Middle America Etc.

Traveling from one place to another and the space between

middle america

Photo by Thomas Hawk



Welcome to farming god. A podcast on a way to live.

The engine is the heart of travel. At one time the word engine referred to any piece of machinery. It’s derived from the latin ingenium. Meaning, “ability”. The comfortable cabs of modern cars make it easy to ignore, and even forgot about the hand-crafted explosion happening inches in front of our climate controlled feet. Out of view, a precise mixture of air and fuel is injected into the cylinder and then combusted at just the right time, causing the piston to rise. BREATHE Cylinders are ignited in sequence. 1-3-4-2-1-3-4-2-1-3-4-2….. like the veiny thighs of a 4 legged cyclist,1-3-4-2-1-3-4-2-1-3-4-2 spinning the crankshaft, 1-3-4-2-1-3-4-2-1-3-4-2 which turns the gears 3-4-2-1-3-4-2-1-3-4-2-1-3-4-2 that spin the wheels 4-2-1-3-4-2-1-3-4-2 that propel us forward.

Trillions of explosions in millions of engines move us, and our things from place to place. By choice, we’ve become biologically dependent on them. Tractors grow our food, trucks transport it, and cars bring our faces to the grocery store. If engines stopped working millions of people would starve.. pretty quickly. Small cities in moderate climates may be able to adjust. They’d have enough land to begin growing food for a modest population. But chances are that the agricultural land would be covered with feed corn and soybeans. Without petroleum fertilizer the crops would die and the soil would be useless. Like grey cardboard toilet paper rolls, the dead corn stalks would remain standing.  Posted in the ground as the seasons change, through rain and winter, summer and fall, they’d refuse to decay, quaking in the wind, back and forth, like an old man sitting on his porch shaking his stiff finger at you in disapproval as you spit out a hunk of bubble gum on the sidewalk in front of his house. .


Engines are linear, self contained operations. If something sounds or behaves oddly, there is a logical reason for it and it can be solved using scientific method. We measure, experiment, and adjust our hypothesis by observing what’s beneath our nose. It’s the most credible process at our disposal. Emotion has no role in fixing a car.

Our complex world has become dependent on a simple device that no one understands.

When I was younger I worked on engines, large and small. Summer days began early..because there weren’t many of them in Minnesota. It was a gift wrapped in in 16 hours of sunlight, cool lakes, and tan girls, I’d be damned if I missed a single minute of it. 

I came down stairs to meet what seemed to be the morning’s first rays of light, my dad was already at work. But on the counter, he left a note. I scanned the index card, checking for good signs, like cartoon smiley faces and general motivational quotes.  Bad signs, like indented chore lists, titled with each of my siblings’ names. Today the index card read, “have a great day! Love you all!” Yes! The domestic shackles feared by children the world round were broken. I put 2  s’more pop tarts in the toaster and poured a bowl of frosted flakes.  Still chewing, I grabbed my backpack, hopped on my 18 speed schwin, and pedaled out of the driveway the low angled morning sun, warming my back.

I had a car, but biking was more exciting. Especially with a bike like mine. Rugged tires, new handlebar grips, and to the jealous gaze of every other teenager, a shower radio, strapped to the handle bars with a bungee chord and zip tie, playing the best FM rock music the twin cities had to offer. Preset 1, Classic Rock on KQRS 2. 93 X ROCKS 3. 94.5 Playing 80’s 90’s and Today  4. 104.1 Jack FM. And 5. 107.9 Cool 108!

Fueled by processed sugar and classic rock, I whipped down east river parkway, across Franklin bridge, left past the grocery co-op then right into the auto parts store. From behind the counter Jeff yelled, “what happened now?” Jeff grew up on lake street. Went to high school at Henry. Moved away for a few years, (he never said why), and had been in Minneapolis for the last 17 or so years. I chuckle at his question, I guess no one comes here when their cars are running well

“timing chain” I respond

“oh damn.. you sure it’s not a timing belt”

“Yup, already got the valve cover off and am lookin’ right at it.”

“Let’s see what we got”

Jeff pecked away on the keyboard checking the inventory for a new timing chain, chain guards and valve train sprockets for the disassembled car taking two parking spaces in my parents garage.

“Looks like we got em in stock. Hold on” and he disappeared into the back of the store.

A casual passerby may look into an auto parts store and see tire cleaner, oil pans, fuses and signal lights. But the real magic happens behind the counter. The towering shelves reminded me of the library in Page Master. Moments away from warping into a terrifying PG-13 animation. Macaulay Culkin, impressed with my bike, and I with his, would embark on an adventure.  Auto parts like a tire, steering wheel, and brake pad would come to life and I’d name them Adventure, Fantasy, and Horror respectively.  They wouldn’t live forever. But Maccaulay and I would. We were real, I was sure of it.

“Here ya go”

Jeff, back at the counter, opened the boxes to check the sizes.

“Looks good to me”

“Well just bring em back if they don’t fit”

Before paying, I redeemed my rewards card because every 5 $20 purchase, I got $20 off.  “That ads up ya know”. – Jeff


The parts did indeed fit. So well, that I’m still driving this car today. This summer, I filled it with my things, strapped a dresser to the roof, and moved north from Texas to Minnesota. I spoke with people along the way about middle places.


After a long day of biking, swimming, and working on the car,  I remember sitting at a bon fire with some friends.  My classmate Sunny, the center on the football team said, “man I’m ready for it to be cold again, you know, that jeans and sweatshirt chill.” I scoffed in disbelief, “how dare he wish such a thing” but I knew I was ready too. Vitamin D and pop tarts couldn’t sustain me much longer. It was time to begin settling down, in preparation for another dark, humble, winter.

I never biked in the cold. I drove. And when engines broke I fixed them. Using deductive reasoning and reasoning alone i’d discover the issue and solve the problem.


Outside of the garage, reason takes a back seat to the universal free-for-all we call culture. We attempt to manage it with language, religion, media, and politics. But it’s impossible. So we caaast our gaze upon impalpable domains like soul, will, essence, and consciousness. Let’s pop the hood and have a look. Maybe what we see is what we get and the universe is really just like a combustion engine firing on all cylinders, 1-3-4-2-1-3-4-2-1-3-4-2

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