This was originally written as a style assignment for Dr. Heilker, in which we had to follow the structure of an essay as closely as possible while substituting in details from our own experience. If you’ve been keeping up with any other PGS blogs, this may sound strangely familiar…
The town of West Chester, Ohio, lies on the shore of the proper midwest against the terminal moraine where the glaciers stopped, looking south into Cincinnati, and beyond, to an ocean of soybeans and corn. From the south, I-75 aims for Toledo, bends slightly to the left at the traffic-snarled exit for Tylersville Road, and eases past one of the many industrial parks towards the massive IKEA sign with a plaque welcoming folks to West Chester Ohio tacked beneath almost as an afterthought, bringing the traveler in on Mulhauser Road towards a chain of stoplights which are almost never properly synched with one another.
More streetlights than trees shade the street. Along the sidewalk, which exists along only one side of every road in town, a group of Lakota West cross country runners jog in a red and white pack. Their path has taken them through a random patchwork of strip malls, restaurants, and extended stay hotels and back towards their overweight coach, whom they loathe but to whom they are somehow completely dedicated. At the Skyline Chili, another shopping center begins. A breeze from across the road brings an irritating blast of ragweed and dried grass clippings, a slight smell of creosote from the railroad tracks, the particulate matter from the thousand exhaust pipes and smokestacks from the factories lining the interstate and, from across the parking lot, the faint smell of broth from Soup Du Jour, another restaurant which will be out of business in a month. The owner, returning from another smoke break, disappears inside.
The pack of runners cruises into Beckett Ridge, the nearest neighborhood, and continues its steady pace for five minutes, ten minutes, then loops around at the top of the hill to crawl northwards back towards the high school. They are too tired to yell at anything at the few passing cars filled with people that they know. The artistic director and self-appointed Queen of Lakota West’s theater department peers out from the driver’s seat of her SUV as she passes the group. Her nephew, sipping a mocha frappuchino, rolls his eyes at the runners out the window.
The rest of the neighborhood is empty. The group moves north past Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs’ parking lot, the pavement littered with gum wrappers and discarded cigarettes. A young man sits on the swiveling stool behind the counter, slightly greasy from handling fast food in the small and poorly air-conditioned shop, tapping away at his cell phone with still-gloved hands. He is not Nathan. Nathan of Famous Hot Dog fame is a New Yorker who died in ’74, far away from this chain restaurant outpost with its fake leather swiveling stool by the window that looks out across the parking lot towards the school. The parking lot is otherwise empty; the usual customer are have stayed at home to avoid the heat. A girl, perhaps someone the young man knows, pulls into the parking lot, thinks again, and executes a perfect three-point turn to head back out, and he sees the dull glint from the bumper of her ’99 Jetta.
A half-mile away, a graffiti-smeared freight train rumbles along the tracks running parallel to the expressway, the conductor blows the horn as the engine approaches a crossing; the diesel roar is the only thing that cuts easily through humidity this thick. Following the railway lines might lead you somewhere interesting if you had a sense of adventure, which nobody in the town has got.