This Blue Earth
It’s toward dinnertime and we’re six and a half hours out of Chicago on a spring break road trip to Wall Drug. Kind of a spur of the moment thing. We’re getting a little road weary and sick of the sensible snacks we’d packed when see the sign: Blue Earth 2 miles ahead.
We pull off of I-90 and take the business route into town. Who names a place Blue Earth? We pull into a Subway and head in to order. Patti gets a meatball sub and I get an egg white wrap. I don’t eat meat. Patti has been my friend since seventh grade and math with Mrs. Thornapple. That was like twenty years ago, geesh.
We head into town looking for a place to get out of the car and eat our sandwiches. It’s 72 degrees and sunny. We take a left off of the main drag. There’s a sign for a park. Patti sees it first. She sees him first. He’s big and green, about the size of a full-grown tree. We pull into a parking spot and gawk. Is he wearing a toga?
A couple of girls ride by on their bicycles. One has a huge backpack and the other braids. “Hey, excuse me!” I yell. (I’ll talk to anyone about anything.)
The girls turn around and pedal back to us. They look to be around eleven or twelve. We get out of the car. “What’s this about?” I say, pointing to the green dude.
The one in braids answers, “That’s the world’s tallest Jolly Green Giant.” The other girl says, “He wears size 78 shoes.”
Patti unwraps her sandwich and squints her face up. “Why?”
Braid girls says, “He’s 55 feet tall.” She sets her bike down and comes closer to us and looks at Patti. “You have pretty hair.” Patti hears that wherever she goes. Her hair is the color of a pomegranate and today she wears it in a ponytail that hangs past her shoulders. The girl with the backpack just stands for a bit, taking in the situation. She then sets the bike down and says, “Red is cool.”
Braid girl says, “I’m Shasta.” She nods toward her friend. “That’s K.T.” She looks at us. “You don’t live here, do you?”
My red-haired friend smiles and says, “I’m Patti.” She points at me, my mouth now full of food. “This is Sharona.”
Shasta still has her eyes on Patti, who is about to bite into her sandwich. “Can I touch your hair?” she says.
Patti puts the sandwich down. “I guess,” she answers. “Are your hands clean?”
Shasta nods and approaches. “I always ask before I touch.”
K.T. speaks up. “Where you guys from?”
“Chicago,” I say, and then K.T. asks, “Cubs or White Sox?”
“Cubs,” we both nod. We’re North Siders.
We eat our sandwiches and offer the girls our chips. We tell them about our trip.
Shasta tells us all about the Green Giant. He weighs 8,000 pounds and his smile is 48 inches wide. There is even a Jolly Green Giant museum. Shasta says that Blue Earth is also home to the first ice cream sandwich. Maybe we should get one before we leave town, I think.
“You girls sure are regular Wikipedias,” Patti says. “Anything else we should know?”
K.T. grins at the ground. “We’re at the center of the nation’s longest coast-to-coast interstate.”
That doesn’t seem right to me. “Are you sure?” I say. Can it be that this road, I-90, the road we’ve always taken to get anywhere, is so much greater than we imagined?
“It’s a fact,” K.T. says and grabs her backpack. She gets out a mini-hand-sanitizer and squeezes a bit onto her hands. When she has rubbed them dry she unzips the backpack fully and pulls out a thick stack of maps, all carefully folded and creased. She whispers to herself as she counts the maps out. And then, a little louder, she says, “Number 8. Map of the United States.” She puts the rest away, zips the bag up, then carefully unfolds the map and spreads it across our bench. Patti and I watch, as her index finger touches Seattle and then traces the red interstate through Idaho and Montana. She stops in South Dakota. “Here’s Wall Drug. You’re almost half way there.” She smiles, not looking at us, but at the space that is near us. Then her finger moves east along the red line, reaches Blue Earth, dips into Chicago and then back up along Lake Erie, through New York and then out to the Atlantic Ocean. “I-90, Seattle to Boston, 3,085 miles,” she says.
Patti and I stare, mesmerized. Shasta is standing behind Patti, her eyes and fingers working together to complete a French braid. The sun moves behind a cloud. An alarm goes off on K.T.’s watch. “I gotta go home,” she says, starting to carefully refold the map.
“Oh, let’s take a picture,” I say, getting out my phone. I set the timer and prop the phone on the bench. We scurry in place for the picture, K.T standing awkwardly near me and Shasta with her arm around Patti. We are in the middle of the interstate, halfway to our destination, standing under the shadow of a giant. I’m not sure I want to leave.
Sharon Bippus is a former special education teacher who lives in rural Michigan. Her work has appeared in The Pinch, The MacGuffin, Ducts, and elsewhere. She is currently working on a novel. Find her on Twitter @BippusSharon.
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