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Overpass: Junction US Interstate 696 & Interstate 275[1] bart plantenga[2] I’m in my taxicab “racing headless inside a cobweb ribbon of asphalt”[3] and I’m listening to NPR [89.1] and the guy is talking about John Cage and saying that he once prepared a piano using a pomegranate and I wasn’t totally paying attention so I thought he said “grenade” and thought right there he was a genius. A piano with a grenade stuck in between the strings somewhere ready to go off with one false note. Now, that was our human dilemma right there in a nutshell! But, alas, I had misheard it, was daydreaming, although I suppose Mr. Cage can still be considered a genius, grenade or not. “3-7 where ARE you?” The dispatcher wondering if I was near my pick up. Well, I’m in a Dodge Coronet. The radio doesn’t work all that well and ! “I’m somewhere out 12 Mile Road, uh, Haggerty Connector, Connector M5, heading into 696, but which way? And I’m looking for 96 West headed back to 23 South to try to get my bearings but now I see I’m headed straight on to 275 South.” “Just don’t get on 696 East headed for the Mixing Bowl cuz then you’re screwed. We won’t see you back for years, if ever.” Did he mean that jokingly, metaphorically or demographically? Was I heading into some racially designated no-man’s-land? “What are you DOIN’ out there 3-7? You’re s’posed to’ve picked up by now. Our man in South Lyon, goin’ to the airport. It’s a call back. Just get to 10 Mile road and head west...” This is years later and I am in Michigan again, hearing the exact conversation with some perspiration building up on my palms for the first time in – what – 20 years and I am trying to locate the precise overpass where topless and nipples erect in a glorious Indian Summer sun with the window cracked and her hair fluttering in the breeze, PM declared “It’s like a ribbon and bow on a package.” This was the same overpass [although it is the same overpass everywhere, be it in Bangkok, Bruges, Düsseldorf, Cleveland, Taipei or Tallahassee] the same vector of where a dream intersects with – as we shall see – a nightmare. I pulled off to the side. Slant shoulder in an idle, sit there staring at the concrete structure, arm across the back of the passenger seat of my late-model Ford rental. I am here to do research under the auspices[4] of the Research Institute of Arterial Drift & Fugue States (R.I.A.D.F.) on “the effects of asphaltization and roadway speeds on middle-class dreams.” But I am really here to look up an old girl friend under the pretext that she was indeed a middle-class dream who, because I had accused her of not being adventurous enough in the affairs of amour, had taken this to heart and treated it as an escape clause into the world of intrepid sex. “Do not call me middle class ever again!” She had instructed, propped up in some carnal[5] position against the cab door. It was as if my challenge had pried loose 1000 years of ossified sexuality. So much so that even daily and too much sex [raw glans] eventually was not enough for her.[6] I remember riding around with her in my cab [which Yellow Cab Company policy strictly forbid] and her removing her top on I-696 [or I-96] and exposing her formidable orbs to passersby. This is what I remember more than any other single memory attached to this region with its intricate web of concrete and asphalt. Although the surreptitious hand jobs with drunken passengers in the back at 2 AM heading out West Liberty also float to the top now and then. If you were here you would be staring out the windshield, the Ford still idling because you have this nagging although fading notion to just drive off and call all of this just some ridiculous sidetrack. You are aware of the aroma (an arousing mix of shoulder daisy, carnivore perspiration[7] and carbon monoxide fumes) and in an


odd moment of lucidity merging with dizziness, you may see, as I did, events, faces, lapsed opportunities projected onto the concrete side of the overpass as if you’re taking part in a Rorschach Test or being entertained by some impromptu art action involving the projection of censored films in unlikely open spaces. [8]

You will inevitably feel what I felt: that deja vu vs. preja vu feeling that you have been here before but also have a nagging suspicion that you have never been here before. This is a distinct characteristic of the overpass; [9] a shuffle of the cardinal directions and an overcast sky can easily skew your sense of balance where suddenly you’re exhibiting all the symptoms of disorientation. [10] You will suddenly realize you have wound yourself all the way around the overpass, like you have just tied a perfect ribbon bow and have seemingly been down every off-ramp and up every on-ramp and vice versa so that the overpass is now an underpass and you discover you are literally tailing yourself. Honking impatiently at the car ahead of you