Monday, June 25, 2007

Off the River, onto the Road

So as I said we got into a U-Haul and drove to Chicago. It was not, as some of you have mused, a desperate attempt to flee from the vagrants of Davenport, Iowa. There was a method to our madness. That madness is this: we cannot canoe the whole river in the time we have alloted, and at some point we were going to have to figure something out. Gauging our options, it made more sense to rent a truck and cut off a chunk of the upper river, where the locks and dams slow the current, rather than down south, where the adventures are just waiting to begin. Even worse would have been to do nothing and just paddle, only to run out of time and never even make it to New Orleans. Setting out, our intent was never to conquer the river, to put it on our mantle as some sort of trophy. To think in such a manner is both too common and absurd. We came instead to experience it, and experiencing it we are, as we hope you are, clicking and scrolling along. The U-Haul was something we needed to do, to do what we needed to do.

We rented the U-Haul on Friday and didn't need to get it to St. Louis until Monday morning, and so we decided to drive to Chicago for kicks. What fun, we thought! We''ll hit the big city and go crazy on the town! We'll roll in dark and mysterious and the world will be our oyster! Of course it didn't quite turn out that way.

We got there Friday afternoon and walked up and down Michigan Avenue, taking in the sights and gawking at the skyline, all of us in our stinking trail gear, our unshaven faces and heavy duty rainjackets, anonymous in the face of the rushing city and mad crush of capitalism, people scurrying here and there, buses flying past, taxis, glass skyscrapers, girls in makeup and kids with piercings, all of it as far from Palisade, Minnesota as you could possibly imagine. How is this even the same country, I wondered, How do we manage at all? We walked past Soldier Field and the Field Museum, past a huge public dance class led by a male instructor with a headset up on a stage, past a symphony concert in the park where the conductor spoke of Gershwin, past art installations and department stores and Asian tourists taking pictures, construction sites and billboard ads, lovers walking hand in hand, boats in marinas, sailboats on Lake Michigan, sightseeing tours up the Chicago River, past private tours in a horse-drawn carriage. Trying to save money, we ate at a dive place called Flamingo's that was worth about what we paid for, which wasn't much. It began to become clear to me that we were sorely out of place, and while the rest of the group trucked on, my enthusiasm for the sidetrip and the night started to wane. We walked out along Navy Pier and rode the Ferris Wheel, and I started to get very depressed and think of the whole Chicago idea as a failure and a waste of time. I felt pretty awful, actually, moping hopelessly about my stolen guitar too, and eventually ended up showing it pathetically and railing against the world and acting like a 'big baby,' in Ryan's words, feeling ashamed the next day and wondering what in the hell happened to me. We all slept in the back of the U-Haul, never ending up going out on the town in large part due to my bad mood, and at 5:30 in the morning Ryan woke up and decided he'd had enough of Chicago and drove us straight out of town.

When I woke up, we were in Springfield, Illinois. Ryan wanted to see the Lincoln Presidential Museum, so while he did that the rest of us checked our email in the Presidential Library (never actually seeing anything in the library besides our Gmail accounts and Facebook profiles; oh, the sad truths of our generation) and got breakfast at a tea place across the street. We wandered around and I started to shake off the awful depression of the night before. It felt good to be away from the big city and to be headed back toward the old river. It started to rain, and it started to pour, and it kept up like that all the way down to St. Louis.

In St. Louis, we stayed with Mary and Bill Christman, the parents of a good friend of ours, Sam Christman, who was nice enough to volunteer his family to house us, without him there. We rode the subway and walked around the Loop, and got free $15 gift certificates to a record store for riding around in a new Scion and filling out a survey. We visited the St. Louis Arch, Gateway to the West, and rode up to the top, and watched an old documentary on how the Arch was built. We debated whether the Arch was a symbol of American nobility or egotistical presumptuousness, and decided it was likely the latter. We took pictures and craned our necks back at the thing. "It sure is pretty though," we said, and took the subway back.

Later, Bill Christman took us on a drive around their neighborhood, saying in an unassuming voice that he'd show us his "studio," as if it weren't anything big. It ended up being one of the most astounding places I've ever seen: a huge BYOB called Joe's Cafe with attached stage for Bluegrass and Jazz bands and a massive yard outside littered with crazy found art and landscaped waterfalls, chairs and tables everywhere, and quiet places to sneak away with someone pretty and make out. "I've been doing this for four years," Bill said, "Every Thursday, about 450 people come through and have a good time." We marveled at it all, empty on a Sunday afternoon, and I thought to myself that the whole world should look like this, a place so dynamic and open, that this is how our lives should be. I looked at Bill, and thought about what it must be like to be him, to know you have created such a place, and to know that it is good, and that whatever else happens, at least you'll always have this. "I think this place of yours is really remarkable," I told him, and he thanked me like he almost forgot it was even the case. The next time we come through St. Louis, it'll have to be on a Thursday, we told him, and when it is, we'll have to swing on through.

Now, we are packing our things and gearing up for another day on the river. With June nearing its end, the first half of our trip is done and the second is about to begin. Thank you to everyone who has followed us this far, and I hope you'll stick with us until the end. More than that, I hope that if you have found in our journey something inspiring or even remotely remarkable, you will, as Susie Orr put it, pay it forward. The world needs excited people. This country needs excited people. Please don't be scared to join in the fun.

Best wishes and enjoy the pictures.
Love,
TMP


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6 comments:

Mum said...

Hi Gabe, D,Kevin and Ryan,
I have enjoyed reading about your adventure, thinking of you on the river while we celebrated the Summer Solstice at the Stone Arch Bridge last week. Kayaks dancing in the river. I am longing to hear more about your experience on the river, the other river rats you run into, the details of the river. but it is your trip. Enjoy the ebb, flow and unexpected eddys. Take good care, AS's mum

Angela said...

This is on the overall blog that I read today-
Great pictures . .
You guys are crazy . .
And I gotta say . . Jeebus Gabe you have entirely too much talent in the writing department. It almost makes me jealous, really.
I know I've said this so many times but . . I'm just shell shocked from the whole thing, really. I absolutely adore it,
Your adventure sounds rough, (sorry about your guitar. . I'd probably cry if someone stole my piano, although that wouldn't happen on the trip. . Much too big to bring with me), but your adventure sounds inspirational. . . And one of those trips that you will never forget.
=]

Dudley said...

I never questioned your motives gabe, you have to do what you have to do... road, river, and/or doojhooplex; the show must go on!

Ill be mourning about your guitar for a while... but dont worry man, try to imagine either a bum making his living with that thing or someone feeling hella happy with their new guitar... universal conservation of happiness, you took the down side this time... but oh boy haven´t you had the up side quite a few times!

Jamie-Lee said...

"the rest of us checked our email in the Presidential Library (never actually seeing anything in the library besides our Gmail accounts and Facebook profiles; oh, the sad truths of our generation)"

Brilliant!

Good talkin' the other day, Gabe. Hope I made some sort of sense ... oh dear. I am not a role model.

wanda1234 said...

thanks for sharing....

___________________
Rozydesouza
Entertainment at one stop

wanda1234 said...

thanks for sharing....

___________________
Rozydesouza
Entertainment at one stop