Thursday, September 2, 2010

An American Exile: Paul Bunyon Was A Loser!

The next couple of days of our journey became kind of a blur. We headed out of Michigan (finally!) and made our way through Wisconsin before stopping for an overnight somewhere in Minnesota. Pam, the corgis and I seemed to be settling into a road rhythm of sorts…driving, pit stops, sightseeing and the occasional wrong turn. Pam stopped at a cheese shop in Wisconsin for cheese curds or “squeaky cheese” as she terms them. Before heading into North Dakota, we stopped in Bemidji to see their Paul Bunyon and Babe the Blue Ox statues. They were incredibly folksy-looking and we did the usual tourist pictures…with the dogs included of course.

As we wandered around the adjacent Indian outpost, I thought about how Paul Bunyon was a great American folk hero and how I could incorporate him into the tale of my life as I made this trek. Once we were on the road again, I mentioned my plans to Pam and insisted that I needed to read the Paul Bunyon stories again to refresh my memory. “He lost!” she blurted and continued to fill me in on some of the details. I immediately realized that this was a bad omen. How could I embrace an American hero who lost by inches. It was almost as if I would have to concede that I had come so close only to be set back to square one.

So, I set out to learn a little about this folk hero and his sturdy blue companion. To make a bad feeling worse, I learned that Paul Bunyon was probably more of a marketing ploy than a character that had developed out of the lore of this area of the country. My optimism sunk as I realized the symbolism of this discovery. Here I was struggling through an American experience, looking for insight, looking for hope, looking for inspiration and I was slapped down by a fiction of our long capitalist system. Marketing is one of the things that is really wrong with this country. We spend so much time, energy and money in creating the impression of how things are instead of really making things right. The banking system is completely fucked up, taking money from the government and then throwing people out of their homes yet there are more bank commercials than ever painting some rosy picture of the services they provide. BP fucks up an entire ecosystem and then spends millions and millions to improve their image instead of going the extra mile to really make things right. Maybe this is the result of capitalist competition or maybe it’s because of TV and the Internet but why do we, as a country, allow ourselves to be scammed in this way and why do we embrace marketing as such an important part of our culture. Marketing is a form of lying and there is way too much falsity nowadays.

Anyway, after this revelation, I had a strange feeling hanging over me. We headed through North Dakota approaching Devil’s Lake. We would stop for a peek but then would continue towards Montana. Our plans, however, were abruptly interrupted by a smoking car and a swift turn to the shoulder of the highway. I had a flashback to earlier days when I jumped out of my 1972 Camaro only to find the rear wheel on fire. There was a moment of panic as Pam popped the hood and I looked inside to see where the smoke was coming from. No fire, thank God, but there was oil all over the engine. We reached out to AAA as we realized we were in the middle of nowhere. As we hooked up the minivan, the conclusion was some sort of problem with the transmission but there were signs that this wasn’t too bad. We straggled into Devil’s Lake considering our prospects for answers at 6:00 p.m. on a Friday evening. We would have to hold up here for a while and possibly reconsider our plans. At least we have the luxury of time.

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