STARS. He said that people knew many different kinds of stars or thought they knew many different kinds of stars. He talked about the stars you see at night, say when you’re driving from Des Moines to Lincoln on Route 80 and the car breaks down, the way they do, maybe it’s the oil or the radiator, maybe it’s a flat tire, and you get out and get the jack and the spare tire out of the trunk and change the tire, maybe half an hour, at most, and when you’re done you look up and see the sky full of stars. The Milky Way. He talked about star athletes. That’s a different kind of star, he said, and he compared them to movie stars, though as he said, the life of an athlete is generally much shorter. A star athlete might last fifteen years at best, whereas a movie star could go on for forty or fifty years if he or she started young. Meanwhile, any star you could see from the side of Route 80, on the way to Des Moines to Lincoln, would live for probably millions of years. Either that or it might have been dead for millions of years, and the traveler who gazed up at it would never know. It might be a live star or it might be a dead star. Sometimes, depending on your point of view, he said, it doesn’t matter, since the stars you see at night exist in the realm of semblance. They are semblances, the way dreams are semblances. So the traveler on Route 80 with a flat tire doesn’t know whether what he’s staring up at in the vast night are stars or whether they’re dreams. In a way, he said, the traveler is also part of a dream, a dream that breaks away from another dream like one drop of water breaking away from a bigger drop of water that we call a wave.
– Roberto Bolaño, 2666
I wonder if Bolaño ever actually drove this stretch of road across the Great Plains, or if he just read about it in Kerouac’s legendary road trip chronicle. Twice over the next few days we’ll be driving this route, though probably not at night so we’ll have to imagine the semblances of stars. The other day I was editing a bit of text I wrote this summer based on driving Route 80 west from Des Moines and Lincoln:
Through the bug-spattered windshield he saw a small herd of antelope grazing the sparse brush a quarter mile off the highway. A solitary pheasant stood erect and immobile in the passing lane, staring at him like a desperate avian hitchhiker. Low-slung oil wells performed their oblique one-stroke rotations, the idling pistons of the American West. It wasn’t until he caught the first glimpse of the mountains hovering on the dusty horizon that he gave any real thought to his delivery.