Blue Moon Baby – chapter 1, part 6

The next morning, he set out to conquer more territory in his new home, the road.  Driving through the farmlands of Iowa, Cody and the old Opel left Des Moines behind and set out for New York City.  Now on day five of his journey, he expected to reach his destination in two days.  He was making good time each day, and he was enjoying himself.  A filtered Camel hanging from his lips, he started the drive with his morning dose of the Rolling Stones.  His Exile on Main Street cassette was blaring from the boom box as he passed through Central Iowa towns like Altoona and Newton.  In the vast stretches between Newton and Iowa City, Cody played his Grateful Dead bootlegs

Feeling more relaxed and in control on the road, Cody let his inhibitions fly away.  After refueling the old Opel, he took a few puffs of the pipe and drove stoned through Iowa.  Cody found the rhythm of the Opel’s tires on the asphalt, and he was again lost in the drive.  Once he found fourth gear and the open road ahead, he only needed to stay within the highway lines.  The music was both a distraction and a kind of mantra that kept Cody’s mind bisected.  Both focused and daydreaming; aware and naive; he kept a steady sixty-five miles-per-hour that jostled the chassis of the car, yet he only knew that he was driving and moving forward.

This continued from Iowa City through Davenport, Iowa, with The Grateful Dead being replaced by Rush’s A Farewell to Kings, and then King Crimson’s Lark’s Tongue in Aspic.  Cody’s mind seemed to lift to a higher plane as he passed through these mundane corn fields and flat lands.  From LeClaire, Iowa, he crossed the Schwengel Memorial Bridge over the Mississippi River, and then to Rapids City, Illinois, when the Opel finally started showing signs of strain.

Even if Cody was not high, he would not have noticed the noises emanating from the old Opel’s engine.  He was not an experienced driver, and he knew none of the signs of engine failure, or a radiator leak, or an oil leak; all of which were occurring at once.  If the old Opel had warning lights on the dashboard, they did not work.  Between the drone of the road and the loud music, Cody had no idea that the car was failing him.  The pinging of the engine started in Utah, and gradually got louder and louder.  Cody was oblivious.

After the first time the Opel overheated, he stopped in Geneseo, Illinois to cool the radiator down and give it some more water.  Fifty minutes later, he had to do it again in Princeton.  It took only forty minutes to stop again in Ottawa.  This time, he planned ahead and brought extra water in case he did not make it to the next exit.  He stopped twice on the side of the road to cool off the Opel before reaching Joliet two hours later.  He knew that he should stop at a service station to fix whatever problem that the Opel was having, but he was determined to move forward.

He had planned to reach Toledo, Ohio by nightfall today, but he was losing time with all these stops.  He would settle for South Bend, Indiana, but at this rate, he would be lucky to get to Chicago before dark.

Cody started to panic a little.  As the Opel began to deteriorate, he saw his plan unravel, as well. He had come so far on his own, and now he was not even sure that he would get out of the Midwest.  He decided to stop in Chicago, find a service station, and get the necessary repairs on the old Opel so that he can continue forth.  He still had plenty of cash, and besides, he thought, it probably was not even a big deal.  Cody’s lack of knowledge about cars only served to allow his imagination work overtime.

But the repeated overheating was only part of the problem.  The car was now lurching forward; jerking and shaking harder than ever.  Cody could hear the banging from the engine, and the smell coming into the cab of the car was one of hot metal and dank earth; like the forge in his old Metal Shop class in high school.  Smoke entered the cab, and Cody’s vision diminished.  He was already sweating from the unseasonably hot day, but now panic sweat combined to create more discomfort.  The sweat in his eyes made his already reduced vision worse.  His knuckles whitened from the frantic grip he held on the steering wheel as the car pitched forward and swayed side to side.  Cody cursed at the car and beat the steering wheel in frustration and fear as other cars honked and yelled at him.

The next twenty miles took over an hour for the old Opel.  Forgetting any plans for the future, or even for this one night, Cody simply wanted off of the interstate.  He took the next exit that came his way: Exit I-80-IL-148.  And there, at 4:32 pm on August 5th, 1986, just off the freeway—Cody’s freeway—in the small Chicago suburb of Tinley Park, the old Opel died.

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