Oct 15, 2003

Freaky night in the other Great American Desert
And then the road was dark, country dark, with only the lights of a distant barn and an occasional star to light the two lanes of an untraveled highway heading west.

Somewhere we’d left the wide 80-75 of middle Pennsylvania and, rather than moving to the tollway of Ohio’s 80-90, had spilled out onto 75 and then onto 400 and something and now these two lane highways. No longer in the vein of Semi truckss and road trips with giant rest stop centers, we’d come to a country where the only signs were for Amish buggy crossings.

We were driving through the other great American desert – North Ohio at night.

No sign seemed to point to anything outside itself, a little world taken over by an intense localism refusing to even acknowledge an outside world. If all roads lead to Rome these people sure as hell weren’t going to say so. They mentioned the Elks keeping this highway free from liter and there was something about the high school team – bobcat, wolverine, panther – and mention of curves in the road ahead, but no outside world.

“What are we gonna do man?” Noah asked me.
“We can’t go back,” I said. “The only thing that makes sense is just to go west. It’ll spill out into something eventually.”

So we went west, having no more specific location than Northern Ohio, knowing that the Great Lakes where somewhere on our right and not knowing if the now-mythical turnpike lay right or left.

“Go west,” I said, “go west.” The road was lined by graveyards. The dark barns and silos rose up around us. Our world was familiar and completely unpredicatble. Our only little spook show was set against a shifting backdrop, a world where everything was but shade, receeding into background, never rising above into focus.

“Dude we gotta stop and look at a map. Ask for directions,” he said.
“What are you gonna say?” I asked. “We don’t know where we are and we don’t know where exactly we want to go. I mean if they tell us how to get to Toledo, what if we’re already past that? I wouldn’t know what to ask for.”

So, like men, we continued stubbornly due west.

We passed a tall house, lightless, rising into a clapboard tower.

“That’s gotta be an Amish house,” Noah said.
“A haunted Amish castle.”

I began to play Tom Waits’ Mule Variations, reaching for some music to match the madcap mood I was in.

“Dude we gotta stop and look at a map,” Noah said.
“Okay. Fine. There are some lights up ahead we’ll stop there and you can go in.”

We pull to the crossroad, the world dark as far as the eye can see except for this one corner, to realize this light in the darkness was darkness itself: a warehouse sized adult video store with lettering a full neon 7-feet tall.

Noah looked at me sideways.

“Damn,” I said.
“Yeah, yeah. Totally.”
“Guess we’ll stop at the next place.”
“This night is so freaky. I’m expecting to see like deformed clowns come out of the windows.”

Later they asked me how the trip was.

“Fine,” I say, “we got lost for a little while in Northern Ohio and we’re attacked by Amish vampires and saw hordes of deformed clowns.

“But it was fine.”