I woke up at 5:30 a.m. way before the 7 a.m. buzzing of the alarm clock. The roadtrip I’ve been looking forward to was finally about to begin. I brew some coffee on the coffee maker in the motel room and turned on the TV to the Weather Channel. With my bags already packed the night before I sat on the edge of the bed looking at the weather maps on TV for a few seconds. When the sound of the coffee brewing invaded the room I picked up the road atlas and went through the route I would be taking from Illinois all the way to the Wisconsin/Minnesota border. When the sun begun to shine through the half closed drapes I knew it was time to pick up my car for this roadtrip. I filled up a paper cup with the freshly brewed coffee and with my bags in tow made my way out the door to the car parked outside. After checking out of the motel the miles ahead begun to take shape in my road feverish mind.
I set the radio to a generic local country radio station and got into the early morning Chicago traffic already flowing heavily. After navigating for a few minutes through the gridlock of the North Loop I finally merged into I-94 heading west as Jason Aldean’s “Fly Over States”, ironically started playing on the radio. After just a few miles the traffic came to a standstill briefly, and for more than sixty miles afterwards, a 45 mile per hour speed limit was enforced due to construction work being done on the interstate. Not exactly the start I was hoping for, to be standing in rush hour traffic between concrete blocks on both sides of the road and big semis pushing the limits of their trucks higher than the revoked 75 miles per hour speed limit.
I changed the dial on the radio looking for something more imperative to the roadtrip than the usual country pop songs but all I got was more of the same across the dial. I turned the radio off and opened the window and breezed through for a few miles til the end of the road work as the scenery started to shift drastically from suburban and industrial towns to endless fields of corn. Finally the road begun to spread out and with fewer traffic to contend with I finally begun to enjoy the prospect of driving for hours without a single worry in mind.
I turned the radio on and looked for a country radio station more in tune with my taste that reaches as far back as the early Honky Tonk of the 50’s but only goes as far as the mid 90’s before pop music started informing almost every single song coming out of Nashville. The corn fields begun slowly to be replaced by dairy farms as I kept pushing west but my search for the perfect soundtrack didn’t yield any results. I didn’t want to push it too far the first day but four hours after leaving Chicago I didn’t felt I needed to stop, which for me is unusual as I’ve never driven more than three hours straight. But upon approaching the Tomah/Oakdale area the truck stop signs seemed like a beacon for someone who started to crave a little rest and some food.
The café adjacent to the truck wash at the Pilot Flying J Plaza seemed appealing from the outside as mostly trucks were parked in the parking lot. Although at first it appeared to be run down and the menu only consisted of a few choice sandwiches written in chalk on a black board it was somewhat cozy and a welcome relief from the noisy interstate. As I came in George Jones was playing on the radio which made me draw a big smile to the surprise of the old man behind the counter. After a delicious turkey breast sandwich and decent coffee I was ready to hit the road again and push forward to the Wisconsin/Minnesota border before the sun would set in.
I kept pushing on the gas and pressing on the radio dial and as I passed Eau Claire finally some familiar voices started propping up on the radio. Merle and Keith Whitley. Willie and Dan Seals. Emmylou and John Conlee. Dwight and Skip Ewing. One after the other. Finally I had the soundtrack I had desired for the roadtrip. And as the scenery started shifting drastically again, after the urban surroundings of Madison and the tourist attractions around Wisconsin Dells, all of a sudden it was all corn fields again scattered among dairy farms with bright red barns and rusty holding silos and herds of cattle grazing on the open fields.
For the next two hours the first day of the 30-day roadtrip was finally beginning as far as I was concerned and the thought that I was getting closer to Minnesota made me smile again knowing that the plains of North Dakota and the mountain ranges of Montana weren’t that far ahead.
September 16, 2014 (Super 8 Motel)