with, yes, you behind the wheel trying to retrieve your bearings, hitting the steering wheel, yelling THE CARNIVAL’S OVER, BABY! You and I have brought bottles of scent, and a small envelope containing some old square-format photographs I took with my cheap Instamatic of underpasses [inside-out overpasses] while hitchhiking. You know the kind of photos; you get them back from the photomat and they look washed-out retro-nostalgic and forlorn like they are are already 30 years old, which they now are. I have the photographs laid out with detailed locations of the underpasses scribbled on the backs here on the passenger seat: 1) outside Joliet, IL at junction I-80 & I-57; 2) Cheyenne, WY at junction I-80, I-25 & US-30 [Warren Air Force Base & Golf Course]; 3) Salt Lake City, UT at junction I-80, I-15 & Route 201; 4) Edison, NJ at junction US 1 & I-287 and several others including in Brooklyn, NY; Elmira, NY; and Madison, WI. You tell me that you can see them clearly enough from the backseat leaning over the front headrest. The rental Ford’s radio-CD player works. I push in the research-related CD – you say “careful”: the selection included songs inspired by JG Ballard novels including “Warm Leatherette” by the Normal and “Underpass” by John Foxx [“Underpass / Underpass / Well I used to remember / Now it’s all gone... / Over all the bridges / Echoes in rows...”] but also songs like “Travelin’ Blues” by Slim Gaillard and songs from Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, songs by Woody Guthrie, Tom Waits [“Velveeta yellow cab on a rainy corner”] and Lee Hazelwood, other tunes about highways, dusty roads, traveling, hitchhiking – and last and perhaps least, some tracks from Long May You Run by the Stills-Young Band. I remember the exact trip: I had just hitchhiked from Michigan to Denver to hook up with friend NJ so we could go up to Salt Lake City together in his Datsun pick-up. We had no radio and just two tapes for the entire 400-mile trip: The Eagles Greatest Hits and the Stills-Young Band. After hearing the Eagles about 4 times I put the tape in the glovebox and refused to let NJ play it any more.[11] We also disagreed about the Stills-Young tape. I definitely preferred the Neil Young songs and NJ was intent on pointing out exactly where the Stephen Stills songs showed glimmers of brilliance. “Glimmers are just like crumbs,” I pointed out. I mean, I just didn’t see it, although I could at least in the name of getting along tolerate listening to it some 10 times. I still remember Young’s lines: “Who took ev’rything from where it once was / And left it where it last was seen...” The idea was that the overpass of concrete, the tapes of acetate and sound and the bottles of scent – as much as I remember “her” scent – would create a confluence of memory, feeling and investigation.[12] I seem to remember Revlon’s Charlie as something PM related to because it had effectively established a mass selfimage of the charming go-getter, a now girl in stylish pants. By 1978, however, she was already preferring the more sophisticated Opium. Overpass: The draft of my research paper begins with this paragraph: “You don’t stay but something of you gets left behind. You are on and then you are off. A derangement of both a spatial and a cognitive nature. Sophistry of an automotive or arterial nature that gives one the feeling that one’s position in life is more an issue of emotion than coordinates on a map.” That we now feel normal in these destabilizing types of situations is something that was once considered controversial but has now become a matter of some factuality. We’ve adjusted. There are some who maintain it is just faddish post-modern relativism, but nonetheless, the fact is that coming to terms with displacement, destabilization and a feeling of rootlessness has actually been a liberating stimulus for many. Hepped vectors, vigor, force and mobility – the trip as destination, not mobile home but mobility as home – were the postwar antidotes to stasis, status quo, patience, an informal caste system, and passivity. A hotrodder and rock ‘n’ roller were the vibrant[13] alternatives to the the king of his Castro,[14] the stay-at-homes who spent their summer vacations sitting in their driveways in front of an open garage door. [15]


