ROADS OF THE FLYOVER Chapter 1 by Peter Nolan Smith

The OLD crew met at Miguel Abreau’s Gallery on Orchard Street to honor Brock Dundee’s documentary about Afghanistan for the UK MoD. At dinner Dannatt joked that his old friend was a spy.

“Spy?” Brock gave the art critic a steely squint.

Dundee was a Scot same as everyone employed at MI6, including James Bond, although according to my sources Brock worked for no one.

For the rest of the night Dannatt’s jokes were at everyone’s expense other than the happy Scot. Dannatt knew his place in the world. He was not a Celt.

Brock was in a good mood. He had money in his pocket. His wife Joanna was selling her paintings and his kids were healthy

“It’s nice to be someplace you can drink a beer without having to worry about a bullet chaser.” Afghanistan wasn’t a joke and Brock asked, “You?”

I haven’t seen my kids in months.” They were on the other side of the world like their mother. “I’m working on 47th Street.”

“How’s that going?” Brock was familiar with my gig in the diamond district.

I was the shabbath goy.

“I’m working on a million-dollar ruby sale.” I had met the client in January. She loved the 6-carat pigeon-blood red ruby from Burma. Her husband was fighting for a better price.

“And?”

“My boss thinks it’s a dead deal.”

And is it?”

Manny had little faith in miracles, but they were my speciality.

“I’ll surprise everyone.”

“I know.” Brock was familiar with my strengths as well as my weaknesses.

“At least I’m taking care of my kids.”

Supporting four children were a struggle, but one I fought with honor.

“How’d you like to take a trip?”

“Where?” I hoping to hear Thailand.

“Chicago-St. Louis-Kansas City-Iowa City-Minneapolis-Chicago.” Brock was serious. “I’m shooting a film about Barry Flanagan.

“The Irish sculptor? Doesn’t he do rabbits?”

“Not rabbits, hares,” Brock explained further that the sculptor was very sick. His project was to film Barry’s sculptures around the USA and show them to the artist in Ibiza.

“Before he dies.”

“Why do you need me?”

“Because I can’t drive.” Brock shrugged with a wry grin.

“No?” Every spy in the world could drive a car.

“Never have, so I’ll pay you $1500 plus expenses to be my getaway driver.”

“Count me in.” I loved road trips.

Two weeks later I met Brock at his midtown hotel. He had been drinking most of the morning.

“I left Kabul two days ago.”

“Well, you’re back now.” I could smell the Khyber Pass on him. I paid the bar bill. The bartender said he doubted the airline would let him on the plane.

“He’ll be fine.”

Brock slept throughout the taxi ride to JFK.

We hit the Sushi Bar at the Jet Blue Terminal for raw tuna and cold saki.

“I could use a little pick-me-up.”

I felt that I was the minder for Kingsley Amis, but kept pace with Brock.

I had a reputation for drink too.

An hour later Jet Blue called our flight. Brock and I boarded the overcrowded 737. I opted for the window seat. Brock lifted his bag into the overhead compartment. The chubby steward closed the door on my friend’s fingers.

“Ouch.”

Brock winced in pain.

“You’re drunk and you’re not flying to Chicago on this plane.”

He marched us to the front of the plane. The pilot and co-pilot stood at the door. We were not 9/11 terrorists and I explained to the pilot that Brock had returned from Afghanistan.

“Back in the 90s he had traveled with the Mujahideen. He’s not Army.”

“Oh.” The pilot caught my drift.

In 1842 only one British soldier escaped the fall of Kabul.

The army had numbered 15,000.

I couldn’t say what Brock had been doing over there, but I believed that he had been making a film. I knew his protectress the honorable Alice. We were all good friends.

The pilot bought the story.

“We’ll put you on a flight for tomorrow morning.”

I thanked him and ordered Brock not to say a word.

Stranded at JFK we booked into the Ramada Plaza. The hotel had fallen on hard times, but the bar was filled with Deadheads migrating from the legendary band’s New York stand. We hung out with two guys from California. They were both named Steve. They didn’t care that Jerry Garcia was dead.

Brock and I caught the morning flight. The flight attendants showed us to our seats.

Two hours later we hired the rented car at O’Hare. I drove on the Interstate. I-70 took us directly to St. Louis. The truck traffic on the Interstate was a horror.

“You mind, if you take back roads?”

“That’s why you’re here. To drive. This film is as much about the trip as it is the sculpture. Barry’s dying. He wants to see the world.”

“Then I’ll show him the Fly-Over.”

“Fly-Over?” Brock was unfamiliar with the term.

“It’s what people from LA and New York call the land under them on Trans-continental flights.

I got off the highway to enter a world forgotten by all.

Joliet was on the Des Plaines River. We passed the Correctional Institute, which seemed to be the only thriving business in town.

“They filmed THE BLUES BROTHERS here.” Brock was a film buff.

After crossing the river at West Jackson, we passed under I-80 on the way to Peoria. There was little traffic along the river road.

The Illinois River valley was wide.

Once hundreds of ships plied the river’s muddy current.

Today Peoria was a ghost town of abandoned factories.

Its steel was turning to rust.

