A few weeks ago, I found myself in Joplin, Missouri, some 180 miles out of Kansas City. Aside from getting stranded in the airport a few other times on my way to Oklahoma, as well as driving through the state, I hadn’t really spent much time there.
Not that a three day weekend could ever qualify as much time, but I was there; in Missouri, off the Interstate, and not in an airport. At first glance, Joplin is a town like many others dotted throughout the Midwest and placed along a major roadway. It’s got hotels, chain restaurants and the usual array of chain-store brands.
Outside of a car, it’s a slightly different story. For one, there aren’t a lot of sidewalks. Now this might be because the town is actually 35 square miles in size, or it might be because people drive cars instead of walk. I can’t say for sure, but I did see a ton of cars and next to no pedestrians in the town. Of course, it is a big town. Parking, from what I could see, was a breeze, and traffic, during my tenure there, didn’t seem to exist. In simpler terms, Joplin is not Jersey City, and I’m not sure how Joplin might react to Jersey City’s local population of older men riding three-wheeled bicycles adorned with the Puerto Rican flag.
But because I live in a place where a good parking spot is king and the average time to cross town in a car is slower than that of walking, you could put me anywhere in the world and I’ll return to the same thoughts: “Damn, that’s a sweet parking spot” or “Let’s just walk, it’s faster.”
I guess I should add that I have nothing against the city of Joplin or the many people that drive cars there, and also that I didn’t spend every waking moment there thinking about automobile travel. I thought about All, too.
In the early ’90s, All (featuring 3/4 of The Descendents) was a band from the Los Angeles area that toured constantly and cranked out records almost annually. Because the band was on the road most of the year, and because being in a band was an expensive endeavor even back then, All left California and attempted to centralize themselves in the United States to make touring easier. They picked Missouri, and from what I know, they didn’t last long.
All recorded one album while in Brookfield, Missouri; the poorly-received “Percolator,” and it offered small glimpses into the band’s alienation while in Missouri. At the time, I couldn’t really relate, but walking the desolate streets of Joplin on a Sunday night, in between empty strip malls selling the fixtures from whatever store had once existed there, I finally figured out what they were talking about.
I listened to that album this past week, while driving, in traffic, and searching for parking spots. And eighteen years after the fact, it made me appreciate Missouri.