Jack Kerouac was probably one of the first and most articulate to popularize this notion of being as going,[16] although various neurologists, sociologists and post-modern rhizome enthusiasts in academia have insisted that the Internet is a neurological extrapolation of the merger of geography and longing, which has lent displacement as drift further credence if not gravity. I will try to remain behind in this region,[17] probably for a while, probably overstaying my welcome and visa, thereby risking enforced uprootedness from a place I am not even rooted. But research is research and curiosity seals the deal. Because, as I now look at the close-up photos[18] from the southwestern retaining wall of the lower on-off loop, I see what appears to be the remnants of bones or fossilized remains, which reminds me of a story, no, actually the confession-brag of a guy I used to work with at the Bell[19] Foundry in Flint, Michigan. I worked as an auxiliary molder, helping the molder mold molds of oily sand into which was poured molten iron to make various engine parts for General Motors vehicles. To my relief, my primary job included outdoor functions such as emptying railway cars filled with recuperated scrap metal [a dangerous job I later came to discover – don’t ask but I will show you the scars] and general maintenance work that, for example, involved shoveling the 1.5 feet of soot off of the foundry roof to prevent its imminent collapse and stave off various government lawsuits involving health and safety violations as well as infractions involving noncompliance with US pollution control standards. That I was happy to do because there I worked at my own pace, could periodically sit in the sun, and lean against a chimney to write my stories in pocket-sized spiral notepads. The dangers of this job became apparent to me only some time later when the foundry was fully stoked and the furnaces were blazing and wheezing glowing soot like kamikaze fireflies out of the main chimneys, which began landing on me up on that roof and in my hair [long blonde mane quickly tucked under hardhat] and on my jacket into which would burn small constellations of holes that sometimes reached my skin [again, I can show you scars]. I also stacked the scrap metal by shape and size and had to fill up the front loader with primary scrap while being goaded on by the fat fuck driver. He was a true piece of poorly rendered work if ever there was one. [20] His job description was totally circumscribed by the fact that he with his 375 pounds was incapable of doing anything else but sit in the seat of a fork lift, a front loader, or a dump truck. And sitting was something he did very well. He would just sit there for hours[21] reading his porno novels, picking his nose, spewing ridicule my way in a vague attempt at humor that was meant to drag me into the deep hole he was in. My other co-worker was an earnest guy who had once probably been a gentle soul but had been peer pressured into becoming a tough guy – his deepest, darkest fear was that others would call him weak, a faggot. In fact, at lunch George usually hung around with fat fuck Mac [née Dan McInerney] and Bernie, a murderer who had done his time and could get no other employment but here at Bell in the shake out department, where the metal casts are removed from the molds by shaking the resinous sand loose. It became clear to George that he would rather be in the company of a murderer and listen to his stories than to be thought of as a faggot. George knew, like everybody else at Bell, that you had to respect Bernie or you could end up being the daily recipient of his evil stare down or even end up beaten to a pulp. The image of Mac leaning with his elbow on the front loader’s steering wheel reading Doggie-Style Dames or some other literary nuggets that he kept in the back pocket of his overalls when working is like something etched in glass for me. The fuck. The poor, pathetic fuck, spewing out his bad jokes, his venom toward all women, his Nazi-lite theories on why things were the way they were. If he caught wind of any of your comments – “Your face looks like its been through a hamburger grinder” – that you might whisper just under my breath he would instantly leap into a bulldog bark: “I could crush you like a fucking cockroach, muthafucka. Like a cigarette that’s only been half smoked.” He was a being that seemed to be constructed totally out of fat, funk, sputum and boasts. The more he talked about how many blow jobs he had each week, the more you knew he was one of those guys you can smell a mile away: the more they talked about sex, the less they ever had it. Actually, he liked revenge a lot more than sex or eating or reading porn or drinking DeKuyper fruit-flavored brandies from a dented and filthy hip flask from 9 AM to punch out. He acquired his most satisfying and gruesome grin when he spoke of revenge, creative revenge, revenge that could be funny if it weren’t so menacing and didn’t involve female body parts. They may have been mere fantasies, revenge fantasies as an outlet on the same level as scary rides at the fair or guys who see 200 horror movies per year. His best stories were detailed fantasies of sex revenge that often included hot tongs, cutting nipples off or fucking them until they suffocate under the very weight they had just made fun of. These could well be laughed off as the fantasies of a very unhappy man except that the level of detail [times, locations, names, torture methods] sometimes made you wonder if they weren’t real events he was describing.


