On Friday I took a long car ride by myself. I had to represent a client in Hannibal, MO, former home of Mark Twain and current location of one of the four bankruptcy hearing locations in eastern Missouri. (Others: STL, Wentzville and Cape Girardeau.) I live about 95 miles south of Hannibal, and the client lives almost as far away, but if you live in one of the designated counties, that’s where you go. At least my employer paid me for the mileage.
The drive up Route 61 was pretty much what you’d expect: almost completely rural between Wentzville and Hannibal. Lots of farms, churches, empty land. It’s been a long time since I’ve had such a drive – probably since 2003, when we were moving from Seattle and drove through a spookily deserted expanse of Wyoming. I’ve driven to Jefferson City and Chicago, too, but those weren’t the same; this was miles and miles of secondary highway, almost no one else on the road except for trucks and farm vehicles. I used to wonder what kids did for fun in the small towns along such highways. I still do, except that I no longer try to graft my own Northeast urban/suburban perspective onto the landscape.
Traveling along such areas always puts me in a strange headspace. I made sure to bring this week’s The Best Show on WFMU podcast, but ended up mostly listening to R.E.M. Fables of The Reconstruction, and especially Automatic for The People, made perfect background music for the one-lane service roads and the hastily-constructed white crosses along 61 North. I’ve been moved by music a lot lately, and “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” and “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight” did it for me on this trip. It doesn’t matter what kind of nonsense Michael Stipe is singing on “Sidewinder;” what matters is that the song feels absolutely majestic. When you’re the only one on the road and you can see the next several miles unfolding ahead of you, there’s something indelibly moving about the way the strings come in during “Sidewinder”‘s second chorus.
The meeting itself took less than 10 minutes, as such meetings usually do. If you ever file for bankruptcy and have to appear at a trustee hearing, don’t stress too much. Keep your cool, don’t overanswer the trustee’s questions, and you’ll be fine. (And make sure you hire a good bankruptcy lawyer who’s willing to drive halfway across the state to represent you. Ahem.)
The meeting adjourned, and there I was in Hannibal, quite by accident. I’d traveled a long way to get there, so I figured I should at least drive around the small downtown area before heading back to work. I drove away from the bankruptcy court and down Broadway, with its dilapidated resale shops and bars. I made a left at the river, where most of the Mark Twain historical/touristy stuff is. I drove up quiet residential streets with cute but aging housing stock. I loved that the whole town apparently exists on a steep hill.
Now, keep in mind that I’m basing this opinion on about 15 minutes of driving around, but Hannibal felt remote and somewhat downtrodden. A place that had its history decades ago, and is now capitalizing on it as best as it can. Lots of businesses with the words “Twain,” “Clement,” “Huckleberry” and “Sawyer” in them. At least two Twain imitators working in town, according to the Internet. You know there must be more, just as sure as Memphis is crawling with Elvis imitators. I’ll have to explore the place next time I have a meeting there.
The ride home was uneventful. Rides home usually are. I went back to work, saw a couple of clients, and came home absolutely exhausted.