Saturday, June 30, 2007

Thanks for the Ride

Paddling like a trance. Humidity that creeps in until you forget it is even there. Trees with leaves that bend down as if dripping, morning gray and burning afternoon haze, meals in bars in towns that run together, dim red lights and country songs, and baseball games on tv, the days a blur of paddling and thinking, and the river, always, your whole entire world.

The current has increased and the pace has slowed, and still days will flow by without you ever realizing they were there. Sit with your thoughts for hours in the canoe and listen to the way your brain works. Reflect on the past, make lists for the future, remember that you are paddling, again and again and again. Watch your thoughts crest and subside, feel your body speaking to you, become intimate again with your own existence. Meditate. Daydream. Space out. Forget you are even alive. Remember you are, and rejoice. Try to remember such and such song. Watch the water flow. Let go and go with it, and let it carry you downstream.

Pull up to camp in Commerce, MO, population 99, and get approached by a man in an old pick-up truck who drives down from his house up the way. "This is my boat ramp," he says in a low voice, emphasis on the 'my.' "This is private property." He has yellow teeth and weathered skin and a cigarette in his left hand, and I ask if we can camp there anyway. "Yep," he says, and nods. "Don't leave any trash around now."

Later, he comes down and Danny gets to talking, comes back and tells us the guy's a Vietnam vet who hates Bush and disapproves of the war in Iraq. Danny says we're going to have to fight again for our liberties, and the man says, "Oh, it's comin'. Not in my lifetime," he says, "But maybe in yours."

Have a hard day in the canoe and feel the heaviness of my aging body. "Are you out of your mind happy to be alive?" asks Ryan, in camp, reading a book, and "Well, in theory," I say. He shakes his head, puts down his book. "No. Are you out of your mind happy to be alive right now?" he asks. "No," I say, and feel both the weight and release of such a simple response, and stare at the river with my chin in my palm. "You're rounding a turn," he says. "This is just a bend in the river." We sit and read and think, Danny nearby, composing:

Manequins in windows look like people in stores
Heaven is in limbo while the reaper is forged
We sell passion for art just to pay the rent
'Cause we can only see our hearts when we hang our heads

I went down to the river with my mind on the clouds
To ask all the questions that couldn't climb out my mouth
I put my hands in the water and my feet on the banks
And saw drops of humility bead on my face

That's when the water turned to oil and the current reversed
Spreading out to show the soil where a person emerged
I said "Let's know the truth and kill disparity
But I won't hold the noose when you're staring at me."
It said, "It'd burn our bridges, and turn art to life
'cause I am the anonymous archetype."

In Cairo, Illinois, reach the confluence of the Ohio and the Mississippi and stand at the point, taking pictures: the Ohio, blue-green, slow; the Mississippi, muddy, rushing, Kentucky spread out for the first time across the way. Reflect on how far we have come, on Bemidji, MN, so far away, and walk the mile up into town. Cairo is dead, a heap of abandoned buildings and wide, empty streets. Such a prodigal name, such a prodigal place, at the confluence of two great rivers, and this instead, a ghost town.

Find the first restaurant we see and sit down. It's called Fat Boy Bar and Grill, a dark bar with POW-MIA shirts on the wall, six separate confederate flags hanging all around, an antique cigarette vending machine, and a fake slot machine that takes quarters and says "For Amusement Only." One man at the bar has a confederate flag on his hat. Another has an eyepatch. We sit down and order a cheeseburger, a mushroom and swiss burger, a chicken strip basket dinner, philly cheesesteak, chile cheese dog, grilled cheese sandwich, two orders of cajun fries, onion rings, three beers, and a twelve inch sausage pizza. It is the Mississippi diet, and not something we suggest trying at home. During the day, Danny and I wolf down Snickers bars (him much more than me, plus Reeses', Sour Skittles, M&M's) and discuss where we can find a Snickers well, in which case we would abandon the whole Mississippi shindig and just haul up black nougat gold from the ground, gorging ourselves and making!
millions
We talk about this to great lengths in the canoe and Danny asks me how far we have gone. Ryan sits in the stern with his feet up on the gunnels. "Can you please stop focusing on the mileage?" he says. "We've already established that time and space don't exist."

In Hickman, KY, start finding the southern twang infectious and meet a great young guy named Dusty who looks me in the eye from the first. He agrees to drive us to the nearest bank and sits in his truck with Danny while we pick up some beer and tells Danny he's never left Hickman, never will. He works on the towboat sitting in the harbor and makes $125 dollars a day under the table, supporting a wife of eight years and an eight year-old daughter. "That's Bud's," he says, passing a resaurant. "It'll be jumping around nine o'clock." And right down the road, "There's C&J's. That there's a black place." Get dropped back off at camp and start talking to a biker who says that his son's got a soccer scholarship to some school in St. Louis, and that paddling the Mississippi has always been a dream of his. "Do it," we say, "But trust us. Bring a motor."

Later, have dinner a few drinks in at a gas station and flirt with every girl working in the whole place including the cook before getting a ride back from a guy who wants to show us old town Hickman, and loads us into his van with a bed in the back and kitchen too. I sit on the bed because there aren't any more seats and decide I'll take this one off, lie back and stare at the sky through the back window while the man goes on about house prices in town and hunting Sasquatch in all seriousness (there's already been four sightings around these parts) and river towns taking a dive since the steamboat days. "That there is where I went to school through third grade," he says. "Now it's a funeral home." He takes us back and I climb out from the bed. I shake his hand. "Thanks for the ride."

10 comments:

mikepam said...

Hi Gabe & TMP,
Pictures of Parmy, please.
Wags,
Sumi
PS Mom says to tell you this last posting was wonderful.

Angela said...

Meditate on, TMP.
=]
(how is the cat, btw?)

markie said...

Interestingly written! Both text and song.

leez. said...

really loved your last post. berkeley is getting hotter and i'm itching to finish this chem class. i guess i'm paddling my own river in a way too.. it seems endless. when do you come home?

Nicole said...

Gabe,

You realize you have to take really good care of little Parm, because if he dies on the trip you have to blog about it (it is Truth, after all), and that would really put a damper on the experience. So please take super good care of the little guy!

Nicole said...

Gabe,

Word has it you will be in San Diego in August! JKai miiight be here the week of August 13-ish. But even if not, please visit! Don't know what your plans are, but you can stay at our place!

Carey said...

hi folks,
Just got back from traveling (8 months, South America), and I'm catching up late and jealous of your journey. I don't know the southern US very well and would like to.

Do some in depth interviews? Tell us about the music and more on food.

wanda1234 said...

thanks for sharing....

___________________
Rozydesouza
Entertainment at one stop

wanda1234 said...

thanks for sharing....

___________________
Rozydesouza
Entertainment at one stop

wanda1234 said...

thanks for sharing....

___________________
Rozydesouza
Entertainment at one stop