Synthesis Editorial Director Daniel Taylor is out on the road as part of the Tooth and Nail Acoustic Tour, and will be blogging about his travels
OK: Heading north out of Dallas we made good time to Oklahoma, where every small town advertised itself as the â€œHometown of So-and-So.â€ We stopped for gas in the â€œHometown of NFL Hall of Famer Troy Aikman,â€ a forlorn, forgotten slab of a town. The woman at the counter wore her Indian grimace solemnly, an ancient look. I wanted to know her entire life: to what tribe did she belong? From what untold suffering was she descended? Her stern countenance inferred a million spectacular secrets of the earth, all there for the taking. Of course I didn’t ask. No one ever asks. We impose unquestioning privacy on one another and live out our sad secret lives of quiet desperation, hurrying ourselves stealthily to our hopeful graves. I bought a bottle of Evian and got back on the road.
MO: Joplin, Missouri is the type of town you never hear about unless you have to go there, and there’s really no reason you’d ever have to go there. Nevertheless, some hundred thousand or so people ARE there, living a peculiar form of sub-urban anonymity. It’s as if 70 separate small towns grew into each other over time, sprawling outward instead of upward until there was no other choice but to unite under a common flag, combining their dismal aspects into one grand, shared sorrow. The main drag conducted us into the crumbling epicenter of town where we played wiffle ball in front of a moldy Laundromat. The locals were unimpressed but we didn’t care. The girls there were ugly anyway.
IA: The next day we were back in Des Moines, passing the same cornfields we had passed three weeks earlier on our way East to Indiana. Or were they the same? Blowing by at 80 mph, the endless sea of sprouting ears on both sides of the highway certainly seemed like so many green sculptures, permanent an unchanged from time immemorial. But the reality was that not a one of those infinite stalks had avoided change, avoided aging, avoided inching closer to its own hopeful grave during those three weeks. A million corn tragedies and corn victories had been committed to posterity in those fields, visible if only one were to LOOK. And moreover, hadn’t I changed in the interim as well? Hadn’t everything changed? Then again, maybe nothing had changed. Maybe change was just an illusion anyway. Maybe everything, the corn, the road, the whole sickening lot of life was just an illusion. I spent some time trying to figure out which of those two possibilities I would prefer. We played that night in a heavy metal bar in Downtown Des Moines under the shadow of a few pathetic skyscrapers. Ever since Slipknot everything in Des Moines is metal, metal, metal, or at least that’s what some kid told me. Jack Kerouac once wrote that the â€œprettiest girls in the world live in Des Moinesâ€ but I didn’t really see any evidence of that. Maybe all that metal drove them out. Who knows.
MN: Minneapolis is by far the grandest city middle America has to offer, and as far as my particular criteria are concerned, a more pleasant metropolis could scarcely be found on either coast for that matter. We arrived at sunrise, and while the others slept I took it upon myself to make an exhaustive survey of the urban center. Office workers ducked out of their glimmering high rises for their morning smokes in seemingly ridiculous droves. I ate a tremendous breakfast of waffles and eggs at the Marquette Hotel and blew a whole week’s food money. Everywhere I looked were the beatest of characters: bike messengers in vintage dresses and black leggings, Midwest hip-hop kids bopping along to their personal boombips, and best of all, countless Muslim women, of what looked to be a North African persuasion, bedecked in full burkhas and luscious lipstick. They scurried along and clicked their tongues to each other in hushed tones, veiling their words as they did their faces. Later at the Mall of America, trying on some jeans in the H&M dressing room, I encountered a group of these women, holding vigil outside a stall while one of their ranks tried on her own selections. Perhaps confused as to the unisex nature of the facility, the occupant emerged free of not just her headdress, but the better half of her clothing. I stared, slack jawed at this uncovered jewel of the Nile as her friends tittered nervously. She met my gaze and flashed a cat eyed smile. I smiled back and that was that. The jeans didn’t really fit but I bought them anyway. I hurried back out to dig Minneapolis while I had the chance.
Every day the world groaned to turn and we were making our appalling studies of the night