Everyone’s talking about Amtrak’s publicity gold writer’s residency program (some more skeptically than others) this week. I was super for this idea at first — I really love trains, after all — but on further contemplation, namely during a weekend visit to Ohio I took by way of Megabus — I’m not so sure I’d be a good fit. It turns out that the worse the free wireless, the more determined I become to bend it to my will, so I spend a lot of time glaring at Tumblr or cursing at slow-loading news sites rather than writing.
The vacation part, though, the quick getaway — that worked out very well. We’re pretty bad about allowing ourselves actual breaks in the United States. Even with firsthand proof of how good it is to get out of your head by just getting out, sometimes it’s not easy to convince ourselves we need to skip town for a while. But Megabus came to my rescue with outlandishly cheap tickets ($35 round trip) to Columbus, and I hadn’t seen my dad and my dog since Thanksgiving. It was time.
Megabuses, if that’s the proper plural, are double-decker. I am pleased to say I snagged an upstairs front-of-the-bus seat both ways, which afforded me an awesome view of what turned out to be some really weird, gorgeous weather between Chicago and Indianapolis: miles and miles of fog over thick melting snow. It was like driving through a Swedish detective novel.
Just before the Ohio border, we stopped at an astoundingly customized McDonald’s — huge murals of nostalgic Indiana scenery, at least four different kinds of plaid, stars and stripes motifs along the ceiling, tin folk art houses, a statue of a golden retriever. I tried to take some pictures, but I just wound up feeling like an asshole from out of town: even if it was fascination, it was going to look like mockery. So it goes.
Whenever I tell people I’m from Ohio, I have to clarify. I’m not from the flat part, even if my dad lives outside of Columbus now. I grew up in Athens County, which is solidly Appalachia, and that’s the part my heart hurts for when I miss home. On Friday Dad and I headed down to Athens to have lunch with his (and my!) friends, a raucous bunch that takes over a set of tables at the OU Inn once a week. After, I asked if we could drive around a little: I don’t get to come back to Athens much, except for sad occasions. (We did visit my mother’s grave, which it turns out I had been panicking about. I needn’t have: it was necessary, and good to do. We found 25 stones left on top of her marker, as well as some plastic poinsettias and the remains of a small pumpkin, which gave me a terrific laugh. Thank you to whomever is visiting my mom while I can’t, and thank you for being so cheeky about it. She’d approve.)
Driving around the ridge roads in Athens is something I’d really missed. These are all on hilltops; the valleys, which are hard to photograph well from a moving vehicle, are really something else.
The weather had gone unspeakably gorgeous for a short time, but that also meant that the snow, of which many feet had fallen recently, was melting. Which meant the Hocking River, as well as every other body of water, was incredibly high. Yeah, I had “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” running through my head a lot.
Back in Columbus, we committed ourselves to enjoying local cultural institutions — in particular the Columbus Museum of Art, which is small but housed in a nice building, and which put on an equally small but highly enjoyable exhibit of Toulouse-Lautrec and Belle Epoque Paris; and the Franklin Park Conservatory, because I’m a sucker for conservatories and because my mom liked this one too.
Eventually it came time to tear myself away from this dude, but the trip did for me what I was hoping it would. I feel relaxed and less anxious about the job I have in front of me, and I’ve made the decision to stay in Chicago for as long as I can, an issue which had been forced on me by the lease renewal papers I received on Valentine’s Day. Tomorrow I call up my landlords and write my damn cover letters and clean up my apartment more. But I’m glad to be back.
Chicago is a hell of a town to come back to; you can get inured to how big and how great it is, as a city, but after this trip, I remembered. It’s so nice to get away, but this is the city that lives in my marrow, and until some other place calls me (and pays me to leave), I’m staying right here, with love.