One day he mentioned the overpass I passed over twice daily on my way to work and back home. He said he had worked for the State of Michigan Highways Department in the 1960s and had helped build I-69 [sample Mac joke: “I 69, yes I fuggin’ DO, every fuggin’ chance I get!”] and the Buick Freeway as well as parts of I-696, mostly pouring concrete. He mentioned how they had to cut costs by throwing in lots of bulk and using inferior grades of cement. “It’s got like built-in fuggin’ obsolescence and one of these days somebody – I hope it’s every fuggin’ politician fightin’ pornography – is going to be drivin’ over one of those fuggin’ cloverleafs and it’s just gonna collapse and eat them up. What more motivation you need? They’re all fuggin’ timebombs, these overpasses.” His gloat, gleaming with spit, made his grin even more gruesome. There are two overpasses he swears contain human remains. That is the nature of boasts. They are addictive and your boasts have to stretch further into extreme events to get the same kick. They had apparently killed a guy – if you can believe Mac – on a small crew one day. This guy had snitched on Mac and the rest for endangering co-workers’ lives with wild brandy-induced maneuvers with the front loader. Mac said they killed the guy and dumped his remains into the wet cement and then poured more cement over him. The state cops have never been able to solve the crime. HaHaHa. It was like the funniest thing he had ever heard. Funnier yet, he told how he went to this guy’s girl friend’s house in Livonia, stalked her, killed her, wrapped her up in a few black garbage bags and then dumped her into the wet cement of an overpass under construction at I-696 and I-96. Exactly where I was now parked if I understand this map right. I got back out of the car and took some more photos of the spot in question. The release of the scent into the late-model Ford [irritating distraction: the faux-leather seats are treated with a leather scent to make them smell more authentic] combined with the position of the car in relation to the overpass, plus the photos of the other overpasses did manage to conjure up specific images, events related to PM, the object of lost love in question and to the compelling dynamic of travel. This conjuring trick, of course, could not divine her current location coordinates, which, although tempting to pursue have thus far been ignored in favor of the more cinematic memories. Pursuing PM and the above stories and then somehow folding them into my research meant falling prey to that old research adage: the more you dig up the deeper you still have to dig. As I have limited time and space the more I write about this fact the less I am able to say in ever less space. I reach for the soggy paperbag. I grab a can off the 6-pak of local New Holland Red Tulip beer [nobody in the store knew what happened to Stroh’s] and just nursed it for an hour, staring out the windshield listening to Slim Gaillard[22] over and over “Next stop is Detroit / I think I’ll get off there / Detroit looks very mellow / very mellow...” Music in combination with beer in its proper proportions can liberate us from standard clichéd and inhibiting prejudices attached to space. [23] And that will inform the next phase of my research. [1] Image: foto_sif_archiuofm_6457.JPG. North of Detroit, northeast of Ann Arbor. [2] For more information: www.bartplantenga.com. [3] Even dire predicaments had to sound poetic in my notepads back then. [4] Auspices is derived from the French word auspex, which means “diviner by bird.” [5] The road from carnal to carnivore and carne is small indeed. By way of carnival, of course. [6] I was able to satisfy her – in my own mind, anyway – for some 3.5 years. Rumors I have devoured in the past regarding PM include that she left me for an orthodontist who could only “manage” [not my word] her by periodically giving her general anesthesia [nitrous oxide]. It is only what I have heard and I cannot verify this story. [7] PM liked her meat bloody and raw – and at least twice a day. [8] By the 1920s, corporations were already busy releasing themselves from the constraints of limited space through the projection of their industrial and educational films worldwide. It would take humans another 35 years before LSD would release them from the confining aspects of the limitations engendered by physical space. [9] Not to mention the dissociative fugue, which may