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Jul 6, 2010

On nostalgia

As Svetlana and I hit the road a week ago, our nostalgic road trip began. Revisiting old places wakes up memories one did not think one had. It brings up little details, random segments of your life, and makes it richer, just a little more textured and nuanced. My entire life in America is connected to I-80/I-90 corridor. Along the desert roads of Colorado and Wyoming, giant insects - field sprinklers –look at a passerby with their mechanical eyes, wondering, wandering, watering. They greeted me as I drove another truck from Ohio to Colorado four years ago. Now we were leaving friends behind; their voices slowly fading, their faces turning into memories.

Around Chicago, I-80 merges with I-90; turn west on I-90 and you can get to Seattle. Almost 20 years ago, my two friends (one Kenyan and the other Sri Lankan) drove a drive-away white convertible that way. We had about $100 and one driver’s license among us. That was the city where we rented our first apartment, where both of my children went to their first American school and promptly turned into Americans. A warm, wet, hip, welcoming city, Seattle gave us home and many friends. This is the town my daughter still calls home, because she graduated from high school there. We did not want to leave it.

Then, on the third day, we could not resist stopping by the University of Notre Dame, just a minute from the highway. In 1991, I rode a bus from the O’Hara airport to South Bend with my two friends, a Latvian and a Ukrainian. We were still from the same country, the Soviet Union, only to leave the place citizens of three different ones. An intense flood of delicious and painful memories passed through me as we walked on campus. Notre Dame is very beautiful; it always looked somewhat otherworldly for me. I had to struggle very hard here to learn the language and this new country. I had to claw through the cotton of incomprehension and misunderstanding. ND is a special scar on my psyche.

Later the same day, we passed through Ohio. Hwy 75 would take us to Bowling Green in no time. BGSU gave me my first professional job; I started there as an assistant professor at $36,000. That is where I learned how to teach and what a university is all about. We spent seven years there, amongst corn and soy bean fields, friends and colleagues. That is where we bought our first house, a war box fixer-upper. That is where my son’s high school is. We were now driving on the stretch of highway by which I took him to college in New York. On this road, I drove through the entire night to Kennedy airport to make it to my father’s funeral in Russia six years ago.

For me, highways are the best part of America. The rest stops, the beef jerky, tired truckers, messy family vans, “you are here” maps, gas stations in small towns, local radio stations; all of these and more, many more, make the stuff that feeds my memory.

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