Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Have you ever driven cross-country alone? I don’t recommend it.
I was moving out west for a new job and wanted to make the eighteen hundred miles from St. Louis to San Diego in three days till I realized I’d be arriving in San Diego in the dark and without a place to stay at the end of day three. I paced myself at five hundred miles a day so I’d get there on day four in the afternoon.
It was late May. I started from St. Louis before dawn, as one does for long road trips, a stack of cassettes handy on the passenger seat and the hatch area of my Dodge Colt packed so full of stuff I couldn’t see out the rearview mirror. It was raining. City stoplights refracted in the raindrops on the windshield and became lightsabers, and that made me feel good about things.
I didn’t mind driving through half of Missouri in the dark, since I’d made the trip on I-44 to Springfield a number of times to visit a friend of mine, but I found I was already getting restless by the time the light came up and wondered how I’d entertain myself all the way to Oklahoma City. I had my Sting tape on repeat. It was time for some Men At Work. Or Talking Heads. Elvis Costello. I didn’t want to go through my whole collection before nightfall.
Just before hitting the Oklahoma border I took a little detour. My wife at the time was from a tiny town in the southwest corner of Missouri called Neosho. I headed south on I-49, just wanting a glimpse of her past, her childhood, because, to be honest, my wife at the time was something of an enigma to many people. Even me. And here I was embarking on the most exciting project of my adult life and I had to wonder whether she was entirely on board. Maybe seeing something of her secret history would give me some insight I could use. Thus, on to Neosho.
What I found when I pulled into the tidy downtown square was not something I could glean much from. An attractive, mid-1800s town of the sort Bonnie and Clyde might have hit back in ‘32. Who knows? Maybe they did. But I didn’t see anything of my wife’s personality there in the neat brick buildings or the budding trees around the courthouse. Her story must have been hiding in the residential blocks, I guess, where in some tiny frame house thirty years before she’d gone through whatever traumas had made her the person she was now. Her past was as vague as she’d made it.
I strolled around the square and watched people for a while, taking note of their Grant Wood expressions, their wire- and horn-rimmed glasses, weak chins. Inside people like that I always assumed there to be tensions. They act out on children and animals, I thought, or they hold it all in and grow tumors and resentments, always toiling and trying not to look back. I was probably being unfair. Even if some of them were related to my wife, I should have given them the benefit of the doubt, but then again my wife had given me certain ideas about her hometown so it was hard to be objective. The rain was gone now and the sun shining on the charming if clichéd square.
To make Oklahoma City by rush hour, I decided not to eat lunch in Neosho — I hit the road again instead. A Micky D’s somewhere along 44 would have to do. I had a lot on my mind now, and I imagined the miles would shoot past as I worked on the mystery of the woman I was married to and what our life would be like at the end of the long road I was on, corresponding more or less with Route 66, American metaphor.
The rest of the ride to the coast was uneventful.