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III: Pink Highways, from So Late into the Night
by Elinor Nauen

Now it's time to shout "Allons! Come with me!"
As we hit the road, see the USA
By way of car and thumb. My hobby
Is driving around, but in an earlier day
It was my life. If I was asked, I'd be
Avid to split, or I'd spirit away
Alone. I had friends I was devoted
To all over the country, and I toted

Myself constantly to see them. No money
So I generally hitchhiked. I might veer
Off for weeks or months on a journey,
Or rumba a thousand miles in a mere
Weekend. Motion was all I wanted. Funny,
I don't feel that different now - to steer
With no output still seems the ideal life
Even though these days I'm a worker and wife.

Three summers ago I drove with Becky
From Oregon back to the East Coast.
Becky and - please note! - her two wacky
Springer spaniels, Emma and Jake. Foremost
Of springers' qualities is anarchy
Of attention and compliance. No milquetoast
They. These dogs need to be tended to
All the time or it's like being in a zoo.

Springer spaniels are white with brown, black
Or liver-colored patches and silky hair.
Excitable an understatement. They lack
Decorum! Insanely friendly with rare
Joy. We had to stop often, to unpack
Leashes, collars, dishes and let them tear
After birds. They're pointers, who leap straight up
(Hence the name) off the grass, even as pups.

In Montana, an older gentleman
With a springer fell for Beck. You're it, he
Cried. Be my bride, we'll live in my van
With our dogs. She declined, and though I could see
Why, I thought yes, tempted as I was to can
Our adventure: Imagine two hideously
Hyperactive kids in a small plane. You'll
Want to bail. One good point - these dogs don't drool.

In the old days you could hop on a plane
An hour after it occurred to you
To go somewhere; you didn't have to pay
Four times as much as people who knew
Seven, fourteen, thirty days before that they
Intended a trip. One time I blew
Up Johnny's computer and in a panic
Decided to flee to Maine and Janet.

I called first: What are you doing tonight?
"There's a party," she said, "otherwise
Just hanging." "I'm on my way. I might
Come to Bar Harbor - wherever the plane flies."
An hour later I was at LaGuardia and that night
I partied. Sudden movement satisfies
The urge to subvert space-time and put
Off boyfriend, job and weights of adulthood.

I used to fly under an invented name-
Olivia Bennett, no, Jane Bennett
Or sometimes Olivia Grey. The game
Of anonymity. Do I think it
Can be like that now? that maybe the same
Hitchhiking circus apply? A tenet
Of hitchhiking was to start off with a whiff
Of invention and continue to riff

On it till it was complex and detailed
By the time you got where you were going.
For instance, once, leaving Maine, I retailed
Info about my three kids, the lies flowing
Smoothly from my mouth. I never failed
With an answer. I was confident, knowing
I could improvise. I was in love with
Peter then and based it on his three kids

(But only somewhat). I take from hitch-
Ing several principles. One: implicit trust
In my tongue. I can lie, the words pitch
In and flourish. The trick is to get bust-
Ed in a fib (a good one) at times, which
Inclines people to suppose that you must
Be a bad liar. They've misunderstood
That all the rest of the time you're good.

Another rule I took from my stretch
As a thumber was to rely on
My first impressions of people. Some lech
Could be Ted Bundy - you had to see beyond
His looks. Guys made passes but a real wretch?
Nope. I never got in with anyone
Too skeezy. Snap judgments, and I still
Decide right away about folks I meet, and feel

I am never wrong. The new editor
At First mag - I knew right away she was nuts
And destructive. Give her a chance, Elinor,
My colleagues said. You bet, I said, but
Bided my time. In a few weeks, plenty more
Knew what I did. That's one model of my guts
Working on my behalf. Maybe I turned
Down Ted Bundy for a lift! I'll never learn

The truth about my narrow escapes,
Which is the truth about life, isn't it?
The other fork in the road, the scrapes
You miss - you can't land in another minute
Of the calendar. The skipped landscape
Can only remain indeterminate.
That's why it's pointless to feel regret
(Except when you have hurt others). Forget

The road not taken and relish the grade
You're on. It has become the only option.
Hitching lends itself to thinking, I'm afraid.
And that's something I guaranteed to shun
In this poem. No philosophy to degrade
My limping brain. You think that won't wash? Un-
Theory is my middle name, and I cling
To my creed: Ideas aren't what make birds sing.