The Caterpillar factory was working a single shift.

Someone somewhere still had money for gas and I stepped on the accelerator to get us out of town.

The farmlands were desolate through Illinois.

We arrived in St. Louis.

There wasn’t much left of the city on the Mississippi.

Brock said, “St. Louis is a zombie movie backdrop.”

We opted against staying at the downtown hotel and drove to a suburban motel not far from the Cahokia Indian Mounds.

I had slept atop the ancient monuments in 1972.

Brock and I shared a room. We went down to the bar for happy hour.

On my third margharita my cell rang.

My wife Mam was calling from Sriracha in Thailand. My son Fenway was sick. I had to wire money. The only Western Union was in East St. Louis. I beelined into a dark neighborhood of abandoned buildings and empty lots and wired $150 express.

On the way back to motel a highway cop stopped me on the highway. The trooper said I was speeding. I explained my story. He believed me and let me go. I was a lucky drunk.

In the morning we topped the rental car with gas and drove to the Canokia Indian Mounds.

“These were the largest structures in North America until the 1900s.” Canokia’s population had been greater than any 13th Century city in Europe. “I once camped on the top of that mound.”

“Alone?”

“No, I was with a Texas insect professor. His van had been packed with spiders. Sleeping under the stars seemed safer.” It had been quiet that night.

Today I-70 generated a constant grind of traffic.

Brock and I climbed the hundred-foot high earthen pyramid. The Mississippi shone in the distance. Tall trees blotted out most of the present.

“It could almost be any time, if you shut your ears.” Brock filmed our surroundings.

The highway was closer than I remembered from 1972.

Five miles down the road was a rival mound. It was constructed from garbage.

No one was allowed to climb on garbage dump and we rode over the Mississippi into St. Louis.

“It looks different in the day.” Brock focused on the Arch.

“St. Louis was once the fourth largest city in the USA.”

“And now?”

“58th.” I had read that information online at the motel.

In 1996 Barry Flanagan erected the Nijinsky Hare next to the new St. Louis Hockey Arena. I recounted Bobby Orr’s goal against the Blues to Brock. I doubted the Checkerdome’s replacement had a photo of that iconic goal.

“What do you think of the Hare?” Brock broke out his camera. He was shooting commando-style without a permit.

“The Hare is good for all.” I told myself that I had to read something about these statues.

Brock interviewed workers and commuters coming off the trolley.

Everyone liked the Hare.

After leaving the Gateway City we meandered up the Mississippi.

This was Mark Twain land.

“Do you have friends out in the Fly-Over?” Brock was speaking to me. I was the only person in the car.

“In Kansas City and Iowa.”

“Are you going to see them?”

“I guess.” I hadn’t seen Ray and Rockford in years. “They’ll give you another view of America.”

“Barry will like that.”

And me too.

I turned west at Louisiana and crossed back the river into Missouri on the Champ Clark Bridge,.

We were on our way to Kansas City and according to Wilbert Harrison, “They had a lot of pretty girls there.”

And one of Barry’s hares too.

Bruce Lee – Flow Like Water

To hear a great song about Bruce Lee’s BE LIKE WATER, please go to this URL

Oh You Roue

“The only horrible thing in the world is ennui, Dorian. That is the one sin for which there is no forgiveness.” Lord Henry Wotton explains to a young Dorian Gray in Oscar Wilde’s PORTRAIT OF DORIAN GRAY

General Tso’s Blizzard

Prior to Christmas of 2010 my younger sister insisted on my spending the holiday with her in Boston. She was worried about my head, since our beloved father had passed away in November and my wife and kids were on the other side of the world in Thailand.

“I don’t want you to be alone.”

“I won’t be.” I planned to pass the holiday solo.

“Not if you come up here.” The lawyer erased any further reservations on my part by booking a ticket on the Chinatown bus. “Think of it as an early 60th birthday present. Get on that bus at noon and we’ll have a nice time.”

I surrendered to her better wishes and headed north to Boston. Our old next-door neighbors held a large party on the South Shore. Everyone was talking about the big snow storm. My father told about a great storm in Maine

“Nothing was worse than the one in 1978,” predicted Franny, my old car mechanic.

“That was a bad one.”

“29 people died in Buffalo,” said Chuckie, my best friend throughout grammar school

We traded tales of that blizzard, which was topped by Frannie’s recounting of a famous myth.

Supposedly a father had left his house to buy milk for his children. He never returned that night or the next week or the ensuing month. His neighbors suggested that the husband had taken advantage of the snow emergency to flee his wife. The Spring thaw proved them wrong. The man was found frozen to death only feet away from his house with a carton of milk in his arm.”

The classic urban legend had enough truth to it that the gathering shivered in remembrance of 178.

“No one should go out in that kind of weather.” My father believed in safety first. He and my later mother had spawned six children.

“I know. None of us ever went out of the house without a snow outfit.”

Back in the 50s they were thick and colored red, so a child could be found in the snow.

“Not all the time,” my younger sister volunteered and then added, “Mom used to chain you on a harness to the clothing line.”

“Chained?” Frannie guffawed almost spewing his whiskey.

