Cadillac Ranch, The Dao, and The Largest Cross in the Western Hemisphere, and the Largest McDonalds in the World.
July 2 2002: Begin
We are driving from Champaign to Phoenix. We have 2 days to do this.
The Mercator projection of the world makes the normal map believers around us think that it is faster to drive down road 57 and then go across to St. Louis then it is to go across 72, then down 55, the lower right hand segments of the parallelogram look the same length as the top left hand segments of the parallelogram. We freaks, who know the world is not flat, who are aware of the centripetal forced love-handles around its waist - and also, who have been through Effingham so many times - we know that even though it looks the same, you can cut an hour off your 4 hour drive to St. Louis if you just take 72 West. So we do, and are so proud of ourselves as we pull into St. Louis 3 hours after we leave. It's like we know a secret wormhole through space, tesseracting the two cities together.
Leaving for tour, for me, was always a playful replay of the scene from Apocalypse Now, where Martin Sheen gets collected for his next mission. He's been lying in a hotel room, drinking, murmuring "Saigon. Shit." He stinks from liquor. He hasn't showered in weeks. He hasn't left for his tour yet.
Now, however, after seen the movie Donnie Darko, I have a new movie metaphor; I feel more like it's The Last Temptation of Christ that I'm leaving for tour again. Let me explain. I have spent the past two years completely engraining myself into Champaign life, I have grad school classes, work, kung-fu classes, tae kwon do students, Sangha meetings, friends who are like family to me, too many houseplants, and a garden, and these things connect me to the earth in Champaign. I want to go on tour, I want to feel that huge concrete slab lift off my back as my responsibilities fall one by one out of the van on the way out of town again, but my Champaign life clings around my back and won't fall off, and it hurts and it's confining and it's weighing me down. I feel like it's not good to be this attached to things if they are hurting me like this.
I'm so attached to my life here that it's Monday night and we are practicing before we leave on this amazing tour with the Breeders, and all I can think about is, "if I finish practicing before 6:30pm, I can either go to see Jason and Nam at Tae Kwon Do, or I can go see Jane at Kung-fu class, or I can go to my Sangha meeting and see all the nice people there." I keep thinking about this and it's hurting my chest to not be able to decide where to go, and hurting it more that we're still practicing and I'm going to miss all this stuff anyway.
When did anything ever take precedence over making music? Rick scolds me for looking at my watch. I am supposed to be mindful of where I am, here and now at this time, and only here and now at this time. I am supposed to live in the moment. What the hell am I doing? I guess we just haven't been touring enough so I've had to learn to live without it, and my mind can't even let myself believe I'm really going on tour again. It's being cautious. But I also think I am living too full a life here.
It's taking a while for that other life to dissolve so I can become part of the road again.
So now we're driving through Missouri, and there are so many different shades of green, I can only stare out the window in awe. I keep a watch out for when it starts raining and when it stops, and notify everyone in the van of this. "It's raining again." "Ok, it stopped." "Oh, it started raining again." It's been raining on and off for a long time.
There was such a sense of urgency as I left Champaign, worry and insistence that when I return, everything might be different. When I get back, people will be gone. Life will be different. Maybe I'll go back to where I was 3 years ago, before I started to live in Champaign again; no good friends, no attachments. We are looking at impending changes; people are going to leave, other people are coming back. What if things are never the same again between me and my friends. I guess that I just have to wait and see what will happen. Everything changes, always, anyway. That's the way the world works.
Now the skies are starting to look really scary; huge dark clouds. Jim is still driving, and I am on Tornado Patrol now. I am combing the skies for anvil clouds. But I know deep inside I will never see a tornado, at least not today, because my video camera is loaded with film and ready to shoot.
Rose: "What about that one, is that an anvil cloud? It kind of looks anvilesque...
Could be an anvil."
Jim: "That's just a Bunny cloud."
Rose: (turning around to face Rick, excitedly) "What if there's an EARTHQUAKE
when we play in Los Angeles?!!!"
Rick: "What if there's one before?
THE LARGEST MCDONALD'S IN THE WORLD
It's pitch black night outside now and I am irritating Rick by reading the Dao to him, while he's driving. To him, it's poetry, and he hates poetry.
Rose: "Rick - check this out: 'Why do I call honor a
contagion deep as fear? Honor always dwindles away, so earning it fills us with
fear and losing it fills us with fear.'"
Rose: "Rick: 'Forcing it fuller and fuller, can't compare to just enough, and honed sharper and sharper means it won't keep for long.'"
Rose: "Rick, oh, check this out: 'Once it's full of jade and gold your house will never be safe. Proud of wealth and renown you bring on your own ruin. Just do what you do, and then leave: such is the Way of heaven.'"
Rick (driving): "We are about to pass 'The World's Largest McDonalds.'
In fact, the sign says 'Still the World's Largest McDonalds.'"
Rose: "That can not fucking be the largest McDonald's in the world, the sign has to be lying. What about that one in Austria?"
And then I read more Dao to him and get him more and more irritated. Then, off in the distance, approaching at 80 mph, too close to get the camera out in time, a lone, behemoth golden arch over the highway appears, a controlled electronic bonfire in the night. The Largest McDonald's In The World.