Beau once used the phrase "the flow of life;
You're in it," he said. I want to be in it -
I want to be scraped by joy, fear and strife;
A peer of physicality: a peony,
The Chrysler building gleaming like a knife,
Fruit flies, teacups, new books, the Leonid
Showers, they all are only what they are -
Stuffing meaning onto beauty serves to mar

What's in front of you: simple objects
But complicated too like the H4 clock
Invented by the winner of the project
To determine longitude. A weathercock
Didn't work. Latitude easy, this subject
Isn't, even though I read the book, chock-
Ful of explanations of time and tide,
None of which stuck far into my hide.

In Helena, Montana, a salad
Was so perfect I vowed to move to this
Town. The "New York-style" deli was less valid,
However. A deserted town in southwes-
Tern ND reminded Beck of the pallid
Place in Georgia her father came from. To miss
Where you've never lived comes from the powers
Of place to evoke memories not ours.

Why does one place land with full weight in our
Heart while another glances across our eyes
And is gone? Why recall some adventure, hour,
Incident or person? Is there a wise
Answer? is it random? or does some power
Such as childhood experience give rise
To the differing importance of each
Thing that sticks or doesn't in our niche?

Being huge fans of Ford Madox Ford,
Becky and I made our obeisance
To Olivet College, in Michigan, for
A stop at the Fordie shrine, which indecent-
Ly doesn't exist, which didn't floor
Us, knowing how overlooked he's been since
(And before) his death 60 years ago.
The man who loved women and who wrote

The mysterious yet scratchily open
Parade's End, my favorite, much-read book
With sex-mad Sylvia ever-hoping
Christopher will sleep with her. But he took
Off with Valentine, saw England loping
Through clouds of wild plants, the war shook
Them up, he wants rest and a woman he
Can finish his talk with quietly.

My favorite car was a '73
LTD named Ford Madox Ford. Its flanks
Were painted blue, pink and green in flaky
Latex housepaint, in magic marker hanks
Of poetry: "It will be easy
To drive away from this." Cops and cranks
Stopped me all the time: what inclinations
Led to "Dreams aimless as destinations."

Here's a lot more tales from my bullet days:
Driving west on Route 2 through Maine with Pecos,
We stopped for a light in some small place.
A guy leaned out of a window (a ghost?).
"Come on up," he hollered out of a haze
Of pot smoke, "it's a party!" Our host's
Father was there, a silent drunk. I was
Shocked. I had no idea that dads got buzzed.

On that same drive we picked up a Canadian
Bum (not entertaining), went through Montreal,
Ate raisins the whole way. What year? What radiant
Talk? Where I went after Detroit I don't recall.
Pecos, with his heart-shaped birthmark, custodian
Of 30 years of photos, waterfall
Of opinions and laughs, an alphabet
Of memories. And best of all - not dead yet!

Leaving in a couple hours to cruise
On up to Maine in a rental car,
Mine having been stolen - the cops refused
To look for a 16-year-old - on a par
With searching for a teenager I might lose.
Poor little Yellow Bird, kidnapped, marred -
Well, her beauty was not exactly pristine.
She was too rusty to properly clean.

Every Fourth of July Maggie and I
Try to remember if we can spot the fireworks
From our roof. We argue and don't try
To hang with people whose apartment perks
Include a glimpse of the East River. By
The time we realize once again that we're jerks
For not remembering, it's too late to
Go elsewhere and we don't get any view.

One time, however, we rode our bikes down
To the Brooklyn Bridge when they held the display
Several days early. The renowned
Gruccis ran it. No one there! A workday.
They cascaded waterfalls and crowns
And rippling skyfuls of color that may
'Ve been more impressive than the Bicentennial
Blasts I saw hitchhiking across Pennsylvania.

