“The highway is alive tonight.”
The ghost of Tom Joad wheels the last car manufactured in America into a restaurant in South Carolina. Inside he orders flapjacks and a sunny side up. His waitress, the Indigo Princess of Sugar Tit, tops off his black decaf and uses a napkin to trace her family tree to its Swamp Fox roots. She knows a guy who knows the Marine who wrestled the Jersey Devil to a standstill after his discharge from the ‘Nam. In the Levittown sleepovers encircling the Motor City, Temptation and Four Top songs crescendo and sotto voce past the abandoned homes. Joad learns “Walk Away, Renee” from Levi Stubbs. The empty sidewalks on my block are not the same. He heard too many sad songs in Indiana. East of the Little Wabash, the white squirrels of Olney leap from maple to ash as Joad cruises his automobile into Illinois twilight imagining Ma with Rose of Sharon feeding Okies in hobo camps with a stone soup mirage. Saviors without the rabbit in a hat of fishes and loaves. Near Dyersville, Buck and Shoeless Joe play shadow ball in a field of dreams. Crickets a cappella “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” while a vintage Ernie Lombardi catcher’s mitt dapples the back seat of the ghost’s car. In the wilderness, Joad lights a bonfire for Burning Man. He purifies himself in a sweat lodge built above the Joshua Tree ashes of a grievous angel. Emerges garbed in black. Armed with a terrible, swift sword. A Zorro searching for one America. A nation that never was. The union we promise our brothers and sisters will one day rise.