It was the biggest sandwich we had ever seen and we ate every bit of it. We knew it was nutritious and it was delicious, of course and we would have had another, but we had to get going and stop moaning, so we paid the tab, said so long to the waitress manning the cash register and made for the bus.
But we slipped the old troll and were soon enough cruising down the long walk of Michigan Ave., a street that hustled hope to injured souls and broken bodies despite its defaced character.
Though from block to block this stone block jungle cast a suspicious gaze on our cruising car, for no other car was on this potted road but us in this early hour, and in this small light the tallest buildings reared back and revealed to us how strong their old bones were, though in truth their stately visage was streaked with tears from a thousand broken eyes.
Even so, the day was warm and beautiful and we had a meal of franks and beans in American Coney Island, a downtown institution since century’s turn a hundred years back, then extracted ourselves from the impossible tangle of downtown streets and aimed the bus at the DIA, a.k.a., the Detroit Institute of Art. We gained entry to the temple and stood in silent reverie before the epochs: the North American ancients and their totem poles that told of terrible beasts and soaring eagles and untold bounties long since forgotten; we heard the hoarse whispers of grotesque African masks, all stretched and thorny and bleeding evil blessings like sweat-stained skin; we pondered the pictures from an Old World, a time when the mercantile class in Europe was amassing great fortunes and willingly tossed their money onto a oily canvas to prove it; we saw the tangled mess of the modern mind—air-conditioned shards of broken glass on green finger-like carpets tacked to tall walls, a white-noise nonsense of repeating neon that slyly winked at us as within this holy temple of endowments.
We entered the dead rooms inside, and though the walls had long ago ceased to talk we could feel the spirits of those sounds still noisily clinging to the thin air.
The Motor City seemed empty somehow as we roared through its rough intersections and mean streets, surging past the burned up husks of once fine houses and startlingly green weedy lots and closed up shops that still promised the sweet heart of love forever in the pink, I was overtaken with the strangest feeling.
For once in my life I didn't know who I was. Diane and I were far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, and I heard the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of a mean hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked through that scratched old windshield and really didn't know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn't scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost. We were halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of a dying Old World and the West of the future, and maybe that's why it happened right there and then, in that strange high sunset.
But then we arrived at The Henry Ford, and in an instant we were transported back to the time of small town steam engines and railroad tracks, and shacks all smelling of sawdust in the dry summer haze of a midwest afternoon.
We stumbled along with the most wicked grin of joy in the world, among the old cars and beat engines of Main Street, the lonely brick walls destined to be illuminated by one lamp, with the prairie brooding at the end of each little street and the smell of the corn like dew in the night. All the townsfolk seemed to be going home from work or preparing for an evening’s pleasure ride, wearing railroad hats, baseball hats, all kinds of hats, just like after work in any town anywhere.
The only cars that came by were antique cars; they gave us friendly waves as they clanked along, the cows were coming home. It was beautiful there. But soon enough the sun turned red as it snuggled down into the its bed on the western horizon and before it disappear into nothing, Diane and I climbed back into the bus and roared off onto the open road, the openness of the Michigan pastures looming ahead of us like the Promised Land, way out there beneath the stars, and I thought about the glories of Diego’s mad dreams and The Old Ford’s mad machines and we aimed the bus northward toward the roof of America and the very edge of the Great Lake Superior where the wild land blooms with giant bears and roaming wolf packs and ahead and I saw the thin outlines of jackpines in the silver moon, and saw the dirty ghosts of worn out factory workers, and heard the still-young voices of Motown, and wondered about them all. And this was really the way that our whole road experience began, and the things that were to come are too fantastic not to tell.