Standing alone on a road by a field
At daybreak, with the fresh grassy air
Rising in wisps, sky lavender and teal,
Cattle regarding you with solemn stare,
The top of your head about to yield
To its most feathery impulse, where
You will yell and dance madly in the quiet
That is noisy with vehement spring light.

Standing under an interstate overpass
In Iowa, on Christmas Eve, in a blizzard
Cursing all the cars that zoomed by too fast
To see me in what was a desert
Of white. I knew I'd get home at last,
And I did, of course. As by a wizard,
That world was made small by whirling weather
And by knowing this couldn't go on forever.

Squatting by a moonlit road in Vermont
To pee, my car silently rolled away,
Slowly, as if she were no more than saunt-
Ering a step or two toward the trees to say,
Hey, look at this pine, and then, her jaunt
Done, slide back. I let her go without dismay,
Didn't yank up my pants and leap at her.
The car rolled to a stop, and so did my bladder.

Standing on the highway after getting kicked
Off by the cops, then outraged that they came
Back - didn't they trust us? We were nicked
For 32 bucks each, me and Beth, a lame
Fine that we had to borrow from my ticked-
Off sister Lindsay. (No, from her no blame.)
An afternoon in the Dane County Jail
And that's all there is to that little tale.

Except to say we wouldn't eat the baloney
Sandwiches. No one else was in the clink.
Beth and I tried out our best stony
Stares on the matrons, who didn't blink,
No surprise, as our looks were pretty phony.
I could see Madison's lake through a chink.
I knew the money would be effective
So couldn't make myself feel truly captive.

While hitching has its glories - low cost,
New people - a road trip in your own car
Is terrific too. You can take off
And stop when you want, pick the route, part
Ways with the interstate when you stop
Needing its smooth speed, and when you're too far
From the next place where you can relax,
Jump back on the fast road and make tracks.

Hitching's not all just moments of standing
By the roadside, though that's when you feel most
Solitary, the sky huge, landing
On you with a wide-awake crack; the host
Of wildflowers and maybe undemanding
Cows or horses by a trough or fencepost.
You see best when you aren't where you are
Usually, that's why these pictures feel so sharp.

Computers are like cars -- some people like
To drive, some hate it, most are indifferent.
They want to get where they want to go. Strike
The tone for technology! Ignorant
Driving leads to trouble. But a motorbike
Or automobile can be operant
Without fathoming how to fix the motor;
OK to type knowing not one iota

About what makes a computer function.
If the owner has taken driver's ed,
Or computer ed in conjunction
With buying the machine, taking it apart, add-
Ing memory, diagnosing a malfunction
Are extras. Up to speed is fast enough. Dread
Makes us stupid. Hit every button,
I say. See what happens when you go on.

"See what happens" is a pretty good approach
At that - something unexpected is bound
To turn up if you're watching. A cockroach,
For instance. (Not so surprising in a town
Like New York.) The extraordinary can encroach
The regular with a prism shift of profound
Or small consequence. A platitude here
Is called for, or maybe a glass of beer.

Whew - escape profundity (silly
Is more like it) with a bottle. A joint
More up my fireplace. I used to really
Smoke like a fish: giggle, lose the point
Of conversations, willy-nilly
Laugh, eat, leap up. Fun and then one day - boing! -
No more pot. I love to reminisce
About the days when I had time like this

To be goofy, do whatever came along,
Take off for months because someone asked
Me and one move led onward. Being young
Was part of it. The '70s were a blast,
Plenty of us footloose. Nothing wrong
With having a good time. Motto: live fast
(Without the dying young part, if possible,
Including staying out of the hospital).

Another stop was the Corn Palace
In Mitchell, SD. My favorite shopping
Spot - better than Bergdorf's! I am zealous
In looking at the a-maizing, eye-popping
Collection: pens shaped like corncobs (phallus),
Caps, snowglobes, popcorn with many toppings,
Shirts galore. All corn-themed. I love corn,
A central nature image since I was born.

