At the start of the chapter, an excerpt from O’Flaherty’s Hindu Myths explains that the Hindu gods are less “godly,” but a completely different type of being—archetypes that symbolize the life and roles of all humans. Shadow walks south for several hours through what he assumes to be southern Wisconsin. He hides from a fleet of jeeps on the road and two helicopters flying overhead. He considers the question, “What do I want?” but doesn’t have an answer. The only thing he really wants at the moment is not to be caught and blamed for the murders Laura committed, which he realizes is really a desire for everything to go back to normal.
Though gods can be worshiped in order to give life meaning, they can also teach lessons through archetypal stories that can apply to all humans. Gaiman begins to introduce this function for the gods, weaving it into their place as idols. The New Gods have technology and civilization on their side, meaning that Shadow must return to nature if he wishes to escape them. However, Shadow still has no long-term goals for himself, outside of surviving the present moment and returning to the status quo in which Laura controlled his life.
Shadow keeps walking and comes across a large black bird picking at the body of a dead fawn. The bird calls out to Shadow and tells Shadow that Wednesday will meet him in “Kay-ro.” Shadow realizes that this bird must be one of Wednesday’s ravens. The raven tells Shadow to follow the Mississippi and find Jackal. Shadow shakes himself out of the weirdness of this situation and tries to get more information, but the raven just flies up to a tree. Shadow realizes that he is supposed to follow the raven as it flies from tree to tree.
This raven is either Hugin or Munin, the two ravens associated with Odin. The raven pronounces the word “Kay-ro” because the town called Cairo in Illinois is actually pronounced this way, unlike the original Egyptian city. Again Shadow simply accepts things that are odd and allows others to make his decisions for him instead of continuing to examine what he really wants.
The raven leads Shadow to a Culver’s Frozen Custard restaurant and a gas station. Shadow orders a burger at the Culver’s and then goes into the bathroom to clean up. He asks the attendant at the gas station where to rent a car, and the woman responds that the closest place to do that is Madison. Shadow says that he is hoping to get to “Kay-ro” and the gas station attendant finds a map and points to Cairo, Illinois. The woman explains that this area of Illinois is called “Little Egypt” because there was once a famine that affected the whole state, but it didn’t kill the crops in that region, like the famine in the Bible where only Egypt still had stores of food. Shadow asks how he should get there, and the woman says that her brother-in-law sells used cars.
Culver’s is one of the most popular chain food restaurants in the Midwest United States, but somewhat unknown outside of that region. As with the House on the Rock, Gaiman celebrates these real places that are often overlooked in popular conceptions of America. The gas attendant’s explanation for why America has a Little Egypt again recalls the idea that things in America recall the same basic patterns from other countries. It also shows the importance of story-telling, as people identify with stories like those in the Bible and apply them to their own lives.
Shadow still has some money from the bank heist with Wednesday, so he buys a junky used car from the brother of the woman at the gas station. He drives for hours through Wisconsin and into Illinois, through small towns and open farmland. He turns off into a field and decides to go to sleep for a couple of hours. He dreams again of the Buffalo Man, who asks why Shadow is still working for Wednesday. Shadow feels that he is obligated to, as he drank Wednesday’s mead. Shadow asks the Buffalo Man if the gods are real, but the Buffalo Man only turns the question back to Shadow.
Gaiman spends time describing places usually known as “flyover country,” because it is so boring to drive through endless fields of corn and other crops. Yet Gaiman revels in this side of America that is rarely seen. The Buffalo Man tries to make Shadow consider the real reason why he is following all of Wednesday’s orders, but Shadow simply stays loyal to his promise. However, the Buffalo Man doesn’t let Shadow take the easy way out, refusing to tell him for sure whether the gods are real or not. Shadow must decide for himself what to believe.
