We’d be there in the morning. I’d find out what was true and what wasn’t. In the backseat Lena took the cap off a video camera and began fiddling with it. Invisible Dan drove, and I lay my head against the window and thought still about our waitress. Could I capture whatever this was about the country—wherever we were now, and were going—and our lives? Could Lena? She aimed her camera out the window, shot footage of fields glazed with moonlight. She was making a movie, shooting much of it, Wisconsin Death Trip-style, inside the three insane asylums that crouched on the outskirts of our New England town. The mist of the Gothic that clung to her seemed to cling equally to Columbus itself. I’d heard the story about the Olentangy Bridge, where a couple on a blind date had parked and then the guy gotten out of the car to walk for gas. They were seventeen, and the girl had waited alone in the dark until she began to hear a scraping noise on the roof of the car. It was petrifying. She waited and waited, finally leapt out of the car to find her date had hung himself from the bridge overhead. The scraping sound was his feet. These urban legends were nearly believable, even if half-original. I knew they had probably happened elsewhere, everywhere and nowhere, but when Marcus told them I believed all the same. When he described his friends Marcus quoted William Carlos Williams, The pure products of America go crazy. We’re all insane. If this were true—there was no reason to doubt this at least, given the soft-spoken intensity he and Lena seemed to share, the batshit consumption of every drug they could find hiding under yes, ma’am, no, ma’am politeness—I was ready to go nuts too, although hopefully not before I’d had a chance to see the sights. The Village Thrift Emporium! Perry’s Bar! Nick’s Nook! Marcus had instilled in me a reverence for these places I’d heard so much about, a feeling that was one part patriotism and another part nostalgia for something I’d never encountered, a homesickness for someone else’s home. It was easy enough for me to feel then, this longing I didn’t yet have to pay for.
Dan hollered as a truck whisked into view, its lights filling the cab. I tucked my head between my legs. At the last second it swerved and blew its horn. Marcus and Lena seizured with laughter, as the car shook, rocked violently in its slipstream. Close call!
“Jesus,” Lena muttered. “You two guys are so uptight!”
She yawned. Dan turned the key in the ignition, edged his way back into traffic. The pure products of America go crazy. Fine. That was the song in fact that was playing on the mix-and-match tape Lena had made for our journey: James Brown’s “I’ll Go Crazy.” It swung softly from the speakers as we red-lined along I-80 at long last, trucks passing and honking while Dan struggled to get the car into third. Soon enough it would be morning. What were those cruciform shapes out there in the fields? Scarecrows? Poor Dan hunched over the wheel, as freaked as if we’d wired him to a bomb.
“You’ll take over again when we get out of Pennsylvania, right?” He nudged me. “Right?”
He and I were the only ones now left awake. What did he or I know about the Midwest, or anything at all? To me, California had begun to seem so dowdy, so common. Its glamour didn’t hold any surprises. Like our Invisible driver I yearned to be seen, to explode against the bright clean lines of the world behind me. But for now I was just going to nod my head and look out the window and hum, where the songs had hooks to hum to, and try to sleep. Dan’s shift at the wheel would last until he killed us, or until we got close enough to need someone who could actually navigate the gearbox. Whichever came first.