be induced by the sudden reappearance of a traumatic event or distressing person; the inexplicable disappearance of a loved one; an unexpected trip away from home. It features an inability to recall the past accurately and confusion about one’s own personal identity. One may just opt for the assumption of a new identity or a process of armoring or the manufacture of a protective personality that attempts to mitigate the situation via obstinate and systematic forgetting or through spurious attempts to unearth the truth. A fugue state is related to dissociative amnesia but is not caused by the direct physiological effects of an external agent or substance (drug, medication, extreme discipline) or neurological (multiple sclerosis) or other medical condition (head trauma) or psychological disorders (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.). It is distinguished from similar states by a greater degree of motion or process. [10] Interesting that humans are always establishing their identities through clothing, cars, music and brand names while simultaneously trying to disassemble these very identities – escaping from the mundane aspects of the self – via everything from intoxicants to exhilarating rides at the county fair like the Thrill-Ride Tycoon, the Double Helix, the Spirochete, or the Zipper. [11] It was his car, his tape but MY sanity. That our friendship was never the same after this Eagles stand off in July 1977, somewhere near Dinosaur, Colorado along Highway 40 is beside the point here. [12] Personal archaeology is what I call it and this nomenclature was to become quite prophetic as we will see. [13] The consumption of rebellion and hormone-driven hyperactivity.


[14] A play on “king of his castle,” the man of the house would relax [collapse] after work in his easy chair, a Castro Convertible. [15] I seem to remember we called them “Michigan mushrooms.” By the early 1980s, they were being referred to as “couch potatoes.” Although in post-post-modernity this pejorative was quickly recuperated by its victims as something that gave them identity pride and was to become a much touted [and accessorized] lifestyle for those who practice “Transcendental Vegetation.” [16] Although we should probably neither count out Ulysses from Homer’s Odyssey nor the various peripatetic blues artists who mythologized and heroicized their nomadic existences. I hang my hat on a cloud; that sort of poetic image. [17] Whimsically referred to as the Michigan Triangle. [18] And then verified with an on-the-spot check. There was indeed some cause for concern and further investigation. [19] Named after Flint-native Robert Lewis Bell (aka Bob Bell) (1922-1997) who developed the original Bozo the Clown character for Chicago television station WGN. [20] If the male ideal was something in the realm of Adonis or Michelangelo’s “Dying Slave” then Mac was closer to a very large hunk of meatloaf. [21] It was cheaper to keep him employed than to try to force him to do other tasks that might have risked his health and probably a permanent workman’s compensation claim. He and my foreman Tom [who must have been the human model for Bob the Builder] and the owners were all certainly aware of that. [22] Detroit-native, Bulee “Slim” Gaillard, 1916-1991 led an adventurous life, which included stints as a boxer, mortician and truck driver for bootleggers. But it was as a cool scat cat with a talent for humorous and jazzy stream of consciousness poetry that he made his name. He is credited with inventing the hipster language of jive, which is immortalized in Kerouac’s On The Road. [23] Disclaimer: Neither I nor the Research Institute of Arterial Drift & Fugue States condone the use of beer or other intoxicants in combination with the operation of a motor vehicle.

• For the Anthology Architecture in the Minds of the Few, writing inspired by architectural photos. • Photo by Foto Sifichi, also the editor of the collection. • bart plantenga is the author of Wiggling Wishbone and Spermatagonia: The Isle of Man and BEER MYSTIC. His book YODEL-AY-EE-OOOO: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World received worldwide attention. He is working on a new novel, Paris Sex Tete and a new book on yodeling Yodel in HiFi. His radio show Wreck This Mess has been on the air on WFMU [NY], Radio Libertaire [Paris], Radio 100 and currently Radio Patapoe [Amsterdam] since 1986. He lives in Amsterdam.


Overpass