He had the eye of a vulture – a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold…
Bela Lugosi – Extraordinary Tales
Forgive my writing. By the time I get to these posts my brain is jelly, which means writing weaknesses shine through as I pounce on the keys. I know I’m mixing tenses, and I’m sure Grammar Nazis cringe with each read. There simply isn’t time to edit and revise. And I’m not sure if Edgar Allan Poe were alive he’d care, for writing, grammar, or a trip away from the east coast he had clung to, but Poe may have enjoyed how his story, The Tell-Tale Heart found its way into the day’s ride…
Nescafe is not coffee, much like Hershey is not chocolate. So I moved beyond the chemical laden crap the hotel called breakfast and ventured outside. A typical winter sky of blue gray hovered above me, but the eleven-degree wind chill (-11.7 Celsius) caught my attention and I huddled up. Then, thunder rocked my ears to the point where they buzzed, much like a singer hitting a high note the speakers couldn’t handle. But the thunder kept on coming. I looked to the clouds above but failed to find what I knew was an F-16 Fighting Falcon. The brutal cold let its roar resonate to the point where the fighter seemed only inches above me, though I couldn’t see the damn thing. I finally caught it low on the horizon about a half-mile away near Traux Field that the Air National Guard 115th Fighter Wing calls home.
That was the best part of the day.
Though the drive to Sioux Falls is only six hours, once I passed some cool terrain thanks to glaciers, it was as if I was riding through Pennsylvania farmland again. A decent break came near Dexter, Wisconsin, a town of under 400 people, that showcased a wind farm far larger than Van Wert. Hell, there may have been one mill for each person in Dexter.
The odd thing is that Google Maps always launches a “Welcome to…” when I cross a state border, but failed to do so with Minnesota and its endless Groundhog Day like highways. Every time I rounded a bend, it appeared to be the same stretch of road I had just left. Still on 90 West, I rolled by the city of Blue Earth yet failed to see their sixty-foot statue of the Green Giant. (Yes, I even welcomed product placement as a distraction at this point.)
Thankfully, Ben Howard kept me awake, at least his Rivers in Your Mouth song, which I must have replayed fifty times. Like Don Riemer, I love Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent), who may be the strongest and most innovative female in music, but her studio albums lack the verve and energy she brings to her live performances, so I had to put her CD to bed. I started to fade fast, until I cranked Ultraspank, the metal/industrial band Kim McDonald, Melanie McCurdie, Amber Shaw, and even Jonny Numb, may find worthy. The day before, I had indulged in Joy Division’s “Still” recording and thought much about Ian Curtis, his all too short life, and the film Control. Then I revved up X’s fantastic “Under the Big Black Sun,” which critics bypassed for “Los Angeles.”
But there’s something to say about alternative music from the frozen doldrums of Minnesota. If Nirvana helped put the “Seattle Sound” of Grunge on the map, and if the fathers are The Melvins, then the grandfathers must be The Replacements and Husker Du. Why Grunge isn’t called the “Minnesota Sound” or “Minnesota Music” for alliteration purposes, never ceases to amaze me.
Besides the music, I was haunted by a different kind of eye than the narrator in Poe’s classic tale. Mine was the sun as it set over the farmlands of Minnesota. The eye shone bright and blinding, and sent waves of gold, aquamarine, red, purple, and pink through low clouds for what seemed like hours as I drove into it to be swallowed up. The eye stared down the road and fought to combat the rotation of the Earth so as not to go gently into that good night…
With an hour to go, I stopped in the Blue Line Café in Worthington, Minnesota, just minutes from the South Dakota border. The gas was cheaper than most, and I had wanted to visit some sort of a diner, so I walked into the place. Besides a restaurant, there was a small café and gift shop, and a 7-11 like store with a plethora of Confederate Flag decals intermixed with anti-Obama propaganda – though no Trump signs were in sight. I ordered salmon and steamed vegetables (green beans from a fucking can), and saw the first Latina (a busgirl) since I had left Easton. The day before, in Madison, I had seen a black person for the first time since Pennsylvania. I immediately wondered: What if I wasn’t a bald guy sporting a Misfits shirt at a local dive, but a black man? Would the patrons give me looks? I don’t have a clue, but when I asked the waitress if they served ice cream, she said, “Only vanilla.”
Route 90 West was black as Hell, though another windmill farm to my right freaked me out. I couldn’t see the mills, but their red warning lights to low flying aircraft faded in and out in unison like some Cylon army out of “Battlestar Galactica”. And it wasn’t hard to imagine multiple copies of Jody the Pig’s eyes staring back at James Brolin in The Amityville Horror. The movie may be bad, but that scene from the dock blew my mind. And if Poe’s mad narrator hadn’t heard the heartbeat in his head, but saw the Old Man’s eye multiplied by one-hundred, he wouldn’t have confessed to the murder, he would have died from cardiac arrest.
Oddly enough, the talented and engaging Vicki Speegle invited me to co-write a short run series for cable television based on Poe’s stories. Rest assured, her concept’s fantastic and the end result will be something far removed from a modern regurgitation of Poe’s tales. Today’s motif, combined with Raul Garcia’s 2013 animated analogy gave me some great ideas. In Extraordinary Tales, Garcia uses Bela Lugosi’s narration of the story from most likely 1946. Lugosi’s agent may have used the audio as a calling card to gain the Dracula star some roles in his waning years.
Soon, the dark highway gave way to low lights on the horizon – Sioux Falls, South Dakota’s largest city of roughly 165,000.
I’m in the hotel with no desire to engage in any night life. The goal is to get to bed early and drive out to the Badlands before the sun sets and stares me down once again.
And although Google didn’t welcome me to South Dakota either, I’m at the halfway point to reuniting with Ally Bishop in Seattle.