- Going to Gooseberry Falls
I miss a turn somewhere and end up in a small town near Henderson, MN (population 900). I stop behind two cars waiting out a train at a railroad crossing. I shift into park. It’s late afternoon and the sun is bright in my eyes, cutting through the frost that still tinges the edges of my windshield and windows. I roll my window down a bit to counter the oppressive warmth of my heater. I check my gauges for gas and temperature, my mirrors for approaching cars.
The little red car in front of me shifts into park, turns itself off. The exhaust gives a last puff of smoke into the daylight. The driver steps out, his tall, bony frame straightening into the cold wind. He blows into his hands. I can’t hear his door slam over the metal clattering of the train.
He walks to the car in front of his, leans down, and starts talking pleasantly into the driver-side window. I squint into the roar of the train at their conversation. I glance at my rearview as a truck pulls up behind me, rusted to the frame. A bearded man in a trucker hat steps out, waves up to the tall, skinny man, and joins him at the first car’s window.
Part of me wants to join them, and I try to imagine what I might say. Nothing occurs to me. The tall one claps the bearded one on the shoulder and laughs. I suppose they might be calling each other fucking assholes in a way that shows they’re actually fond of each other. Or maybe they’re telling church jokes like [End Page 205] the elders at my church used to do when I was a kid, each of them laughing at the loudest member of the group pretending to speak in tongues or jerking spastically like he’d been “possessed by the Holy Ghost.”
All I really know is that I desperately want some company as the men pass the next ten minutes in good humor, and when the train finally runs out of cars, they take their time saying their goodbyes. I’m not sure they even notice I’m here.
Two minutes later I’m back on the highway, cruising at 75 toward Gooseberry Falls.
When I drive this fast in my ’96 Accord, the steering wheel vibrates so hard my hands go numb. So I alternate which hand holds the wheel and which one rests. I try to remember to notice the brown fields flying by.
I try to remember where I’m going and why: up north. To see a waterfall. To see the state I’m new to—or something like that, anyway. I think it is probably more that on a Friday morning in a college town deserted for Thanksgiving break, any kind of movement feels like progress. “And it’s a beautiful day for a drive,” I tell myself.
I drive past an exit advertising the World’s Largest Ball of Twine and actually think this sentence in my head: “I wish I was the kind of person who would go see the World’s Largest Ball of Twine.”
Instead, I know that I’d only agree to visit the World’s Largest Ball of Twine if they put it on the side of the interstate, so that I might slow a bit and glance in its direction as I pass. I wouldn’t want anyone to see me visiting the World’s Largest Ball of Twine. I don’t want people thinking I’m a tourist.
But—of course—I am.
Just north of Minneapolis, I stop to piss in a Starbucks. For some reason, the comfy chair by the fire is open, and it seems a waste to just leave it there. So I sit down and end up staying for a couple hours. I don’t talk to anyone. [End Page 206]
Most everyone else is staring at their laptops or waiting for their orders so they can leave. All except for one girl. She is standing near the counter, talking with...