Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Car Gods Are Angry

After Madison came the vast American pampas of Iowa, where presidential dreams rise and fall. It’s amazing to me, cruising past these Midwest acres which are so the picture of apple-cheeked Americana, that the current commander-in-chief found the wave here.

Of course, I’d barely slept the night before worrying about the car wobbling and had, in fact, had the tires “weighted” and “balanced” (whatever the hell that means) at the Madison Firestone, and while we the car was no longer doing a violent shimmy shimmy, it was still on Parkinson’s watch in that crucial 45 to 60 mph zone.

Truth is, I love cars, love driving, love being on a highway, and love when the Midwest opens up with its infinite horizon. And for the full effect, you really do have to leave the cities and venture out to where the interstate becomes a grey ribbon sided by green and gold acres like a giant patchwork.


And, er, that bastard GPS decided that it was Iowa-friendly and actually guided me beautifully, with ETA and maps and where to fill up, all the way to M’s parents’ house.

There, I managed to get about an hour’s worth of sleep before the reading. It was a wet and foggy night and M’s mom and dad drove me to Prairie Lights in Iowa City, about 30 minutes away, where we met up with M’s sister Carrie and her friend Allison. There were about 20 people, a good chunk of them students earnestly taking notes. At least one of them was a Cuban-American – I deciphered this from his questions and later realized I knew his dad (perpetuating the notion that all Cubans know each other).

One of the real pleasures of reading at Prairie Lights this time was the introduction I got from Roberto Ampuero, whom I’d met last summer in Spain during the Semana Negra de Gijon (which was actually ten days … ). Roberto is a critically acclaimed and best-selling Chilean novelist and, as it turns out, professor at the University of Iowa. He’s the author of the Cayetano Brulé detective series and Nuestros años Verde Olivo (about his years in exile in Cuba) and the metafictional mystery Los amantes de Estocolmo.

In other words, he’s a very, very big deal. And hearing him talk about how much he loved Ruins, and how powerfully it evoked Havana – “La Habana,” as he said with a grin -- was both moving and an honor for me.

After the reading, M’s family and Allison and I retired literally next door for a celebratory round of white Russians and a couple of beers. And then we went home, where I crashed so hard it felt like I’d hurled down a long black elevator shaft in a 12 story building.

The next morning, resting in Cedar Rapidian splendor, I vaguely heard the phone, like an echo in a very vast valley. I finally climbed downstairs – M’s parents were long gone to work – and found a delicious bag of chocolate chip cookies and a small black piece of what turned out to be my car.

I really couldn’t face the awful reality of it so I sipped some coffee, checked my email, puttered, and finally surrendered to the voicemail and the evidence on the back of my PT Cruiser: M’s dad, perhaps sleepy from what was for him a late night (I did consider the possibility of displaced anger … ), had banged into my car. It was a rather small area but he did manage to hurt three different parts: the tail light, the bumper and the back fender.

On the way home, the GPS worked great (I also had M’s mom’s GPS as backup), the wobbliness was fairly contained, nothing fell off the car, and, now, the challenge is before me for this week: to rush repair or rent for the rest of the tour?

I’m mulling, I’m mulling.

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