We've made it to Michigan, but not yet our final destination of Detroit. We spent last night with my parents, who hadn't seen their granddaughter since early March, and tonight we're with Wood's parents. We close on our house tomorrow, and our possessions arrive on a truck next Wednesday. Things could be worse, but they still kind of suck.

I'm feeling a lot of regret about the last part of our trip. We sort of just drove through Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois without stopping, other than to let Juniper stretch her legs in one fast food place or another. We did spend a day in Omaha, Nebraska, which is a beautiful and amazing city. The old train station took my breath away. After Omaha, I'd had every intention to stop at small community diners and see the offbeat stuff along the road that so many readers recommended. I'd also wanted to take I-70 through Kansas and Missouri (we got so many great recommendations for St. Louis), but the extra hours it would have added to our trip made it unfeasible. We were sick of driving, sick of reading terrible books over our shoulders and dealing with the collective constipation that comes from too many fistfuls of pirate's booty and too much fast food. Somewhere in Colorado Juniper decided that this dreadful Thomas the Tank book was her new favorite, and we probably read it to her three dozen times in the last few days to appease her in the back seat. We eventually decided to start using a child molester's voice for Thomas because that sick motherfucking train seemed a little too eager to pick up all those children before the other trains got to take them home. In the end, appeasing Juniper became the theme of this trip. Not crazy roadside attractions in Kansas or determination of the best cinnamon bun on the Platte River. For every adorable moment where we'd point out deer or horses or cows to Juniper and the car would speed by and she'd demand "more mama, more!" there were a dozen stretches of empty highway she filled with unbearable whining and hollering where there was just nothing we could do to stop it.

So we quit looking for cute playgrounds in little towns and started getting excited when we'd see a billboard for a McDonald's playland on I-80. We drove right past towns where readers had recommended awesome sights simply because Juniper was sleeping and we wanted to get as many miles under our belt as possible. When a rainstorm followed us from Denver to Davenport, we stopped only when necessary. We even stopped at a Wal Mart that was right on the highway after we lost Addie #4.

My elitist-asshole attitude towards Wal Mart is no secret, but I had actually never been to one, so I felt a little like one of those dipshits who's never smoked pot yet feels completely comfortable ranting on and on about the dangers of marijuana abuse in this lovely country of ours. So setting foot for the first time in the super Wal Mart of Lexington, Nebraska was kind of like taking a nice long hit on a joint filled with the shit I'd been complaining about for years. I didn't feel anything, really. I was a little creeped out by the park benches scattered about with old men talking to each other on them like they were surrounded by leafy elms and elegant fountains rather than displays of rechargeable batteries and stacks of Scary Movie 4 DVDs. But that feeling of being creeped out was soon overwhelmed by the purple haze of finding 12-packs of soda for $2.50. We walked away with two of those and a new doll for Juniper, and $8 of my money headed to the vault in Arkansas. And I also spent about $4.00 in quarters trying to get one of those Homies on a low-rider bicycle from the toy/candy machines up front. I guess I'm just a hypocrite. This is the face of a baby who realizes for the first time that her dad is a hypocrite:

Several times on this trip I remembered reading that chapter in Charles Kuralt's book about all the dozens of names for burgers he'd encountered in his travels ("You can find your way across this country using burger joints the way a navigator uses stars.") and I felt guilty every time I bit into an In and Out burger or a Wendy's cheeseburger deluxe. We never eat that crap, and I had wanted this trip to be about what makes these small towns along the highway unique, not what made them like every place else.

We drove past dozens and dozens of abandoned restaurants and empty storefronts in small towns across the American west. We sat alongside people who lived and worked in those towns and ate in the fast food joints that dotted the highways that both led people to their towns and drew their young people out and away towards bigger places. I nearly broke down when a guy pushing a mop in a McDonald's somewhere in Iowa came up to Juniper and said she was beautiful and said he had two himself, one only nine months old. And I watched him push his mop and I felt so much sorrow and love for this man in a McDonald's uniform. And I felt so lucky that I didn't have to leave Juniper in her bed to push a mop in a McDonald's in the middle of the night. But mostly I felt love for him, and knew that look in his eye all too well when he saw my daughter shrieking with the joy of freed limbs, pushing her happy meal Hummer along the floor in front of his mop. Thinking about his own. Later I sat in the car and wondered why I had to be such an elitist asshole, why I had to want the people in these towns to want something they clearly don't want. They don't want to stop shopping at Wal Mart. They don't want to stop eating at McDonalds.

This isn't some convenient postmodern epiphany about how great strip malls and big boxes and fast food chains actually are. I still think these chains are lousy places to shop and eat. But that's just one asshole elitist's opinion, and only as valid as the next person's. I have to admit though, that biting into a McDonald's cheeseburger (something I had not done in years) brought back positively Proustian memories of similar childhood bites.

And that was actually kind of nice.