Me: (dropping the Dao book on the van floor and fumbling for my camera and missing the shot) "SHIT!"
We wake up in Motel 6, Oklahoma City, it's about 68 degrees outside and the pool is locked. I've been looking forward to this tour so I could at least go swimming once, and now it's cold out and the pool is unavailable anyway.
We eat very cautiously at a Waffle House, no one spending over $3 for their breakfast. It's tough to live on $10 a day if you are not getting fed a free dinner; these 2 days we have no shows, so no free dinner, and all we do is drive and spend money on garbage food. Last night we ate at an Olive Garden, if you can believe it.
Our Waffle House's waitress' fingernails. She says that they say "peace and wealth."
The Largest Cross In The Western Hemisphere
Somewhere along route 66, the road we're taking to Los Angeles, is 'The Largest Cross In The Western Hemisphere.' I tell Matt to pull off the road because we have to visit that. It goes in with my tour diary metaphor, anyway. We stopped, and this is one HUGE cross! It towers over us and encircling it are something called The 14 Stations of Christ (I think) and they are sculptures of different things that happened to Christ as he was on his way to getting killed. I'm pissed off at those Romans now for killing him, and I tell that to Matt, who is a Catholic and still believes in God. Matt informs me that the Romans were killing lots of people. The sculptures of Jesus make him look like a small man. I think it's sad that he tripped a couple of times while he was carrying the cross. Imagine the kind of person that can put another person to death. You'd have to be very, very sure of yourself.
Rick went out and peed somewhere in the Porta-potties they had set up out here, but didn't spend too much time doing research. I don't know a lot about this story so I like to learn more.
Plus, it's really cool that we've seen The Largest McDonalds in the World, and now The Largest Cross In The Western Hemisphere, because later on we might visit The Largest Stupa In The United States. It's a whole religious tour theme!
We're driving towards Amarillo now and I have been staring at the landscape for then entire day now. I want to be completely aware of when it changes; the terrain will change from dark green, deciduous tree-covered lands to brown dirt and dry shrubs and it will do it within the next 3 hours. I want to see the line where it happens.
"We have to stop at Cadillac Ranch," Jim and Rick say. "What the hell is that?" I ask, and they say "You'll see." If they're not telling me what it is, it's going to be good.
Damn. It's an ART PIECE, made by a collective called "Ant Farm" in 1974, 10 Cadillacs half-buried at about an 80 degree angle, all in a line a la the Very Large Array. They are covered with spray-paint. I feel like I am in France all of the sudden, where there's Art all over the roads. This is completely amazing! And there's no sign, no billboards about it at all - you're just driving down I-40 west of Amarillo and all of the sudden, in the middle of a farm-field, you see 10 Cadillacs half-buried, almost vertically, in the sandy ground. Wow. That is COOL.
Here's what it says on the plaque on one side of the art piece:
Created by Ant Farm
Copyright 1974 (Lord Marquez, Michels)
All Rights Reserved
Stanley Marsh 3, Owner
In May 2002, Cadillac Ranch, one of the most recognizable landmarks on Route 66, became the 11th landmark to be restored as part of Hampton Hotels Explore the Highway with Hampton© Save A Landmark Program
"The people's art is not for sale... or is it?"
FLOODING IN THE DESERT
Now we're driving through the desert, eastern New Mexico, in the worst flash-flood rainstorm I've ever seen in my entire life. This storm is of biblical proportions! In addition to blinding floodwaters streaming down the van, hail is pelleting down, making a terrible noise, and I feel like I'm driving a boat. When we stopped at a gas station, the locals told us this was the first rainstorm they've had all year. This has been the worst drought they've had for 100 years. As I drove through the rest of the storm, I felt very happy for the people who lived around these areas. Man, it's really, really strange to see a huge rainstorm in the desert, complete with scary lightening! It would have been really cool to see the storm at night though, because it would have lit up the entire desert. That would be REALLY cool.
And we stopped in Albuquerque to eat at the Frontier Restaurant and got the manager to give us hats - we told them we were driving from Chicago to Phoenix and had stopped in Albuquerque just to eat at the Frontier Restaurant - and it was true. But they made us prove we were from Chicago - and of course, that was easy. The Frontier Restaurant is open 24 hours, and serves New Mexican food; burritos and enchiladas, and is always filled with the complete range of people; families with kids, drifters, cowboys, students, punk-rockers, anyone you can think of, standing in line waiting for the green flashing light to tell them to move to the next teller window to place your order.
I love the fact that we can drive through a city like Albuquerque and have specific places picked out that we needed to visit. I joked that we should go to the Launchpad, the club we always play at here, to nobody, just to see who's playing. I joked that there HAD to be some huge show in town, because any time we pass through this town, there's a HUGE show that draws people away from our show. And even though we're not playing in this town, we pass by a theatre and see a line out the door - Reverend Horton Heat is playing tonight.
We leave and drive to Gallup. It's been a full day of Largest Crosses, Deluge in the Desert, and The Frontier Restaurant. And tomorrow, finally, we have our first show!