By J. Javid
Last supper, July 1, Albany, California: I go by my cousin Nersi's house for a final goodbye and to drop off a few stuff. He and his wife Bella can't believe I still haven't left. I'm at least a day late. I'm supposed to be in Washington DC on July 5th to attend my Aunt Laleh's 60th birthday party. But I had driven across America two years before. I think I can make it.
By chance, Rosie and her daughter are at Nersi's too. I'm glad to see them since I didn't get a chance to call and say goodbye. Rosie has packed her stuff too. She's driving to New Mexico to be with her new-found love. We all go to our favorite Singaporean restaurant on San Pablo Ave.
The idea that I'm leaving the Bay Area, that I'm moving to another part of the country, still hasn't hit me. I had a goodbye party a few days ago, but it just hasn't sunk in yet that I won't be hangging out with my friends this weekend.
On the road: It's around eight o'clock at night. Nersi, Bella, and their son Nima look at my car. "Is there any room for yourself?" one of them asks. The passenger seat, and the back are packed to the roof with junk: boxes, clothes, and, of course, my computer equipment. I can barely see the side mirror, but my rear view is blocked. I can feel the car struggling under the heavy load and saying, "Why me?"
I call my girlfriend Sussan in Washington from a gas station to tell her I'm finally on my way. "Drive safely," she says. "I love you."
Highway 80: The only thing I know for certain is that I'm supposed to head east. In the next few hours I know I will pass Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, cross the California border into Nevada and drive by Reno. After that I'm not really sure. I have a map somewhere, but I don't think I'll need it. Highway 80 goes all the way east. I assume I'll see signs for Washington when I get closer to the east coast.
"I don't hear a word they're sayin'": I keep humming a song I haven't heard in years. It's from the film "Midnight Cowboy," a song by Nillson called "Everybody's Talkin'":
Everybody's talkin' at me
People stop and starin'
I'm goin' where the sun keeps shinin'
Bankin' off of the northeast winds
Everybody's talkin' at me...
Nevada & Utah: Nevada, where gambling and prostituion thrive under the protection of the law, borders Utah, the home state of the Mormon faith where gambling and prostitution are absolutely illegal (although, polygamy is tolerated). I've bought cook books from both states as souvenirs.
I pick up "By Hook or By Cook: The Official Nevada Brothel Cookbook" from a gas station somewhere in Nevada and "Mormon Cookin'" from a tourist center in Salt Lake City.
Best looking men and women: I'd say the average weight of adults I've seen on this trip is around 250 pounds (or about 120 kilos). Still, the best-looking women are probably in Utah. It might be their dark hair, oval face and polite manner. Or maybe they are just a lot more good looking than I thought Mormon women would be. The men on the other hand, hard to say.
But the best-looking man in all of America, without the slightest doubt, is "Our Lord Jesus Christ." His images -- always looking slightly famished, but just as handsome as any Hollywood star -- are everywhere; at gas stations and restaurants and on billboards, T-shirts and key chains. Even tatoos.
Most popular radio personality: There are many pockets throughout the U.S. where you cannot receive a single radio station -- a radio station playing music that is. However, no matter where you are, you will be able to tune into at least one station praising Jesus. And it doesn't have to be a Sunday. Everyday, all the time.
And for some reason, all of those who praise the Lord on the radio have a southern accent, even if you are in California. The one exception is a man with an Indian accent furiously inviting his listners to the teachings of Jesus in Missouri.
I'm sure we will have an Iranian-American radio evangelist very soon, if there isn't one already. The existing Christian literature in Persian is quite extensive. Someone recently came to my door with a few pamphlets. Here's a sample page.
No sign of Iranians: Or Iran. Well, hardly any. As I'm driving through Kansas City, Missiouri, I see an exit for Parvin Road. It's getting dark and I don't have a flash. But I have to take this picture (see above). I wonder how that name made its way through city hall? Who proposed it, when and why?
