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Travels with Casper


Casper Wells threw his Suburban into neutral and let it coast onto the off-ramp. According to the Rand McNally map he bought in a town called Williamsburg, he was just on the outskirts of some town called Williamsburg. He saw stalks of corn whenever he closed his eyes, which he had been doing well before he’d parked the car at the market. He idly wondered if he’d make Williamsburg before dark. The sun in his eyes told him it was morning.

He’d spent the night at a motel somewhere, a place off the road with a vacancy sign and no customers. When he’d gone into the office, there was nobody there, just papers and a bunch of keys on the wall. He couldn’t take the keys, couldn’t sleep in that empty place, so he went back out to the car and drowsed fitfully in the driver’s seat. When the sun came up, the motel was still vacant, still.

He scratched the head of his poodle, Checkers, and let her out to do her business in the grass at the side of the road. The air smelled of corn, somehow, sweet and yellow. Casper went into the store and bought some coffee and a couple of pepperoni sticks from the owner, a man with a sort of plaid face. He asked the man how to get to Chicago. “Just keep going,” he said airily, as if Casper could do anything else.

Back outside, Casper popped the trunk of the vehicle and sat on the edge, pulling sips of his coffee as if it were Robitussin. He’d wanted to see America, he thought, and that was why he’d become a ballplayer. He’d seen West Michigan, Anaheim, Tampa. But he realized, somewhere between his birth and yesterday morning, that he no longer knew America as he once had, on the buses and the motels. He needed to know it to know himself. He needed not just to visit each city, but to be a part of it, live there and work there, if only for a day. Only at the end would he know himself.

A nearby farmer had been checking the air on his tires, and curiosity had finally got the best of him. He wandered toward the Suburban, unshaken by Checkers’s shrill cries. “Well,” he said, coming into view of the trunk of the car. “That’s a fine auto you have there.” Casper nodded a greeting, and offered him some of his coffee, which the man took. His face was covered with a light stubble that seemed tired of growing.

“Yessir, a fine auto. You headin’ to Iowa City?”

“Chicago,” Casper answered, his eyes already closing.

“Huh. A fine vehicle,” the man repeated, but Wells had left him. He was thinking of Comiskey Park, with the doors unlocked and the locker room open, empty and silent.