The thing about a nearly eight-hour drive across Western Illinois, the entire state of Iowa, and a smidgen of Nebraska, is that you have a lot of time to sit and think. Yes, the rental car is brand new (a 2009 Ford Focus), and yes it has a bajillion channels on Sirius Satellite radio, but that doesn't mean the wheels stop turning. The car lacks cruise control, so I had to spend a certain amount of energy making sure I wasn't breaking the sound barrier, but I made really good time and as I pulled into Nebraska a little after 10:15 last night, I felt a sense of nervous calm flush over me. I know that sounds contradictory, but I guess I have to explain.
Driving into Nebraska, you realize how dark and quiet everything is, and this is where the calm comes from. I miss being able to see every last star in the sky, to watch the moon shuffle behind dark clouds and it to be completely, utterly pitch black. The nervousness comes from being home again after eight months. Though, I don't know if I can really call it home anymore, since it isn't where I hang my hat and it is most definitely not where my heart it. Then again, my heart is on one coast and I'll soon be on the other coast. That was food for thought during the length of my trip, but I digress.
Have you ever been to Nebraska? Do you understand it's absolutely underrated beauty? The simplicity, the quiet, the dark, the complete and utter sanctuary-style life. This truly is G-d's country.
I'm sitting at my favorite coffee shop in the entire world -- the Coffee House in Lincoln, Nebraska. Some call it Panache, but in truth they don't really get it. Panache is what the overhang reads, but it's the Coffee House. I started coming here in high school, and I lived for a long time off of their Irish Mocha before I was able to drink straight coffee without gagging. I've watched the furniture change from dingy couches to upscale plus chairs and couches you might find at Pier 1 Imports. But it still has that classy, collegiate coffee house vibe. The chalk board still hangs in the women's bathroom, and people have taken to writing on it in marker since, well, chalk in the bathroom isn't very sanitary.
But the best part?
I walked into the coffee shop and there, sitting in the big open first room were two classic regulars of the Coffee House -- the Russian who was always friendly and here more than I ever was, and the old man with tattoos all over his arm, sporting the sleeveless shirt I always knew him in. The guy at the counter is the same as it was those years ago when I'd spend eight hours a day studying Biblical Hebrew. Those days were more productive, too, because I didn't have a laptop and I actually had to focus on the work (sans distractions). It was like coming home. I mean really, really coming home.
So I haven't even been "home" for an entire 24 hours, but I notice the divide. Maybe when I go out with friends tomorrow and Saturday I'll start to feel like I'm back and like I'm floating right back into the place I once fit. But there are certain people who aren't here, who -- to me -- make this place feel like home. Thus, I'll drink my Irish Mocha and surf the web and eat at all my old haunts and watch little Timmy fill up his coin collecting book and watch people study and the regulars do their thing and I'll think about the long drive I have coming up.
If I thought the nearly eight-hour drive was long, my head just might implode during the 22-hour trek to Connecticut I have coming up.