Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Road Trip

On Saturday afternoon I drove a few friends to Bloomington, Illinois for a concert.

When I first learned to drive, I absolutely loved doing it--I was something of a leadfoot. But now I'm a nervous driver. Not sure whether the change is due to the wisdom that comes with age or an increase in my anxiety. Maybe both.

Still, I enjoy taking road trips. A car's interior may be more cramped than that of an airplane, but the uniformity of clouds can't compare to even subtle changes in landscape as the miles slip past. Illinois isn't known for its majestic landscape, of course. Nevertheless, there's something poetic about acres upon acres of barren agricultural fields, emerging wet and dark from the winter and readying themselves to grow crops again. There are few trees, and many rivers. The land is so flat that you can see all the way to the horizon.

Then there are all the weird landmarks to witness. On I-55, in Joliet, there's a massive ExxonMobil oil refinery. The only appropriate word to describe this complex is "sinister." Long, spindly pipes spike high into the sky, banded with rust. Below them spread dozens of wide, concrete vats holding sour pools of chemicals--or at least that's what I imagine. At night, these structures are covered in so many blinking lights that the refinery appears to be a city skyline of its own. It looks like the type of place an authoritarian government would send enemies of the state to die. If I had my way, it would make an appearance on whimsical trucker noir Alice Isn't Dead--which just began its second season, podcast nerds.

On this particular trip, I had the pleasure of chauffeuring Meg, Mikaela, and Sara, whose partners are all in the band Typesetter. That night, Typesetter was opening for punk royalty Against Me! at Bloomington's Castle Theatre--a hip, vintage bastion of culture surrounded by drab office buildings and small, mid-century homes. Shamefully, it was only the second time I've seen Typesetter in concert, and their sound has changed substantially since the first time I saw them years ago. They've added a woman named Sarah to their ranks, a talented multi-instrumentalist who works everything from glockenspiel to trumpet into their music. These extras add a depth to their songs--her keyboard parts especially give their punk music a hint of 80's New Wave. I dig it. It's well-worth checking out.

It was my third time seeing Against Me! in concert. I certainly wouldn't consider myself a superfan, but I do enjoy their music. They're more of a band I listen to on shuffle. I didn't even realize they had put out another album in 2016, which explains why I was unfamiliar with so many songs on their setlist. That said, they put on consistently great live shows. High-energy and connected to the crowd, every time. And they always bring something special to it--for instance, that night Laura covered Mountain Goats' seminal classic "The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton." Hail Satan, indeed.

After the concert we piled back into the car and drove through the black night on empty highways with no streetlights. We hardly saw a thing until the hideous refinery once again lurched into view. By that time it was nearly 2 a.m.

The whole evening was fun--no other way to put it. I'm glad I had the opportunity to do something so distinctly American before I fly to the other side of the world.

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