Four springs ago Brock Dundee hired my driving services for a road trip across the Midwest. The Scottish filmmaker was seeking out the statues of a dying Irish sculptor in Middle America. His plan was to video the works and then film the artist seeing his works for the last time.
My boss at the diamond exchange wasn’t happy with my taking off two weeks.
“He’s paying me $1000 a week.” I had been asking for a raise for the last year.
“Have a good trip.” Manny had a good head for numbers. He was saving my salary and fought off another attempt for an increase in my salary.
“Sei Gesund.” I wished the eighty year-old well in Yiddish. His only language other than English was almost dead.
A week later Brock and I flew to Chicago and hired a car at O’Hare. The Scot didn’t know how to drive, but he unfolded a map to plot out a route on the Interstates.
“No fucking interstates.” I ripped the map off his lap and threw it in the backseat.
“Aren’t the interstates faster?” Brock wanted to visit five statues in St. Louis, Kansas City, Des Moines, and Minneapolis and we had eight days to cover six big states.
“Only if you’re heading to shopping mall.” I-80 was rammed with SUVs and long-haul trucks. I pointed out a state trooper cruising in the opposite direction. “We want to stay far away from them.”
“Aren’t there speed traps on the back roads?” Brock’s vision of rural America had been formed by the movies DELIVERANCE and EASY RIDER.
“The cops go where the money is and that’s the interstates.” I turned off I-80 at exit for Peoria and turned to Brock. “Welcome to The Fly-Over.”
“Fly-Over?” The Scot was unfamiliar with the American term.
“This is the land you fly over from New York to LA.” The square states of the Midwest are mostly flat corn fields. They offer little for New Yorkers, Californians, and Europeans.
“I get it.” Brock relaxed in his seat. He had chosen me for my ability to take the least obvious course of action for the next week we avoided the Interstates like a plague.
Our path wandered along a flooded Illinois River down the broad Mississippi across the spring farmland of Missouri into the terra incognita of Iowa.
On long stretches through the farmlands my Scottish friend and I didn’t see a human for hours. The spring skies were low and the clouds carried rain. The straight roads were devoid of cars. Everyone was on the Interstate heading to a WalMart.
South of Des Moines I remarked to Brock, “Not many people living out here.”
“No reason for anyone to live out here.” The small towns were empty and the big cities looked, as if they had been blasted by a neutron bomb.
“Young people move out as soon as they finish high school.” The farmboys treated their boredom with crystal meth. They hid well of sight.
“Leaving only the dead and the dying.”
“Like we were in a zombie movie.” The real world had been replaced by scenes from MAD MAX II and I accelerated to 100 mph. We hadn’t seen any police cars in days.
“I haven’t seen any zombies.” Brock scanned the bare expanse of fields on either side of the road.
“They would starve out here.” Zombies liked cities. They had large populations of slow-moving fat people.
“They’d have to raid a Walmart.”
“Or a McDonald’s” Mickie Ds dominated the fast food feeding chain in the fly-over.
“The Undead eating the uneatable.” Brock shuddered in his seat, although he was a sucker for KFC.
“Years ago I had a horrible dream about zombies.”
“What was it?” Brock took out his camera. “Let’s have it from the top.”
This trip was as much about us as the sculptor.
“In 1975 I spent the winter in Mexico. Toward Spring I had caught a Trois Estellas bus from Monterrey, Mexico to Texas.” I hadn’t thought about that bus in ages. “It was a long ride and I was reading a book by HP Lovecraft. THE TERROR AT INNSMOUTH. The bus stopped in a small town and I ate a potato taco. It tasted a little funny and that night I fell sick with food poisoning, so I checked into a cheap hotel at the border. That night I lay on the bed with a fever. I read my book and fell asleep. Sometime in the night I dreamed that I was being chased through an abandoned garden by zombies.”
“Fast or slow?”
“I hate the way zombies moved fast in RESIDENT EVIL.” My Scottish friend was a horror film buff and he zoomed for a close-up on me. A nod was the signal to resume my monologue.
“Fast is bad, but too many zombies was worst. They cut off my escape and I ran to a gazebo. Old screens covered the windows. I locked the flimsy door. The zombies huddled around the gazebo. Their breath smelled of rotting flesh. They scrapped at the screens with long yellow fingernails, then a voice deeper than a six-foot grave said, “Tell us the secret of human life.”
“The secret of human life?” Brock interrupted my spiel, since he felt the breaks gave me time to collect my thoughts.
“I didn’t know the secret of human life and there was no stalling the zombies either. When they’re hungry, they’re hungry. They broke through the screens. I shut my eyes expecting the worse.”
“You’re not supposed to die in dreams.” Brock was listening to every word. We were coming to a turning.
“Freud said everything was driven by pleasure or death and death in dreams was a way of understanding your personal sexual repression levels.” I put on the left-turn signal. That road led to Kansas City. The Irish sculptor had a large statue at a local university.
“Freud’s full of Oedipal shit. I’ve seen photos of his mother. She wasn’t worth killing his father, of course Jung had a different take on death in a dream.
“Screw him.” My story had no place for dead psychiatrists.
“So what happened?”
“I tried to wake up, but couldn’t and I heard the voice say, “Tell us the secret of human life and I’ll let you live for another minute.”
“And?” Brock was expecting a horrible demise.
“I realized the secret of human life was that no matter how bad the 61st second would be I still wanted another 60 to satisfy my urge to live.”
“And did you tell them the secret?”
“No, I woke up and foiled their attempt to destroy Mankind.”
“It’s not everyone who can save humanity in their sleep.” It had seemed so real, but my flesh had borne no teeth marks. ” So I’m not really scared of zombies.”
“No?” Brock asked, as if he wasn’t convinced about their status as myth.
“Zombies exist in movies and video games. Not all of them bad. You ever see SHAUN OF THE DEAD?”
“That’s not a real zombie movie.” Brock was a traditionalist as was to be expected from a Scot.
I agreed that the British flick wasn’t scary, but it was funny and after my dream I like funny zombies better than scary ones.
We drove west toward Kansas City.
In 1959 Wilbur Harrison sang that they had some pretty women there and in every one of my dreams pretty women were always more fun than zombies.