We’ve been gone on tropical islands for a long time, and we’ve forgotten a lot of things, it turns out. Here are some things we once knew about the Midwest but had since forgotten.
- It is 80 degrees one day, and 40 degrees the next. This would kill Hawaiians. Probably literally kill them. They start breaking out the big sweaters and coats at 69 degrees exactly. 65 is considered ‘winter’ and they start to panic. Hot coffees, jeans (if they have them) start popping up all over the island. Beanies start getting pulled out of boxes under the beds. Heaters go on in all cars. All the things necessary to preserve human life in those times of darkest winter.
- I am constantly almost getting blown off the road by semi trucks. I think Hawaii has one semi. Maybe. On the whole island. Mountain passes and dark tunnels and roads washed over by sea water aren’t conducive to them. On my trip into Chicago the other day I saw about 45,321 semis, all being driving by bored looking men who are looking for anything out of the ordinary, or anything in the ordinary just to have something to do because this land mass that they’re on is big enough for them to drive for miles and miles and miles and they probably actually won’t ever run into an ocean and they have definitely never thought of the possibility of an ocean running into them. What a landlocked world.
- And on that note, all I do all day long is drive. Did you know it takes HALF AN HOUR to get places? I’m talking, a solid 30 minutes to get to a store. Do I even really need ANYTHING that much? Why can’t I just summon it with my mind so my legs don’t collapse into restless leg syndrome every time I have to sit in a car for more than 15 minutes? Why is there any place in the world that is 30 minutes away from a Target? How are these people still alive?! I would die of starvation before the week was up. Do they plan their groceries ahead of time like crazy OCD people? How do they KNOW they will run out of milk in 4 days? What do they do with their time without doing a daily trip to the grocery store? Learn a language? Clean the house? Maybe this has been my problem all along.
- And on THAT note, the number of times I have nearly fallen asleep while driving is about four times a car ride. And each time when I started driving I wasn’t even tired. These roads are STRAIGHT, people. Like, over the horizon straight. Like, nothing will ever make them deviate from the path that they have chosen. And on each side of the road? Fields. Straight fields with straight roads. Once, the road slightly curved around a pile of trees and it pretty much shocked me awake. My confused hands hesitated on the steering wheel because they’d forgotten how to move the wheel around a curve. Because if you can’t drive it in your sleep, it’s not a road in the real Midwest, people.
- The neighbors talk to us. We’ve been staying with Joe’s family for three weeks now and we know three of the neighbors. It took us a year to get to that position in Hawaii. Everyone pretty much just stayed in their driveways and looked at us suspiciously. Maybe our neighbors in Hawaii just thought we were crazies and stayed away. (The thinking that we are crazy could be for many reasons, really: the almost constant shouting of boys, the thrice daily walks while herding boys, the fact we weren’t great at lawn maintenance…really, looking back on it, I’m surprised we weren’t egged or something.)
- The very sudden realization in downtown Chicago the other day that Hawaii accidentally turned me into a hippie. There I was, in a bright blue checked shirt and red sunglasses, normal every day wear and tear in Hawaii, and I think there were actual times when I was the only color on the whole street. Like, I think I burned people’s eyes. They looked a little dazzled at times, their non-colored outfits shying away from me as if to protect themselves. (For a while I played my own private game of, Will the Next Person Be Wearing Black Or Beige? Once it was grey and it totally threw off my betting.) No, my flowing, flowery, colorful clothing doesn’t fly well here, in the Solemn Windy City.
- The amount of potatoes in every meal. French fries, potato salad, mashed potatoes, I can choose from any of those options in pretty much any meal. Is it because they’re grown here? Is it because they are a solid, no nonsense food? Is it because rice is considered just a tad too exotic? No one knows.
- The free things. Let me tell you a story. When we first got here I went to a yoga class in a town around here, a decent sized town. The studio was downtown. I thought, ‘downtown’, and geared myself up for all the normal things I was used to: no parking near the place, high cost parking when I did find it, a packed yoga studio, extra charge for the yoga mat, requirement to rent a towel. Listen to me. NONE OF IT HAPPENED. None of it! There was plenty of parking, it didn’t cost a cent, the use of yoga mats and towels and everything was free, and there was room for my mat right in the very center of the room. How can there be this much bounty in one place? Me and my wallet did not understand.
- And finally, milk. The boys were on a pretty strict ‘one cup at meals’ milk rule in Hawaii, because when anything costs six or seven dollars a gallon, it becomes a bit more important. I mean, imagine if your gas cost seven dollars a gallon, and you had two adorable but insatiable cars guzzling it up at every opportunity? But yesterday, Eliot spilled an entire glass of milk on the floor and all I thought was about how annoying it was to clean up, not that we had just wasted 50 cents. After all, all I’ll have to do is drive 30 minutes to get another gallon. And use the free parking while saying hello to the other gas station patrons, obviously.
And that, folks, is how you can tell if you are back in the Midwest. Free parking, free for all potatoes, friendly neighbors, and flat fields. (That, and people use the world ‘folks’.)
What a strange world.