Guilty Pleasure III

Read Part 1.  Read Part 2

The moon through the clouds at night

The moon looms large over the Valley Fair Mall in Appleton.

This is a story about control, my control – control of what I say, control of what I do. And this time, I’m gonna do it my way. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do. Are we ready? I am. ‘Cause it’s all about control…
– Janet Jackson, “Control” (Shh. I had to look them up.)  

Here in my car
I feel safest of all
I can lock all my doors
It’s the only way to live, in cars.
– Gary Numan, “Cars” 

Tonight I ended up in Manitowoc County, completely by accident. I took it into my head, you see, that I would follow County Highway KK to its conclusion, wherever that might be. (It occurred to me that I know exactly where CE ends – one end is at the airport, the other is at Van Abel’s in Hollandtown – but not KK.) It turns out that it doesn’t really end, not in the way that CE does, at a T-intersection – it just sort of folds into Highway G on a curve at the Manitowoc County line. At least I think it does – past Dundas somewhere, it turns into a small farm road with no center line, no posted speed limit, and no reassurance shields. So whatever road I was on eventually became G, which also became a small road at US 10. Tired of dodging to the far right whenever I encountered traffic, I hung a left on 10.  

I’ve liked Manitowoc since the first moment I drove through it. It’s extremely pleasant, in a small-Midwestern-shipbuilding-town kind of way. A nice downtown with a lot of one-way streets, an enormous old brick high school, and a grain elevator that looks like it could be an office building if you squint just right. Also there’s a pretty excellent Dairy Queen, where some friends and I ate dinner after our detour there from Maribel on that same 2005 trip. (It’s a long story – suffice it to say, they wanted to see Lake Michigan.) The town still has a toehold in the Great Lakes shipping industry – it’s home to the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, which I keep meaning to visit, and it’s a terminus for the S.S. Badger, a coal-fired icebreaking car ferry that carries Highway 10 across Lake Michigan to Ludington, MI, where it (the highway) apparently keeps on going. It’s one of only two US Highways to do this. And finally, one of my aunts, the one who teaches piano, went to college there.  

Manitowoc across the bay from Two Rivers

Manitowoc from Memorial Drive in Two Rivers. The pool of lights in the center, off in the distance, is downtown Manitowoc. It's like Chicago, only somehow more impressive. I think it's the broadness of the sweep of the bay in front of it.

Despite all that- I have a much deeper connection to Two Rivers, pronounced locally as “Trivers”, a town of about 12,000 people located on Lake Michigan just north of Manitowoc. I knew that – I’ve been there before. Still, it was a shock to come to the end of the 310 detour and realize that if I failed to make a left or right turn, I’d be in the drink. There seems to be a lot of that in TR, roads that come to unnecessarily abrupt ends. The first time I ever visited, in the summer of 2005, I followed Memorial Drive north and suddenly found myself crossing railroad tracks into some sort of industrial freight yard, and on this trip I saw a street sign for a street that led straight into the front of a building.  

Apparently I have some family there, on my dad’s side. Family I’ve never met and likely never will. Sometime before my paternal grandfather, my family tree forked, and there are Rudebecks, second or third cousins, who have no idea that I exist. Or if they do it’s in the same vague, nameless way I know of their existence.  

As I tooled back out of TR on my way home, I began to think, which is always dangerous. As always on long bus trips, I tend to mention aloud upon arriving home how glad I am to not be moving any longer. So why am I always so eager to get into my car and drive for an hour? I think it comes down to control. (See? You knew those lyrics were going to have a point. I wouldn’t bring up Janet Jackson unless I had to.) When I’m on a bus or a train, I’m at the mercy of an often surly driver and dozens of overfriendly, sick, fertile (i.e. in possession of two or three screaming toddlers), or otherwise irritating other passengers. I don’t even have an iPod with which to drown them out. But in my mom’s little Toyota, with its lawnmower engine, I can go where I want, when I want, at my own speed. I can be alone with my thoughts in a way that a Greyhound bus doesn’t allow. And I came to realize why I go on these polluting, bass-pounding journeys – that control I have is one of the only places I have it.  

It shouldn’t have taken me this long to realize. My current goddamn screenplay is about a boy learning he has no control over his life, for chrissake. You’d think some of that would’ve sunk in, or else made its way out of my subconscious, but nooooo. (Of course, my protagonist finds such things out after helping a girl cheat on her boyfriend and almost losing his mother in a housefire, two scenarios unlikely to ever happen to me.) (I hope.) And even armed with that knowledge, I’ve still got tons of stuff to figure out.  

I finished up by swinging through Greenleaf, on a whim. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned countless times before, I like the view from the corner of Highway 96 and Wobeck Road, at the top of the hill, where you can see city lights for about 180 degrees of the horizon and solid blackness for the other half. It’s extraordinarily beautiful and humbling in the daytime and at night, and it’s a view I look forward to sharing someday.  

On the last leg of my journey I stopped in at an all-night gas station and bought some of those little pink wintergreen-flavored lozenges I like so much. There’s comfort in consistency, I guess.

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