Shadow wakes to find someone tapping on his window, asking if he is all right. Shadow gets out of the car and meets Sam, who clarifies that she is a girl Sam, not a boy Sam. Sam says she’s hitchhiking down to El Paso, Illinois from Madison and has chosen Shadow as her next ride. They get in the car and Shadow drives in silence for a few minutes. Shadow then asks if Sam is really human. Sam says yes, and asks Shadow to reassure her that he is not an escaped convict or a mass murderer. Shadow hesitates, then admits that he served time but he never killed anyone.
The Midwest United States includes many cities that have doubles elsewhere, including in other parts of America itself (the more famous El Paso is in Texas). Gaiman focuses on these places that tie America to second versions of other places, just as the gods are reincarnated here as well. Again, Shadow has the chance to lie to make himself look better, but chooses to tell the truth anyway.
Sam asks Shadow why he went to prison. Shadow explains that he hurt some people badly, noticing that Sam’s features look somewhat stone-like. Sam comments that Shadow looks like he has Indian blood, then points out a restaurant coming up along the road that has good food. Shadow stops the car at the restaurant and tells Sam that they can decide who pays with a coin toss. Then he rigs the toss so that he has to pay for the food.
Shadow compares Sam to features of the land, marking her as someone uniquely American among the foreigners Shadow has met. Shadow shows his kindness by only using his ability to trick people for good causes, rather than taking advantage of them as Wednesday would have done. Shadow again seems racially-ambiguous, appearing differently to different people.
As they eat, Sam asks Shadow what he does. Shadow tells Sam that he is going to Cairo to meet his boss, as he works as an errand boy. Shadow then guesses that Sam is a student who studies art history and women’s studies, and casts her own bronzes. Sam is annoyed, and a bit disturbed, to admit that all of this is true. Sam asks if Shadow is married and Shadow admits that his wife died. Sam sympathizes that her sister also suffered a loss last winter: the death of her 13-year-old son. Shadow tries to ask about it a bit more, but Sam just says that it happened in a sweet little town where bad things usually do not happen. Sam questions how Shadow really knew what she studied, and also asks if he’s sure that he isn’t part Native American.
Shadow’s strange knowledge about Sam could be a nod to his semi-divine nature, or it could just be Gaiman’s joke about stereotypes of liberal arts students. Sam, a bit like Shadow, is also able to accept strange things, as she tends to tolerate and embrace everything about other people in a true representation of the best features of diversity in America. The first reference to the town that will later be revealed as Lakeside captures Lakeside’s strange dichotomy: Lakeside is known as a good town where nothing bad ever happens, but inexplicable bad things do happen there.
Shadow and Sam finish eating and pay. While walking out to the car, Shadow asks Sam if she’s ever read Herodotus. Sam is confused, wondering how Shadow can seem like such a big, dumb guy and then talk about Herodotus. Sam has heard of Herodotus, calling him the “father of lies.” Shadow adds that Herodotus described gods in a matter-of-fact way, as if they were actually real. Sam adds that she once read that primitive belief in gods actually came from people hearing their own thoughts and not knowing that the voices in their head were their own.
Sam at first saw Shadow as everyone else does, expecting that his physical strength would outweigh his intelligence. Yet Sam also has no expectations for Shadow, so Shadow is able to show his true character instead of becoming what Sam wants him to be, as he does with other people. Sam’s reference to Herodotus as the “father of lies” is a reminder that there is a fine line between history and fantasy—an overarching theme of the book itself.
Sam begins to tell her favorite story about gods: a Viking king who decides to sacrifice one of his men so that Odin will send a wind to push their ship to land. The Vikings draw lots to see who will be sacrificed, and the king himself loses. The Vikings decide that they will just symbolically hang the king, and play act at hanging him. As they go through the motions, though, their symbolic rope becomes a real rope and the king truly dies. Sam comments that white people have some terrible gods, explaining that she herself is half Cherokee.
In Sam’s story, every symbolic action becomes real, as Odin takes control of the sacrifice and demands the full price instead of the symbolic gesture. This foreshadows how the vigil Shadow symbolically agreed to hold for Odin will also later become a real sacrifice. Sam differentiates between the gods of foreign white people and the Native American gods who teach lessons and give advice rather than exacting payment.
