Monday, June 30, 2008

Travelogue 232 – June 30
Capital Weather

6.4 Here’s where I awaken, rolling over in a hotel bed, emerging from a dream about a tortured and doomed relationship in fourth-century Rome. She was lovely. She was debauched.

I return to the balcony and its prospect of parking lots and chain foods, and the clouds of dense and dreaming tree life beyond. I took a run out there last night, starting down that road, the one that curves pointlessly and offers no sidewalks, the one that connects neighbourhood grilles and gas stations and jogs in a relative parallel to the busy state highway.

I gave up on that road quickly, dashing across the highway, and down another pointless road that dead-ends in a spooky corporate park, spooky after business hours, spooky like a cult complex. A trail leads behind the new buildings to a lake with swans, where a spooky cult café patio overlooks immaculate lawns. Keep going and you come across a trail into the woods, closed to traffic by a chain waist-high. I’m exhilarated for about two hundred meters, before the path, in true east coast fashion, dead-ends in a pile of trash among thick weeds.

The Shirt is loaded safely into the car. I’m ready to zoom on into Washington DC, heading down the 95 to Baltimore, and then onto a hectic expressway into our nation’s capital. The expressway should be 45 minutes of peace, driving amid luxurious greenery, but it’s a familiar battle of nerves with frustrated cubicle stars and lobbyists who would like to shave the paint off my vehicle.

This entry into Washington isn’t to be recommended. The cold sweat expressway dumps you onto a shabby avenue of half-star hotels and gas stations. DC is not a huge place, but this street mysteriously goes on and on. Eventually, you catch a glimpse of the capital dome to the left. You veer among the streets that seem to operate on two overlaid grids, one a standard criss-cross, and the other composed of spokes from the hub of Georgie’s playhouse.

There are sultry blocks of the bottom-tooth variety, small houses propped up by broom handles, and then suddenly you’re in a modern downtown, jockeying for each square inch underneath high, happy structures of glass or carved stone.

The east coast is officially in the grips of a heat wave. I have a few hours before my meeting on the fifth floor of a lettered street. I undertake a quick tour of American pomp, but I don’t get too far. I make it to the plaza in front of the White House. I’m pleasantly surprised. I’ll give it to our men in blue, (or black, or camouflage, as the case may be): one doesn’t feel stifled by military presence. As always the famous house is right there, behind the same open fence and across a short lawn.

I walk around the house. Behind it, one sees the mall and our national obelisk. I look hard across the many yards of grass, interrupted by two crowded avenues and by some heavy roadwork surrounded by lots of that appealing orange tape. Through the thick air, fairly pulsing with heat, the national obelisk beckons. I say no. Instead, I sit and sweat on the steps of a monument to vets of the First World War. Tourists are taking pictures of me.

My appointment approaches. The kind parking lot attendants allow me underground, where I say a quick prayer before I don the Shirt. There are saints that protect against wrinkles and others that protect against the odors attending healthy sweat. Unfortunately, they are moody old drunks, and I can’t rely on them.

I try to cool off in a nearby high-rent Caribou. This is a bustling place. Every table is taken, and it seems every conversation is policy. Ahead of me, two Asian women discuss in perfect mall accents how desperate is the plight of Asian-American women. Behind me is a young white threesome. The two guys are in suits and speak with cultivation and relentless sarcasm about various associates. They come up with scandal about a rich congressman and his wife. When the topic is meetings and policy, they drop into murmurs. Their table-mate is a loud woman from Colorado, no less abusive with common acquaintances, but much less sophisticated. What she lacks in wit, she makes up for in gesticulation and horse laughs.

With a crack of thunder, the sky suddenly lets loose with heavy rain. The clock ticks on neutrally, and my moment arrives, drenched to its hapless core. I dash from awning to awning under the black heavens, mourning for the Shirt and all that might have been. When I reach a receptionist, she takes it all in with a glance and smirks. Oh, those bitter old winos in the sky!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Travelogue 231 – June 25
East of Aiden

6.3 It’s the east coast in summer. It’s a land of memories, some of the oldest and most chaotic I’ve got, kicking around a basement closet from my 20s. They’re like loose puzzle pieces in a cardboard box that only holds together because it’s never opened.

I’ve arrived at Phillie mid-afternoon. I wait in the thick heat for the Budget bus, find my little car, and throw my things in the back seat – though I do make sure to unpack the Shirt. This is the suave, black, short-sleeve shirt from Target that is the lucky talisman for this trip. After five years of living the way I do, I have nothing presentable to wear. I purchase the Shirt as a nod to east coast formality and a modicum of dignity. I drape it carefully over the passenger seat. I head right for highway 95.

Half an hour later, I’m in a different state, watery little Delaware, the first state in this bogey union. The capital of DE is Wilmington. Downtown is a grid of finance and history on a hilltop. There’s a park one block square, watched over by Caesar Rodney, signer of the Declaration of Independence and only President of Delaware. It has a sunken plaza where kids describe lazy arcs on their clacking skateboards. Old black men play chess despite the angry rants right behind them of antall, addled homeless man.

There’s a café with wireless a few blocks away, down by the big Y, where you can check email while you have a chicken pesto sandwich and watch tennis on the big domino screen hung just above your table, the only one near an electrical outlet.

Afterward, head down the hill, south on a street that narrows and decays. The houses shrivel and crowd together for strength until they are rows of jagged teeth, made of brick and then of white clapboard. On the front porches sit black men who are counting the days. You approach the old 95 for re-entry.

The afternoon has advanced along. The highway is packed. The woods around us are dense and bright green. You might think we have left cities and towns far behind, but I know how the east coast is. The land isn’t wild, but it’s penetrated by wild quark-style squiggles of road that curl in on themselves and go nowhere.

I spot a hotel, but I miss the exit. I have to wait for miles for the next exit, on the other side of a long construction zone, past an earth’s radius of east-coast spaghetti roads. I take that exit, knowing I’ll get lost. I end up in the parking lot of a half-abandoned mall. There is only one way in or out of the mall. I find my way back to the highway. At the next exit, there’s no way underneath the highway. East and west are sealed from each other.

I do make it to the hotel. I hang the Shirt. I stand on the balcony and look past the chain restaurants toward the beckoning woods and taunting corkscrew roads. I’m going to take a run in the last light.

6.18 It’s a week since I’ve returned to Minnesota. Aiden is laughing uproariously. He’s throwing a panda at me, and then a bunny. He’s bouncing across the surfaces of two made hotel beds. He’s the picture of innocent joy. He’s a terror. I’ve known him for mere minutes, and I’m his best and most intimate playmate. He can’t stop. He’s bouncing. He’s running. He’s laughing. He’s throwing. He’s swinging the bunny at my crotch.

Aiden is moving to the east coast, stopping in Minneapolis along the way. His daddy is one of those puzzle pieces of ancient east coast history. We met in Connecticut. He had hair like Peter Frampton; he had a crush on the woman who would become my girlfriend and then my wife. He went on to follow other women to the west coast and back again. We spent several aimless years in San Francisco along the way. He finally followed the image of a woman across the seas. He came back with Aiden. Now he has no hair.

Aiden has lots of hair, semi-dreaded and free. He’s a picture of joy. His big sister Aoi is a picture of grace. She’s lithe and bright and pretty. But Aiden doesn’t care about all that. She’s just part of the game, hurling stuffed animals at the new uncle.