Missin’ Ol’ Miz? (20060705)
Aaron Rosenblatt. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006 Could I really be longing for the less-than-72 hours I spent in the "Show Me" state? Not. A. Chance. But still, for a state in the middle of Jesusland, it's not so bad. Or at least, Missouri's Columbia wasn't so bad. While it may be true that the Continental Divide has become the western edge of the boredom barrier, I did make note of some interesting observations. First off, when you're zipping along at 80 miles an hour, slowing to 60 felt like the equivalent of jumping from a Concord to a Sopwith Camel. Gravity kicks in, my body was forcibly pushed against the seat and yet the change in velocity only adds 10 or 15 minutes to the trip. Travelling changes your perception of things, and not always in the way you'd expect. Secondly, just as the Big Box Stores have ostensibly turned America in one giant shopping mall, other cultural forces also have been at work. Laramie, Wyoming, home to the University of WY, turned out to be surprisingly similar to Columbia, MO, home to the University of MO and my brother's first foray into the exciting world of graduate-level education. Both have a plethora of coffee shops with free wireless broadband access; both are in the middle of nowhere. Young people infest both at the same times of year, leaving both desolate during the retardedly hot months, and in both, I bet, drinking beer is considered a viable alternative to paying your heating bill. (This was born out by the $2 happy hour draughts Aaaron and I found in Columbia.) Finally, both have a growing number of trendy-style eateries that serve three-dollar hamburgers for triple their value housed in complexes that generally abuse architectural Art Deco. If you have to be stuck in Missouri between Kansas City and St. Louis, though, you could pick worse places than Columbia. Driving there from Omaha along Interstates 29 and 70, there were three kinds of billboards: a small minority were for "Black Cat Fireworks," but most harkened the reader to attend to either "Jesus," who is clearly in desperate need of even more advertising, and the rest for "Passion's Adult Superstores." The Jesus boards and the Passion boards were in about equal percentage, which indicated to me that while people in Middle Missouri might get off and feel guilty, maybe even at the same time sadly, they generally were less interested in blowing things up. Columbia was a college town, no doubt about it. Besides the beer and the movie theater showing cheap first-run flicks while serving up large pints of, yes, draught beer, there was also a Target in town. Usually, this is apropos of nothing, except that the target apparently came in to provide - get this - an alternative to the three Wal-Marts already with Columbia in their clutches. There wasn't much else, unless you're interested in studying Americana in action or the struggles of a Blue Town in a Red State. The photo above is also relevent to not much, except the subject, my brother, was the reason I was driving to Missouri in the first place. The glasses, the hat, the moustache, it all reminded me of the Beastie Boys video for their song, "Sabotage," so I threw a blue filter on the photo. You can almost hear the sirens wailing past on the freeway. Still, reminiiscing about 1990s nostalgia for the 70s couldn't get the contrast of billboards on I-70 out of my head. There, on the great middle road bisecting middle America, the Black Cat Fireworks signs provided about as effective a buffer between the Jesus signs and the Passion signs as a child psychologist during a messy divorce. It all gave me a burning sense of jamais vu, the sense that you've never experienced something before. I found myself desperately wishing for something as interesting as the old Burma Shave billboards, even though I'm too young to remember seeing them in person. Those were quintessential Americana, the advertising equivalent of baseball, jazz or comic books.