Note: Originally published on Blogger on June 25, 2006
Unfolding the Map
Time to discuss small towns, and the fact that sometimes you just have to break down and take the bus. As usual, click on the image to go to the updated map.
"We stood in front of the railroad-ticket shack in Stuart, waiting for the westbound traffic till the sun went down, a good five hours, dawdling away the time...I decided to spend a buck on beer; we went to an old saloon in Stuart and had a few...We got back on the road in the darkness, and of course nobody stopped and nobody came by much. That went on till three o'clock in the morning. We spent some time trying to sleep on the bench at the railroad ticket office, but the telegraph clicked all night and we couldn't sleep...so when the Omaha bus came through just before dawn we hopped on it and joined the sleeping passengers...."
On the Road: Chapter 3
I'm a little at a loss as to what to write about for this point in Sal's journey. I already wrote about waiting for a ride while on the west coast of Ireland. I've written about bus journeys and my experience with that.
Perhaps I can write a little about small-town America. Sal is from the big city, or at least close to the big city. When he lived with his aunt in Paterson, New Jersey, he indicates that he spent a lot of time in New York. Thus, he's really a big town man.
I can imagine that alighting from cars and buses into small towns where the sidewalks roll up at dark was quite different for him. New York, as the song goes, is the city that never sleeps. But small towns sleep all the time. They sleep at night, and even during the day many of them seem to be dozing in somnabulent bliss, waiting for either something exciting or for night to fall so they could once again drift off into a kind of dream.
I grew up in a small town in Northern California, and in the days before it became a major tourist destination for Bay Area folks, it was very quiet. Only a few people were on the street at any one time. What kind of exciting thing was needed to wake our town out of its stupor? Outsiders were one thing. The sight of a couple of unknown guys hanging around on Main Street all day waiting for a ride would have engendered discussion and comment. Later, as hippies became more common in my hometown, people around town became more blasé about such sights. But I can imagine that in the late 1940s, in Stuart, Iowa, the sight of Sal and his newfound Irish companion lounging around town with their New York accents probably brought them notice from many people. These same people would probably have talked about them, but not with them, watching but avoiding them until eventually they slipped away and the town could go back to dozing or sleeping.
Don't get me wrong. Small towns are anything but dead. Behind the scenes, small towns are hotbeds of activity. If the National Security Agency really wants to spy on all Americans, as one side of the current debate argues, then they should really tap the small town gossips, who keep eyes on everything and really do know everyone's business. One thing I've learned in growing up in a small towns is that they have their deep, dark secrets and structures of society that outsiders will find it hard to learn and penetrate. But even if small towns are very good at keeping their secrets from outsiders, within them there are very few secrets: Mr. Johnson knows that Mrs. Smith is an alcoholic, and Miss Jones knows that Mr. Johnson is sleeping with Miss Thomas behind his wife's back. These facts will be common knowledge that nobody talks about, until a blow-up occurs, it becomes very public for a day, and then all goes back to normal.
It is no secret why many of the 50's horror films were set in small towns. They were inscrutable, dark and somewhat menacing places, difficult for city dwellers to understand, where anything, even an alien invasion or an attack of some sort of terrible monster, could happen. Is it any wonder after 5 hours or more in town and no ride available, Sal and his friend grab the bus?
Next up: Council Bluffs, Iowa