“I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the east of my youth and the west of my future.” –Jack Kerouac, On the Road

illinoisA very long time ago, I was a 17-year-old in Ohio, about to graduate high school and set off on a long drive across the country to get to my college in California. Because I’m a little strange, the part of the trip I looked forward to the most was going to Iowa. Although I had never been there, I had developed a bit of an obsession with it. Something about corn and baseball.

When I mentioned that to one of my teachers, he quoted the above line to me. Sal, the main character, thinks that to himself when he wakes up in a hotel in Des Moines. The line held a lot of meaning for me. After all, I, too, was leaving behind the east of my youth and moving on to the west of my future.

At the time, I didn’t think my western future would last long. I imagined that I would enjoy four years of college in California and then head back to the Midwest.

I wound up staying in California, though. I graduated, got a job, then another job, then another. I met a guy, had a baby, then another baby, then another.

During that time, we made many plans to leave California. We considered Iowa, Arizona, Colorado, and even a multi-year RV excursion around the country. Ultimately, none of those panned out, and we stayed put on the West Coast. For a while I wondered if we would ever really leave California.

But eight months ago, we finally did leave and wound up in Illinois (not the part that’s close to Iowa, though). The West became my past, and the Midwest became my present, and future, yet again.

After a half-year in Illinois, I have reached a few conclusions:

1)    Suburbia is suburbia. Yeah, there are differences, but as long as there are a couple Targets and Starbucks around, it’s not that hard to adapt to a place.

2)    People are really nice here. Maybe it’s a bit of a stereotype, but Southern California is cold and impersonal. Not to say there aren’t great people out there and absolute jerks here, but we are shocked almost every day by how darn nice people are.

3)    People don’t wear motorcycle helmets. California has a motorcycle helmet law. Illinois doesn’t. Even so, I ASSumed that people would wear them because brains are important things to protect. Yet at least 80% of the motorcycles I see have drivers and passengers with no helmets. The other day, my cousin even saw a helmet-less kid on one. Not cool.

siren4)    There are lots of tall things sticking up out of the ground. In a somewhat related thread I started at car-seat.org while we were in the process of moving here, I learned that I have something called megalophobia, which is a fear of large objects. Mostly my fear is of unexpected, lurking-type large objects, so things like water towers (of which there are a LOT out here) aren’t too bad unless I’m right next to them. But sometimes I’ll be driving along, minding my own business, and suddenly a tornado siren will come at me out of nowhere and I lose it a little bit inside. (You may have me committed now.)

5)    Parking spaces are large enough to actually park in. This is especially important if you’re not very good at parking. (See my review of the Nissan Pathfinder for more info.)

6)    I can find pierogies–a large variety, even–in every grocery store, though Persian food is hard to come by.

7)    Left turns. OMG. In Southern California, left turns are almost always controlled by a dedicated traffic light, meaning you never have to think about them. You sit happily in your lane until you get a green arrow, then you go. Here, you’re on your own. You know, edging out into the intersection, trying to time things right, sometimes going across four lanes of traffic. Ack! I’m getting used to it, although I have been known to go out of my way to avoid the really scary ones.

8)    People return shopping carts to the cart corrals. I can’t tell you how many times I’d turn into a parking space in Orange County, only to find at least one cart blocking the space. I haven’t had that problem here once.

So, on one hand you have tornado sirens and non-controlled left turns. On the other, you have pierogies and nice people who return shopping carts. I’d say the good outweighs the bad.