The highway to Lawrence becomes a main drag of Lawrence, 23rd Street. I couldn’t have told you K-10 becomes 23rd Street because I had never thought about it before, I just zoned out, past all the things I knew were there, and when I got to the sloped right turn onto Massachusetts, I took it, and was in Lawrence, Lawrence is Mass Street. Once I got on K-10, I stared, searched the radio, sang with the song I found, switched to a CD, sang with that, started to think about things. What was going on with me, anyway? Dark, dark.
Since the election, in the darkness of fall, winter, in my new job, where I have all this idle time, where my heart isn’t immediately eaten upon entering the building, I’m more lost than I’ve felt since I started teaching. What am I doing in this job I am overqualified for, making no money? Why do I still live in New York? What is my plan? I remember I thought maybe I needed year to let my heart grow back, fully, from all the people who fed on it, or gnawed at it.
I knew they had been working on K-10. My parents reminisce about driving K-10 when it was two lanes. My mother’s car was always breaking down between Lawrence and Kansas City. She had an MG. The way the generations improved, I bought roadsters, too, but reliable Japanese ones instead of British ones that were barely cars in the sense of the word “car, a thing that goes.”
My K-10 was four lanes, and my car only broke down once, the clutch went out. It was no one’s fault, just wear and tear, thank you, you Japanese.
I saw an exit for Ottawa, a real exit. Huh. They never had that. Who did they think they were? Then there was a sign for Haskell that I didn’t understand. A Haskell highway or something? A sign for UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS. Okay. The sign used to say KU NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM, which is where you can see Custer’s horse, stuffed, if you wanted to see something like that.
Then a sign that said 23RD STREET. Wait, what?
What is there in Kansas? my New York student said. We sat in a room full of outdated computers missing cords and printers that were not hooked up, on the top floor of one of the worst high schools in the city. We had a magnificent view of a huge park on that side of the building, and a great view of Manhattan on the other.
Well, there is this town, Lawrence, that was founded by abolitionists, and all the streets are named for states. The main street is named for Massachusetts, because that’s where they were from.
Huh, my student says, because this is better than writing his final paper on concepts of utopia, I mean, what isn’t?
I kept flying down K-10, I wasn’t sure what time it was, the clock in the car is set to not daylight savings, and is 20 minutes fast, or some other outrageous combination that means I have no idea what time it is. Should I be there? There was a fence on one side of the road. Sometimes it was two lanes instead of four. Where the fuck was I? Weren’t those lights up there Lawrence? Wasn’t it that thing on the horizon, all those lights? Wasn’t that Lawrence, abolition, my little abolitionist town? Wasn’t that my town on the hill?
When I got to a sign that said Bob Billings, I thought, oh, shit, that’s where my friend lives, on what I think of as the far edge of New Lawrence. I think I went too far, but how? The next exit said 6th Street, and I veered off there.
I turned right on 6th Street because it felt like my town was to the right.
I have no sense of direction, just a sense of where Lawrence is.
“What the fuck is going on?” I kept saying, because that’s what I do when I am outraged, and alone, and never did it occur to me, at any time, to pull out my phone and look at a map. When I’m lost or frustrated, what I want to do is go, go, go, until something makes sense, not consult anything, certainly not consult anyone. I also could have called my friend, who was patiently waiting for me in one of my favorite bars in America, and knew where everything was in Lawrence because she fucking lives there.
No, I was listening to the radio, singing with it, and periodically saying aloud, “What the fuck is this? What the fuck is THIS?”
None of the street names made any sense to me until I got to Kasold, then I was like, okay, I’m in Lawrence, that’s a Lawrence street, and nowhere else. There aren’t any other towns of any size in that part of the world, it wasn’t like I could be anywhere else, but strange things were happening. My route was gone. I kept going, going, seeing grocery stores that belonged in Kansas City, not Lawrence (Kansas City is Hy Vee, Lawrence is Dillon’s), a frickin Wal Mart (which Lawrence never had and shouldn’t have, obviously).
Finally I saw Maine. It was going to be okay. I saw the worst Chinese restaurant in the world (circa 1998). I saw Florida, I would get to Massachusetts eventually, now. It was going to be okay.
My approach was ruined, though. Rather than South Park (where they used to steal the sign constantly when the same-named show began), City Hall, the Watkins History Museum’s big fat red glory, the Granada, where I used to be a whore, the Replay, I was beginning at the wrong end of Mass, with the candle store, the bar where we watched the basketball championships one year, and Free State, where my brother once picked a tick off his hand and squashed it, during lunch.
The wrong end, but it was still Lawrence.
I turned on 9th Street, I parked, I went into the bar, and my friend was sitting there, with the world’s most kind and reassuring, beautiful face, and a cocktail glass empty save a sliver of lemon peel.
“I got lost!” I said.
“Oh no!” she said. “I should have told you!”
Who can tell you you are going to get lost?
Many people love me and would like to tell me.
The city’s there, somewhere, the town, and there’s a new way to get there, and I hate it, but we can find it, and they’ll be happy to see us when we get there.
Image: “The Storyteller,” Jeff Wall, Metropolitan Museum of Art.