Tuesday, January 27, 2015

ROADS OF THE FLYOVER Part 2 by Peter Nolan Smith

“We have nothing like this in England,” Brock said, as he filmed the Mississippi spreading onto its broad flood plain north of St. Louis.

"Is this going to be in your movie?" I hadn't asked too many questions about his Barry Flanagan project.

"You never know what will mean something in a film." Brock was a one-man crew. Two, if you counted me a driver. He stopped shooting. "But this film is for Barry Flanagan. He's in the last stages of his disease. Imagine yourself trapped in a failing body. You'd want to see all this, wouldn't you?"

"And more." I had seen a good part of this world."

"Barry just has the view out his house on Ibiza."

"I imagine it's a good view." My French side of the family came from the northern Catalan of Perpignan. I had never crossed the seas to the Mallorca.

"Santa Eulalia del Río dates back to before the Romans. There are too many tourists, but this time of year."

"Same as here."

We traveled US 54 to Vandalia. We counted twenty-three cars and fourteen pick-ups on the state road. I turned northwest to Paris on US 25. The rental Ford hit 80 on the straightaways. The V6 could go faster given the right conditions.

"Aren't you scared of police?" Brock aimed the camera at me.

"They're out on the Interstates hunting revenue." I hadn't seen a cop car since a Highway Patrol cruiser in St. Louis stopped me for speeding. "Remember this is the Flyover, but it's not a wasteland."

Miles and miles of newly plowed fields wasn't much of a thrill, but a week's parole from New York was soothing to my eyes.

"No, I wouldn't say that." Brock put down his camera.

"How do people live out here?" Brock shook his head, as we passed an abandoned junkyard. Both of us were hungry, but US 24 offered little in the way of eateries. We were holding off for ribs in KC.

"Farming."

"I feel like we're remaking the last chapters of COLD BLOOD." Brock had chosen Truman Capote's opus about two drifters murdering a Kansas farmer as his travel book.

"Not much has changed out here since then." My book was Herman Melville's TYPEE. He had romanticized the Pacific cannibals of the Marquesas. They were good eaters, but I hadn't even opened the tale of a whaler stranded on a cannibal paradise.


"The last time I came through the Midwest was in 1994 in a Studebaker Hawk."

"That's why I wanted you with me. You're American."

I pressed PLAY for Arthur Lee and Love's IF 6 WAS 9 and my foot hit the gas.

The Ford was all go.

It hit 90.

Rain splashed off the four-laner. The sky was an ominous black. The tornado of THE WIZARD OF OZ belonged to Kansas. That flat state lay straight ahead.

"Stormy weather." It scared Brock.

"Nothing to worry about." I slowed the Ford to under 50 to prevent us from aero-planing into the scenery.

The rain stopped after a torrential deluge and the sun broke through the thick clouds. Kansas City rested on a hill. A golden nimbus transform it into Oz.

I was no Dorothy and stepped on the gas.

"I love America." Brock had been filming for two minutes.

I doubted any of it would make his film.

"My friend, Joe, ran away to Kansas City in 1965. He was 13 and wanted to see if there were any pretty girls there."

"As Wilbert Harrison sang in that song." Brock had a good voice typical to the Scots and sang the chorus.

"Joe found none and the cops sent him back to Boston."

"But he got here and here is a long way away from there."

"And that's the truth." I aimed at KC, thinking of pretty girls.

Downtown Kansas City mimicked St. Louis' purgatory. The pretty girls were heifer-fat from fast food. We booked a room in Kansas not far from Ray Santo's house. The South Shore native was free tonight and we met for ribs. Brock and I got sloppy. Ray stayed clean.

"I have to play later." Ray was a drummer in the KC scene.

"We're coming with you." Brock ordered another round. The three of us left the restaurant in a taxi.

"Good idea, Kansas City PD are always on the hunt for drunk drivers.

"But not drunks." Ray gave the driver directions.

"Not yet." I muttered, because Kansas was next to Oklahoma and that state didn't believe in curves, unless they were connected to a tornado.

Five minutes after we arrived at the crowded nightclub, Ray hit the stage. The band performed a tight set of country-western music. Brock yee-hahed during a break.

"How do you know Ray?"

"He went out with my sister." Ray had driven a red Corvette. He played good hockey and shoot better pool. My mother didn't approve of his dating my younger sister. "Back in 1970."

"That's almost thirty years ago."

"Yep." I hadn't seen Ray in too long. I yee-hahed and Brock joined me.

Drinking beer in Kansas was good and listening to country music was even better.

We were all friends for life and called it a night at closing. We dropped ray at his apartment and the taxi took us to our hotel. I fell asleep dreaming of my wife in Thailand.

Mem was not Dorothy and my son Fenway was my Fenway.

The next morning after coffee and donuts at the motel I drove us to Overland Park. Flanagan's Hare statue was supposedly in the middle of the Johnson County Community College campus. Everything about the school said suburbs, except for one thing.

Guns were not allowed on campus.

A uniformed guard gave us a pass. Our parking space was specified as 'visitor'. The art director met us on the walkway.

"School's not in session."

JCCC offered its student body of 37,000 the chance of changing lives through learning. It was a big school.

"That's fine. We're here to see the Hare." Brock broke out his equipment, as we entered the Administration Building.

"Well, here it is." The director stood before the 11-foot statue of a Hare on a Bell. I liked the one in St. Louis better. It had been more Nijinsky.

Brock asked our host about the Hare. I made myself scarce during the interview. I liked to know nothing and pulled out my cellphone to call New York.

No one answered, so I visited the Nerman Museum attached to JCCC. The sky was threatening heavy rain and hard winds. This was tornado country.

The statues and paintings appealed to the flatness of the Midwestern psyche. I tried to Vulcan mind-link with the atmosphere without success. I left the museum and reached the car before the sky opened for a deluge. I popped in a CD and read TYPEE.

An hour later Brock ran to the Ford in a downpour. He carried the camera bag under his coat. I was listening to Dave Van Ronk's BOTH SIDES NOW.

"Sorry about the wait." The Scot sat in the car. Rain dripped off him.

"The movie's more important than me." Brock wiped his face with a paper towel.

"That was great. I interviewed seven people. They really understand the Hare."

"So they don't think it's a rabbit?"

"They think it's something much more."

"Like what?" I was curious.

"You'll see."

"See what?"

"The difference between a rabbit and a hare."

"If you say so." I backed out of the parking spot. "Where to now?"

"North to Iowa." There was a Flanagan statue in Des Moines.

"Right." I headed toward the highway. It was the fastest way out of here and I was happy, because 'North to Iowa' was as good a destination as any and my friend Rockford would be waiting in Iowa City.

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