we passed rivers on the verge of bursting their banks.

"Last year Cedar Rapids was inundated by a flood, but we should be all right." The sky held no promise of rain and the radio weatherman forecasted a pleasant day for Northern Iowa and Miinnesota. I stepped on the gas. Everyone on I-380 was traveling ten miles over the speed limit. I kept pace at 85.

North of Cedar Rapids we got off the highway and twenty minutes later Brock spotted buffalo grazing on long prairie grass.


I braked the rented Ford in a parking lot.

A state ranger was checking the wooly bison.

"They once roamed the Great Plains in the millions, but were reduced to 750 by 1890." The small herd was fenced into a park and he said, as Brock filmed him, "This isn't a petting zoo, so I have to make sure no one thinks it is."

A good-sized weighed more than a ton. One came up to the fence and Brock touched its head. He passed me the film camera and said, "Keep me in focus. Barry's going to love this."

Brock and I took a break and ate a late breakfast of left-over ribs from Des Moines. They hadn't gone bad in the back seat. The sun was burning away the clouds and Brock put on a KC Royals baseball cap which he had bought in that city two days ago.

"How many miles you think we've driven so far.

"Almost a thousand." Most of it had been off the Interstate, but roads were straight through the farmlands. Brock lived in London with his wife and two kids. "If we drove a thousand miles from London, we'd be in Poland."

"Which probably looks like this."

"Maybe." I had been no farther east in Europe than Berlin and Germany looked nothing like Iowa. I dumped my gnawed ribs into the trash. Brock wiped his hands on the back of his jeans. He was getting to be a real American.

Corn was everywhere.

Brock shot everything.

"This will be Barry's last trip to America."

"You know I haven't really looked at his sculptures." My daydreams were dominated by premonitions of seeing my son and daughter in the coming month. This driving job for Brock would pay for a ticket to Thailand.

"You shouldn't look at anything." Brock put down his camera. "You have to see or hear or feel Art. Open your mind to another dimension."

"I'll try." We had one more Hare statue ahead and I gripped the wheel with both hands.

Brock was already asleep.

I hadn't gotten enough sleep last night.

Driving through a forlorn valley leading to the Mississippi a giant crane crossed the two-laner and I swerved to avoid the collision, thinking that the big bird was an alien from outer space.

"Where are we?" Brock asked without alarm.

"Minnesota." I couldn't see the crane in my rearview mirror, but even better its body wasn't smeared across the windshield.

"Are you okay?"

"Just fine." I slowed down to 60.

The river widened into a marsh of white reeds. Spring was still distant from this valley. The Mississippi was up ahead.

The Father of All Waters was narrower than its last sighting in Missouri.

"Two centuries ago this marked the East and West."

"Probably still does to some." Brock looked at the passing Mississippi with a glowing wonder, for like any European he thought the West began at the Atlantic.

"Watch out," shouted Brock and I swerved back into the highway.

Cars around the Ford beeped their horns.

"Sorry about that." It wasn't easy driving with closed eyes.

We were almost in Minneapolis and once we checked into the motel I would be done driving for the day.

That night neither of us drank and we called calling our wives from the motel room. Brock spoke to Joanna in London and I talked with Mam in Thailand. Our kids were good and we fell to the black hole of sleep.

The six days on the road was getting to us.

The next morning we woke early and ate the complimentary bagels at the motel. The fresh coffee served its purpose. I drove us to Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. The director was waiting for Brock. We were on time. He set up his camera and interview the woman, who spoke about Flanagan's challenge to the status quo by reverting to the representational figure of a Hare. "He's telling a story with each of these bronze pieces. One of fertility and flight."

I wandered out of the museum grounds to cross the highway into another park. I knew no one here. I tried calling New York. No one answered my call. A stranger in this city, but the landscape looked familiar and I realized that Mary Tyler Moore had stood on this spot for the opening of her long-running TV show. Not much seemed to have happened to the city since the series cancellation in 1977.

I returned to the sculpture garden and stood before the statue. It was a rabbit to me and not a hare. Brock motioned for me to join him. It was time to go. Tomorrow we had a plane to catch in Chicago.

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