Shadow stops in El Paso and makes sure that Sam gets safely into her aunt’s house before driving away. Shadow keeps driving, until at 11 pm he starts shaking and has to stop. He gets a room at a motel and turns the TV on to unwind before he goes to sleep, setting the timer so the TV will shut off automatically. He watches an episode of the Dick Van Dyke Show, noticing that the tone of the episode seems oddly dark for the normally cheery show. The picture then dissolves and suddenly becomes an episode of “I Love Lucy.” As the episode of continues, Lucy stares out of the TV and talks directly to Shadow.
The television is another element that has become worshipped in modern American culture, receiving its own goddess who takes on the form of “I Love Lucy.” This goddess shows the dark side of television, even in a show that is supposed to be happy, exposing the difficult circumstances that can lurk behind even the nicest of facades. In American Gods, if it seems too good to be true, it usually is.
Lucy explains that she is really the god of television (Media). Lucy offers Shadow a job, working for the New Gods instead of the dead-end Old Gods. Reminded of Technical Boy’s speech, Shadow asks if Lucy knows him. Lucy responds that Technical Boy is a great kid, who happens to be bad with strangers. Seeing that Shadow has not been persuaded, Lucy offers money, and then starts unbuttoning her shirt to offer Shadow a peek at Lucy’s breasts. Just then the timer Shadow had set kicks in and the TV goes dark. Shadow, relieved, rolls over and goes to sleep, thinking that he would rather have roadside attractions than shopping malls.
The New Gods are willing to promise anything to win human followers and maintain their supremacy over the Old Gods. Yet their rewards are empty, and Shadow knows from his unpleasant experience with Technical Boy that it’s unlikely the New Gods will follow through. Media acts like a public relations representative trying to smooth over Technical Boy’s rudeness, as if saying he is “bad with strangers” excuses the fact that Technical Boy kidnapped and beat Shadow. Though Shadow recognizes that roadside attractions, associated with the Old Gods, are a bit run-down and odd, he would rather have that authenticity than the shiny new packages of the New Gods and their shopping malls.
The next morning, Shadow gets back on the road. He drives through East St. Louis and notes the beginnings of plantation-style architecture in the houses and all the features unique to this part of the Mississippi River. It makes him think of the old waterway of the Nile, a trading center for the known world thousands of years ago. He makes it to Historical Cairo and parks his car so he can walk along the river.
Gaiman again describes facets of the American landscape that might not be shown in other media about America. Here, the architecture pays homage to the past in the South’s plantation roots. Shadow again links the “new” country of America to parallels in older countries, as America seems to bring new life to these places.
A small brown cat joins Shadow as he strolls down the river, and he comes across a young girl dressed in ill-fitting clothes. Shadow shows the young girl some coin tricks and then laughs as he notices that the small cat and a large black dog seem to watch them as well. Shadow asks the girl if she liked the trick, but the dog answers, saying that Shadow is not as good as Harry Houdini. The young girl runs away, terrified at this. Then a crane-like man walks up and scratches the dog’s ears. Shadow asks which one of them is Jackal. The black dog answers that it is him. The crane-like man introduces himself as Mr. Ibis, and invites Shadow to have lunch with him. He then leads Shadow into a building whose door says “Ibis and Jacquel. A Family Firm. Funeral Parlor. Since 1863.”
Shadow again shows kindness to a child, always hoping to use his coin tricks to bring joy to people. The girl reacts the way that most people would to a talking animal: with fear. Shadow again accepts all the oddities around him with no complaints. He has begun to fit into this world and anticipate how it will work, imagining that Jackal – a kind of wild dog associated with the Egyptian god Anubis – must be one of these talking animals. Meanwhile, the “crane-like” man is actually related to the ibis, a water bird in Egypt associated with the Egyptian god Thoth.