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Sophia Usow: A road trip through America

Photo courtesy of Sophia Usow Buy this photo

By Sophia Usow, Columnist
Published April 20, 2014

The writer’s opinion on our fair country is based off the song “America” by Simon and Garfunkel.

The beautiful, the free. Closeted in cornfields, hidden by highways and shards of billboards, our nation glows, blinding planes and passing stars. We sleep in its beds of down and dirt while quiet monstrosities protect us from the elements; air conditioners drip cool on the basement floor, the baby sings in strange treble tones. Acid rain on our tongues, explosions under our eyelids, sutures in our logic. Nobody can touch us, nobody can teach us, our feelers are everywhere: creeping, knowing.

Everybody in America loves Raymond, soft rock, Chinese take-out. No one likes cheap talk. Nobody likes waiting. Silence is rust-colored plastic wrap. We talk until our voices sputter and die on the two-lane blacktop, we rest all other thoughts out to dry in the cyber breeze. Senile old women complain about Applebee’s entrees but we know better, there are bigger problems to face, what’s the Dollar Menu looking like nowadays?

It took me four days to hitchhike to Saginaw, but I was determined to get there because that’s where my friend was having his drag show. I’ve got some real estate here in my bag: some Monopoly pieces, some memories to forget. Riding off into the horizon, John Wayne realizes he left his charger at home. Who knew it was this easy to fall so far so fast?

Violence in video games makes our children want to hit each other with Glock nines, hentai in adolescence makes nerds out of our future leaders, Ciroc makes beasts out of scared little boys. Poetry is found in dark corners beside the highway, those forgotten places known only as tin hammocks for gas station clerks. When The Man tells you he loves you, don’t believe it, don’t be charmed. He’s been eating food with lots of MSG. The sodium is doing the talking.

In America, commercials compel civilians to say things: “topless beer party” and “like a good neighbor insurance company heartland Toby Keith.” From sea to shining indoor swimming pool, the Dream is everywhere, the Waffle Taco has arrived. Paul Blart Mall Cop wins the electoral college. In his inaugural speech he brings the audience to its knees: four score and seven years ago our WiFi connection was bad, our corn syrup grew wild, our native population threw up smoke signals not even Watson’s logarithms could make sense of. Electronic Dance Music didn’t exist, there were not yet any sick womps or faces rolling with furry inertia across the lonesome prairie. We used candles to make our light shows. There were no music videos, no spring breaks, no parachute pants. Democracy was vibrant and men tickled one another with bayonets and knew no Queen Bey.

The embers of the last dying American Spirits illuminate our path, forlorn wanderers counting the cars on the New Jersey turnpike. In the kitchens of local haunts, accents fly with broken wings over surfaces of plates dirty with Cholula hot sauce. Tie-dye t-shirts with the spit of different berries and bleaches clothe our greatest cities: De Moines, Paris, Texas, Palo Alto. What is a gabardine suit? Do they sell them at Marshalls? Hot Topic haunts twenty-somethings’ closets, providing tube tops that leave midriffs open to the setting sun and proclaim its wearers are “Daddy’s Little Nightmare.”

Michigan seems like a dream to me now. Out the rear window of a dirty house filled with the sweat of men, I see its trees: tall, ghostly, nature’s dinosaurs. When rain soaks through the soil it is surprised to find that roots and branches are mirror images of one another with only one degree of difference; reflections on blurry puddles of mud. Looking out the back seat glass I see fields fly by and turn into blurry moonscapes of soy and crushed cans. I love this place, I never want to leave. I want it to keep turning me on myself, selling me a troubling mystery I can never crack, not even with the help of Detective Stabler or the Hardy Boys. I like it better that way, I like the assuredness of the daily news that features failing celebrity skin and the clash of civilizations in the same breath. I like not knowing who I am or where I need to be.

Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together. I have only the anticipation of heartbreak and a quick rush of dopamine to give you. We’ll escape the wedding and jump on a passing bus. Our ecstasy will become numbing. We’ll think they’ve turned the camera off. Our smiles will fade. We’ll stare in different directions.

I’ll say, “I’m lost,” though I know you can’t hear me.

Sophia Usow can be reached at sophiaus@umich.edu.