Fields of corn along every road and rung.
I liked how you saw straight rows no matter
What angle you stared from; head-on swung
Diagonal in perfect rhythm. Ladders
Of satisfying symmetry. When young
I could identify corn with no natter.
It looks like itself from sprout to ear
Unlike most other plants or trees or beer.

Corn's more like a friend in that regard,
Who doesn't disguise her voice when she phones
Or wear a wig when you meet, to make it hard
To know it's her. Corn is what it is, no bones
About it. I also like corn as the bard
Of the prairie, the constant wind that moans
Through the fields sings a duet with that grass
Spreading its generous heart like a gas.

"Whole lot of things I ain't never done,"
Sang Commander Cody (I believe)
"But I ain't never had ... too much fun!"
Hitching rules: Don't ride with someone who weaves
Across three lanes to stop for you. There's a ton
More advice: It doesn't matter how dev-
ious, you can outwit them. The longer
The wait, the better the ride. Hunger

Is thwarted by accepting every offer
Of food. Wash your face every chance you get.
I'm sure there's more, but as always, it's tougher
To learn if too much info pelts you. A vet
Is the only one who really knows - a duffer
Has to learn it all from scratch. This our debt
To education. Never take 101 -
Always begin in the middle. I'm done!

I'm done - or perhaps I need to amplify
Some of these remarks, or tell the stories
They're based on. In 1975
It was possible to get into lorries
Or cars, go off with strangers and defy
The warnings you'd heard all your life of gory
Outcomes. I don't anymore travel the same
Way so don't know if the roads are wild or tame.

What was it that flung so many of us
Into furious nonstop travel?
Driving - letting the road unwind like Texas
Through us - removed us from the battle
Of American life, which we despised. Hus-
Tling for bucks versus wanting what we have'll
Seem old news, but it was passionately fought.
I, for one, was determined not to get caught

By traditional anything: job, marriage,
Home. The outcome: I live in a "starter"
Apartment (as some people disparage
It), work freelance, not quite by barter
But no regular paycheck. A squarish
Relationship that's a little harder
To summarize in a line or two.
I love love love Johnny - will that do?

No, of course not. I'll have to explain the terms
Of how we go about our life together.
He'll hate this revealing. Shut up, El! He squirms
At my unprivacy. Oh well, he'll weather
This like many other storms. He confirms
Storms but I can knock him down with a feather
Before he'll agree that we ever agree.
And that's marriage, kids, between Johnny and me.

The first car I owned was a '50 Dodge
Schoolbus named Ernest. "We did everything
In Ernest." Bought in South Dakota, lodged
In Denver, sold in Boulder. Next king
Of the road was LeRoy, '54 Ford, hodge-
Podge of jury-rigged parts, in which we winged
It across the country - Colorado
To Calif and Michigan. The bravado

Of those days of driving through the wreckage
Of time and expectation, when we could
Take off for months with no slow-down baggage
About jobs, gardens and boyfriends. I would
Drive a thousand miles for coffee and a message
Of friendship or to hang out. But then, you should
Be aware that I grew up with a mom
Who drove hours for bagels without a qualm.

My dad didn't drive at all, he stopped
The year I was born, when on a trip
To the cemetery, a passenger popped
Up in the back seat, poked him and quipped,
"Hope this won't be a one-way excursion." Pop
Pulled over, got out and never would nip
Behind the wheel again. I learned with no fuss
That women drive but men are too nervous.

In our hometowns of Port Huron and Sioux Falls
We did readings from our books. Where were
The dogs? I think not allowed in the malls
Where we read. In Sioux Falls the store downtown, the curs
Left at a friend's. Doesn't matter. The halls
Of Washington High were a stop - now a tour-
Ist destination: Washington Pavilion
Home to concerts, art and mimes vaudevillian.

Elinor Nauen is the author of books of poetry and anthologies on baseball and the joys of automobiles. She is a freelance editor for Newsweek International, health magazines and MediaChannel.org, among others, who lives in New York City.


American Guys (Hanging Loose) ISBN 1-882413-41-5 (cloth) ISBN 1-882413-40-7 (paper)
Hanging Loose books are available through Baker & Taylor, Book People, Small Press Distribution

Email: ENauen@aol.com

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