Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I-40 and Reality

Interstate 40 between Kingman, AZ, and Gallup, NM, has been a refreshing revelation and inspiration to you. Williams, in particular on the lip of the Grand Canyon, seemed to reach out and grab you the way Virginia city did when you first beheld it, then took it in as though it were some fine old sipping cognac.

You fantasy about living in many small towns and, in fact, do live in one already, but Williams has a quirky newspaper, barbecue restaurants that tempt you, and the slap-dash architecture of a number of interests working without consulting building codes or master plans.

The highway, itself, is two-laned in either direction, well managed, its paving up-to-date, its vistas sometimes so stunning, you'd have to stop, merely to gawk.  You've been over this road any number of times, going as far back as an age before you hit double digits.  It has grown along with you, appealing to your senses of politics, political outrage, nostalgia,and existential understanding.

I-40 is no longer so raw and desolate as when you saw it first, nor are the vehicles that ply it huffing toward the five- and six-thousand-foot plateaus, sometimes forced to stop to allow the engine to cool down.  You're used to signs alerting you to watch for deer, but I-40 throws elk and bear into the pot.  It also has long strands of wind turbines and huge structures looking like a cross between a comic book super hero and an Erector set, carrying power in all directions.

Capitalism prevails here, with trucks and trains escorting loads of raw and manufactured goods in the cardinal directions, employing individuals along the way to tend to them.  Some signs urge you to consider how easy it is to own a forty-acre ranch in this area, while others speak of growing potentials, all of which allow you to live your dream, become a rancher or a farmer, have hired hands, think Republican.

Friends who have traveled this road in recent years warn you of the potential for boredom, but you've had no need for books on compact disc or the use of your iPhone and its ability to reach pre-selected on-line FM stations that stream jazz or classical music.  The magical name of Coconino County becomes real, welcoming you to its parameters and by the wondrous transport of association, transports you from the Coconino County of reality to the Coconino County of your most cherished comic strip of all time, Krazy Kat.  As your Yaris swallows the miles, you find yourself looking for Offisa Pup, Krazy Kat, and Ignatz Mouse.  What a splendid place to come so close to your nostalgia for that landscape and those characters.  The mesas, buttes, and spotty clumps of trees remind you of the hours of imaginative fun you had following the whimsy and philosophical accommodations of those remarkable characters.

Names of places dear to your heart leap off the road signs.  Second Mesa.  Keams Canyon.  In so many ways, you are tempted to detour.  You promise yourself at least one greasy meal on the way back, then begin slathering over the potentials.  Fry bread.  Yes. This one last time.  Fry bread.

The signs for Indian Trading Posts begin to appear, along with what strikes you as the distillation of cynicism into the brandy of absolute capitalistic opportunism.  Genuine Indian blankets for as little as $4.99.

The architecture along I-40 varies from boarded-up frame houses, turned black in the desert sun, sitting close to buildings of adventurous concept, reminding you of dishes you've been served in restaurants offering nouvelle cuisine.  Cast among them are outrageous tepees of the sort none of the local Indians would ever consider.  In a remarkable coincidence of pulling off the road for gas, you find espresso coffee in a strip mall next to a used car lot.

You want I-40 never to end.  With its gaudy excess, it offers you absolution from the overcoat of guilt you'd put on relative to your years spent with the carnival and your occasional thoughts that as you pursue your quest for strength and insight as a writer, you may have leaned with too much force on the illusory parts.

The I-40 is a splendid balance, showing how often it is that the good and beautiful lives side by side with the bad and the ugly.  This remarkable road you once saw as a child and then again and again as more grown up has evolved, which is the precise thing you hope to do.  The evolution is, you hope, toward vision, but vision requires discipline to capture a moment or two of it, then set it squirming down on the page.

What draft is I-40 in?  Will you recognize it again?

What draft are you working on relative to you?

Will you recognize the revised versions of yourself, and will you recall these moments of hurtling over this vast, splendid, terrible, unquenchable terrain?

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