Oh, and I spot the first Iranian about 2,500 miles into my trip, in Columbus, Ohio. Actually, that's where I see the first BMW outside California.
Most popular musicians: There is not much point in turning the radio dial for variety. The choices are either pure Country music (one goes something like this: "you wind me up, turn me on and watch me cry for yew...") or songs by Bob Seager, Lynard Skynyrd, and The Eagles. There's a chance of listening to some Madonna or Rolling Stones only if passing through a major city.
Cornstock: Driving through Nebraska, I hear ads for various unfamiliar bands performing at "Cornstock" -- that's the 90s Country music version of the 60s' Woodstock Rock festival.
American songs: I decide Lynard Skynard's "Free Bird" is not just an all-American Rock'n'Roll song, it is America's popular symphony. First of all, I hear it more often than any other song on the radio. Second, it's grand and stirs all the juices. I also hear Jimmy Hendrix's rendition of "Star Spangled Banner," played on July 4th, America's Independence Day. And I think if you can do that to your national anthem, you are in the land of the free.
Women rule: Chances of women claiming the U.S. presidency are still not very good. But women have conquered the airwaves. Just listen to the radio. Women solo acts or groups led by women are producing far better music than men these days. There's Paula Cole, Natalie Merchant, Natalie Imbruglia, Jewel, Cheryl Crowe and so many others. (For your information, in 1997, for the first time in America, there were more women high school and college graduates than men.)
News: The only "world news" I hear on the radio during 72-hours of driving is about the Clintons' trip to China and the souvenirs Hillary has bought (a silk scarf and I don't know what). The other is a report about World Cup soccer matches in France (which, by the way, includes an incorrect score).
I guess in some sense it's not that bad that Americans don't get a good diet of world news: Most, especially the younger generation, have heard very little about Iran in recent years, and the hostage saga in Tehran two decades ago must be a fading memory.
Landscape: I drive through California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Califrnia, especially the northern part, is the most beautiful. But a close second is Pennsylvania with its rolling forests and rocky hills which I find irrisistable. Maybe it's the mystery of the dark forest that makes me wonder. I want to know its secret.
Nevada is a desert; Utah has the Salt Lake (smelly, but fascinating); Wyoming has, well, not even a desert; and Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio all make up one big farm, more or less.
Touching: On a winding road in Pennsylvania, I see a small, skinny hand stretched out of the window of a big Jeep Grand Cherokee in front of me -- a child's hand. Just by watching, I share the joy of playing with the wind.
Passion: On July 3rd and 4th I listen to all the programs about America's Independence Day. I find them interesting, but don't feel they are talking about my history. I drive by spectacular displays of fire works, enjoy the view, but don't feel any pride.
They say several generations ago, a cousin on my mother's side fought in the American Revolutionary War. Her grandfather was a captain either in the Spanish-American War or World War I -- I can't remember. I myself was born an American citizen, and went to high school and college here. I have also chosen to live in America rather than Iran.
Yet, despite all of America's beauty and virtues, and my own personal background, in my heart I don't feel American. I act, speak, and write like an American. I may even think more like an American than an Iranian. But an highway sign for Parvin Road can get me more excited than Niagra Falls or the Bill of Rights.
Journey's end: After two-thousand and nine-hundred and something miles, I finally get to Washington DC -- a day ahead of schedule.
Sussan and I kiss on the corner of Democracy and Old Georgetown.
I now live and work in a studio apartment on 16th Street in northwest DC. There are more places of worship -- several churches representing many denominations, synagogues, a Bahai center, a Budhist temple and at least a couple of freemasonary temples, but no mosques -- on my street than on any other on earth, I'll bet. God's presence in the nation's capital is certainly a big one.
By contrast, San Francisco's Bay Area, where I lived only a short while ago, is known for having the lowest percentage of church-going people. I hope God doesn't have a problem with that.
* Other travel stories by J. Javid:
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