“Yes, that way she could do household work, but you and your brother were too smart for your own good.” She glanced over to Frunk. He was a year older than me and a lawyer like her. “You stripped off our parka and snow pants and then went down to the pier at the end of the street.

Our youth had begun on a bluff over looking Portland Harbor.

“Mom found you naked on the pier.”

“I guess it wasn’t that cold.”

“You had a 103 temperature for a week.” My father remembered everything I had done. Most of my sins had been forgiven. “People die in the cold.”

“But not tonight.”

I refilled a glass of white wine checked the weather online. The meteorologists were warning of hazardous conditions for late Christmas Day. My older sister said, “Looks like you’ll be stuck here.”

“There are worse places than Boston in the snow.”

“Like Logan,” her son countered with a frown. “They just cancelled all flights out of Boston and I have to be to work on the 26th.”

“That’s why I think Christmas should be a moveable feast, so it can be a long weekend.”

“Jesus was born on Christmas Day.” Our host was a loyal believer. Christmas was Christmas only on the 25th. We toasted the manger in Bethlehem and I muttered ‘Free Palestine’ under my breath. Politics and religion were banned subjects on Christmas Eve.

The next day I woke at my father’s apartment. I checked the low gray sky.

“Looks snow.”

“That it does.”

New Englanders read the signs of winter with a learned eye for the weather.

We exchanged gifts. I gave him two bottles of Merlot and my father handed me a check.

“Go see your kids.”

I hugged him. He was a good father and my best friend, but the old Maniac had become a treacherous driver in his 80s. The ride over to my older sister’s house off 128 was scary for the other cars and terrifying for me.

“How was the ride,” asked my older sister’s husband.

“Don’t ask.”

“How about a vodka-tonic?” David had retired this past summer and was enjoying his new position of local leisurologist.

His son was on the phone.

“Find a way back to DC?”

Matt gave me the thumbs down.

“There’s as always the Chinatown bus.”

Everyone groaned about that option. Fung Wah had the most dangerous drivers in New England this side of my father.

“I don’t think we have a choice.”

And we didn’t.

After a sumptuous turkey dinner Matt and I packed within minutes and my older sister drove us to South Station. We caught the 11AM bus. The snow was light, but the traffic was heavy. People were trying to get home before the storm worsened to trap them far from home. No one in their right mind was traveling. Both of us slept on the trip. I had drunk a few vodkas too many. Matt had done the same with wine. Upon our arrival in Chinatown I offered Matt to stay at my place.

“I got to be in work tomorrow.”

“No one is going to work tomorrow.”

“I will be.”

Matt worked for an internet company, which was not affiliated with the CIA. At least that was his cover and I had been brought up to not ask questions about jobs in DC. I put him on a DC-bound bus and took the F train over to Brooklyn. It was only 4PM, so I stopped in Frank’s Lounge for a beer.

Several of the regulars were in their Sunday seats. We talked of our Christmases and drank several rounds before looking out the window onto a terrifying scenario. The snow storm had upgraded to the wintery tornado. The accumulation was already 10 inches and there was no sign of let-up. The TV announced the trains were being taken out of service.

“We where we are and nowhere else.” Homer was happy to be in Frank’s. It was our favorite bar, but we were hungry. He made several phone calls for take-out.

“Ain’t no one going out in this weather?” Rosa the Mexican bartender said with a laugh. “Hell, I’m thinking of sleeping here.”

“I’m going out later.”

“That’s because you only live two blocks away from that stool.” She had a sharp tongue for such a beautiful face.

“You wrong about that?”

“Wrong about what?”

“About no one going out in this weather. The Chinaman always comes. Heck, back in 1978 I called a Chinaman and they delivered through two feet of snow.”

“Better than the US Mail.”

“Through snow or sleet.”

“And it comes late.”

“Then I’m making the last call.” Homer dialed the Chinese restaurant up the block.

“What you want?”

“They answered?”

“Sure, they did.” I ordered the General Tso’s Chicken extra chili. Homer followed suit.

“You know General Tso’s Chicken doesn’t exist in China.” It supposedly was invented by the Hunnan chef T. T. Wang in 1972.

“How the hell am I supposed to know that. I ain’t ever been to no damned China.” Homer traveled mostly on a straight line. Brooklyn to Mississippi.

“Well, I have.” Only one time to Yunnan, Sichuan, and Tibet in 1996. “And there was no General Tso’s Chicken.”

“I don’t care about no China. I’m here in Brooklyn.”

The traffic on Fulton had been exinctized by the snow. We started to fear that our food wasn’t going to come and we would have to survive on the packets of chips from behind the bar, but the door banged open for a small man covered by snow. He held two bags of food. We cheered his arrival and Homer gave him a $5 tip.

“That’s because Tipping ain’t no city in China and a Chinaman will deliver your food even when the US Mail can’t get through. Here’s to the Chinaman.”

We raised our glasses and ate like this was the last meal on Earth.

Looking out the window that’s just the way it felt on the night before Snow Day.

Quelle Cad

“If I could get back my youth, I’d do anything in the world except get up early, take exercise or be respectable.” Lord Henry Wooten from THE PORTRAIT OF DORIAN GREY