Tuesday, January 3, 2017

ROADS OF THE FLYOVER by Peter Nolan Smith CHAPTER 4

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 spring sky held no promise of rain and the radio weatherman forecasted a pleasant day for Northern Iowa and Minnesota. 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 on a back road Brock spotted buffalo grazing on long prairie grass.

"Stop."

I braked the rented Ford in a parking lot of a small state park.

A state ranger was inspecting the wooly bison and told us, "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 the ranger 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 buffalo 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 burned 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 two thousand." Most of it had been off the Interstate on dirt roads cutting straight through the farmlands. Brock lived in London with his wife and two kids. "If we drove two thousand miles from London, we'd be in Istanbul."

"Which probably doesn't look much like this."

"Newfoundland is about two thousand miles from New York. This is a big continent, especially from south to north." I dumped my gnawed ribs into the trash.

"Which is why I'm heading north with the Chicken Messiah." Brock wiped his hands on the back of his jeans. He was getting to be a real American.

"It's almost 5000 miles from London to Kabul." Brock could get Afghanistan out of his head. Hundreds of thousands of American soldiers felt the same. "Back in the 70s hippies drove to Kabul in school buses and vanns. Next stop was Kathmandu and then Kuta in Bali."

"A long time ago and Iowa was never Kabul."

"Except with Rockford." Last night in Iowa City could have been anywhere at anytime.

"And Barry's in Ibiza."

"My kids are in Thailand."

We were scattered across the globe like the Hare sculptures exiled far from home.

But today we were in Northern Iowa. Young 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 fell asleep to MADMAN ACROSS THE WATER.

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 and 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 lay up ahead.

The Father of All Waters was narrower than our last meeting 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.

Last night had taken a toll and my head nodded on my chest.

"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 arrived in Minneapolis and checked into the motel. I was done driving for the day.

That night neither of us drank and we called 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. We were on time. The director was waiting for Brock. The Scotsman 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. Once more 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.

I touched the metal. It was cold, but I felt the warmth of the sculptor exorcising emotion from base metal. His hand print was everywhere over its surface and I once more wondered why I had so much trouble seeing.

Brock motioned for me to join him. It was time to go. Tomorrow we had to catch a plane in Chicago.

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