As I look at the map and retrace my path, I’m rather mystified by the route I took. Some of it makes sense; some of it worked out so well that you know there was some divine synchronicity involved; some of it doesn’t make any sense at all.
Like today’s trip from the Mirror Lake to the Twin Cities. If I were going to stick to the interstates, why wouldn’t I take the one that headed directly there? Why would I head west toward Albert Lea, then due north, if I wasn’t going to take any scenic detours?
In western Wisconsin were some really interesting shale formations. My notes talk about rock towers jutting up out of nowhere, formations that were once little islands, apparently, and mentions Castle Rock by name, though I can’t find any record of such a place online. I drove by a Castle Rock Lake; maybe I saw a sign for it and confused it with the landscape I was seeing. Having my eyes deceive me would become a theme for this leg of the journey.
When I crossed the Mississippi into Minnesota, I was struck by the beautiful scenery: the hills are high and the roads are winding, and I wish I could stop and take pictures, but I’m on the interstate and going 70, so I just tried to drink it in as much as I could.
Then I saw my first Wall Drug sign, just east of Albert Lea and 500 miles from Wall, South Dakota. My friend Kraig Klaudt, whose brother Kent was putting me up for the night in Minneapolis, told me that as soon as you leave the Twin Cities heading west, all you see are signs for Wall Drug. I thought it was exciting at the time. As you’ll see, my excitement was way out of line.
The rest stop in Straight River was an exercise in irony. Despite the name, or perhaps because of it, the restroom walls were covered with extraordinarily aggressive sexual cruising graffiti: “I will be here at such-and-such a time, at such-and-such a date,” or “You’ll see me driving the truck, I will hit my brakes three times, respond by flashing your lights,” or “Walk in the park at this time of night, I’m usually there,” that sort of thing. There was also a bit of obligatory “die fags” graffiti and “AIDS is God’s retribution on fagdom,” as well as the odd “TRS Worldwide Anarchy” scratched deeply into the paint on the wall, but most of it was just creepy messages from incredibly horny travelers.
In Owatonna was a big sign on a large, low building, as if it were advertising the name of the company. The sign had one word on it: “Truth.”
A few miles later I found a dead red squirrel on the highway, lying on its back with its lovely beige underbelly all exposed. It was so beautiful and so vulnerable, it wasn’t simply dead; it looked as if it were offering itself as a sacrifice somehow. It looked so strange and lifelike that I got out of the car to examine it and make sure it wasn’t just hurt. No such luck. I’ve seen taxidermy animals that weren’t this stiff.
Minneapolis at last. I meet Kent, and he was handsome and funny and smart and welcoming. He shows me around town for a bit, going to his favorite bookstore, running an errand or two, giving me a feel for the funky neighborhood where he lives. And that evening, God bless him, he takes me to the Gay 90s.
The Gay 90s has been described as the Mall of America of gay bars. It has a show lounge, a dance bar, a leather bar, drag queens, male strippers, and much more. And this straight guy takes me there because he thought I’d enjoy the place. It was cavernous, and frankly, a bit of a dump. The crowd looked as if it was permanently stuck in a time warp, though Kent assured me that was just the difference between D.C. and Minneapolis.
The drag queens at the Saturday night show were appropriately kitschy and fun—it all very Paris is Burning—though I’m certain the emcee, who called herself Ella Fitzgerald, was three sheets to the wind. She was, however, an amazing female impersonator, and a great deal of fun. But the gay men in the audience all seemed to represent the extremes of the stereotype: either they were the wispiest of twinks or the butchest of leathermen (and even with them, whenever they’d open their mouths, ten yards of chiffon would come tumbling out). Kent and I spent more time talking about Prince, whom he’d see from time to time around town, with no entourage and no fans taking much notice. He’s just a regular guy.
You’d think I had gone out and gotten drunk or something, because my memory of my visit with Kent is pretty hazy. Mostly I remember inflating the air mattress for his floor, going to sleep, and heading to St. Paul early the next morning to go to church.
Tomorrow’s episode: The Day My Life Changed.