This guy Steinbeck. In 1960, he takes his dog, a Standard Poodle named Charley, loads up the specially crafted camper he calls Rocinante and heads out to “Discover the America he has made his living writing about.”
I have traveled the world and yet, having written so much about America and the midwest, I hadn’t sat much in the cafes and dive bars, drove the dirt roads, or floated down the clean rivers. I hadn’t hiked the Sandhills, or smoked a peace pipe while gazing over the Badlands. And I have yet to break into a brawl with a couple southern, bullies working for a rich businessman, who has been extorting the local businesses, and who then burns down one of those businesses as a warning, and then tries to run the bar I had been hired to protect to the ground, so I am forced to call my old friend, Wade Garrett, for help, because I am dedicated to helping the town now, even though the woman I fell in love with, the beautiful doctor who put the staples in my arm after that bar fight, is against it. Or is that the movie “Roadhouse”?
I become determined.
“Wife!” I say. “I am leaving for America!”
“Honey, do you mind if I take little trips here and there for inspiration on my new novel? I will stay one or two nights at a time. Steinbeck did it, you know Steinbeck, but he did it for three months, I’m not going to do three months. I will camp to save money when I can, and stay in cheap motels, and I did the laundry today by the way, so don’t worry about that, and it will be fine.”
Non-writers will never understand writers. That is just as sure as the sky is blue. Writers are strange people. Let me give you a hint. The next time you may see someone smiling for no reason at a funeral– probably a writer. A scene came to them or they figured out how to kill off that bastard character finally thanks to Uncle Jack there in the front of the room.
I am still feeling well, the meds keep me mostly pain-free. I have weeks that I don’t feel great, but compared to where I was, I don’t complain. Life is good. This is my second wind, and I am taking advantage of it.
The first novel is looking for a home. It sits on an agent’s desk waiting for a response. Who knows? I know it will land somewhere, and when it does, that will be another adventure.
I put a band together, accidentally I might add, and that has been a blast. I was asked to play a singer-songwriter night, and the next thing I know, I am playing the Waiting Room in Omaha (a great Venue) and at the Omaha Entertainment Awards Showcase. The band doesn’t even know all the songs yet it has happened so fast. We will go in and record soon. What a beautiful thing, writing songs and playing them for crowds of people. It has been so long, I forgot what it felt like. But I have never had this much success either.
Oh yeah. We named our band ‘Bazile Mills’ after an old village up north of Creighton, Nebraska. The place is designated as a ghost town now, because it was once a booming mill town in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. There are about 25 people living there today.
Back to my “Travels with Charley” story. I decided that my first jaunt would be the day after the Omaha Entertainment Showcase to Bazile Mills and up around that area. I had a tight window, so I would do two days and just one night. I loaded the car on Sunday afternoon with one duffel bag and a backpack filled with my notebook, two books, my laptop, my meds, and chargers. I threw in my classical guitar– left the dogs –and drove north.
Bazile Mills is about a four-hour drive. I hooked up my tunes, rolled down the windows, and with no schedule or real map, made my way. There isn’t much left of Bazile Mills. But what is there, is beautiful. The rolling hills and a winding creek are picturesque. There are a handful of homes and one well-kept white church on top of a hill. But my favorite part was the old cemetery. There were broken old stones, some completely unreadable. Civil War Veterans were marked. Many teenagers and babies were buried with notes etched into the stones from their parents. It was a different time. They went through different trials than we did. But I also felt the ‘oneness’ there. Families were buried together. And the town was buried together.
So, I drove back to Creighton to get a bite to eat and do my first “interaction” with the locals. You know, doing my America bit. And it was a Sunday, but I was a little surprised to find almost nothing open. I drove all the way through the main street until finally, I caught a Subway open. I shook my head. “Figures.”
There were a few people eating. I grabbed a salad and sat down next to a family. It looked like a woman with her father and daughter. They were in a good conversation, so I left them alone. I got on my phone a little, caught up on emails, when a guy walks in. He is standing there.
“How you doing?” I say, real Midwestern friendly-like.
“Good. How are you?”
I ask, “How many people live in Creighton?” Still friendly, but now curious.
“I don’t know.”
I consider how a grown man doesn’t know the number of people in his own town.
Then he speaks. “I’m not from here.”
“Oh.” Now I’m happy for him. It absolves him of his lack of knowledge on town demographics. “Where are you from then?”
So, I traveled four hours and 175 miles to sit in a Subway and meet a guy from Omaha? Good start, Dave.