Michael Perry: Doing the Wisco loop
Somewhere around Drummond the rain hit as if it was slung from great sopping towels. A descendent wind pushed the roadside trees into looping swipes and for a mile or so it seemed possible they would scrub the car. The National Weather Service broke into the radio broadcast with a flash flood warning. A mile later the rain was a light spatter, and then it was done. By the time I reached my destination just south of Bayfield the air was humid and still, with here and there a seam of sun through the overcast.
The following day I drove Highway 2 along Chequamegon Bay through Ashland (with a quick stop at the Black Cat Coffeehouse, of which I have long been a fan due to its creaky wooden floors, faint whiff of patchouli, and reliably stout coffee), traversed the Bad River Reservation, and eventually dropped south on Highway 51 down to Plover. I have nothing profound to report beyond the fact that even after 53 years of residency I am still caught off guard at the depth and profusion of green this state can bud up by early June.
There is a temptation on my part — due in part to Kerouac’s “On The Road,” Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley,” and a whole lot of truckin’ songs — to offer up some significant take on the state of things based on what I see through the windshield, overhear at the gas station, or infer from the tailgater who just ached to pass me for five miles up there above Woodruff and finally blew by just in time to hit the 30 mph zone, but in fact sometimes on these drives the cogitation is mundane. I spun around the AM radio dial (actually turning the knob click-by-click so as not to get cheated out of some faint, static-wrapped preaching or ranting or 401k advice), I thought about my children in terms of what effect my absences might have, I stopped and called my mom, I bought a butter burger under the pretext of using the restroom, whenever I passed one
of the few remaining one-story motels I tried to imagine the lot filled with big boaty Fords and Buicks towing wooden watercraft, I wondered if anyone’s mind had ever been changed by a bumper sticker, I noticed the dead deer had antlers in velvet, and — just as I passed Stevens Point — wondered if I could justify another butter burger.
Tomorrow, if weather and the world and our old van allow (I have high hopes, as the gas tank was recently reattached to the chassis with fresh straps), I will head west on Highway 10 and make my way back to our little country home, completing a loop of just over 500 miles. As always happens after these excursions, my mind will stay in motion after my body stops. Like hubcap spinners rotating at a stoplight, the sensation of a road trip lingers, even as we stare at the hearth. It is good to be home. It is good to be free. And let others be.