Pull over, I think I’m gonna be kitsch

Especially when you’re in a class called Reading the Road Trip, the best part of being on the road can be when you get off the road.


When you turn onto North Avenue from Lake Shore Drive, a couple of nice, cultural-type activities present themselves to you. There’s the Chicago History Museum right there on Clark, Second City half a block down Wells, Steppenwolf Theatre a mile or so down the street, and then come all the dives, second-hand stores, and chic taco places in Wicker Park when you cross the Chicago River. After that, things kind of thin out. First there are a bunch of bodegas, then a ton of body shops, and you see not just the first Menards of your life but three in half an hour.

Once you’ve let Route 64 take you that far out of Chicago, and by now you’re pretty far, what’s there to do? Let’s say you’re going to be driving on this road for three hours, out to the edge of Illinois to have a look at the Mississippi River, for an assignment in a class called Reading the Road Trip, and someone in the car is going on and on about the nature of thought and the psyche and signification, and not that you really want to, but you can’t get a word in edgewise? What’s there to do but keep driving?

Well, if you’re like me, you’ll put your camera behind the steering wheel and start making funny faces. If you’re smart, like my friend Mounica, you keep an eye peeled for a pumpkin stand. When you see it, you’ll know you’re in a nice town, like Virgil, Illinois, and you should pull over. And if you’re lucky, the pumpkins will sit in front of an old diner that’s been converted into an oddities shop, and is on its way back.

That’s Jason Seuben, the shop’s co-owner, standing in what will soon be Norm’s Diner. He talked with us for half an hour, about his place there on the corner of Route 64 and Country Highway 14. Neon signs and colorful metal ones hung everywhere, and on a table sat a sprawling miniature circus with working lights. Almost all the items had to do with either beer or cars. Best of all, there was a rusty motorbike that if you fixed it up looked like it could toot you around the North Side without too much difficulty.

Every book we’ve read in class (On the Road, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) shows the road throwing people together who might never have met. Jason has lived most of his life in Virgil, but I didn’t feel bad about grilling him on his collection, which was a sort of kitsch heaven for me even if it probably looks like home to anyone from the area. Jason and his coworker came right back with questions on what it’s like to live in the city (New York, actually, having seen my license plates)—what’s the music scene like, how do you deal with such a fast-paced lifestyle?

I kept my friends there way too long—sorry, guys—but he generously let us take home some of his signs, toys, and miscellanea. I grabbed a real country milk bottle and a vintage Motor Oil sign that’s now hanging on my wall.

The rest of the road? Let’s just say it was a long trip. All there is to do is give up planning your essay. Luckily, that’s when you stop arguing about signification and start playing Ghost. Much better.

Asher Klein, ’11

Photos by Asher Klein, ’11, Mounica Yanamandala, ’11, and Jena Cutie, ’11

For more on Asher's road trip, look out for the January issue of the Core.—Ed.


November 16, 2010